The Atavist: Building Tools for Ourselves (And Many Others)

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in Insights | No Comments

In “The Business of Publishing” Session II, Co-Founders Evan Ratliff and Jeff Rabb spoke candidly about the process of building The Atavist, both long-form journalism digital imprint and now media-rich content-management-system currently deployed as SaaS to big publishers like Pearson.

“In some ways, the business of publishing is 45 minutes of setup.. acquire a domain, host a basic website, and install WordPress,” Evan acknowledged to a highly-engaged classroom at General Assembly on October 3rd.  But the experience of consuming Stories, particularly in a world where most of us carry in our pockets computing devices more powerful than the ones that ran Microsoft Word 95, is often the process of consuming content across media within the narrative itself.  “When I read a story by Alex Ross in The New Yorker, I want to hear that music.  I end up looking it up on Google and listening to clips [while reading],” elaborated Evan.

It’s implicit that readers and users are by now used to navigating instantly to new browser tabs for supplemental information and experiences to content online; ‘What is the population of Chad?’, or, ‘I’d love to see the interview where Kubrick says, regarding the Myth of Icarus, we should just do a “better job on the wings”’.  The Atavist has been integrating these behaviors natively into their long-form journalism publications-as-apps, eight so far, with sales numbering in the “tens of thousands” for several of them.

In order to manage the process of highly-edited media experiences for user/readers, Jeff built a highly-customized CMS, which has grown into a full-blown next generation multi-content-platform.  Humbly, Evan relayed that biggest names in news, education, and magazine publishing who engage with The Atavist as possible clients of their Software-As-Service tell them it’s the most robust they’ve seen.

Another effect of building tools for ourselves is that it is another way to make money

“Another effect of building tools for ourselves is that it is another way to make money,” said Evan.  As is the case with much of the history of commerce, sometimes massive businesses are born out of happy accidents (cf. the microwave ovenViagra).  But, as most of us who work closely advising and consulting with startups know: challenges are created by a plethora of opportunities as much as by a scarcity of them.  The rub, of course, is both selecting the pathway that affords the greatest chances of success (optimizing impact per unit effort), along with the matter of executing against it.  Yeah, that.

And Evan and Jeff and the team (growing fast on both tech and business) are doing just that.  They well see the power of the tools they have built and are hyper-focused on how they bring value to the world of Storytelling.  There are many pathways ahead, and I won’t give anything away, but suffice it to say the team is asking themselves the right questions as they plot the next chapter.

We can’t wait to read (watch/hear) it.