Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, says you should never s do a startup just to do one. “There are much easier ways to become rich,” he says, “and everyone who starts a startup always says that they couldn’t have imagined how hard and painful it was going to be. You should only start a startup if you feel compelled by a particular problem and think starting a company is the best way to solve it.”
It was this advice that led Rylan Hawkins (BS 2009) to leave his job at Microsoft in the summer of 2014 and start his own company. “I believe in a better online reading experience, and I’ve decided to go after it,” says Hawkins, now the co-founder and CEO of Storyform, a framework that allows publishers and photographers to share their stories online in more captivating ways.
Hawkins and his co-founder, Luke Clum, believe that the current state of online reading—static content, complex designs, distracting layouts, relentless popups—diminishes the stories that authors are trying to tell. With Storyform, publishers can create “immersive narratives” on their own domains that truly engage their readers. They’ve done away with distracting sidebars and replaced scrolling canvasses with full-screen magazine-style pages that feature eye-catching layouts and interactive elements like video. They’ve also discarded traditional web page advertising in favor of ads that are sleeker and better integrated. “Not only will readers be engaged with beautiful story content,” says Hawkins, “they’ll also find the ads beautiful.”
Though Storyform is not even a year old, Hawkins is no stranger to startups. “I had three startup experiences in college,” he says, referring to VibeGlobe (BPC 2009), a platform to help nonprofits raise money from younger donors; Visual Schedule Finder, a program that allowed UW students to search for the perfect class schedule; and YourSports, a startup that is still thriving in the hands of CEO Chris McCoy (read about it below!). Hawkins reflects on each of his early startups as great learning experiences that he can apply to Storyform, and those lessons-learned seem to be paying off. Storyform currently has 1,900 registered publishers in countries around the world (a number that is growing about 10 percent a week) and they have logged over 17,000 hours of user engagement.
So what’s next on the road to Storyform’s success? “We’re still very early-stage, so we’re bootstrapped right now,” says Hawkins, “but we’re preparing for a first round, learning the fundraising space and meeting with everyone we can.” In the meantime, Hawkins and Clum will keep working on what got them into the startup life in the first place: transforming the way stories are told.