Startup Scroll launches to acclaim
The new startup from the founder of Chartbeat wants to fix the internet.
February 11, 2020
If “smart loves problems,” as IBM claims, then Tony Haile must be exceptionally smart. His new company, Scoll, founded along with Kushal Dave, previously of Chartbeat and Foursquare, and Sachin Doshi, previously of Spotify, aims to fundamentally change the way news is consumed and paid for. The company started out with some promising media partnerships, and, after its official launch last month drew a deluge of media coverage, we went to Dumbo to find out what it was all about.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership: Could you tell us who you are?
Tony Haile: My name is Tony Haile. I’m allegedly the CEO of Scroll, Inc.
DBP: And what is Scroll?
TH: Scroll is membership to a better internet. When you’re a member and visit any one of the growing network of sites, the pages load twice as fast, there are no ads, and there are no links asking if you have hair loss or anything like that. There are no shadowy trackers sending data to random third parties. You get the web that you’ve always wanted. And the sites that you visit are actually making more money than if they had shown you ads. So it’s a better internet for you and a better internet for them.
DBP: How does it work, financially?
TH: Users pay us. Initially, it’s $2.50 a month and we have a 30-day free trial [the price increases to $4.99 after six months]. We distribute that money to content providers based upon your share of engagement and loyalty, so, basically, the sites you love the most get the most money out of your particular distribution pool. And we’ve calculated a model that allows us to do that in a way that we consistently beat what they would make from advertising.
“You get the web you’ve always wanted”
DBP: So, for the user, it’s a few dollars a month to have ad-less internet?
TH: Yeah, to not want to stab your eyes out waiting for a page or when the page is jumping about because the ads are slowly loading or suddenly a video takes over the screen. Or you find, suddenly, that the ads you see are showing you stuff you said a few days ago and it’s really creepy. All that stuff goes. It’s just clean, beautiful, and fast.
DBP: You’ve had some big name publications sign on. Tell us some.
TH: Sites include Vox, The Verge, The Atlantic, Slate, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, USA Today, and we have more signing on every month.
DBP: You just launched, officially. What was that like?
TH: It was kind of crazy. We had been working very hard for a couple of years. In fact, with a year-long beta, we were testing the model, testing the experience, and making sure that we worked in every single browser. That’s one of the key things for Scroll. We didn’t want to just work inside of an app, so we built the product as a membership that integrates directly with the sites. So if you’re on Twitter on your phone, it works the same as when you visit Vox or Slate on a desktop, or if you’re clicking from Facebook, it works the same. It just works seamlessly. It’s just clean.
Back to the launch though, we thought we were going to get, like, a couple of stories. Instead, we got an avalanche of press. The Verge covered us, three times. Recode, USA Today, Adweek, there were maybe 15 or 20 stories over the course of 48 hours and we saw just tens of thousands of sign-ups. So that was exhausting and exciting at the same time. We’d all been working very hard, fixing final bugs just beforehand.
DBP: Can you tell us what you did before this?
TH: For seven years, I was the founding CEO of a company called Chartbeat, which is one of the largest analytic services in the media space, and works across 16 countries. I have two co-founders at Scroll - one of them was the first VP of Content at Spotify and the other one was the lead engineer at Foursquare. So it’s like the three of us coming together to see if we could fix the internet.
DBP: Being bombarded by media, and information generally, as we now are, a change in the way we receive and pay for news could have larger repercussions. What could that look like?
TH: I hope so. Last year we lost 7,800 jobs in journalism. That’s more than double what we lost from 2014 to 2017. We are seeing sites closed down, we’re seeing them being sold to voracious hedge funds that just want to rip out the last bits of profitability from them. We have a crisis in journalism right now and we need to fix that. So the results of Scroll will be that journalists will be able to earn more money and survive, they’ll be able to cover stories that keep governments accountable and uncover corruption, and do the things that journalism does as a fundamental pillar of democracy. Those are repercussions I’m really keen to have come about.
DBP: Let’s talk about Brooklyn. How long have you been in here?
TH: We’ve been here three years, we love it. There’s a few different reasons why we why we chose it. Number one was that it was very convenient for a wide range of people to get to, and certainly people who maybe didn’t want the kind of craziness of Manhattan. Also during the summertime, it’s delightful to be able to walk into Brooklyn Bridge Park. You can sit on the grass and eat outside with one of the greatest views of the greatest city in the world, and then go work in an office where it’s a good value for the money. And now, with Time Out Market and others, the food situation is really exploding around here. Also, we can get everywhere super-fast.
DBP: Do you go to meetings via Citi Bike?
TH: I go everywhere by Citi Bike. I love it. The cheapest and fastest way of traveling.
DBP: Do many of your workers live in Brooklyn?
TH: We have a range. Some live in Manhattan. I’ve moved back to the Village.
DBP: What’s your goal for 5-10 years down the line for Scroll?
TH: My vision for 5-10 years from now is that we have a thriving internet where people are supporting a thriving ecosystem of sites that are producing incredible works of journalism.
With the closing and downsizing of so many of the newsrooms across the country in the past 20 years, another common phrase is becoming more and more true: “You get what you pay for.” It’s difficult to make money producing quality content on the internet. To whatever extent Scroll can shake up the incentives of the industry, it could have an impact that extends far beyond the world of journalism.
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