lightbulb-time

The clock is ticking on one of my favorite products.

Tame.it, founded by a team in Germany, is running out of money. It’s being held afloat by a benefactor who — like me — thinks the technology is crucial to the infrastructure of the social Web. In the meanwhile, Torsten Mueller and Frederik Fischer, the co-founders, are trying to foster enough growth and revenue to make Tame.it appealing to other investors.

The company has fallen into a classic trap. Innovation alone doesn’t always carry the day in Silicon Valley. A product that’s been done to death but grabs users or revenue is an often surer bet than something new that hasn’t gained traction.

If Tame.it fails and falls under, I’ll be crushed. It’s how I process my Twitter universe and make sure I’m not missing anything.

It sorts and organizes the content coming from who you follow on Twitter and gives you three lists: the top ten links, hashtags, and users people are mentioning.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 3.08.17 PM

That way in an instant you can get a snapshot of the most important dialogues and topics trending in your stream. No need to scroll through for hours trying to follow the threads of this and that conversation to see what’s important.

It’s one of those “Why hasn’t this been done before?” products. Some have come close, like The Latest, which surfaces the ten most popular links on all of Twitter at a given time, or Newsle and Nuzzel which both track popular stories surfacing on your social media channels. Dataminr, one of Dick Costolo’s favorite applications organizing Twitter, analyzes breaking news for financial firms and media organizations.

But none of these products is as extensive as Tame.it, which focuses on the average consumer audience with Twitter-specific features like hashtags and @users.

The co-founders, Mueller and Fischer, had to harass me before I’d even look at it (I get slammed with a lot of pitches) but when I finally did I was flabbergasted. It instantly solved my biggest journalist pain point with Twitter. I just did not have time to constantly track my stream and make sure I didn’t miss breaking news or important conversations.

Organizing the overwhelming flood of social media seems like a vital application in this day and age, when companies like Facebook and Twitter have become so integral to our lives. As Wired’s Mat Honan wrote when Twitter went down Tuesday:

Twitter is no longer simply a place where people come to make jokes and drop quickie status updates. It’s practically infrastructure: a core component of the global communications system. Twitter is too big, too grown up, too vital to experience significant downtime anymore.

Likewise, this unmitigated, significant feed of communication and news begs to be harnessed and sorted. Tame.it co-founder Frederik Fischer, who worked as a freelance journalist for years before starting Tame.it, agrees:

Our mission from the beginning has been to help people understand this new digital sphere. It’s what journalists have always done. Take all the information in and filter down what’s relevant. People never have the sense when they open the newspaper that there’s this indefinite amount of information. That’s been lost in the digital sphere and we’re trying to bring it back.

Then why wasn’t Tame.it co-founder Frederik Fischer able to onboard new Silicon Valley investors when he visited for a few months? With innovation in spades, he’s lacking the other more tangible traits they look for.

“If you’re looking for investors there’s two things you have to bring to the table: revenue and growth,” Fischer tells me.

Tame.it doesn’t have quite enough of either. It’s monetizing through freemium features on the consumer level — you pay extra for analytics like top trending links and hashtags from any of the user lists you’ve created (versus just your followers). But it doesn’t have enough consumers to be generating big revenue yet.

He says part of the problem is that far fewer people are using Twitter than Facebook. If you look at those who rely on it as a source of news and information, it’s just a few million people around the world.

When I asked Fischer how he knew that he told me, “It’s just a gut feeling.”

If true, no network effects there. And there’s nothing like a small audience to limit a product’s potential growth. What investor would put money behind an application with such a limited number of users, despite rabid devotees like me?

The other reason Tame.it might be struggling to raise funding is that it’s helmed by two foreign founders. The company is based in Germany, and Fischer and Mueller’s networks are there. Tapping Silicon Valley VCs proved difficult without a prior startup track record.

They plug on and Tame.it isn’t doomed yet. Fischer and Mueller are developing B2B tools for companies to to analyze the feeds of their followers, instead of who they’re following.

“What are my fans thinking about, what are they talking about, am I relevant,” Fischer says.

That would make the job of social media editors much easier during events like the Superbowl. A quick scan of what a company’s Twitter followers were saying when the power went down last year would have given any brand the opportunity to inject themselves into the conversation.

“It’s not growing as fast as we wish but it’s definitely still growing,” Fischer says. I’ll be crossing my fingers for them.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]