Two friends started a greeting card company on the internet. It was cheap to launch and it instantly reached millions. Then one day without warning, Facebook changed the way it did business.
This is a story about survival in the age of Facebook, when a privately held algorithm can turn a beloved product into a hobby with no monetary value. Subplots include forays into alcohol, cheap laughs, and low-paid freelancers.
Duncan Mitchell was a creative director at an ad agency in 2005 when his friend Brook Lundy, who worked at another agency, approached him with the idea to create online greeting cards. The ones available at the time seemed staid or unfunny. More salient, an e-card company, Blue Mountain, had recently been bought for stock and cash worth up to $1 billion.
"In the back of your head, especially back then, you're like, Is this the next million dollar idea?" Mr. Mitchell, 48, said.
Mr. Mitchell was a graphic designer; Mr. Lundy had a way with words. At the very least, they thought, they could create cards for their friends.
"And at the very best we could leave our advertising jobs," Mr. Lundy, 46, said. "That was the ambitious side of us, that we could figure out this business that we knew nothing about." Their product, they thought, was tailor-made for the social network of Facebook: fast, funny and intensely shareable.
What happened next, as the cards thrived and then suddenly withered on Facebook, illustrates the mercurial power of a new near-monopoly, with implications for all sorts of publishers and businesses, said Jonathan Zittrain, director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.