‘I woke up one morning and thought, I hate looking at news on my iPad — it’s boring. I called my friend Matt Ausonio with an idea. He was gracious enough to jump in — it took a leap of faith.” That’s how downtown San Diego resident Bobby Ghoshal recounts the birth of Flud, a news-reading “app” (short for “application”) for iPads that he says provides users a “sexy” way to access information.
There are a few dozen newsreaders in existence, including such competitors as Flipboard (free), Reeder ($4.99), and Pulse News Reader ($1.99). Unlike these three companies, though, Flud is, in Ghoshal’s words, “an underdog.” He notes that with a staff consisting solely of himself and pal Ausonio — not to mention a budget that sits due south of a shoestring — Flud operates in marked contrast to the big dogs. “Flipboard has $13 million invested and 16 people; Pulse News has a staff of 5.
“We launched the newsreader in the [iPad] app store on August 1, and we’re already at 10,000 to 20,000 downloads and 200,000-plus articles read. It’s quite exhilarating. We’ve managed to do this while only working part-time for a month and without any investment. Our competitors, on the other hand, have millions of dollars invested in their tech, and yet somehow we always get mentioned in the same breath as them.”
One mention that Ghoshal cites is a review of Flud posted on mashable.com, a blog that calls itself the “Guide to Social Media.” Said to be highly influential among the tech-savvy, Mashable typically posts stories about social networking and social media sites and high-tech start-up companies. On September 8, the article “3 iPad Apps that Reinvent News Reading” took an in-depth look at Flud, as well as rivals Flipboard and Pulse News, stating, “FLUD has one design element that distinguishes it from the competition: Categories. The application distinguishes source by type, so users can navigate to view just the technology, creative, politics, business, science, lifestyle, entertainment or sports sections individually. By sectioning news based on their sources, FLUD is still able to reinvent the way we consume news while maintaining familiar elements for easy digestion.”
However, Mashable declared Flud to be “lacking in the social media department” because, while “individual articles can be shared and posted to Facebook or Twitter…users are not able to use either social network as a news source.” Still, notwithstanding a fly or two in the virtual ointment, Ghoshal beams at the thought that his tiny start-up is being compared with the high-dollar shops.
I asked him, “Why ‘Flud’? Is it an acronym?” Ghoshal, 25, who spent three years as a software designer for downtown’s Digitaria — Ausonio’s still there — says that he chose the name because his app is intended to “flood” the user with real-time information from an unlimited number of news and blog sources. The voluble Ghoshal says that the limitless-source capabilities of Flud — along with the capacity to run videos, as well as the bookmarking feature (“read later and share”) — differentiate Flud from the other popular newsreader apps. “Typically, our target user follows around 35 to 40 sources a week. Pulse News, which is our closest competitor, limits you to 25 sources [recently increased to 60] and doesn’t let you bookmark sources or play videos. Flipboard is a beautiful application that delivers information in a magazine/newspaper format, but it’s social news only. With Reeder, you have to follow RSS (“really simple syndication”) feeds via Google.”
Apart from technical advantages, Ghoshal says that Flud offers its users the experience of being in a “news ecosystem.” When asked what that means, he characterizes it as a “locally focused, visually intuitive mosaic of news.” “Our goal is to get users to engage the news and develop a sense of community. It’s a community-sourced stream of news.”
Who uses Flud? Ghoshal says that his target audience, at least for now, is men from 35 to 55 because one-third of all iPad owners fall into this cohort. (He notes that, all told, 65 percent of iPads are owned by men.) And although he’d eventually like to carve out a broader customer base, he admits that most Flud fans are “tech-savvy guys.” It’s these techies, perhaps a mutation of folks we used to call computer nerds, whose tastes are reflected in the app’s preloaded sources.
When I asked Ghoshal about the Flud preloads, he told me that what comes with the app is less important than the ease of making changes. Exulting, “It’s fully customizable,” he boasts that those who download Flud from the app store can add, delete, and reorder news sources whenever and however the urge to digitally diversify strikes. Ghoshal confessed that he tweaks his so frequently that he didn’t, at that moment, remember precisely what was on his. He did, however, recall three preloaded sites, and from these, one may glean an understanding of the “Flud man.”
Devour.com boasts that it “scours the web for awesome hand-picked videos. You know, the ones worth watching.” Uncrate.com, which bills itself as the “Buyer’s Guide for Men” and a “web magazine for guys who love stuff,” proclaims, “Our team finds the best gadgets, clothes, cars, DVDs and more.” (It looks suspiciously like an internet-age rehash of Playboy magazine’s old section that hyped $200,000 cars, $10,000 watches, and $150 bottles of champagne.) Then there’s Flud-champion Mashable — preloaded presumably so that iPadniks can watch the watchers.
Whatever Fludders are reading — and perhaps it’s now that we should summon the ghost of McLuhan’s book The Medium Is the Massage — Ghoshal and Ausonio have received a tidy return on investment. Despite ringing up on the virtual cash register at an innocuous $3.99 a pop ($1.99 on sale), Flud throws off a copacetic margin — because Ghoshal and Ausonio haven’t yet spent a cent. Even after you toss in their sweat equity — Ghoshal estimates 200 hours each — the profits are encouraging for an enterprise barely two months old. And with an estimated eight million iPads already sold since the product launch by Apple on April 3, 2010, there is substantial upside to the newsreader app business.
The fervent folks at Flud aren’t satisfied to make Flud ubiquitous — they also endeavor to make it simple. Ghoshal quips, “I’d like to make it easy enough for my mom to use.”