Disasters kill companies. But Toronto’s ScribbleLive built its reputation during one. In the aftermath of the deadly 2011 Japanese earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, newsrooms around the world scrambled to communicate details as quickly as possible. Some turned to ScribbleLive, a tool capable of pulling reports from correspondents, social media chatter, audience questions, photos and videos together into a single news article.
The company had unveiled its beta product three years earlier, but it had until then been treated by newsrooms as a way for web keeners to enhance online coverage of lower-stakes events, like sporting events and Apple iPhone unveilings.
It wasn’t until the Japanese disaster that ScribbleLive revealed itself as an invaluable tool for real-time information sharing. “We looked at the Reuters live blog using our technology, and we looked at each other and said, Holy moly. We’ve built something here,'” says Michael De Monte, who co-founded the company with Jonathan Keebler. The news agency’s web traffic broke records, reaching 25,000 concurrent unique visitors. By the time Reuters closed the live blog, it was 298 pages long.
De Monte, who, like Keebler, is a former CTV employee, said the Reuters example confirmed his vision for ScribbleLive. The company had already been offering its product for free to journalism schools, hoping to ingrain future storytellers with the service. “Through it all, we really stuck to the idea of empowering people to tell great stories with speed,” De Monte said.
That commitment to storytelling, via features such as a drag-and-drop interface for posting social media, fast image uploading and the ability to edit a stream’s chronology after it closes, has been crucial to the company’s 90% client-retention rate, adds CEO Vincent Mifsud.
The company demonstrated its commitment to storytelling in other ways. When an Internet blackout befell Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, ScribbleLive helped Al Jazeera journalists break the censorship wall by setting up a special phone number, where reporters left voice mails that were uploaded to the live blog. When surging web traffic sidelined Boston.com in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, ScribbleLive hosted the blog on its own servers until the site was back up, allowing readers to continue getting real-time updates.
Beyond top North American media outlets using the tool, sports leagues picked up ScribbleLive to enhance digital content and communicate with fans. “Whether it’s a sporting event or a product launch, it’s about letting audiences engage,” says Mifsud, who assumed the CEO role in April 2012. (De Monte left the company in July; Keebler departed in April.)
ScribbleLive now boasts more than 1,500 customers and has broadened from a journalism-focused service to one that helps marketers discern what’s resonating with web users through data science and natural language processing. A large U.S. bank might use ScribbleLive to parse millions of news hits, blogs and social content, and decide, for example, to more heavily promote their mobile payments feature.
ScribbleLive is banking on recent acquisitions to strengthen its data-science model further. The business grew over the past 17 quarters, earning the live-publishing platform the #10 spot on the2015 PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. It reported a five-year revenue growth of 4,887% last year. As always, the company says, content is the commodity.
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