Sept 21, 2015

There aren’t many startups around that are focusing on web content management—at least not with unique approaches. Most of the startups are just “yet another CMS”, like Craft CMS. They can be useful, they can even be good business. But most of them are not really unique, and therefore are not interesting in a wider perspective. From my point of view, for a startup to be interesting requires that they are working on something that hasn’t been done before.

Here are three startups that have made me think about things differently during the last year or so. Surprisingly, not one of them comes from the US, even though most of the money and action in this market is in the US. A more practical reason might be that I have better visibility to European startups. Be that as it may, here they are, my favorites.

1. Contentful (Berlin)

The most interesting startup right now is Contentful from Berlin. Contentful is an API-only CMS. They don’t offer templates or rich editing interfaces. They just manage and deliver content pieces through their API. Contentful has laser-sharp focus on being the best content repository for mobile devices and other special applications.

I’ve met Sascha Konietzke, Contentful’s CEO, a couple of times and I’ve always been impressed by their bold approach to solving only one problem. They don’t care about marketing people or “customer experience management”. Contentful is about making it easy for developers to choose the best tools they want and then insert content in places they need. You could even say that Contenful is a CMS built for developers.

No wonder that technically focused digital agencies love Contentful. It gives the agencies the possibility to pick the tools and frameworks they want for any project.

Contentful is not really a true challenger to traditional CMSs, but it is possible that it becomes a cloud-only competitor that challenges the on-premise players. Contentful could be the Salesforce of the CMS market, but currently they have a long way ahead to achieve that. That said, being cloud-only and very scalable does give Contentful advantages that most CMSs can only dream of.

It is not yet clear whether Contentful will evolve into a “yet another bloated CMS” or will be able to keep their focus in being a content backbone for special applications. They might even get acquired by a bigger CMS vendor since they can also be seen as a complementary system for existing CMSs.

(Contentful sure has competitors, being one of them. WordPress is also coming up with their new REST API, and Drupal is focusing on its “headless mode” with the Drupal 8 release. Check out those also if Contentful’s approach sounds interesting.)

2. AddSearch (Helsinki)

If Contentful is “content as a service”, then Helsinki-based AddSearch is “site search as a service”. AddSearch is a cloud-only SaaS company that started building a scalable system from day one. They offer a very user-friendly instant search with preview images of content. They are easy to install and even offer a WordPress add-on.

It is quite remarkable that AddSearch has been able to create such an instantly pleasing product in a category that has existed so long. Instant results combined with image previews is a good combination that gives a “wow effect” easily. The product also has decent analytics and tuning possibilities so that internal site search can finally start working.

Site search is not the sexiest thing in web development, but with AddSearch, agencies can finally deliver on their promises of providing a good search function. Many other CMS products should take heed, maybe even completely lose that horrible built-in search product.

The team behind AddSearch has already proven their skills by a successful exit with the Finnish Squarespace/Weebly/Wix imitator Kotisivukone. This time, they are attacking the global market right from the start.

3. Flockler (London)

Compared with AddSearch and Contentful, Flockler is a much more traditional company, but they are solving a problem that many organizations currently and acutely feel. Flockler is a “social magazine CMS” that pulls content from social media streams and builds a beautiful magazine-style website from the streams. Flockler is especially popular with media websites and marketing campaign websites. Naturally, some corporations also use Flockler to build their customer magazines.

Flockler is not a true SaaS product, and they don’t even have a demo version on their website. They build each website as a custom project—which is a pretty boring approach for a startup. Nevertheless, they have an interesting approach to a CMS since most of their product development is about enabling better moderating experiences for the editors.

With enough money and time, you can probably build “your own Flockler” on top of your existing CMS, and many have done so. But having a specialized product is still an interesting approach, and Flockler have an impressive list of customers.

Flockler’s team is based in London, but the founders started the project while still living in Finland. They say that they will be coming out with a true product soon, but for now they only do custom installations. So it could be said that they are still building the product, and are not even quite in the beta phase.

Flockler is a good example that there is a lot of room for specialized CMSs. Many big brands are already using several CMSs side by side. Adding one more is not an issue if it can deliver a great experience within a short time. In this way, Flockler and Contentful are somewhat similar: specialized CMSs that solve very specific problems.

But first and foremost, these startups are a glimpse into the future where web services are built from several pieces, combining different kinds of streams and powering their functionality using scalable services.

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