Tapatalk Brings Online Forums Out of the Internet Dark Ages

What’s your passion? Fitness? Photography? Sports? Shaving? Chances are startup Tapatalk can connect you to a forum where you discuss, chat, and argue with fellow enthusiasts. The emerging company is billed as a complete mobile solution that enables the owners of online forums and chat rooms to easily connect with audiences for better engagement and monetization.

Founder Winter Wong launched Tapatalk, headquartered in Santa Monica, CA, in 2009 after he recognized a gap in how online forums interacted with their audiences. Online forums have been in use since the beginning of the Internet, yet there had been little innovation to give those forums a mobile makeover. Community members were often forced to slog through pages of tough-to-navigate discussion threads. What’s more, the site owners struggled to find effective mobile solutions that both engaged users and generated revenue.

“People are so used to interfacing with Facebook and Twitter,
 so what we’re providing for them is the same level of access for online forums around the world.”

Tapatalk has changed that by engineering a solution that brings forums and chat rooms out of the Internet Dark Ages and into the Mobile Age. “People are so used to interfacing with Facebook and Twitter, so what we’re providing for them is the same level of access for online forums around the world,” says the founder.

Pew Research Center found that, in a world dominated by social media channels, about 15 percent of Internet users still read or comment on forums. Tapatalk is gaining ground with those users; it’s been implemented on more than 150,000 sites and has earned more than five million end users.

End users access the Tapatalk app to participate in discussions on their favorite forums via an easy-to-use interface. The users can also access a discovery feature that allows them to find additional forums and chat rooms related to their hobbies and interests.

The platform is also designed with community owners in mind. Tapatalk offers free and premium packages for site owners. Paid packages include advanced features, such as white-label apps. The startup also offers plug-ins to seamlessly integrate the technology on a range of platforms, including WordPress, bbPress, and ProBoards. And, because end users can discover new forums and discussions on Tapatalk, site owners can grow their audiences.

The app also provides website owners the ability to monetize their forums and sites. Wong says owners display ads within their forums on Tapatalk. In addition, site owners generate additional revenue streams by targeting ads on related forums with similar end user profiles.

Enabling Engagement with Solid Infrastructure

Tapatalk chose Microsoft Azure to provide tech infrastructure because the enterprise solution aggressively develops its cloud-based technology, according to Wong. “Azure was developing new services very quickly and was taking customer feedback seriously. This was important for us as we felt we could trust Azure to provide the infrastructure stability we needed.”

The mobile solution startup leverages a range of Azure products, including Redis Cache and NoSQL. What’s more, Wong says, “We use Azure storage not just for blob and file storage but heavily for high-speed, low-latency queues that power all of Tapatalk mobile device notifications. As we provide a mobile device experience, this offering is very important to us.”

“We feel confident that we can grow Tapatalk with the Azure managed service offerings and reduce the number of systems that we have had to manage in the past.”

As the startup continues its forward motion, Wong expects Azure products to support its growth. “The level of dedication that we have experienced has been unmatched,” he says. “As our core services were migrated to Azure, we have been investigating the SaaS offerings. We feel confident that we can grow Tapatalk with the Azure managed service offerings and reduce the number of systems that we have had to manage in the past.”

Transforming a Software Business into a Venture Business

Tapatalk had already started building out its product when it began working with Mucker Capital, a Los Angeles-based venture fund focused on software and media startups. Wong says, “It really provides a very good mentorship on how to accelerate the growth of your product.”

One way Mucker Capital nurtured Tapatalk’s evolution was by helping the company refine the product into a solution that satisfied site owners as well as end users — a challenge that had dogged the startup since launch. Those insights, Wong says, helped transform what had been a software business into a venture business.

What’s Next?

Wong is excited about the mobile startup’s trajectory, and he has no intention of letting the online forum space fall into stagnation again. “We need to penetrate more forums by building solutions that help site owners compete with products like Facebook Groups and other community solutions. We’re working to figure out a new way to monetize and build their audiences on Tapatalk along with their existing desktop presence.” He adds, “We are building something really unique and we’re the only one able to build it.”