Listle, currently in the Summer 2019 batch of Y Combinator, recently launched their MVP in the form of a website, iOS app and Android app.
What’s the value prop? Well, here are my takeaways from reading the above-the-fold text on their home page:
- Listle provides audiorecordings of articles on the internet
- Listle’s available content includes your favorite articles, as well as the best articles
- Not only is Listle a source of audio content, it’s also a “place to listen” to that content
- Getting new audio articles once per week is part of how you’re expected to use the product
Am I a potential user?
Step 1 of a value prop story is to describe a specific person with a specific problem. For Listle, I guess this person would be someone who listens to tons of spoken-word content but lacks certain online articles in the form of listenable content. Hey, maybe that’s me! I listen to ~2 hours/day of podcasts and audiobooks, plus I read ~2 hours/day of stuff online. So maybe I can use myself to build an existence proof of a value prop story.
Step 2 of a value prop story is describing this specific person’s current best effort to solve their problem. Do I have some kind of problem listening to spoken-word articles?
Usually when I identify an article that I want to read on the internet, I’m happy enough to just skim or read it. Maybe for longer articles where I bookmark to read later, I might have a problem of not being able to easily consume them in audio form when I’m walking my dog.
But personally, I don’t do much bookmarking of these articles. If I did, I probably would have experimented with using Instapaper together with text-to-speech. So I’m personally not super into this use case right now.
How about this: I often go back and re-read my favorite books and blogs that have had the biggest impact on me. For example, I’ve recently re-read:
Would I have been interested to have had these in audio form instead?
- For Rationality: From AI to Zombies, I’ve alternated between reading its text and listening to its audio version.
- For How the Mind Works, I actually did just re-listen to it on Audible.
- For Paul Graham’s essays, though it’s never occurred to me until now, I do think it would be nice at some point to hear a podcast of them, and I don’t think anyone has recorded them as audio yet.
Now I’ve done a little introspection to see if I can be part of a value prop story, and I’m pretty lukewarm. From my personal perspective, it feels like most chunks of well-known content do have some kind of high-quality audio version available already. And any time I really want an audio version of a specific piece of content, it seems like the internet is likely to offer it to me (although it’s admittedly odd that my Google search for “paul graham essays audio” didn’t return anything good).
I’m starting to think that maybe I personally don’t have a burning need for Listle. Maybe I wasn’t in their target market after all?
My inability to reach this conclusion when looking at their home page is a red flag that they’ve built a bloated MVP.
Is someone else a potential user?
So let’s start over. Who specifically is this for? What’s one compelling value prop story we can tell? I’ll try again to work backward from their MVP to a value prop story:
Larry spends an hour each day reading 3–5 long news stories online. He loves the content, but doesn’t like the long sessions staring at his iPad screen. He would pay to have them available in audio form instead.
Ok, it’s plausible that the founders know a person like Larry in their lives, or they are Larrys themselves.
Remember that step 2 of a value prop story is to describe Larry’s best effort to solve his problem. In this case, Larry would probably already be using Audm (YC S17), right?
Then what would be the incremental improvement Larry gets in switching from Audm to Listle? I don’t know.
You can request articles
One feature I don’t understand is the ability to “request articles”. Apparently you can request an article to be turned into an audiorecording, and then wait hours or days to get that audiorecording in your library. To me that seems like a tedious workflow, but maybe it would be okay for someone who was really passionate about getting a certain article turned into audio. But again I have to ask: who is this person, this potential value-prop-story protagonist?
It’s a “place to listen”
Right now I personally have two places to regularly listen to audio: Audible and Breaker. Do I really need a third place for audio versions of online articles?
It seems like they could add value by not being a place to listen, but just focusing on creating a feed of content to listen to.
For example, I currently read articles every day that come from my Twitter followees, email newsletters I subscribe to, and RSS feeds in Feedly. If I could automatically have an audio-RSS feed of all the articles I read, and have my Breaker app treat that feed just like a podcast I can listen to, I would definitely try incorporating it into my audio-listening habit. Maybe I’d like it.
Overall, I get the impression that the founders didn’t build Listle for me or Larry or anyone. They’re building before having a value prop story. But they’re a young startup; they haven’t wasted that many person-months. Hopefully they’ll hit on a value prop story soon.
In the meantime, I’ll count them among the 80% of startups who demonstrate the thesis of this blog.
Update Jun 2020
In the last year, Listle has iterated quickly on their product. It now looks like they have a clear value prop and plenty of active users, i.e. not a bloated MVP! It goes to show how powerful it is to iterate quickly and not give up.
Their value prop is now focused on giving you daily news in audio form:
A specific value prop story might be: Liron wants to catch up on the day’s news and blogs while walking his dog. He’s not satisfied with listening to The Daily or any particular news podcast; he also wants to consume news and blog content that doesn’t have its own podcast. So he opens the “Today’s Stories” playlist in his Listle app. His next-best alternative would be to save the articles in Pocket and use its text-to-speech feature, or listen to news podcasts, or use another app like Audm that provides spoken versions of articles.
I originally pointed out that Listle may be an Audm competitor but it isn’t clearly explained that way. Now it’s more clear that they’re competing directly with Audm. But they have their own approach, more focused on short form and long tail.
I still think their original MVP from last year was bloated, and that they built a lot of functionality that had to be changed later because they didn’t have a specific use case or target audience in mind. The team could have saved a few person-months of their lives by focusing their thinking on specific users and their specific value prop stories.
But as I pointed out in the conclusion, they had only wasted a few person-months, not much more. Overall, this is a startup that found market traction at a reasonably fast pace, and wasn’t too bloated in the grand scheme of things.