Today it was revealed that Paul Berry, the longtime-CTO of AOL’s Huffington Post, will be leaving his role at the news site, along with the unrelated departure of the site’s managing editor, Nico Pitney. We spoke to Paul earlier about the social-media focused startup that he plans to launch next, and what he will be leaving behind.
The new startup — a “social platform” called Rebel Mouse — is currently still under wraps, although Berry tells us that more details will be emerging in the next few weeks.
What we do know already is that it will be based in New York and have quite a few other things in common with the Huffington Post: it will be focused around social media have a big emphasis on viral growth using “methodologies” he honed at HuffPost (more on that below); it will be mainly consumer-facing; and it will be built out by several former key executives from Huffington Post: in addition to Berry, he says he is also working with former CEO Eric Hippeau, former chief revenue officer Greg Coleman, and co-founders Kenneth Lerer and Jonah Perretti — all of whom left the company before Berry.
Despite these similarities and connections, Berry insists it will be quite a different product from the online news goliath that he helped create. “The intention is not to compete with HuffPost or big media companies,” was his flat answer to that question. “We intend to have a huge audience and a lot of users but not in a way that competes with HuffPost.”
The company has been funded with some money from Berry and some from Ken Lerer’s Lerer Ventures.
Berry describes his time with HuffPost as being with the company since “day two” of its life, and when you speak to him about the growth of the company, and how it mastered viral techniques to drive that growth, you really get the sense that HuffPost has been as much a technical phenomenon as it has been a news/media one.
The numbers speak to that, too. When Berry first started, the company had three million uniques per month. At the time of the AOL (NYSE: AOL) acquisition, it had 55 million uniques. As of today, the site has 120 million uniques per month and 1.7 billion page views — numbers that continue to grow, not least because the site is building out internationally.
“What I developed at HuffPost was a lean development methodology,” says Berry, who relies in part on a network of developers in Eastern Europe for some of the work. “I had done it before but had a chance to prove it on a wider scale. The basis of what we did at HuffPost was to learn how things go viral and how to make them go even more viral.
“A huge part of HuffPost was how we made the product and technology together, and how we innovated with Facebook, Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and Twitter to do that.” He says these methodologies, style, and (significantly) contacts to those huge traffic funnels, will all be a part of Rebel Mouse, too.
Berry will be leaving AOL on February 15, and he says his departure is not connected to any earnout connected to the acquisition of HuffPost by AOL, which it bought a year ago, in February 2011, for $315 million. The news of Berry’s and Pitney’s departures was first reported earlier today by Forbes.
“The acquisition was very good for me,” he admits, “but it was more about taking the time to do this professionally. It’s possibly a misplaced paternal sense, but it matters to me leave HuffPost in a good place and I’ve taken the time to do that well.” He notes that he’s hired people from top media properties like the BBC and New York Times (NYSE: NYT) to oversee areas like design, user interface and technical development, and all those people have stayed on “and are staying on.”
“I’m not leaving because I don’t believe in the mission anymore,” he says. “I’m leaving for the thrill of building something from nothing. It’s the startup bug.”
The other project that Berry will be devoting some time to will be in the running of a technology start-up incubator. This, too, will be drawing on HuffingtonPost experience. He says this will focus on a smaller number of companies — “this isn’t 500 startups or anything” — and it will apply “social approaches that we’ve learned to different vericals and areas.”
It sounds a little vague at the moment but the idea is to “help develop prototypes, demos and then help those startups seek funding as they gain traction.” This will be based in the original HuffingtonPost HQ.