Startup founder says he lost his company and $100 million by relying on Facebook: 'Sends chills down my spine' to watch others build businesses on Instagram and TikTok
Feb 25, 2022
Joe Spieser launched LittleThings.com in 2014 as a women-focused digital media site devoted to uplifting content, like animal videos, recipes, and other feel-good stories. Things were booming before an algorithm change, with 20 million social media followers mostly built from Facebook's massive userbase, he tweeted. Speiser said Facebook even used LittleThings as an example of how to build a successful media company at one of its annual conferences. But traffic to the company's pages was throttled when Facebook changed its algorithm to promote posts that it thought people would engage with the most, like posts from friends and family, in a move it hoped would keep users on the platform longer. However, it also began to promote violent, false, and divisive content. Speiser tweeted that CEO Mark Zuckerberg "didn't like the fluffy content we were producing and he wanted to be taken more seriously. " Speiser said his then-flourishing site lost 90% of organic traffic on Facebook. The readership loss forced Speiser to let go of more than 100 staff members, and the former CEO said he lost $100 million. "It was a death sentence," he said. The now- angel investor warned other startup founders that although building businesses on apps like Amazon, TikTok, Google, Spotify, and Instagram can get you millions of eyeballs and fast growth, "can you ever truly sleep well at night knowing at any time it can all be taken away with just a simple algorithm change?"
LittleThings eventually shut down in 2018. One source close to the company told Insider at the time that "Facebook is the destroyer of worlds." Speiser declined a more in-depth interview for this story. This algorithm change has been at the center of a debate over Facebook's influence on news production. Publishers were forced to reorient their business models to reach the platform's readers, who showed that they were more apt to click on and engage with sensationalistic and divisive content over other forms of stories. So-called clickbait content became more common as a result. Facebook's parent company, now known as Meta, has pushed back against the reporting from the documents, saying they do not paint a complete picture of the company's various initiatives to combat harmful activities on its platforms. Sign up for notifications from Insider! Stay up to date with what you want to know. Subscribe to push notifications