A Q&A with Muut co-founder Tero Piirainen. The Portland, Oregon-based startup, which offers an embeddable online forum solution for websites, announced last week the completion of a $770,000 Seed funding round. Investors include the Oregon Angel Fund and Portland Seed Fund. It was founded in late 2012 as ‘Moot’ by Piirainen, Courtney Couch and Janne Lehtinen.
SUB: Please describe Muut and your primary innovation.
Piirainen: Our big mission is to improve online discussion. Bulletin boards used to be fantastic with compelling debate and discussions. Today, we are littered with memes, viral videos, and trolls. We truly want to change this phenomenon.
Muut is much different from what people expect from a forum software. It is clean, simple and fast. It focuses on the discussion itself. It can be embedded to any website so that it becomes a seamless part of the site. We’ve published a manifesto to explain our overall mission in detail.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Piirainen: Everyone that has a blog or website. All sites would benefit, since a good discussion system increases traffic and the users will stay longer; not to mention the SEO benefit that user generated content results in.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Muut from the competition?
Piirainen: There are two kinds of competition: Forums—Google Groups, phpBB, Vanilla, Discourse; and commenting—Livefyre, Disqus. The biggest difference is that Muut is really both forums and commenting, and it unifies these two in a clever way. Single system for all discussion. It makes no sense to have one solution for blog comments, then another one for forums and yet another one for a help desk.
Muut is truly an integral part of a website, with full styling and scripting support. It even inherits the style of the parent website. Alternative solutions are quite separate from your site and its difficult if not impossible to make them work seamlessly with your existing site. Finally, Muut can be installed on a website just by pasting two lines of HTML. Unlimited users, traffic, and posts, for free.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $770,000 in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Piirainen: With a bigger team we can now move much faster in terms of development and support. The product is rather mature now, so it’s a perfect time for us to focus on accelerating our growth.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds, and do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Piirainen: We’re working on data importers, integrations, exposing the Muut API, as well as releasing open source projects. Simply put, we want to take what is an amazing product and make it easier to use, easier to migrate onto, and release more tools for others to use in their own projects.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Muut? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Piirainen: We wanted great forums for our own website. At the time, we were working on flowplayer.org. There were no good solutions then, and to be honest nothing has really changed since we started.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Piirainen: We developed the product for three-and-a-half years before the company was established. Then we announced our beta on Hacker News and it was an instant success.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Piirainen: We started with ‘Moot,’ which means ‘bring up for debate.’ It also has other colloquial meanings in the U.S. and Australia we weren’t so fond of, so it wasn’t perfect. Now we are ‘Muut,’ coupled with a .com domain. We love it—it’s fresh and more memorable. We really want to build a strong consumer brand, so memorable and a short .com seem quite prudent.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Piirainen: Nothing big, really. Perhaps the huge amount of time invested before the release. Luckily we’re incredibly passionate about our mission, so we were able to stay motivated through our extended development time.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Piirainen: We have optional, low-cost upgrades on top of the full free service.
SUB: What are your goals for Muut over the next year or so?
Piirainen: Our goal is to make Muut the standard solution for building a community. We believe it’s the best option out there and we’ll continue to work to make sure it only gets better and better.