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A customer holds a Research In Motion's PlayBook tablet computer in Fairfax, Virginia, April 19, 2011. v (© Larry Downing / Reuters/LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)
A customer holds a Research In Motion's PlayBook tablet computer in Fairfax, Virginia, April 19, 2011. v (© Larry Downing / Reuters/LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)

Mark Evans

Pressly starts from twists and turns Add to ...

It took a series of twists and turns to create Pressly, but its circuitous path is starting to pay off as it becomes a popular way to read content on tablets.

Pressly’s origins go back to when its parent, Toronto-based Nulayer Inc., created an iPad application for The Score, an all-sports television network.

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After The Score’s iPad app became a major hit, Nulayer, a software development company, was approached by The Toronto Star and several other publishers about also having an iPad app created.

But while that offered the potential for new business, Nulayer’s co-founders, Jeff Brenner and Peter Kieltyka, decided that, rather than develop one-off apps for individual publishers, there was a bigger opportunity to build a product that any publisher could use to provide consumers with an engaging content experience on the iPad and other tablet computers.

Thus came the inspiration to start Pressly, a spinoff focused on creating an iPad app that publishers could leverage to quickly deliver content on tablet computers.

But wait: Four months into that project, Mr. Brenner and Mr. Kieltyka changed their minds again. They decided to scrap the app idea and, instead, focused on creating a service that would run within a Web browser.

It was a major shift in direction because apps have become a very popular way for companies to offer a service that people can use, rather than having them visit a website.

Mr. Brenner, Pressly’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said, however, that the decision made sense because many publishers had made large investments to build their own standalone apps but had not seen the traffic they expected.

Instead, many readers are using a Web browser to read content on their tablets.

“A lot of publishers had gone through the experience of spending millions of dollars to develop their own native app, and they weren’t seeing the response they were hoping for,” he said.

“Pressly is not that tough to sell right now because publishers are seeking more traffic, and we are letting them do that. Native apps make sense for games and utilities, but we feel publishers’ content is about the Web.”

Pressly’s technology is appealing because it lets websites on tablet computers have the same user-friendly “swipe and read” interface as an app.

As a result, publishers can deliver the same kind of experience at a much lower cost than building their own app.

Pressly’s biggest direct competitor is OnSwipe, while apps such as Flipboard and Zite also play in the same marketplace.

Pressly’s first customer was The Toronto Star. It will soon be launching a tablet-friendly version of NBC Universal’s iVillage.com Web site. As well, the Economist Group will be launching a new publication powered by Pressly’s technology. Mr. Brenner said Pressly is also is negotiating with Hearst and several Canadian publishers.

“We have a dozen publishers we are talking to about putting content on the Pressly,” Mr. Brenner said. “We go in there and show the product. The reasons for using the Web make sense for publishers, and the business model makes sense because there is no upfront capital development.”

In addition to eliminating the need for publishers to create their own apps, Mr. Brenner said Pressly has also dramatically increased engagement as people read more content and click on features such as photo galleries and advertising.

While Pressly lets publishers display content in a compelling and user-friendly way, Mr. Brenner said publishers also like that advertising on a tablet becomes a better experience.

“For the first time ever, Pressly presents a context for full-screen interstitial ads, which are a real natural fit. As users come from reading content, they get full-screen ads that are more engaging and less intrusive than banner ads. It is a real opportunity for publishers to monetize their content.”

Pressly has a two-pronged business model. One is based on consumption; the more content people read, the more it gets paid.

The second is based on a revenue-share arrangement with publishers from full-screen ads viewed by consumers.

To date, Pressly has been self-financed but Mr. Brenner said the company plans to actively seek investment early next year to take things to the next level.

“We have a big vision of Pressly delivering the promise of experiencing content of publishers for any size,” he said. “Right now, we are focused on tier A publishers but we hope to accommodate some of the small publishers as well.”

Mr. Brenner said the Canadian venture capital landscape is stronger and more interesting than it was two years when he and Mr. Kieltyka, Pressly’s chief technology officer, were looking to raise money for CrowdReel, a real-time social photo search engine powered by photos on Twitter.

“We were offered the opportunity to join the Twitter team but we couldn’t find funding locally,” he said.

Crowdreel continues to operate as a service offered by Nulayer but Mr. Brenner said it has been put on the “backburner” as Pressly becomes more successful.

Given Pressly’s traction and growing customer list, it would be hard to believe that Mr. Brenner and Kieltyka will encounter the same financing challenges.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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