A Tiny Announcement

Is this thing on?
Is this thing on?

Letterboxd’s co-founder Matthew Buchanan charts the journey from an idea for a film diary to an acquisition deal with Tiny that secures the future of your favorite independent social network. 

Today marks a significant milestone in the 22-year (and counting) journey that Karl and I have undertaken, first to build a company that made software for others, and then to build a product that began life as software and slowly but surely has become so much more.


I first met Karl von Randow when we were both employed by a ’90s-era web development agency. He was completing an Honors degree while simultaneously performing the role of CTO. When a client project required a solution that didn’t yet exist, he’d say “Give me a day or two”. A SWF compiler with support for Asian character sets, because Macromedia didn’t offer one. A tool to inspect traffic between the browser and the wider internet, because building web tech was easier if you could see what was happening under the hood.

He and I built several projects together there, and when that company fell victim to the dot-com crash in 2001, we formed a company of our own and continued to build. Mostly for others, but even then, sometimes just because an idea occurred or a friend needed help. A couple of years in, Karl’s friend Jeremy Dumble, a filmmaker, sent us a MiniDV tape of his latest work, a beautiful black-and-white short called Down the Coast. He wanted people to see his film, but didn’t know how. 

This precipitated our creation of LessFilm—eventually renamed to NZShortFilm.com and now long gone—a free service to which New Zealand filmmakers could send digital tapes to be transferred to disk and made available online for audiences to watch. In the days before YouTube, this was a useful tool and the first taste of what it felt like to conceive of and build something for ourselves just because we wanted it to exist.

Friends, founders, film fans: Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow.  — Credit… Renee Bevan
Friends, founders, film fans: Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow.  Credit… Renee Bevan

Make way for tomorrow.

My interest in film goes back a long way. VHS rentals transported by backpack and BMX. Spaghetti toasties and horror marathons at my pal Jim’s house. Air-freighted copies of Empire to keep up with the new releases that would eventually make their way to New Zealand shores six to nine months later, if at all. As a first-year university student I downloaded and devoured text versions of actor and director databases posted to Usenet by Colin Needham (you may know him as the founder of IMDb).

The late 2000s brought about the era of social sharing. Music, photos, text statuses, whatever the meme of the day was on Tumblr. But nothing around film. It was the peak of the DVD craze, but Wil Shipley’s Delicious Library app, while delightful, had zero in the way of social capability. Our studio team had grown to eight or so. We’d waited (and waited) for someone else to build what we wanted.

And then an idea occurred: a social film diary, perhaps with lists. A way to share with others the fervent collecting, watching and cataloging that film lovers like me were up to. By the start of 2011, we’d started building something—between client projects and kids and life (thanks forever to our respective besties Catherine and Louise)—and in October of that year I presented a look at our private Letterboxd beta to the attendees of Brooklyn Beta. Nice things were written, good people sought me out for access. And so it began.

Circle of friends.

Something else that began around this time, courtesy of Tumblr’s flourishing design community, was my friendship with Andrew Wilkinson and his brother Will, both involved with MetaLab. There was no-one paying attention to the design scene at that time who wasn’t aware of their digital agency in Victoria and the quality of work it was delivering. We first met in person at XOXO in Portland, then kept in touch, as we both continued to build: us with our studio and Letterboxd, and Andrew with MetaLab and then Tiny, which acquires and supports great, creative businesses.

All of this sets the scene for today’s announcement: that we have accepted an offer for Tiny to acquire a 60 percent stake in Letterboxd, securing the platform’s future as an independently run company and part of the Tiny stable.

Aside from the ownership change, and in line with Tiny’s core operating values, very little else will change. Karl and I are still leading the team, which remains the same, but now has the additional support of a company with vast experience in helping founders through periods of growth, which Letterboxd continues to enjoy. It means we can bring you more of the features you love and deserve, at a sustainable pace.

Hearts beat loud.

It is the privilege of my career to keep working with the frankly inspirational Letterboxd team, and our wider studio, and it was front-of-mind for all of us that a transaction of this nature preserve the DNA not only of the team, but of our other beating heart, the community of Letterboxd members who’ve made this all possible. 

While Karl and I conceived of an app, it is our team who’ve created the social voice, built the platform, applied the rigorous editorial eye, developed the studio partnerships, shaped and applied the community policy, helped our members create the safe space we cherish, and lit the whole damn thing like a Roger Deakins night shoot. And it’s the community that provides deep analysis of film craft along with one-liner lols, a rating consensus you can trust and an unmatched passion for watching, reacting to and discovering all that the world of film has to offer.

We are excited to team up with Tiny to write the next acts of this screenplay. As noted in the Times story, the future will include returning series in some form, but only once we know we can do it right. In some ways, it’s like we’ve been making great shorts for over a decade, and now we have the dream team for our first feature. See you at the cinema.


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