What was your reason for creating ratetea when steepster already existed?
The answer was long, so I decided to write it as a blog post rather than just reply on the forum. Most of you probably already know about both RateTea and Steepster, but for some quick background info, these two sites are the only two interactive tea-related websites that have a database of individual teas classified by brand / tea company, which allow anyone from the internet to sign up and write about tea and rate individual teas. Both sites were launched in 2009, but Steepster was launched considerably earlier in the year than RateTea.
The above picture shows old screenshots of both RateTea and Steepster...this is actually not what the sites looked like when they launched though, unfortunately, I do not have a screenshot of Steepster after its launch, and it would be a bit of work to resurrect an old copy of RateTea from then.
I actually had no clue that Steepster existed until some time after I had launched RateTea to the public.
When I went to create RateTea, it was inspired by RateBeer. I was drinking my tea one morning, Upton Tea's Chun Mee Dao Ming to be specific, when I thought..."I wonder if there's a site like RateBeer, but for tea".
I actually searched exhaustively for interactive tea-related sites before starting to develop RateTea. I discovered TeaViews and the Tea Review Blog, and various forum sites, but I did not come up with Steepster. Steepster did not show up in any google searches, and I searched exhaustively, not just for topics related to tea ratings and tea reviews, but a whole other series of searches related to tea and social networking sites, web 2.0, interactive websites, and anything I could think up. A few tea blogs probably linked to Steepster back then, but I was not as engaged with the blogging community then, and most prominent tea bloggers did not start writing about or linking to Steepster until later.
In all honesty, I may not have developed RateTea if I had known about Steepster, but that's now how things went. When I first discovered Steepster, I was annoyed and frustrated. I had invested about five months of effort into singlehandedly developing and launching a site, and here was another site that was developed by a company that clearly had more resources (three employees, based in NYC, means they must have a hefty funding source) and experience in developing interactive websites. I am not a competitive person, and, in the business world, I don't like competing; I would rather limit my work to things I can do better than other people, and shy away from work that other people can do better than me. Back then, RateTea was very minimal, so I can say without a doubt that at the time, Steepster looked better and more professional than RateTea in virtually every way.
My frustration was compounded when, about six weeks after launching RateTea, Steepster added ratings. Prior to this point, Steepster only had a "tea log", allowing a twitter-like stream of written posts about tea. I have no idea if Steepster was inspired to add ratings in response to the launch of RateTea, or if they had developed the feature on their own and were going to launch it independently of anything I had done. For all I know, they might not have known about me until I tweeted at them on twitter under my @RateTea account, in response to their addition of the ratings feature to their site. I also recognized that even if RateTea actually did offer tea ratings to the public first, being technically first in this regard wouldn't help the site much because Steepster was already more established and being more actively used.
Abandon RateTea or keep working on it?
I was now faced with a decision: abandon the project I had invested a lot of time into, or keep going with it and find a way for it to coexist with Steepster. I thought a lot about what my vision for the site was, and whether or not I'd be able to create a unique resource that would be the best resource on the web in some regard, or whether I'd just be taking second place to others with more resources, skills, or knowledge than me. And when I started thinking about my vision for RateTea, and looking at Steepster, I realized more and more that the sites were fundamentally different, and not only that they could coexist, but could have some positive synergy, as well as collectively appealing to a broader audience and meeting more needs than either one site could alone.
My vision for RateTea:
What I wanted to do with RateTea was to create an independent repository for accurate tea information on the web, one that I could use as a vehicle for promoting transparency and sustainability in the tea industry. That is, I wanted it to be fully independent of any tea company, a website that does not sell any tea and does not even have any affiliate links. RateTea uses only third-party advertising on the site.
Tea as a vehicle for food culture:
I also wanted to use RateTea as a vehicle for getting people to think more about their tea: where it comes from, and how it is produced. For this reason, we classify teas to a greater level of detail, not just black, green, etc. but down to specific cultivars, specific provinces or even counties of China, and then we have an article on each style of tea, each specific region. And, rather than just appealing to tea connoisseurs, I want the site to draw in casual tea drinkers and get them to start thinking about their tea.
But the vision is not just about tea, it is really a global scheme which I intend to use as a platform for influencing and reshaping food and drink culture in America and worldwide. I want to push people in the direction of the slow food movement, embracing traditional foods, paying more attention to how their food and drink tastes, etc. For myself, when I got more into beer (and then tea) in this way, it opened up the door to thinking more about food. This is another reason why I have a lot of info on the site about climate and how tea is grown, on the region pages. I want people to become aware of issues like climate change, soil degradation, and also to learn about gardening, growing their own herbs, etc.
Very different from Steepster:
When I explain the full vision of RateTea, it is apparent that it is vastly different from Steepster. The site is a social networking site, and an interactive site where anyone can rate and review teas, but this is only a small part of it: it is also intended to be a massive repository of accurate information, and a vehicle for quiet, information-based activism that I hope will transform an entire industry by making it more transparent, accountable, and committed to sustainability. And more broadly, I hope it will influence the national and global food cultures in a positive way as well.
And this is what motivates me:
And that's why I'm so motivated to keep working on it and make it succeed even when there's a "competing" site that has more funding, more technical expertise, and more paid employees, each of which is probably making a lot more money than I am. Sometimes I still feel frustrated, not just about Steepster, but just in general. Steepster is a well-designed site, and a product of honest business and hard work. What really irritates me are the sites using blatantly unethical practices. I think...why does X website get more traffic / media attention / have more facebook fans / have better search rankings? Why am I not making more money? I see websites that have a message I see as negative or harmful, or are spreading misinformation, I see websites engaging in black-hat SEO practices to manipulate their search rankings, and I see companies using marketing that plays off all sorts of insecurities in unwholesome ways, like the weight loss message used to market tea to women. And I don't want to do these things, and I see that I am earning less money because I'm living with more integrity. And it frustrates me at times.
But I'm not interested in giving up. I know that my projects, not just RateTea, but other longer-term projects like Merit Exchange, or the Cazort.net political platform, are worthwhile contributions to society, and so long as I have enough resources to live comfortably, I can't imagine doing anything other than working on the projects and goals that I am most passionate about. And I know that right now, RateTea already is an awesome resource. The header of the site says: "The most comprehensive tea resource on the web." Anyone who reads this blog knows I write at length about honesty in marketing, and I wouldn't make this claim unless I believed it wholeheartedly. When I launched RateTea, I didn't make this claim, because the site wasn't good enough to make it honestly yet. Now it is. And I hope the quality of the material on the site will speak for itself and that others will recognize the quality of this work, and over the long run, take down their links to the unscrupulous websites and replace them with links to the higher-quality resources that I and many others have created.
What do you think?
What do you think of the relationship between RateTea and Steepster? Have you ever worked on a project only to find that someone else did something similar, and did a better job in some ways? What are your thoughts on competition vs. coexisting and working together by focusing on your strengths? Do you ever get frustrated when you see unscrupulous businesses making more money or getting more traffic or attention than you or your business? Do you think I'm being honest with the claim that RateTea is the most comprehensive tea resource on the web?