The brand-new, dramatically improved Examine 2.0 is launching soon! 🚀
For the past couple of years, we’ve been hard at work assembling a site that’s faster and sturdier (the underlying code is all new), with a much clearer interface and better-organized, more useful information. And a much improved search function!
In the weeks leading up to the launch, I wanted to give you some context by answering this question: What led up to Examine 2.0, and what can you expect from it?
This is the first of three weekly episodes (IV, V, and VI) revealing hitherto untold secrets about the birth and growth, successes and setbacks, and troubles and tribulations of the band of rebels known as Examine.
Would you trust supplement and nutrition information from a website that also sold supplements?
In 2011, the only websites with widely accessible supplement information were also selling supplements with names like Savage Muscle Builder 3000 and PreWorkout VeinPopper Deluxe.
We don’t want to mention actual products, but these names aren’t far off.
Research nerds used forums, and some accessed PubMed directly, but papers were (and still are) locked behind paywalls. Government websites were rarely used due to subpar design. Wikipedia articles on supplements were sparse and seldom updated.
My friend Sol Orwell, co-founder of Examine, had developed bad eating habits in the early part of his entrepreneurial career. He was eventually able to access and use scientific studies to get back down to a healthy weight without fad diets or supplements. His efforts were even covered in People Magazine!
As someone who had been sucked into supplement hype at the start of his weight-loss journey, Sol wanted to help others separate the wheat from the chaff. He had the foresight to nab a perfect domain name — Examine.com — and the morals to use that name for a noble purpose.
The easy route would have been to get funded through venture capital, build fast, accrue revenue by selling supplements or ad space, and then sell out to a big company. Luckily, Sol didn’t take that route.
Just a sec, though. Every Han Solo needs his Chewbakamal, right?
Before meeting Sol, I worked at an academic hospital, in an evidence-synthesis center. On the side, I also ran a small website that covered the evidence behind pain reduction strategies — I have a painful genetic connective-tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), and if others were hurting like I was, I wanted to help, even if indirectly.
Sol stumbled across my website because he has EDS too. Eventually, we built the Examine team out with like-minded people: curious science nerds who were, most importantly, kind-hearted and driven to help others.
Our plan was to combat the misinformation rampant on the web, by incrementally growing our research database while we paid the bills through the sale of PDF products. As is still the case, Sol handled the tech and business sides, and I the research side. He’s bold and I’m shy, but we’re both persistent, a trait that’s needed for an independent research-focused website in a galaxy of misinformation.
In the first few years, the Dark Side kept trying to seduce us. It wasn’t easy to make money without selling ad space, supplements, or diet plans.
The website was getting rickety, due to all the custom code that went into it. Complex web development to fix it was too expensive, and we had essentially zero marketing budget to bolster our revenue.
Wouldn’t it be better to give in and link to third-party supplement stores, instead of only selling unbiased PDF products that barely kept us afloat? It wouldn’t be like recommending specific supplements, or even like promoting specific brands, so maybe it would be OK? Right?
But if you need to ask yourself this kind of question, the answer is usually no. As a wise being once said, a long, long time ago, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.”
And so we held firm. And with time, things started to look up. As people like you came to realize they couldn’t trust supplement information provided by websites that profited from supplement sales, they turned to us.
Little by little, our revenue grew, along with the size of our team and the quality of the evidence we offered. By not selling out, we had managed to create a virtuous circle. In 2017, the future looked bright.
And then, in 2018, Examine’s ambitions were thwarted.
There were small blunders. There was an epic battle. And we tell you all about it in Episode V.
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