In a small corner of the web, people are writing 100-word bursts of ideas on everything from democracy in Taiwan to umbrellas. Many of the subjects are turned into introspective narratives, becoming very self aware and sometimes full of existential angst. It is not the sharing of ideas that has brought this community together, though.
Daily Themes is a six-month-old startup currently operating out of Shanghai that is meant to help people master written English 100 words at a time. The site is mostly targeted toward non-native speakers.
The business relies on a team of professionals to critique the writing samples submitted on the website to ensure quality and accuracy, which some automated corrections systems struggle with. Company co-founder Hassan Siddiq compared the site to Grammarly, an automated proofreader for grammar and spelling.
“You definitely need to have a human backend (for the best results),” Siddiq said. “And to some extent, I don’t think anybody has done it yet.”
The word limit is meant to help writers concentrate on the language rather than get caught up in long narratives, but it also helps a limited staff cope with a rapidly increasing volume of written material. Having just started last October, Daily Themes currently only has three people working on critiques. With the site’s user base having quadrupled to about ten thousand people in the last month alone, according to Siddiq, the users-to-staff ratio has increased significantly.
Most of those users are on the website’s free tier, which allows two writing samples per month to be professionally proofread. The site has only recently introduced paid plans, Siddiq said, which start at $9 per month for 10 reviewed samples each month and can go as high as $125 per month for a platinum plan aimed at schools and companies. Siddiq said the company has already been working with some universities.
Most of the interest in paid plans has been for the platinum plan and the silver plan, which allows for 24 reviewed drafts each month for $25, according to Siddiq.
Daily Themes was founded by three non-native English speakers, so they were all familiar with what can be a frustrating process of learning to write in a new language, which Siddiq differentiated from learning to speak the language conversationally.
Siddiq said one aim of the company is to help others contribute more to “global internet conversations.”
“Many countries have developed their own local internet communities which are increasingly isolated from the mainstream internet,” he said in an email. “For instance, Twitter and Weibo almost have the same product but are divided into English speaking and Chinese speaking audiences respectively. We want to bring users out of their local internet communities to a global English-medium platform.”
China, as a large and rapidly-growing economy, seems enthusiastic to join that global conversation. In fact, about 45 percent of Daily Themes’ users are in China. That is what brought the company to Shanghai.
Daily Themes was granted the opportunity to work out of the startup incubator China Accelerator through May. Siddiq said the founders would like to keep a Shanghai office with one founder staying in China and have another office in the U.S., possibly in Washington, D.C. The three of them embraced the opportunity to come to China because it is the company’s fastest growing market, but Siddiq said they don’t want to neglect the other 50 to 60 percent of their users, for whom a North American office would be used to service.
While the company is still very young, the founders are already thinking about how their product will evolve in the future. Daily Themes collects and organizes information about its users’ English usage, identifying common mistakes among specific demographics. One trend Siddiq pointed out is that South Asians on the site tend to overuse articles but East Asians underuse them.
As the site grows, Siddiq is not counting out eventually using automation informed by their data to compliment their professional reviews.
“We definitely would love to go to more automation,” Siddiq said.
For now, Siddiq is excited by current company growth, the introduction of a paying userbase and positive user responses.
“We’re pretty excited that people are finding real value from this feedback,” Siddiq said. “When customers put a stamp of approval (on our product), it’s quite a validation.”