Circa runs out of cash, suspends publication indefinitely

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The Circa News app as it appears on an Android tablet. (Photo: Circa/Handout)

The Circa News app as it appears on an Android tablet. (Photo: Circa/Handout)

Circa News was the mobile-first application that almost every journalist gushed over — and that nobody with deep pockets wanted to save. 

After several days of radio silence, Circa’s co-founder Matt Galligan announced the company had run out of cash and would indefinitely cease publication.

“Our mission was always to create a new company where factual, unbiased and succinct information could be found,” Galligan wrote. “It’s with a deep sadness we find ourselves in this position.”

It was not an unexpected outcome: Many of the app’s hard-core users noticed something was amiss when Circa suddenly stopped publishing new stories on Monday. Some grew frustrated with the lack of communication from the service, prompting Circa’s editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa to tweet on Tuesday that an announcement was forthcoming.

When no announcement came, De Rosa wrote that he did not intend to “stay silent on Circa for much longer” and that Circa’s business managers owed “it to us and to our users to provide an update.”

That update came a few hours later when Galligan announced the stop would remain in place indefinitely.

Circa launched three years ago to much industry fanfare as a news service that shunned traditional desktop publishing in favor of a mobile-centric focus. The app was spearheaded by Galligan and co-founder Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network and was developed in San Francisco.

Circa was best known for repurposing news articles published elsewhere into tiny, easy-to-digest stories and updates. At its peak, the service had 20 software developers, editors and writers split between San Francisco and New York City, and a handful of bureau chiefs and freelancers around the world.

What it never seemed to have was a way of making money: During its short life, the fledging app was funded entirely through venture capital. On Thursday, Galligan said the service did not consider advertisements or a subscription model as a way of generating revenue.

“We never felt like any of the simplest solutions would pair well with the high-quality experience we wished to achieve, or even bring in enough to make a difference,” Galligan wrote.

As it explored a new approach to financial support, other players emerged in the mobile-only space, including the New York Times with NYTNow, Al Jazeera with AJPlus, and Jason Calacanis with Inside (Calacanis was an early investor in Circa).

Some at Circa saw the competition as less of a threat and more validation that the service was headed in the right direction. 

“We don’t see it [NYTNow] as a particular threat,” David Cohn, Circa’s Chief Content Officer, wrote on the website Quora. “Now that organizations like the New York Times are jumping in, it makes our first mover advantage look smart instead of crazy.”

But there were indications that not everyone at Circa felt the same: Since last year, the service has lost numerous staff members to competing news organizations, including Cohn who now works for AJPlus.

Circa’s financial woes were first documented in a news article published by Fortune’s Dan Primack in April. Primack reported that Circa was seeking a buyer — either for its app, its technology or, ideally, both — after the company failed to secure a new round of funding. One week later, Business Insider reported that Twitter had emerged as an interested party. Last week, it was reported here that Daily Dot Media was also exploring a possible acquisition.

Neither of those meetings moved beyond the initial interest stage, and it remains unclear if anyone is seriously looking at Circa (Galligan wrote that Circa’s management would not be speaking to the press “in the interest of continued negotiations around Circa.”)

“We’re upset that we may be letting people down,” Galligan said. “As a company, we’re still working through an opportunity to keep the technology and spirit of Circa alive.”

Any future plans won’t include Circa’s current editorial staff: A freelance contributor told The Desk via Twitter that Circa’s remaining staff will now have to look for new work.