Typical startup scene: cash running out, existing product not scaling fast enough to excite Series A investors, letting go of some awesome employees who believed in our vision and promises. For a few nights I couldn’t sleep properly in the hope of getting that one idea which could give us a new direction and the enthusiasm to keep going. During all this time, what fuelled me was the support of my co-founder and the core team, blessings of family and friends and most importantly, my mentor.
Finally, one day, after many calls and brainstorming sessions, the idea of the new product was finally clear in my head. Even though it was 3 a.m., I couldn’t sleep. I woke up, made myself a cup of cappuccino and started drawing the wireframes. I was done by 4 a.m..
The team loved the idea and two weeks it started working on the first MVP. The idea was to build a curated YouTube videos app with the possibility of creating memes and doodles to help discover the best online videos. We launched the MVP on Android and got fairly good user traction, keeping us excited about the opportunity.
Though the investors were excited about our new idea, the hitch was users were not sticking to the app (see the downward trend on the graph above). We knew that the video sector is a promising avenue but the trigger to use our app everyday was not strong enough. We had two options at that point- keep pursuing the investors and burning money in acquiring new users or go back to the whiteboard (again) and build something which users would truly love.
After an internal discussion we decided that we would build again. It was a difficult decision given that ‘getting funded’ sounds more appealing than ‘let’s take a crack again’. But for us the choice was easy, because we always wanted to build something which millions of people would want to use everyday. So I went back to my mentors and they helped us quickly raise a small round from some investors. That gave us enough bandwidth to focus on building the right product.
Back to the whiteboard. Back to basics. We spent a lot of time discussing how we can really solve the video discovery problem. I also read Nir Eyal’s Hooked and we built the product chapter by chapter, brainstorming on key concepts like ‘Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment’. By June 15 we had an iOS version ready. Though I sensed the trigger to open the app everyday was still kind of weak, in the process we had invented a new way to quickly discover videos. We called our invention a ‘Vid’. With the new app I started meeting friends who could give us feedback.
This is how a ‘Vid’ looks like. It also plays a 10 sec voiceover.
I met Ashish Tulsian of Posist who had visited Silicon Valley recently to show him the product. He loved the concept but advised me to visit the Valley and try to get early adopters there. We both knew that for social products and apps, India is a follower market. Although there are few exceptions like WhatsApp: in a price-sensitive country where SMS/MMS were not free, Whatsapp came in as a messiah and gave unlimited messaging for free (or at least at a fraction of cost).
So for us the logical thing was to try finding influencers in the Valley rather than trying to ride against the tide in India. The decision was made. I was heading to Silicon Valley. If it was not for that meeting with Ashish, I might have still been procrastinating the US trip.
San Francisco (Bay area), 20th June 2015:
When I came to the Valley I had nothing apart from my old iPhone 5 and one among the many apps installed on it was Vidzy, our app. Two other important apps were Meetup and Eventbrite. My first concern was to check if people here will find the idea unique and useful. People loved the concept and started giving me their email IDs (because the app was still in beta and not live on app store). In a month I collected about 100 email IDs. I started attending more events and meeting more people. One such event was at InMobi’s office.
The folks at InMobi loved the app and asked us to present as a potential partner at their Miip launch event. So within a month of coming to the US, I was talking about Vidzy at Fort Mason Center (the same place where Facebook’s F8 developer conference happened) among hundreds of industry veterans from the mobile and advertising industry. I couldn’t have dreamed of so much exposure within a month had I not come to Silicon Valley.
I started getting interest from investors, but for me the key was finding the right product market fit. We still did not have a strong trigger. Our beta users loved the concept but not so much the use case- few of them got back to me saying, “When will you enable personal video sharing?” I was not sure about personal video sharing because we still believed that YouTube video discovery was a big enough problem to solve.
One day at an event I got an opportunity to pitch to Rick Marini. Being a pioneer in social consumer startups and having invested in companies like Reditt and Snapchat, his point of view mattered a lot. His reaction: “The app and concept is good, but building on top of YouTube means they can shut you down any day and also this to me looks like a vitamin not a pain killer.” Those words got stuck in my head. I knew something has to change. How can we make this a pain killer?
After my meeting with Rick, I started looking for answers. Is personal video sharing a bigger problem? I starting thinking about it from the perspective of someone who records lot of videos everyday. Who is that user? And suddenly it occurred to me that my brother shoots a lot of videos of his daughter and sends them over WhatsApp everyday. I decided to speak to him about the new use case.
My brother is not a heavy app user: he owns a Windows phone and keeps a low profile on Facebook. The only way for him to share his daughter’s video is through WhatsApp with a limited reach of friends and family members. When I asked him whether he would like to use an app where he could share his daughter’s video with anyone who would like to watch, he immediately said yes. This gave me a huge boost. I called up my co-founders in India and we had a good two-hour discussion on the use-case. We all agreed that it made lot of sense. We were still not too sure whether it was the pain which needed a pain killer. There was only one way to find it out: by asking people!
I started checking out important events on Meetup that week and found a mobile innovation related event in Mountain View. I still did not have the app with the feature built but the concept was there with YouTube videos and I decided to test the new hypothesis. So I showed the app to the first guy I met at the event, and told him the use case. He stared at me a good 10 seconds, and I felt as if I had stolen his idea. That’s typical Valley, I thought. It turned out that I had indeed stolen his idea, but he was glad that a solution for his problem was now out there. This guy said he has tons of videos of his kid but couldn’t find a decent app which could take those videos to interested people. I was getting closer to a product market fit.
Past few weeks
Once the idea sank in, we discussed the opportunity and realised that the potential was huge. One key insight that emerged from these discussions was that the people could relate to the problem of videos sitting in the gallery and later getting deleted because of low storage space. We did a simple math: a billion smartphones entails at least a billion videos waiting to come out, multiply that by videos which will be recorded in the future. Does it sound like a billion-dollar opportunity? Yes! We got so excited that by the third week of August the test app was ready (we had to add the record+upload feature). Now an important decision was whether to keep both YouTube and personal videos in the app or focus solely on the personal video space. We discussed and chose to avoid ambiguity about the core objective of the app and removed the YouTube video sharing feature.
I’m staying at an Airbnb place in the Valley, so I get to meet new visitors every other day. I used the opportunity and got some of them as beta users. They immediately related to our new proposition of sharing personal videos. All of them had a couple of videos sitting on their phones that they had not done anything about and they promptly uploaded and shared them via Vidzy. This was a big confidence boost. Their reaction told us that we probably had the ‘pain killer’ we had been wanting to make finally.
Surprisingly, no one owns the video trigger yet. YouTube is for professionals, Facebook/Twitter focus on brand/viral videos (to make money) while Instagram and Vine videos are too short to appeal to consumers beyond professional bloggers and artistes. We realised that with our app, we can own that trigger-
i) Record/upload and share videos instantly (main trigger)
ii) Make video sharing fun with an external trigger
iii) Capture and share a video instead of a photo because, well… now you can!
To understand above terminologies do check out Nir Eyal’s Slideshare deck.
Our app went live last week and some of my friends and our beta users have started uploading and sharing their videos. Our idea is to grow the app organically through word of mouth and see if the network effect kicks in.
For startups outside the Valley (be it in US, India or elsewhere) who are contemplating their visit to the Valley, a few pointers:
If you have a global consumer product, don’t think twice. Go as soon as possible. The learning which I got here in two months are worth more than my whole startup life’s experience (three years). In addition to tech-savvy consumers, the other thing which helps is extremely high living cost which pushes you out of your comfort zone. There is no option here, but to move fast to succeed!
Do not worry about leads or network. If you have a good product, people are willing to listen. Do not come without a prototype as people are bored of listening to ideas. You need something to differentiate yourself, jump the queue and get noticed.
Getting investors just on the basis of an idea and product is next to impossible. This is a mature market and an innovator’s market, so you can not really say that we are ‘Uber or Airbnb of India’. So unless you have a well connected network, be ready to show a real product-market fit with real traction to raise funds.
About the author
Rabi Gupta Co-founder of Vidzy (Share full length videos via short 10 sec teasers). Previously: iDubba & iCouch (second screen mobile platform for TV channels with 1Mn+ monthly active users). You can find Vidzy on AppStore. If you are interested in reaching out to me, please email rabi(at)vidzy.io.