Vebbler is looking to milk the photo sharing trend on social media. But, it might be suffering from the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ syndrome.
Vebbler began as a social network in 2013, but quickly pivoted to a photo collaboration tool when founder Sahil Bhagat realised that there were no takers for status updates anymore.
The internet had turned more visual, and the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat were making photo-sharing a round-the-clock activity.
Vebbler, developed by a bootstrapped startup in Mumbai, was a web-only product to begin with. In a month, it gained 5,000 users, but more importantly, reached over 50 countries. Founder Sahil’s vision stood validated.
Despite the influx of photo apps and services in recent years, there was a space for a closed group photo-sharing network for friends, families, relatives, college clubs, etc. That is what Vebbler aspired to be - a social yet private photo platform for “communities” - a word Founder-CEO Sahil stresses on.
In 2015, Vebbler relocated to Bengaluru, the startup hub.
“We realised that Bengaluru was the best place to build out a technology team for a product like ours. In 2016, we launched the app,” Sahil tells YourStory. “The Android app really drove our growth in India,” he says.
Today, Vebbler boasts of a million downloads across Android and iOS, and a user-base spanning 119 countries. Its monthly active users stand at 350,000, while daily active users are at 73,000. Last week, the app was launched in five Indian languages - Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, and Kannada. It is, of course, available in English too.
In July 2018, Vebbler raised an undisclosed pre-series A from a clutch of investors including Ambiga Subramanian (former CEO of Mu Sigma), Sharad Sharma, Pranav Pai, actor Dino Morea, and VJ Nikhil Chinappa, among others. Prior to that, it had been a part of the FbStart programme, where it earned $40,000 in credits, and free tools, services, and product guidance from Facebook.
“Our users are very young. They want to instantly share photos and videos with their informal groups, be it from a wedding or a house party or a holiday or some other community event. But, they can use Vebbler to not just share but click as well. So, we like to call ourselves a social camera app.”
Vebbler borrows many of its features from Instagram - the Holy Grail of photo apps - and Facebook, which made physical photo albums extinct. So, there are Stickers, Stories, Face Filters, Photo Albums, and of course, the Camera built within Vebbler.
Let’s dig into the app now.
You start by creating a Vebbler account. The app accepts Facebook and Google logins.
It then asks for your mobile number. An OTP is sent, and the account creation is completed only after you enter the OTP. (More on this later.)
Next, the app seeks access to your phone’s camera, microphone, storage, contacts, and location. Now, this could be problematic in the wake of Google’s recently updated policy for Play Store apps. (More on this too, later.)
The homepage of Vebbler presents a feed of featured clubs and top users. You can browse through the feed and follow the profile of your choice, ala Instagram.
If you’ve barred Vebbler access to your phone’s camera, the app’s functionality is restricted. In that case, you can only share photos from the camera roll, as opposed to clicking with Vebbler’s inbuilt camera.
You can create a new club or join an existing one. Any user can join a club by scanning a club code.
There’s also a Personal tab that stores photos and videos you save from the camera. It is your own gallery within Vebbler.
Just like Instagram, Vebbler allows you to add Stories to your profile. You can either click or load photos from the camera roll. There are options to write, doodle, attach links, add filters, stickers, GIFs, timestamps, geo-location, etc. This part of Vebbler is a frame-by-frame imitation of Instagram Stories.
Channels is another feature that looks a lot like IGTV, Instagram’s new app for long videos. There are celebrity, travel, food, health, and business channels to choose from.
When you click on a particular channel, a photo or video shows up. You can add a comment or reaction to the said post. A simple left-swipe allows you to browse through all posts in a channel.
You can visit every profile on Vebbler individually, and go through the user’s posts, stories, clubs, events, etc.
Lastly, in Settings, you can add/edit username and bio, select the language of your choice, adjust privacy settings (Vebbler allows you to block users), add a review, and even connect with the founder.
Vebbler has a few things going for it.
For instance, it enables “lossless” photo sharing, unlike some other networks (including Facebook). So, photos aren’t resized or cropped on the Vebbler network. Hence, they are able to retain their resolution and quality.
It also allows multi-upload of up to 20 posts in one Club (or album). Instagram, in contrast, allows a maximum of 10 photos per post. Vebbler even offers the option to create sub-albums called ‘Memories’ to highlight a part of an event.
Most importantly, Vebbler’s availability in Indian languages is a key differentiator. It signals the startup’s intent to tap into the new, non-metro user.
But, some aspects of Vebbler might irk social media-savvy users.
First, the app asks for too many permissions, and under Google Play’s new policy, Vebbler has to get that sorted within 90 days. For a camera app, there is no plausible excuse to seek access to Contacts or even Location. Also, at the sign-up stage, an email id should be enough. Vebbler’s insistence on a mobile number-led OTP verification could be a turn-off for privacy-conscious users.
Second, Vebbler is too Instagram-like. And given how apps jostle for real estate on user devices, it is no surprise that despite having a million “registered users”, Vebbler’s MAUs are only about 35 percent of it. To reach scale, Vebbler has to increase conversions.
Third, Vebbler is a clunky product. It tries to be too many things at the same time. While the app is well-designed, its UX could be simpler. App icons are needlessly vague. For first-time users, Vebbler is not exactly a breeze.
And lastly, Vebbler is a heavy app at 55 MB. In contrast, Instagram, the mother of all photo apps, is at 35 MB. WhatsApp, which is most frequently used for photo-sharing between informal groups, is at 18 MB only. So, for a user who has to prioritise apps based on device storage — a reality most non-utility apps grapple with — Vebbler may not be the obvious choice. Not yet.