Noida/India, March 2015:
Typical startup scene. Cash running out, existing product not scaling fast enough to excite Series A investors and the worse part, need to let go some awesome employees who believed in our vision & 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 & the core team, blessings of family & friends and most importantly, my mentor & a few friends who I could call anytime to discuss all of my silly ideas. Finally, one day, after tons of calls and brainstorming sessions, it happened! The idea of the new product was finally clear in my head, so clear that I could visualise it. Even though it was 3AM, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up, made myself a cup of cappuccino and started drawing the wireframes. I was done by 4AM but still could not sleep. The thought of discussing the new direction with the team and wondering what their reaction would be, made my brain explode with excitement!
Fast forward 2 weeks, the team had loved the idea and started working on the first MVP (for non startup folks that means minimum viable product)). 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 graph). We knew that the video space is promising but somehow 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. We didn’t have much cash left and since investors were showing interest it was hard to let go & get back to the drawing board.
However after an internal discussion we decided that we would build again. It was a difficult decision given that ‘getting funded’ sounds a lot sexier 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 & they helped us quickly raise a small round from some awesome investors. That gave us enough bandwidth to focus on building the right product.
Back to the whiteboards. Back to basics. We spent lot of time discussing how can we really solve 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 15th we had an iOS version ready, I felt that the trigger to open the app everyday was still kind of weak but in the process we had invented a new way to quickly discover videos, we called our invention a “Vid”. The app looked neat and concept of Vid gave the app a visually attractive & differentiated feel. With the new app I started meeting friends who could give us feedback.
I met Ashish Tulsian of Posist who had visited Valley recently and showed him the product. He loved the concept but he advised me to visit valley and try to get early adopters there. We both knew that for social products & apps, India is a “follower” market. Although there are few exceptions like Whatsapp but 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 Valley rather than trying to ride against the tide in India.
The decision was made. I was coming to Silicon Valley. Thanks to Wipro (my only employer till date) I had a Business Visa ready & was ready to fly any day. If it was not that meeting with Ashish, I might have still been procrastinating the US trip.
San Francisco (Bay area), 20th June 2015:
When I came to valley I literally had nothing apart from my old iPhone 5 and one among many apps installed in it, named “Vidzy” (that’s our app). Two of the other important apps were “Meetup” and “Eventbrite”. My first concern was to check if people here will find the idea unique and useful. What if they say, “Oh we use this and this app for this. Why should I use Vidzy”?
But that did not happen. In fact 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 going to more events and started meeting lot more people, one such event was at InMobi’s office (the unicorn startup from India). Guys at InMobi loved the app and asked us to present as a potential partner in their Miip launch event.
There you go, within a month of coming to 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 mobile and advertising industry. I couldn’t have thought about all this exposure within a month, if I was not in Silicon Valley.
We started getting interest from some investors (some of who got in touch after the InMobi event), but for us key was to find out the right product market fit. We still did not have a strong trigger remember? 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 is a big enough problem to solve.
One day during some event I got an opportunity to pitch to Rick Marini. I had only 2 minutes. Rick being a pioneer in social consumer startups who has invested in companies like Reditt and Snapchat, his point of view mattered a lot. His reaction- “well 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 that something has to change, but what was that? How can we make this a pain killer?
After my meeting with Rick, I started looking for answers and connecting dots. Is personal video sharing a bigger problem? I starting thinking about it from the perspective of someone who record lot of videos everyday. Who is that user? And suddenly it occur to me that my brother makes lot of videos (of his daughter) and sends them over Whatsapp everyday. I decided to speak to him about the new use case.
To give a little background 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 Whatsapp and that too reaches a limited list of his 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 2 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- ask 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, I decided to test the new hypothesis.
I showed the app to the first guy I met in the event, and told him the use case. He started staring at me and stared at me for good 10 seconds, I felt as if I had stolen his idea (that’s typical valley, I thought). It turned out that indeed I had 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. Suddenly I felt like I was dreaming, for me that was like being closest to see a “product market fit”. During next half hour of the event, I didn’t talk about my product, instead that gentleman did all the talking on my behalf 😀.
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: 1 Billion smartphones= at least a billion videos waiting to come out, multiply that by videos which will be recorded in future! Does it sound like a billion dollar opportunity? Hell ya 😍!
We got so excited that by 3rd 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 sorely on the personal video space. We discussed & chose to avoid ambiguity about the core objective of the app & removed YouTube video sharing.
I’m staying at an Airbnb place in 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 videos sitting on their phones that they had not done anything about and they promptly uploaded & shared them via Vidzy. This was a big confidence boost. Their reaction told us that maybe we finally had the ‘Pain Killer’ we had been wanting to make.
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 & artists. 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 through “Vid” concept (external trigger).
iii) Capture & share a video instead of a photo because, well… now you can! (ability).
To understand above terminologies do check out Nir Eyal’s awesome Slidesharedeck.
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. We are working on few ideas like launching it on Product Hunt, showing it to the tech community during Techcrunch disrupt (21st Sep) and an offline event for students at UC, Berkeley. The idea is to meet our first 100 users face to face and learn from each other during these activities. Will keep on updating the results and learnings on Medium (please follow me if you are interested).
For startups outside valley (be in US, India or elsewhere) who are contemplating their visit to valley, I would like to share a few pointers:
- If you have a global consumer product, don’t even think twice. Come as soon as possible. The learnings which I got here in 2 months, are worth more than my whole startup life’s experience (3 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 or… die!
- Do not worry about leads or network. If you have a good product, people are more than willing to listen. DO NOT come without a prototype as people are bored of listening to ideas (every Tom, Dick and Harry here claims to be an entrepreneur). 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 for India 😛”. To raise funds you must show a real product-market fit with real traction unless you have a well connected network (which I’m assuming you won’t have if you are reading this).
I will keep on writing more stuff as things progress, including our app experiment results, user response & off course funding status 😀.. You can ask me any specific questions on the comment section (if you have). I will try to answer them.
You can find Vidzy on AppStore. If you are interested in reaching out to me, please email rabi(at)vidzy.io.