How we built one of the Google Play’s Best Apps of 2018 — the VIMAGE

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Maybe you’ve also thought about being part of something which has a big impact on others life. Shape the world, make it a better place and express yourself through your creativity. This feeling was always directive in my life.
And challenges… reaching something which is close to your limits is one of the best intrinsic motivators. So that’s why I said yes when one of my friends asked me to join a small team and create something new together from scratch.

That time was around two years ago from now and we all learned and changed a lot since then. In the beginning, we had no idea how far we can go, and now our application — VIMAGE — was chosen as one of the Most Entertaining Apps of 2018 on Google Play. We have lots of ideas yet and are also very excited about the future. As I can see now, there is no “Bible of Success”, but you can increase your chances.

So that was the warm up. Are you curious about our road till now?

Beginnings

First, let me introduce VIMAGE in a few sentences! Our vision was about to give people the possibility to create cinemagraphs in the easiest possible way.

Why? Because cinemagraphs are awesome, unique, creative and also calming. These attributes help people to express themselves and fascinate their audience on social channels. Not just “consuming” but creating these art pieces can be very catching.

Validated idea

But these are just speculations even if they fit your idea. Actually, it’s a common trap when you have a “great” idea which is good just because you like it. Of course you like it, it’s your idea! 🙂

You always have to validate it first! That's what our idea owner and CEO, Zsolt Czigler made before he started to build a team. First, he looked around our possible competitors and he realized that these moving stills are truly very popular. A bit later we made a very important observation related to this: they are actually not competitors because many people use these products parallel. In the beginning, he also made a brilliant MVP, a Photoshop product which used the same concept what we use in our application to this day. It took some hours or at most a day to create it and after some days, Photoshop designers started to buy it with a pretty nice conversion. And all of these were enough to give it a try!

Initial team

Our initial team was about five people. Pretty big for a startup right? Let’s see these people in more depth: a freelancer web designer, an economics student, a medical student (and also graduated IT guy), another IT guy and me as an Android developer. They are a mix of relatives and friends. Quite different backgrounds and not of them had experiences with startups. Maybe, at first sight, it’s hard to believe they can reach success.

So at this point what we could do is to create a concept on Android. We just started as a typical garage startup: working in our free time from home, separated from each other in space and time, and of course, we had no money. But we had something which can help you go far, a good team. Now I see that besides a validated good idea, the team is one of the most important ingredients in a successful startup! I’m not kidding… I’m one hundred percent sure that every business is going to face with different challenges sooner or later and you won’t have any chance with diverging people. Tolerance, honesty, optimism, and open-mindedness are the keywords here.

Once I lost my motivation after some months and I had to make a big effort to work on the project. I had a full-time job, my first daughter was just born and VIMAGE had no results yet. I felt tired just like never before. But our team members were so tolerant and helpful that I could tide over this period. I think it’s much more difficult to go forward alone.

On the road

While we worked on the initial Android version, we also made a Facebook and Instagram profile where our first posts started to propagate us. We also set up a simple website where we could collect our early users. The deal was that whoever subscribed will get full access (with the premium features too) to our application once it’s released. With this, we could start our first Android release with a few thousand users! That was just a closed alpha version but was perfect for experimenting, collecting feedbacks and analyze our audience.

Further team-mates

After a while, another friend reached us out because he saw our brand on Facebook and immediately fell in love with it. He had some programming background and wanted to join our developer team.

Two important things came true here what you should always consider when you look for a new member:

  • Does he believe in your vision as much as you?
  • Does he fit the culture of your team?

Well, both answers were yes and we found the sixth member!

We constantly grew on Android and it seemed logical to start our business on iOS as well. I also started to invite my friends to like our Facebook page and one day I saw that one of my colleagues accepted my request who was actually an iOS developer. “It’s a Match!” I thought. He was absolutely in, so that’s how we become a seven-member startup.

Fundraising

I can say that everything went fine but as we grew we had to increase our tempo more and more which was difficult since we all worked in our free time. To work more on the project, we needed money, of course. So we added a simple purchase item first and waited for the results. People started to buy it and we were very happy when we saw the first incomes. It was our first attempt (and also wasn’t enough for salaries) but very important, because we could start to experiment with our business model.

I recommend to think and work on your business model as soon as possible. If you don’t know how you can get money from your business, there is a good chance to fail in the long or even in the short run.

We were after a year from the very beginning when we applied a local startup competition in Hungary. VIMAGE was chosen as one of the three winners and it also meant a nice amount of fund. That was exactly what we needed for the speed up, we could work on the project full-time.

Experimenting with the business model

We tried to use this money to make our product profitable, maintainable and valuable to our users. After some experimenting and feedbacks, we decided that our “must-have” features should be free but users had to pay for the “nice to have” ones.

First, we tried one time purchases with different packages but it didn’t seem maintainable because we were always exposed to the amount of daily new users. Finally, we had to change our business model three times in four months to get a good one. It was really hard, we almost ran out of money! 😬 We used all of our first biggest incomes to grow: we rent an office, hired developers and started to use more paid software. All of them were important but we should have prioritized and made these changes step-by-step. The other problem was that we didn’t collect enough store of money. And then, our incomes started to decrease of course! 😨It was very-very painful when we had to say goodbye to some employees. We learned from this, and we made a strategy for the hard times which can probably save us.

Now we focus on subscriptions with a trial period. It gives us a more calculable income and on the other hand, it’s a smaller risk to our customers. Of course, it’s not excluded that we’ll change this construction in the future if needed.

What we also learned is that it’s recommended to design your pricing plans as simple as possible. People get confused if they have to choose between many difficult options. Show them a clear view where they can simply select what they really need otherwise you’ll probably lose many potential customers!

Future

Where we are now is 3 million organic downloads and 4.6 stars on Google Play. Our numbers are pretty nice in the App Store too.
It’s hard to say anything what’s going to happen, but we try to do the best what we can. One thing is certain: we’ll focus more on quality and user experience via creativity, education, and delight.
Many people download our app but we definitely have to make the retention stronger.


Lessons learned

  1. You need a “good” idea! I guess it’s not impossible but very very hard to make a success with a bad idea.
  2. You can’t be sure if your idea is good until you proved even if you think it will change the world.
  3. Focus on your team cohesion and don’t let people join if they don’t fit your company culture! For example, our team represents “get things done” attitude and that’s what we appreciate in others as well.
  4. You are able to learn whatever you want. Don’t be afraid of new and unknown things! At VIMAGE, we all learned and did what we’ve never done before.
  5. Be honest with yourself and see things realistically! Bad things will happen and you can solve them only if you take notice of them.
  6. You create a product not for yourself but your users. Keep in touch with them, get feedbacks, focus on what they really want! There is no better motivation then satisfied and happy user feedbacks. 🙂
    There were countless cases when we changed priorities of coming features because of the user needs.

I’d like to say thank you to my colleagues, my brother in law and last but not least to my wife to help improve this article with their observations! 🙏

We’re also curious about your similar experiences, so please leave a comment below if you also have a story or idea!