A little background — I’m the co-founder of the now defunct REMINI, a mobile app I worked on for the past year and a half.
My first startup was going to be a hit. My co-founder and I had so much conviction in the vision that we persuaded ourselves for a long time that success was inevitable.
But then, nothing happened. We were so compelled by the potential of what we could accomplish that we failed to notice the warning signs despite the constant ups and downs and frequent mood swings.
As entrepreneurs, we tend to fancy ourselves as a special breed: It all starts with an idea, the necessary vision to stick to your beliefs and all the hard work that comes with that.
Sometimes however, the challenges appear far too important to ignore and we just fall short of our goals despite the effort and sacrifices.
This post is the first part of a two-part series on my recent journey. I’m going to give it my best at first explaining why I believed REMINI had so much promise (Part I), to then expand on the steps I went through in building it and the lessons I have learnt from our failure (Part II).
“Remini is a mobile app that lets you relive, share and visualize your best moments to help you stay connected with your life”
Remini’s premise was that simple. From defining the vision to the actual user experience; it was always centered around 3 points:
- Relive your best moments in context
- Share them to create meaningful conversations with friends
- Visualize and build-up the stories of your friendships
At onboarding — All that was asked from users was to sign-up using Facebook and choose to connect additional photo sources (Instagram & Camera Roll). Remini would then automatically take care of the rest by processing all the moments that represent a user’s life.
This would in turn lead them to the very first Remini feature:
At activation, a user would land straight on the “Relive” tab.
The core of Remini was built around the idea that the best way to relive our life is when it happens by surprise.
This is particularly true when it relates to our current context and can be linked to the present, keeping us connected with our lives and in touch with who we are.
We intended to offer just that by letting you rediscover your best moments at the right time.
Here are some examples:
The exciting part was the engaging interface: Keep swiping down to refresh and new moments that fit your context will keep appearing to better surprise you:
- By Date: Wake up with a daily throwback of what you were doing on this exact day in previous years.
- By Friends: As you hang out with friends for a while, Remini would resurface a moment you share with that specific friend.
- By Location: As you spend time by a particular spot, Remini would help you rediscover your moments that happened nearby.
But what’s the point of reliving your life if you don’t get to share that feeling with friends?
Humans are innately social creatures — What defines us above anything else is our social interactions with the world.
Most of all, Remini was a social app; which leads us to our second main feature:
The point of reliving our best moments was to interact and create conversations with the people who matter. Remini was designed around the promise of offering you a way to feel a little closer to the people you care about most.
Every time — when reliving a moment from his past, a user would be given the option to share it with his friends:
Since context was a major part of what we were offering, our typical line of thought was as follows:
“As I relive my past in context; I naturally wish to share my frame of mind as it happened to me at the time”.
In that sense, Remini was all about bridging the gap between our past and our present, by connecting the emotions from our past experiences to our present context.
To top it all off — Each time you shared a moment on Remini, friends who were part of it would get a special notification letting them know “you shared a moment they’re part of” — Bringing them back to the newsfeed where they could interact around that moment, or many others.
So on top of surfacing your best moments at the right time — In a way, Remini really was a tool to help you reconnect with the people who mattered in your life.
With that in mind, part of keeping track of who we are, is knowing to whom we owe our present identity; which leads us to our 3rd main feature on Remini:
We are all defined by the relationships we built over the years. They say a lot about our experiences and are the foundation of who we are.
So far, no one has placed enough emphasis on this — Our goal was to change that.
As you relived and shared your best moments, the idea was to let you seamlessly build-up the stories of your friendships and visualize your life in a whole new way.
When sharing a photo, a user would always be asked to tag his friends who were part of that moment. This served a double purpose:
- First, of course to guarantee that your friends don’t miss out on content they’re a part of.
- Secondly but most importantly, to gradually fill-up your profile.
Your profile on Remini was essentially made up of “Friendship Albums”. Those albums were created automatically simply based on the tags attached to your photos.
They portrayed your life based on the relationships you built over the years. Each album represented a friend, and opening one would take you to a feed of photos shared between you and that specific friend.
Think of it as a “See Relationship” feature but with an emphasis on pictures exclusively, presented in the form of “boards”.
The more you and your friends shared photos from the Relive tab, the more you were seamlessly collaborating and building up the stories of your friendships together – All done for you naturally, with little or no conscious thought.
Consequently, if a photo had no tags; then it would simply be moved to the “My Moments” album which represented a user’s individual memories.
Now that we’ve covered the cornerstones of what constituted Remini, mainly:
1- Relive 2- Share 3- Visualize
In the hope that you stuck with me up to this point; let’s jump straight to the potential that made us confident in our chances of success.
We genuinely thought we had quite a few things going for us. For simplicity’s sake, I will be laying them out from a narrative point of view – Explaining my points by putting myself in the shoes of our potential users.
Every great product starts with a great on-boarding experience. We understood that early on and did our best to make use of the advantages that building on APIs can provide.
What got us really going was the realization that we didn’t have to face the chicken & egg problem that most social products usually deal with.
To better illustrate my point, I’d like to quote from a blog that really helped us figure out our product strategy:
The rules of building social products are changing. It’s important to understand this shift to build social products that can effectively gain traction on the Internet today. The connection-first model is no longer as effective as it used to be. As the social web grows, and a larger number of social products compete for our attention, we are seeing a dramatic shift towards the content-first model.
What made Remini such a compelling product was that to some extent, we didn’t fall into either of those 2 categories.
From a user’s perspective:
I download Remini, sign-up with Facebook and link my Instagram account and Camera Roll. After going through the typical permission requests and brief walkthroughs, I can directly and effortlessly start enjoying the benefits of the app.
In other words: I don’t have to go through the learning curve or effort of uploading content — On Remini, content directly comes to me.
With time, I realize that the app is actually delivering on its promise of letting me contextually relive my best moments. I can then start spreading the word to enjoy more social interactions and improve my overall experience.
This meant that activation on Remini was as fast as it could get, provided of course that users happened to have a photo that fit their context at the time of sign-up — A situation that proved to be almost always favorable during our testing sessions (thanks to all the existing data provided by the APIs).
The holy grail of product design. Without user engagement, a product becomes pretty much useless. This is more particularly true for social products.
Engagement on Remini came in different forms. For the sake of not stating the obvious, I’m only going to layout the ones that we believed made us stand apart.
We anticipated early on that down the line, our one metric that matters (OMTM) should be average number of shares per user.
In light of this, we made certain that sharing on Remini could not be easier. As mentioned earlier, activation was unique because users didn’t need to worry about creating content since it naturally came to them, provided the context was right.
This statement holds true for sharing as well. Since content comes to you, the only effort required of you as a user was clicking on that palpable share button.
Eliminating friction from this crucial step helped kick-start engagement in 2 ways:
1-First, by sharing, you’re effectively creating new engaging content to consume on the news-feed.
2-Second, frequent sharing meant albums would get filled-up at a faster rate, which in turn lead to more investment over time from users, hence more stickiness. This also meant a user would have more incentive to visit friends’ profiles and explore the evolution of their own albums.
The key to making sure fresh content was always available for sharing was collaboration on albums between friends, either by adding new photos or by filling up the gaps on existing ones. This would lead to new content being resurfaced on the Relive tab and therefore more variability.
As you might recall — 3 different photo sources were used for Remini:
1) Facebook 2) Instagram 3) Camera Roll.
The benefit was that the data attached to each photos meant that users didn’t have to customize their pictures from scratch.
But here’s the twist: Each source had its own missing links for resurfacing your past.
- By Date: A moment could come from all 3 sources since all have the date information attached.
- By Friends: A moment could only originate from Facebook having the necessary tags attached.
- By Location: In that case, a moment would mainly come from your phone camera roll due to the pre-requisite of having GPS coordinates — Or in some other cases from Facebook and Instagram (if a photo already had a venue attached to it).
The benefit of using Remini was that those missing links would get filled-up seamlessly at the point of sharing.
To clarify further: As a user, when I share a photo, I choose to fill-up the missing information such as the people who were with me, or the venue where it happened.
As I do that, not only am I making sure that this photo is later brought back to me in multiple ways; but I am also ensuring that my friends who are part of that moment also get to benefit from my initiative. The same holds true for my friends when they share a moment I am part of.
This meant that at scale, once I reach a critical amount of connections, I am making sure that fresh content will always be available to me by way of a collaboration on content between myself and my friends.
The benefits were also clear further down the line:
Even if I’m the first of my group of friends to join Remini, I can still add new moments or edit information on existing ones.
That way, by tagging people in these photos, I can see to it that once my friends join me at a later stage, they still get to enjoy that extra value I created for them.
After engagement; retention is logically the next step in our user narrative.
We believed we had the most effective external triggers one could come up with, coupled with some potentially interesting internal triggers.
External triggers on Remini were typical yet powerful. They came in the shape of push notifications.
You may already be telling yourself “Oh well, push notifications… What are the odds of users opting in?” — but if you stop for a moment and think about it, they’re actually the most effective tool app developers have at their disposal.
Prior to the usual social notifications such as news-feed likes and comments, friend requests and so on — One should look at that external trigger that comes very early in the user’s life cycle. On Remini, it was mainly based around the “Relive” part.
The idea was to leverage users’ data to send timely, relevant and often personalized push notifications — Creating that spark of curiosity that would improve the service’s open rate.
Internal triggers however, can be better explained from a user’s viewpoint:
With repeated use of Remini, I would eventually form a strong internal association with the app. I develop the habit of regularly checking it out because I know it will always offer me value relevant to my current context.
No matter where I am, who I’m with or what day of the year it is — I will always be curious to find out if Remini has some surprise in store for me.
In that sense, without a decent amount of variability, Remini was pretty much a useless service — We therefore made sure to work on our algorithms for the sake of offering elements of surprise.
Referrals on any kind of product are essential for organic growth. Being aware of that from the day we set off to build Remini, made us always aggressively look for creative growth hacks that would ultimately drive our adoption rate.
We always hoped that the “cool factor” of our value proposition could eventually incentivize word of mouth. Indeed, it was only hopeful thinking, as we could never really permit ourselves to only rely on that.
Instead, we thought-out a clever hack aimed at improving our viral cycle time.
As previously indicated, albums on Remini were created seamlessly when a user shared a photo. As a user, the more I shared and tagged my friends, the more I got to create albums that showed my relationships with those friends.
Once I understood the added value that Remini had to offer, I could start creating connections — An action that was made easily accessible to me on my profile.
I could simply tap on the invite icon to let my friends know of Remini, or tap on the add icon to create connections with my friends who already joined.
Thanks to this native and non-invasive layout without disturbing my user experience; I could smoothly be made aware of those close friends I needed to connect with.
Since the very early stages of our endeavor, we understood that we needed to establish our short and long-term visions in the interest of building a better product.
Our mission was therefore always clear.
In the short-term, Remini was always going to revolve around reliving, sharing and visualizing your life with friends. It was meant to be fun, fast paced and exciting.
We had the main parts of our product roadmap pre-defined. It included features such as:
- Videos: Those were also going to be introduced from the same sources, mainly Facebook, Instagram and your phone Camera Roll.
- Songs: Being huge music enthusiasts ourselves, we always believed it could play a major role in surfacing positive emotions attached to the past.
- Real time sharing: That was the one feature we were the most excited to see come into fruition. The idea was that as a user relives moments from his past, he gets the opportunity to share what he’s doing in real-time and compare the “then” to the “now”.
Down the line however, the goal was to have the short-term value translated into the bigger picture.
In an age of goldfish-level attention spans (myself included), mainstream social media users typically have their moments scattered on different services.
However, a vast majority of us capture and share most of our life moments mainly on 3 services: Our phones of course, followed by Facebook and Instagram respectively.
Despite all that, the problem still persists — Why should I systematically open 3 different applications to visualize my life?
We understood that early on when we first set out to build Remini. We thus systematically resisted the idea of adding more services that would only bring marginal improvements if any (such as Twitter or Foursquare).
The long-term vision was to have Remini become “the place for your life”. The one stop shop to contemplate your life moments.
While there are all sorts of services out there who aim for the same end result; most of them are either boring, hard to use or are just not worth our time.
If you come to think about it, you could say we fell into that “photo aggregator” category — We did however have our own secret sauce.
The underlying structure and philosophy of Remini, was to address that need through a captivating and fun experience, albeit in a deeply long-term thinking manner.
By focusing only on the services that matter and by simplifying the process of filling information gaps on photos through a collaborative process between groups of friends — It could have truly become the most comprehensive and meaningful social photo collection one could wish for.
At first glance one could be forgiven to think that all this looks promising: Looking at Remini strictly from a behavioral standpoint, it did encompass all the right components for increasing the odds of achieving network effects someday.
Things obviously didn’t work out as planned. If you look closer, you’ll find flaws that unfortunately make Remini impossible to deliver to the mass public — Flaws I address in my second post.