Thoughts on Challenging an Image Sharing Titan
I, like many entrepreneurs, started this small side project because I wanted to "scratch my own itch." That’s a saying in the startup world that most simply means that you should first attempt to solve your own problem and then later (perhaps much later) see if anyone else has the same issue, or itch.
If you can satisfy your own itch and make a compelling solution then there’s almost always an audience for it in the much larger context. Sure, nothing’s guaranteed, but I venture to bet that your itch is shared with hundreds if not thousands of others.
In addition, your itch might not be entirely new either. Perhaps it’s just a different take or perspective on an existing itch. It’s like those backstratchers, if we’re go to as literal as possible, as there’s about a thousand and one different styles and iterations on what was most likely a wood stick to begin with.
And what if your itch has already been scratched by a technological titan? I suppose this is what I was facing down when I first started compiling my thoughts about what I thought was a very needed application, philosophically for the most part but functionally as well.
Facebook (and Instagram since they are essentially the same thing now) was that titan and after a little bit of time coyly circling the wagons (or shyly eying the battlefield below) I realized that I was entering into some very wide and very deep waters and I was going to compete against a billion dollar, publicly traded company.
As one of my close friends mentioned,
… That must be one big itch.
He was right; it is and it's and important one to scratch. Content ownership by artists, online publishers, and creators of digital media is a vitally important topic in our ever-expanding world of technological communication. Licensing and rights of use are followed closely in very confusing legalese and long-form legal documentation. Most people have no idea who "owns" their content and what they have sacrificed in terms of their own rights and privileges.
In fact, most people have resigned to allow such image sharing titans to just commercialize their content at will citing the fact that it’s an “unfortunate consequence” but that at least they get to poke one another. It’s this resignation that I have a problem with - it doesn’t have to be that way.
And personally it’s a darn big itch that I want to scratch. I’ve been blogging for more than 12 years now and I believe in content ownership, creators rights, and true publishing freedom. Perhaps I care too much about it as I’ll actually read the fine print before I sign up for such services.
I started concepting an application that would allow me to functionally have everything that Instagram currently has except that I would be allowed to publish directly to my own property using WordPress, an open source application, instead of using their own generated landing page. This means that I would not only keep the content myself, thus having complete end-to-end control, but I would also benefit directly by getting to keep every single pageview that I deserve via my own creation.
See, I believe that content ownership in today's digital publishing economy includes the act of not only capturing an image but also publishing the image to the world. Without true control over publishing the user still loses out and lets another profit off their work. Instagram does this by displaying a user's image on their own created landing pages. The content creator and publisher ends up as deficit.
The resulting license structure of this scratched-itch? 100% mine. 100% the user. If there was any monetization that was going to happen then the dollars (or pennies perhaps) would at least land in our own pockets instead of Zuckerberg’s and his various stakeholders.
Unfortunately most of Instagram's users have no idea that they are subject to the much larger governance of Facebook who will be able to user their information and images for possible monetization — they aren't even sure there's an itch that they need to scratch in the first place!
I had enough — in October of last year I started building it. Paper napking sketches to start. I lovingly called it Pressgram which was an obvious hat-tip to the social network that I had left (take that!) as well as another nod to WordPress, an application that fully embodies the independent web and full content ownership from end-to-end. I started putting the designs together, laying the foundation and architecture working nights after my kids went to bed and binging on the weekends.
I was pacing comfortably with the development and even started a blog that would capture my “App Startup Story” — I built some wireframes in less than 4 hours on a late evening, threw up a temporary landing page in another night, and slowly started engineering the solution to my itch.
But I’ll be honest, it’s lonely to work alone. Go figure, right? Although satisfied with my pace and although I had figured I’d just get done when I would get done it even the hardiest of champions needs a sidekick. It turns out I needed more than just one and nearly 6 weeks ago I launched a Kickstarter Project after my wife encouraged me to try it.
I decided that I would engage the giant behemoth of image sharing with the help of a community, an army perhaps. Instead of a David and Goliath-like battle I would solicit some help from the community and getting some public support and financial backing — this would not only accelerate the timeline but allow the opportunity for expansion into other mobile platforms beyond iOS and my iPhone (Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry were stretch goals).
I launched it on a Saturday morning at 12:08am and I went to sleep exhausted. In less than 24 hours I would have more than 25% raised and growing fast. It seemed as if others wanted to join my quest to challenge the reigning champion — and that stoked the fire even more.
The next 30 days would be a living hell. I think it almost killed me. To make a long story short I survived but I learned more about crowd funding technology, marketing, and socio-psychology than I had originally planned. We hit our goal, even experiencing a major bump with a few days to go, but the experience was worth the expense.
Interestingly enough, we haven’t even faced our nemesis yet (the app is due out August, 2013) — that part of the story has yet to come and yet I feel like I’ve learned so much already. I have learned more about building a community than I have building an app, an interesting and unintentional result but one that may prove to be much more valuable to me as a developer and entrepreneur.
Yes, the itch is still there and is desperately waiting to be scratched but who knew that the real itch was not of Xcode, Cocoa Touch, and Objective-C but rather the itch of a global community, a “sleeping giant” of rebellious creatives (with a bit of anti-establishment blood in them) if you will, that was waiting to be awoken. I was just there at the right moment, the right time.