Startup — From Idea to Launch in 12 Weeks

After having worked across 3 companies that you could term as ‘start-ups’, prior to founding Snippt, there is one learning that has been consistent across any of these early/growth stage companies. That is to not worry about that always unreachable goal of perfection but to just create something that works, launch it, get people’s reactions and feedback and improve from there. So when my co-founder and I went about identifying opportunities across industries, one of the criteria with significant weight was “Does it help us launch within 3 months?”

With the increasingly changing digital landscape, the relevance of NOW is becoming more important than ever. Things that are ubiquitous now are fast becoming obsolete a year down the line. We did not want to be left behind the trends and keep changing our models before we reached the market, as the world around us moved ahead. We felt that riding the trend, rather than falling behind is possible only when you launch fast.

The post below is more about chronicling the journey so far while still fresh in my mind, rather than try to guide or list down do’s/don’ts. However would be happy even if a single person benefits from this.

The Genesis

Any consumer-facing company that seeks to differentiate itself is really born only for two reasons — either be the first in the market to solve the problem or solve the problem is a much more efficient way that the existing players. Once you start thinking in terms of this, it becomes easier to come up with ideas out of which you can build companies.

The genesis in the case of being the first to the market mostly comes from the personal pain points faced by the founder that no existing company is solving. In the second case, it is more of identifying the trends and look at existing companies that have either been slow to catch up on the trend or positioned themselves in a way that it becomes difficult for them to jump on this trend.

Snippt’s genesis was more of the second case. Snippt is a mobile app where we curate the latest news stories of the day in the form of 4-second video plus short summaries. It was born out of the need to create specific media formats that merged two trends that were on the rise — mobile and video, while at the same time package news in the form of engaging stories. While most of the new age media companies had perfected their formats on mobile, there was still no one who had brought video at its core focus or integrate video seamlessly into its offering. In most of the cases, videos were seen as a secondary add-on and not something that was built ground up keeping videos as the core focus. Also, with increasing video consumption, need to express information in the form of stories, reducing 3G costs and a wide variety of high-quality lossless video compression tools that reduced the size of video files to almost nothing, we felt it was the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon.

The widely read Mary Meeker report, focuses on these 2 trends, in addition to many others, and is a good place to start with for understanding the “in-thing”.

Quick Validation

A quick initial validation was done through both primary research and researching existing players. In terms of existing players, again it makes it much simpler if you think of the play store/App store as a market intelligence tool — where you have access to all your competitors and what their customers feel about them (reviews & ratings) at your fingertips. Post going through around 80–100 news and magazine apps and looking at ways in which they incorporate videos in their content, it was evident that there was not a single player that had video at its core on mobile or integrate videos in a seamless manner. In most cases, videos were an afterthought and were longer, horizontal videos that are more suited to the desktop audience. Going through the reviews of the users for the videos, it was clear that most of the existing players have not been able to deliver an engaging video experience — with repeated mentions of it being buggy and slow. A tool like appbot.co gives you a quick sentiment analysis of app reviews across your competitors for certain keywords. Below are the video sentiments for just two of the top 5 apps in the news and magazine categories that had videos. It was clear that there was a mismatch in expectations of videos between the supply and demand side on mobile apps.

In addition to this, quickly talking to a few people in the industry and your target audience would help throw up new insights. In our case, it was exploring how our target audience — first-time news readers in the 16–22 year old age group — reacted when presented with multiple content multimedia formats on mobile- should be it only videos vs. (videos + content) vs. (pictures + content) etc. We went about piecing together existing content in above formats, rather than either re-creating the content or rebuilding the product, which would have surely eaten a couple of more weeks. We brought together around 10–12 pieces of content in each format and showed it to our TG (mostly accumulated through friends and friends of friends). We identified a certain fatigue factor if at all we try to communicate all the information through short (30 second-45 second long) videos. People could not watch more than 5–6 at a stretch. Whereas, if the videos were used as a quick sneak peak, with summaries only if you are interested in the sneak peak, they were more involved, engaged and would scan through more content. Again pictures alone were not as engaging as short videos. Also, the “saw headlines to read content” ratio was around 40% in the case of engaging video headlines, compared to around 10–15% in other content formats.

Building a team with complementary skill sets

The people who are going to be most involved and dedicated to the company are the co-founders and the initial employees, who join the team for the vision more than anything else. Even though most schools of thoughts say a hustler who does everything across the board is the ideal co-founder/early employee at a startup, we felt otherwise.

Operating in the digital media space — there were two pillars on which the company was built. One was the technology part and the other was the creative part (plus pretty much anything else). Within the co-founders we ensured that each one of us had complete responsibility over one of the pillars. Also our first and only full time hire is somebody who had a background in media and had worked in new age media platforms. This ensured that within the 3 of us we had most of the boxes ticked. Also, this ensured that when it came to a particular aspect, in most cases we trusted the expert in the particular domain and there were no lengthy discussions on every minute detail. At Snippt, we had a rule to not leave any thread/discussion open for more than a day. Even though risky in most cases, such an approach works if the core team trusts the skills of each other.

Identifying the Core Features & Launching in Beta

Right at the outset, you need to ask yourself — “What do I feel is the core of my product?” While in our case it was simple — the basic content format- the 4-second headline video and the content summary — was the core, it is not very obvious in most cases.

We decided we would launch in Beta with just this core and getting it right took around 6 weeks. It is only once you start building it, do you realize the intricacies involved. But we knew, if we got this right, then the “good to have” add-ons and incorporating feedback from our beta users would not take us a lot of time.

When you launch with an MVP, it is all the more important to first launch it in beta before releasing it to the world. With a no-frills product, you can’t afford your core to not work. A beta gives you a certain scale and also exposes your product to a lot of externalities and vulnerabilities.

We launched in Beta to around 200 people(mostly friends, friends of friends and a few industry experts) with only this core, with the risk of being labelled as being too simple. At this stage, it was imperative to communicate clearly with the beta users that what they were using was a thinned down version of the ultimate product. Below is a screenshot of the email we had sent across.

The beta mail : be upfront on the limitations of the beta

Also, providing an easy mechanism to collect feedback would ensure more involvement. We used instabug.com, which has a simple shake interaction to give feedback and we got feedback from almost 50% of our beta users, while the norm is around 20–25%.

Post Beta to launch the only focus was on working upon the feedback suggested and adding a couple of engaging features, which took about a week to launch.

It has been three weeks since our launch and we are really happy we launched early. We have received tons of feedback on improving the product further. Our current product is miles ahead of what we were at launch, but we would not have been at the same place if we had not launched early.

All said and done, it is easier to launch a product than ever before. Launching is the easy part. Moving from product to company is going to be hard and we are already starting to realize it. Getting the traction and revenue are ultimately what would help us grow — and we are still in a nascent stage with respect to both. Would love to hear your thoughts on either of the aspects in the comments. Alternatively, you can mail me at swaroop@mysnippt.com.

Some of the tools/platform that we used that really helped us in coordination and simplifying things that helped us move quicker:

  • Slack — must have communication tool for all teams. Don’t know what we would do without it
  • Buffer — Social Media management
  • Mailchimp — handling mailers to beta users
  • Internshala.com — for hiring awesome interns/freelancers.
  • Instabug.com — among the best for crash/feedback reporting
  • Github — huge repository of source code
  • Google Keep — team to do lists
  • Todoist — personal to do list
  • Firebase — simple way to integrate analytics, tracking and push notifications
  • AppAnnie — ASO keyword optimisation
  • Appbot.co — review sentiment analysis
  • Built simple Internal Tools — for managing workflow, work assignment etc.

TL;DR : While the above is by no means an exhaustive take and is more specific to Snippt ; identifying the opportunity, quickly validating, hiring a team with complementary skill sets, identifying core features and a small scale beta should help any company to launch quickly in the market.