Lessons learned from our fail at fromyourcouch

Vlad Oustinov
fromyourcouch
Published in
5 min readNov 3, 2020

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With my dear friend Amine, we built fromyourcouch — on-demand audio tours made by locals. We started working on it in May, launched in July & got a decent number of upvotes on Product Hunt in September. After six months of trying to find the right path in this space, we decided to end our journey.

Post-launch user feedback

We built & shipped a product fast. We gathered 100 tour guides & helped them create audio tours in two months. The goal was to quickly get real feedback from real users. We did user interviews & live sessions before launching to understand how they usually visit places & get feedback on our product’s interface. By spending time with them on the phone after the launch we understood that we had some issues regarding:

  • The use case. We didn’t have one defined use case. Visiting a place from home isn’t one. No one does that. Learning, preparing a trip, having fun, or remembering a trip is.
  • The quality. We built fromyourcouch as a marketplace between users & content created by guides. Some tours were outstanding, some less. The users could rate & review them, we thought it would solve this problem. But when your volume is low (we had 30–40 tours), the bad quality is more visible than the good one. People were listening to previews from our tours and leaving the website.
  • The format. We combined the audio file with a visual support powered by Google Earth. It forced users to stay behind their computer. They are used to multi-tasking when listening to audio and they couldn’t do that on fromyourcouch.

At this point, we had two options:
1. Live virtual tours
2. An audio-first app

The first one became a highly competitive space with Airbnb Online Experiences, GetYourGuide’s virtual tours, Amazon Explore, new entrants like Oqqur, and many more. At the same time, the demand for virtual tours seemed to drop.

We weren’t feeling confident the trend was here to stay post-Covid and we didn’t feel like this was the kind of company we wanted to build. Sometimes you need to follow your heart.

We decided to focus entirely on audio in August.

An audio-first app to learn History without making any efforts

This was supposed to be our pivot.

We took a pool of 50 users and tested 6 audio files with different use cases around travel & culture. The use case people preferred was learning History in an entertaining way. It’s was France’s 5th century with cool narration, musician backgrounds & sound effects.

The field of History is basically made of:
- Only one app to learn History. A French app with only 14 articles, but 600k downloads & 2k reviews. The demand for content existed.
- Huge Reddit communities about History (15m people for the biggest one)
- Numerous Facebook groups, podcasts, YouTubers, documentaries, movies, TV shows, online courses.

People were already learning History in many ways. We could try to build a simple, narrative & interesting way to do it via immersive audio stories and an in-app experience.

We had our mission, we started building a community of users in September & iterate around audio content production to find the perfect format for this use case, doing it all ourselves to control quality. Here is an example.

Still, some highly important questions seemed unresolved:
- Will people download an app to listen to this kind of content? We had interesting ideas to create a differentiated experience compared to Apple Podcast or Spotify based on our use case, but still.
- Will they pay to learn History this way?
- Will they care enough about learning History in its entirety? Most people are interested in 1/2/3 events or periods.

That’s when we realized that we weren’t building a tech startup, but a podcast. We had to be where people already are & it would be almost impossible to get payments for something people usually get for free (podcasts).

Many companies tried to create & distribute their own content on mobile around entertainment or self-development. They either failed or didn’t show clear signs of profitability (Quibi, Blackpills, Sybel). People pay for mobile content when it’s seen as practical education (Knowable in the audio space for example or Udemy), part of a routine (like meditation for Calm & headspace), or when the catalog is so huge, it’s hard to ignore (Spotify or Netflix).

It also generates cash-intensive production costs; we often see repeat founders raising pre-product rounds for this sort of highly risky product.

Building a podcast wasn’t really what we wanted to be working on with Amine. Maybe it will be our way, but for the moment we decided to take some time for ourselves and explore new topics ✌️

Lessons learned:

  • Look for a problem, not an idea. We knew that, but we still followed an idea. We all tend to underestimate our own biases. “Not being able to travel” was a big problem, but audio tours weren’t the solution for sure. Maybe some highly immersive VR will be one day.
  • Don’t build if you’re not sure of your direction. Confidence can only be backed by data, not your instinct. Make promises & iterate.
  • Start small. Start from a very specific niche, on a very specific use case. Nail a use case and only then start thinking about a second one.
  • Don’t force the tech. Some businesses are not tech businesses. Don’t build a startup to boost your ego.
  • A lot about ourselves :) This journey strongly accelerated our self-awareness. I will probably write another piece about it soon.

What we’re proud of:

  • The amazing community of guides we built. We met a lot of incredible people from all around the world and learned together.
  • The fun we had building the entire product in no-code. The feedback about our product and design was super positive from day one and we did it all ourselves.
  • The complementary it created between Amine & me. It’s just the beginning for the two of us.

Still, failing sucks as it should :)

Thanks for reading this!
Feel free to ping us on Twitter
@vladoustinov & @ameanlr ❤️

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