From Two Guys Building Their own Browser

Dominik Scherm
Aug 7, 2019 · 6 min read
Space Browser for iPad
Space Browser for iPad

From two 20-year old guys who’ve tried a lot on the tech scene to starting their own browser and competing with Safari and Chrome.

It’s a cloudy day in November 2018. We are sitting in the basement of my parent’s house. We are obsessed with the big questions.

Will our project ever reach a critical number of people? Should we have validated our idea more before? Can our project become something that matters? Can it compete with other browser apps out there, even Safari? Questions that probably bother anyone who has ever started their own project.

We are almost about to give up. We just failed in our last project, where we unsuccessfully tried to approach bars with a Netflix like subscription for drinks.

Who are we?

We are two young software developers, both 20 years old. We run projects together since we know each other from a tech event.

What’s that thing we are building?

We spend most of our day on the web. We create pull requests on Github, search for bug solutions on StackOverflow or explore new inventions on Product Hunt.

All these interactions we perform with the help of a web browser. Together with the command line, it is by far our most commonly used tool as devs.

When we dive deeply into a project, it often happened to us that we found ourselves lost in a mass of tabs. Of course, we never came back to close a single tab. Having open 50 tabs span across six different windows was nothing out of the ordinary for us.

The years of dealing with this toxic workflow and the fact that it was assimilated by other devs brought us to a point where we finally wanted to do something against it.

Usually the tabs just lay there and cost you a lot of memory. And forget to find this one tab you were looking for. It’s impossible. The time has come for a change.

One day in fall last year we took a look at what was already on the web. We discovered some interesting Chrome extensions (like Get Toby) which we tried over the next days, but at the end they didn’t really convinced us.

Actually we were looking for a browser which comes with an intuitive way to organize tabs. We unexpectedly found such a solution, it was called Refresh. Made by two Berlin-based design students for their bachelor thesis. Directly after discovering this project, we checked whether someone was already working on it. But nobody was.

So one weekend we sat together and started to work on it. What platform to go for? We tried to work on Chromium, the underlying engine which empowers Chrome, but it soon went too complicated for the beginning. Their concept was originally made for iPad, so it was a quick decision to start there. We wanted to reach out to them after finishing the development of a first version.

In mid-October we wrote to Julius & Julius, the two makers behind Refresh, asking them to meet in Berlin. They were impressed by what we had already built and open to collaborate.

What went well in the first two weeks, soon found its downsides. After about a month we had a call in which we had different opinions on the future plans of Refresh. So shortly afterwards we ended our collaboration. We, the devs, aimed for turning this project into a real startup once. In contrary J&J wanted to open-source the code and continue to build the project with a community.

What’s next? Give up? It wasn’t really a difficult decision for us to continue the project on our own, since we already had a working codebase and didn’t want to throw away a single line of code. Worth it?

Rebranding and the early days of Space Browser

We rebranded and renamed from Refresh to Space Browser. We were inspired by the ideas of J&J but implemented them in our own way. The first MVP was ready in early January 2019.

Where to get some early adapters? Let’s take a look on some subreddits. We promoted us as the “first mobile browser made for power users” and received a pretty good number of upvotes. Within days the number of beta testers went to the 700. We were thrilled by the first success and rolled out a new version almost every week.

Weeks passed and we took a look on the app analytics. While the number of users has increased slightly, we were shocked by the engagement rate. Most of our users disappeared already after a few weeks and never went back.

We did some user interviews and figured out that most of our users dropped out as they were too comfortable switching to a new browser and quickly returned to Safari. No wonder, Safari is everywhere, if you want to open a link on iOS it will open in Safari. Safari was unbeatable.

So what to do with a browser which may attract with its pro features but doesn’t find its existence in the user’s daily workflow?

The great hack

One day we were exploring on Twitter and coincidentally found a hack to set your default browser on iOS (if you want to learn more on that, read our blog post).

Boom yeah, that was what we needed! We added this feature to our Space Browser and made some promotion for it.

Like a miracle this changed the game and our daily users increased by 130%.

But we haven’t had enough. We looked for more testers and doubled our number of testers by April.

What’s next? Until now we were only a small project gaining for users who like our small side project. What always came to our minds these days, can this product really survive on the market and form a critical important user base? Is it worth a company?

Applying for the YC summer batch

Seeking for real validation in this field we applied for Y-Combinator in April.

After two intensive weeks on working twofold, on one hand on the product and on the other on the YC application, we submitted the application. After two weeks their reply popped up in our inbox. We were tense. This could be our ticket to an enlightening experience. And truly we made it into the second round.

Now it was time for an interview. We had one week to prepare and our tension was crazy. We spent endless nights cross-examining YC questions.

Finally the interview day had come. We did our best. But that wasn’t enough. One week later we had certainty. We were rejected. Unfortunately without knowing why (YC does not give feedback on this). Downed by the next failure we took some days off.

Go all in or leave it

Refreshed and with new energy we returned to Space Browser in May 2019. Now it was crystal clear for us how to move on. First of all we aimed for different platforms, iPhone and macOS should follow. And for sure it’s was finally time to take Space Browser out to the streets.

You will always pass this point, where you ask yourself, is it the right time to launch? Is everything ready and validated? Will our product survive out there in the wild?

Learned from several precipitations I can only say that it’s definitely worth it trying and that there will never be the perfect time to launch. At the end its always on you, don’t fear the unknown, take your product out and validation will follow faster than expected. Of course you have to prepare well, but I think it’s clear that a launch does not work by just releasing an app on the app store. It takes a lot more.

It’s a big day for us today. We step into the unknown and see where it all goes. Follow us or you will never know what comes in the dark.

Space Browser — Different views
Space Browser — Different views

Thanks for reading! I will continuously update this blog post, when we have first results from our launch.

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We are live on Product Hunt today: https://www.producthunt.com/posts/space-browser. We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments there!

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Space Browser

The first browser made for power users.

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