We hacked together an app to listen to music with friends. Then it blew up.

Going from idea to launch to the masses — and beyond.✨

Abhinav Chhikara
Startup Grind
Published in
6 min readAug 23, 2016


Try it out — click the image above!

Lisn went from hackathon side-project to a full-time gig when we realized how insanely fun the experience we’d built was. This is the story of Lisn’s journey so far, and what we’ve got in store.

Validation at a Hackathon

Back in October 2015, we built the very first version of Lisn at a hackathon. Over the course of 24h, we pieced together a hacky build that ran on two phones at a time, could send music from Spotify and Soundcloud and chat about it. It wasn’t perfect at all, but it let you experience the core of the app — being synced up, listening to the same music, and being able to talk about it despite being in separate rooms.

By the end of the hackathon, 2 things happened:

  1. We registered a domain and set up a landing page and demo video. We sent the video out to friends and they loved it
  2. We knew that we wanted to work on it further. This was the first thing we’d created that had people begging us to be able to use the product, and not the other way round
Early landing page with a screencap of the hackathon build via WebArchive

Building the team

Post hackathon, Vibhas flew back to Delhi and I was in Bombay. We spent the next few months designing the rest of the app. The onboarding, pages outside the chat screen, UX edge cases that kept popping up etc. We also did our best to get developers on board.

Our eye was on Abheyraj and Bhargav.

  • Abheyraj was a teammate at Housing and had earlier been part of iOS on Airtel Wynk Music and had built and maintained it from 0 to 1M users.
  • Bhargav was a friend from school, had been part of an insanely popular metal band named Tiffin Box, had moved to Singapore for his undergrad at NTU, and was working with a startup.

In December, Vibhas and I flew down to Singapore to meet Bhargav.

We spent our time in SG building out a more stable version of Lisn that we could use amongst ourselves.

We also spent our time looking for 24 hour coffee shops with Wifi

We spent some quality time together at Costa, Comnam, NTU, Chye Seng Huat Hardware and McDonalds, and by the end of it, we had an early version that we gave out to close friends.

After helping us out for while, Abheyraj joined the team in January. There were now 4 of us, working part-time from Singapore, Delhi and Bombay. The product was shaping up, and we had about 10 beta users on our hands.

Transitioning to full time

We quit our jobs, Bhargav and I moved back to Bangalore, Vibhas and Abheyraj in Delhi. We were pretty used to working remote at this point, but the 1 designer + 1 developer combo in each city really seemed to work out. We’d make trips to Delhi/BLR every two months to break the monotony of 100% remote.

We launched our new website, and by April our beta had around 100 users. From the very first beta, we went from 100 songs played in the first month, to eventually 100 songs per week, to 100 on high activity days. 💯

To put that in perspective, we did ~19,000 songs in August and are seeing week over week growth.

Tap to check out the slick animations on our website ✨

Adding new features during beta

We went crazy for a couple weeks, and iterated + launched new features every week. We’d closely measure engagement with the new feature, then modify and tweak it. During this time we added the Library, Quick Share within chat rooms, external sharing and more.

Playlists from Spotify and Soundcloud
Send to: quick share, Lisn with: start a new session
External sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Messenger etc

Going from beta to launch

At its peak, our beta was around 120 people. We were seeing some great numbers, but Testflight was seriously limiting our ability to add more users to the app. We decided to wrap up the beta and within a month, and then finally launched!

Week 1: We sent out a download link to all our beta users, shared to FB and Twitter and let everyone know we were out. We were picked up by Beautiful Pixels which drove quite a few downloads. This led to us being noticed by CHIP as App of the Day, Applesfera, iPhone-ticker and some other great Spanish and German blogs.

Week 2: We were posted on ProductHunt the week we launched, but didn’t make it to the homepage till the week later. In hindsight, that worked great for us as we got to clean up bugs that popped up and release an update.

By the end of the day, we were 🔥trending #2, had received some great feedback in the discussions (and a ton of new users)

As part of our onboarding, we add one of the founders as a default friend to your chat list. This helps understand and try out the app and talk directly to one of us. Not only did this help us test and optimize for scale for when you had ~500 friends on Lisn, but it also led to some great music recommendations, new friends and interesting conversations.

Feature requests, and what’s in store for the future

Here’s what you can expect from Lisn over the next couple months, and also some of our most requested features.

What a live session on what Lisn looks like. Tap to view on the App Store
  1. 📱 Android! Definitely in the works! We’re a tiny team, so we’re a couple months away from a beta and then a launch.
  2. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 Group chats! The Lisn model is currently built to do 1–1 chats and will require solving some UX challenges to scale to groups. That being said, group chats is definitely something we’d want to use ourselves, and are working on it.
  3. 🎧 Playlists in search, queuing multiple tracks! We’re on it! Playlists on the search screen is something we want to add to be able to send your own music faster, and queueing is a UX challenge but a valuable one to be solved!
  4. 🍎 Apple Music! Currently, we only support Spotify and Soundcloud, and will be adding additional sources over time. Apple Music, while it’s something we’d like to add, doesn’t have the full API capability we need to be able to work. That being said, we’re in touch with someone at Apple and will release it as soon as it’s possible.
Let’s listen to music together! Download on the App Store & add me on Lisn
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Abhinav Chhikara
Startup Grind

Building communities, establishing networks. Founder @ 10kdesigners.com, previously Head of Design @unacademy