It was a typical late night working with Robleh at Tiny Hearts, a digital product studio where I worked as a Product Manager (later acquired by Shopify). A close friend of Robleh’s, Mohamed Hashi, was working out of the office that night, and wanted to learn more about getting grant money for a startup he was working on.
Being the curious person that I am, I asked more about the startup and our quick informational conversation about government grants turned into a two year long partnership building a product we loved.
The concept of Leet was simple: create a place for gamers to share their awesome gameplay moments.
There was nothing like it at the time in the App Store. Sure people were sharing short game clips on platforms like Vine or Instagram, but these platforms weren’t created for gamers. And the process for getting your clips on these platforms was difficult and convoluted.
Leet enabled gamers to seamlessly connect with content platforms and trim their favourite highlights into bitesized shareable moments.
So we got cracking — Built out an initial MVP roadmap, finalized the designs, recruited a third technical co-founder, and began working towards our first milestone: a beta launch.
The Beta 👨🔬
For Leet, creating a beta testing community was an experiment. With the growing popularity of Slack, and a lack of resources for finding Slack communities, I put two-and-two together and built a website called Slack List to solve this problem.
At the same time, I created a Slack community called #Gaming, with the intention of leveraging it to drive beta sign-ups for Leet, and threw it at the top of Slack List.
At the time this plan seemed a bit crazy, and like something that might never work. But the power of Product Hunt prevailed, and both Slack List and #Gaming were overnight successes. Not only did we generate a community of beta testers that later turned into the largest gaming Slack group (3,000+ members), but we also created a successful website that would later be acquired.
You can read more about how I built a community in 24 hrs with no marketing here 👇🏻
How I created a community in 24hrs with no marketing
I was having problems with two things…
The Leet Launch 🚀
We had spent the past 6 months testing and building out an MVP (minimum viable product) we were truly proud of.
Takeaway: Looking back I think we over-scoped Leet’s feature set. In hindsight it may have been better to strip out the social aspects of Leet (feed, likes, comments, etc.) that ended up taking the most time to build, and simply shipping an MVP that only focused on trimming and sharing highlights. From there we could’ve built traction and added in social aspects iteratively.
Our launch plan included emailing a bunch of press, posting it on Product Hunt, Reddit, and HackerNews, and begging Apple for a feature. In other words, we’d planned a standard, organic, launch.
Press is a great way to generate word of mouth, but it’s certainly not a launch plan. I emailed 36 writers with a conversion rate of 3%, ie. 1 blog, TechCrunch, which seems to be a right of passage for any tech entrepreneur (thanks Sarah!).
Takeaway: press is fun and a great way to drive awareness for your product, but in the end it doesn’t always drive a ton of downloads. It’s generally high effort, high risk, with no guarantee anyone will write about you. If you’re going to invest time and energy into press, make sure you know this going in.
We were optimistic that Reddit would be a huge lever of growth for Leet. We knew that there was a large community of folks already sharing gaming clips on a number of subreddits, and in our mind we envisioned them welcoming us with open arms.
This is how our launch day on Reddit felt like ☝🏻. Driving upwards towards front page glory, only to fall flat on our faces when our post got removed to the sacred rule number 8 — no self promotion.
Takeaway: if you think Reddit is going to be a huge driver for your app, make sure to get involved in the communities ahead of time and speak with the moderators before you post. It’s also important to diversify the communities (Reddit or otherwise) you’re involved in to not put all your eggs in one basket.
Overall, it’s important to remember that the launch is just day 0. In the grand scheme of your product, it is one of the least important days. Sure it gets your feet off the ground, but growth needs to be something inherently built into your product, which is something we learned the hard way.
Post-Launch Woes 📉
Like any product launch, we were on a high. We initially received tons of installs with new users flooding into the app every day. At first, things seemed like they were moving up and to the right.
But we quickly realized that we did not have a sustainable plan for growth.
Chicken and Egg Problem 🐣
Leet had a classic chicken and egg problem: without users there’s no content, and without content there’s no users. The app could not survive with a lack of either of these components, and we immediately struggled with both of them.
Lack of content
Since Leet’s value relied on users uploading their content to the platform, we were constantly struggling to provide enough content to make the app sticky, as our users expected new and exciting videos every time they visited. Imagine opening up Instagram and there’s no new content — not fun.
Takeaway: In hindsight we could have crowdsourced the content from other communities (like GfyCat), while still keeping the user uploading aspect that our Leet users loved. If you’re building a product that’s got chicken and egg dependencies, I’d highly suggest reading this article and this tweet storm by Andrew Chen.
Lack of users
Post-launch, Leet stayed strong for quite some time with a dedicated group of users who would constantly share and upload their awesome gameplay highlights.
Our problem quickly became how to get more users, and more importantly, retain them once they installed Leet.
Our minds immediately jumped to influencers. Twitch was rising in popularity, and we figured gaining the attention of a number of these popular streamers would help drive a consistent flow of traffic to Leet.
This strategy turned out to be high-effort, but low-impact. We spent a lot of time compiling lists of potential influencers, reaching out to them individually, and getting no responses.
I don’t blame these influencers for not responding: our emails were long and we were offering nothing in return.
Despite this, we were able to secure a number of Twitch influencers who helped to grow and spread the word about Leet within their communities. Even though it was not enough to save the product, I am forever grateful to these folks who truly believed in what we were doing.
One relationship that is worth noting was with CodFlaws, a YouTube influencer who curated videos using user submitted gaming clips. We collaborated on a campaign where Leet users tagged their videos with #CodFlaws for the chance to win a prize and be featured in a Leet sponsored video. Not only was this free for us, but it drove a ton of installs and a lot of new content to Leet.
Takeaway: In hindsight, we should have doubled down on this approach and focused our efforts on these YouTube gaming clip curators, instead of Twitch influencers. It’s a great example of where using the Bullseye Growth Framework would’ve worked well for us. Overtime we should’ve stopped growth techniques that yielded little results for ones that drove installs, and then doubled down on those.
Pitching investors 💰
After working on Leet part-time for about a year, we were eager to take our passion full-time. We had been bootstrapping Leet since the start and our monthly server costs were getting pretty expensive (transcoding ain’t cheap), so it felt like a logical next step to try our hand at raising some capital.
We began by working our networks and had discussions with a number of VC’s. This was a lot of fun, as the process of preparing for these meetings allowed us to further refine our vision for the product and learn a valuable skill: pitching. We also got the opportunity to speak with some incredible people and companies, like WarGaming’s venture arm and the former CEO of the ESL at BITKRAFT.
Takeaway: We quickly realized that the outcome of these conversations was always the same. Investors understood the value of Leet, but without a business model or path to monetization they were hesitant to invest.
The Future Outlook 🔮
One of the hardest lessons we learned was that working on any startup part-time is challenging. It certainly doesn’t make it impossible to succeed, but it adds an extra set of challenges to the mix.
Meanwhile at our day jobs, Tiny Hearts got acquired by Shopify, with Mo joining us there shortly afterwards. With all the challenges Leet was facing we decided to take it down from the App Store this past January. Killing your startup is always a hard decision to make, but we knew in our hearts that it was time.
Building Leet taught us some hard lessons about what it takes to build a business, but it also allowed us to explore an industry we’re passionate about, build relationships with a ton of incredible people, and create a community of gamers we were truly proud of.
Mo and I are not done with the gaming space. In fact, one of the first initiatives I led at Shopify was in the gaming space. It’s such a new and exciting industry, and we’re eager to build another product for this passionate community — though hopefully this time we’ll be more prepared, with a few more skills under our belt.
For Sale 🏷
Leet is an turnkey solution for any social sharing platform, particularly tuned for sharing video content.
Leet provides the opportunity for a company, whether gaming related or otherwise, to white-label a beautiful social experience, or take advantage of a powerful out-of-the-box backend equipped with everything you need to get started.
If you’re interested or have some questions we’d love to chat — you can email me directly at corey.pollock91 [at] gmail.com
Corey Pollock is a Product Manager on the Shopify Garage team, currently focused on improving the post-purchase experience for all online buyers with Arrive. Previously at Tiny Hearts (acquired), and co-founder of Leet a social sharing app for gaming highlights.
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