App product market fit needs brutal focus

May 15

App product market fit needs brutal focus

mixbit iphone screenIn this podcast series we ask experienced Appreneurs for one success story and one fail. In this episode of the Mobile Engagement Podcast:

Tim Bull is CTO of MixBit, the latest startup of Youtube founder Chad Hurley. Mixbit are on the new wave of Apps that are doing collaborative video – a capability is only possible at the nexus of good mobile networks and great capture/display phones (like iPhone 6, Nexus 6 etc).
Tim shares some valuable lessons about their journey toward App Product Market fit and the need to focus on your best market and form-factor to get the job done!

Engagement Score

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  • Choose your timing to market – you may be ambitious but if the environmental factors don’t support your mission be prepared to fund yourself until the world is ready!
  • Long form video is far more challenging that short snippets like Vine and Instagram.
  • Different video drivers on Android was time consuming for their scarce development resources and also the frequent updates was irritating people.
  • They stopped trying to deliver too much editing functionality – they didn’t need to be George Lucas, they just needed basic editing and organization (collecting).
  • Removing UI steps is critical on mobile!
  • Make experiences easy so the user doesn’t have to go through a learning curve to get a happy experience.
  • Trying to do a web interface wasn’t central to the current goals of the business (getting App product market fit on the user’s phone) – so they retracted the web product as it was consuming engineering cycles.
  • They know they can learn more just by iterating with iPhone users….and IOS does not have fragmentation problems.
  • Lack of focus causes bad App ratings!

Transcript Detail

David: Gidday, it’s David from StreetHawk here with Tim Bull. He’s the CTO o MixBit. And MixBit, for those who don’t know, is the company that CEO-ed by Chad Hurley, one of the two who actually founded and ran YouTube before acquisition and after acquisition as well too. So MixBit’s still doing things with video. So, Tim, tell us what you’re actually doing.

Tim: Hey, David. Great to be on the podcast. So MixBit is basically trying to solve the problem of collaborative video. So we’re working on the issue of you’re at a birthday party, you got a group of friends or an event down a bar. And how do you collect all that footage that’s existing on other people’s phones, photos and then turn that into a video that you can share and make memories from and do that in under a couple of minutes?

David: So everything’s app-based?

Tim: Yeah, that’s right. At the moment, everything’s app-based. Technically, it’s actually possible to build videos in the web. But we’ve decided to focus 100% on iOS as an app at the moment.

David: Right, okay. So let me see if I’ve got this right. I’m at a party and I’m a MixBit user and you’re not a MixBit user. I invite you?

Tim: That’s right. So just via SMS or e-mail, or an invitation coming out even just by geolocation.

David: Right, okay. So I can discover you just by being in the same proximity?

Tim: Yeah, that’s right.

David: Okay, cool. Very good. So where are you at as a start-up? You’re actually out there? The product’s actually out there and you’ve got user base and so on?

Tim: Product’s out there. It’s been live for actually going on close to two years. I think we were talking earlier, it’s been a very interesting process though in terms of reaching that product market fit. And I think I’ve seen some respects a little bit early to the market, and just hitting that sweet spot at the moment, where people have got the right phones, the right bandwidth on their mobile phones—at least in Silicon Valley in the US—to be able to start really taking advantage of uploading video on the go.

David: So when you say you were too early, some of those components went in place, such as bandwidth or the phone quality, or something like that?

Tim: Yeah, that’s right. I think early on, we were very hampered by the fact that it was just too slow. We always wanted to be more than six seconds. And Vine and Instagram solved this problem by—at least in some respects—making square video, which is less pixels constraining the length very heavily, and a lot of ways reducing quality. With MixBit, we always try to be high-quality video. We wanted users to be able to make ten-minute videos of this event that they were at. When you start uploading that over a phone, it can take longer than ten minutes to upload it.

David: [Laughter]

Tim: So I think the early days of that user experience weren’t great, but we’re finding now—particularly in the last three to six months—as people adopt the iPhone 6, which means that they’re getting under LTE networks, that that problem is disappearing for us, so it’s good.

David: Right. Okay.

Tim: There’s always Wi-Fi as a fall-back too, but the on-the-go is where it matters.

David: Excellent. So this podcast usually looks at the three axis of user acquisition, user retention and user experience. And what we like to do is look for one win and one fail in there. So off the top of your head, if you’ve got a story you can tell about something you’ve experienced where you saw an inflection point in terms of people starting to engage with the product a lot more, or that there was more users starting to come into the app?

Tim: Yeah, I think the most recent release of MixBit actually did create that kind of inflection point of users starting to come in. It’s still not where we want it to be at, but continuing to iterate on that. But the insight for us was really around making the product more—I’m going to use the word “actionable.”—so the name “MixBit” actually talks a lot to what we were in our very first version, which was you were mixing bits of video. And it was a very free-for-all experience where anyone can come in and they could watch a video and they can actually mark pieces of video, “I want that bit of video, I want that bit of video, I want that bit of video.” And they can mix it together and they could make a new project or a new video out of that. And we iterated around that idea for a while. What we found was that it was just too complex.

David: Kind of like a desktop set of functionality, I think?

Tim: Yeah, it wasn’t—not so much that is. It’s just that the barrier for people to actually find content to mix was difficult. And then, even though it sounded fun in theory, in practice, it probably wasn’t, because it’s difficult to find the right footage to tell a story you want to tell. So when we moved away from that to becoming more project-based. So when I say “more project-based,” it’s like, “This is David’s birthday video.” And I’m not actually worried about birthday footage from everyone else that shot birthday stuff. I want my friends to add birthday footage to this video. And that’s a much clearer user case. It seems obvious now, but it took us a while to get there.

David: Yeah, so it’s not trying to be George Lucas in terms of production quality. It’s actually really about just being able to gather the material quite easily.

Tim: Right, exactly. I think where we started with the problem was we were trying to solve how people could reuse other content and mix it together. And in fact, it turns out that the more nascent problem the thing that people are really struggling with is just collecting content in the first place.

David: Yeah.

Tim: And you could do that with MixBit before, but that was almost like a secondary activity. After everyone had contributed things, you could then remix it into your birthday video.

David: Yeah.

Tim: But we removed that step. So most of what we’ve been doing and most of where we do get our inflection point, so not counter-intuitively if you’ve been in start-ups for a while, but perhaps counter-intuitive to some people, almost inevitably by removing things.

David: Yes. That’s a classic thing that comes up so often in these podcasts. So it’s really about what you take away actually that matters. We’ve always talked about that in start-ups, but it is just so much more important in mobile, in terms of subtracting things, the core utility of what you’re trying to achieve is actually there presented front and center to the user. But you guys had to go through the process of actually figuring out what the core utility was. It wasn’t about mixing or it wasn’t about being George Lucas.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s okay. You start with a strong idea and a vision about what you want to do. I would say that over the time that we’ve been doing MixBit, what has never changed has been the tagline, that big pitch, “to create videos together.” We’ve had “create videos together” has been what we wanted since day one.

David: Right.

Tim: And that hasn’t changed. But how we enable you to create videos together has as we look at how people use it and do it, and what they actually do. And just simplifying things along the way. I think the next iteration that we’re working on, again, to that point, takes away even more things that get in the way of that experience of creating videos together. I’d have to talk very briefly with that. The example of that would be, we’ve always viewed creating a video as a project, “This is David’s birthday.” It’s a project. Everyone’s going to add bits of things. And then at some point, that project is finished and you hit ‘go’, and out there comes the video. This next release is actually going to remove projects. It’s a video from day one.

David: Right.

Tim: You create a video. You start something, you add a couple of pieces of footage to it, and it’s a video. And I could just come and watch it. And I could just see the three pieces of content that you’ve added to it as a video. And then, if I’m inspired by that, I can add on to the video. So it’s always published. And so, we’ve removed the step of publishing. We’ve removed this idea of trying to explain to users, you’ve got a project and you’ve got a video, and then now to something which is just all video. The minute you add a piece of content, there’s a video and that’s it. So again, that thing of stripping things away, projects made a lot of sense—to us, they made a lot of sense—but I think, really, at the end of the day, you don’t want to worry about that. You don’t really want to understand what stage is this thing in. It’s just always a video now. It’s just always a video, it’s always published and you can add more to it if you want or not. It’s up to you.

David: Yeah, so as simple as that for the user to understand and they don’t have to go through a learning curve to actually understand-

Tim: Exactly. And also, they look at it and one thing we struggled with for a while was this thing that people would look at a video and that would become the code of action. I look at this video of David’s birthday—“I got this funny photo I want to add in. Well, now I have to go and talk to David and ask him to unpublish the video and put it back in the project stage. And then, invite him so I can add it.” So a lot of that stuff, we’re just stripping all that out. Now, you’ll just be able to add that photo straight.

David: Yeah, just like I’ve added it to the album sort of thing.

Tim: Exactly. There’s a little more like an album sort of mentality around it. But it’s still producing videos.

David: Alright, very good. So tell us a little bit about a big fail that you’ve had along the way. What’s something that you made an assumption about that’s actually a fail in its face?

Tim: I don’t know that there’s being-

David: Come on, 99% of all start-ups. [Laughter]

Tim: Yeah, so the history of us going through all bunch of different products and coming around to doing that. I think-

David: The process of iteration.

Tim: The process of iteration. So there’s lots of failed start-ups, if you like, within AVOS before we then became MixBit. Specifically for MixBit, I think probably the initial assumption around mixing a video, the idea that people wanted to mix bits and that we were actually pushing a lot of the creative control out to the users to work at how they bring stuff together.

David: So the success you just described is basically the time before it or the assumption before it was the fail in that sense?

Tim: I think the other thing—I don’t know if it’s necessarily—I guess it’s a fail. I mentioned that you’re able to mix videos on the web. We recently removed that functionality because we decided that we were actually spending engineering time building and maintaining this website. But for us, it was a big thing of—like one of the really cool things about MixBit is that anyone can contribute, grandma can contribute, it’s not just people who have a smartphone device. Originally, we were on web, we were on iPhone, and we’re on Android. And we’ve removed web, we’ve removed Android—although as I mentioned, we are building a new Android version now, but we haven’t had one for the last nine months—and in that time, our user base has only continued to go up.

David: Right. [Laughter]

Tim: So I think one lesson that we did learn along the way, again, some obvious in hindsight, but just spreading our focus to thin. You have to solve the user problem and get that App product market fit. And doing it on one platform is perfectly fine. They are enough. And it doesn’t matter which platform it is, whether it’s the web, whether it’s the Android or iPhone. You go all in on that platform. There are enough users of each of those platforms out there that you can get to improve product/market fit. Before you have to start worrying about diversity of platform and experience and form factors and those sorts of things.

David: Great, yeah. Okay. So it’s really calling back again just to focus. We’re really just focusing on getting the product/market fit, and you can achieve that enough with the user base of iPhone users.

Tim: Yup, exactly.

David: Great.

Tim: It’s not like the iPhone user base is actually a small market.

David: [Laughter]

Tim: And even beyond that, I would say to people decisions that we’ve made along the way, if you’re doing something that’s only relevant to iOS 8 users, that’s fine. There’s enough iOS 8 users out there, that you can do that. And by the time you’ve reached product/market fit, by the time you’ve hit that explosive growth, everyone will be on iOS 9 anyway. So we worry too much about leaving users behind. But I think as a start-up, your concern shouldn’t be inclusive. You shouldn’t be trying to be everything to everybody. You should be trying to be the best you can at the thing you’re trying to do. And if that means being only one platform, on one operating system, servicing only users in one market, and you get that explosive growth in that product/market fit, then you can move out from there. But you’ll find it very hard to be everything to everybody to get to that point.

David: Yeah, I think that’s a terrific insight. And in fact, you and I were talking about the Android platform before because I tried to download it before I came to the meeting. And Tim explained to me that basically the fragmentation problem that’s common on Android gets a lot worse when you’re actually doing video, the number of video drivers and things like that. So that’s a really key thing that you just kill yourself trying to actually release support for different video things on Android.

Tim: Yeah. Strangely, it was killing us if we didn’t, like in the Android. In the Play Store, half of the reviews would be, “This doesn’t work on my device.” “This is useless. It doesn’t work on my device.” And then, the other half of the reviews were, “Why do I keep updating this thing every two days?” Because we were pushing releases to solve video driver problems across all these devices. And it wasn’t even the case that it would work everywhere, even within the Samsung family, for example. Different Samsung devices would have different issues and things like that. So we were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t. And that, to some extent, led to the decision to drop Android support, so we were able to focus 100% on it.

David: Alright. That’s a great insight. Alright, unfortunately, I’ve got to go to my next meeting. So thanks so much for your time.

Tim: No problem, it’s been a pleasure.

David: I would have loved if we have talked longer, but that was great as it was. Thanks very much.

Tim: Cheers, appreciate it. Thank you.

David: Thanks, mate.

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