Failure, hustling, Lessons Learned, pitching, startup

On failing: Crowd funding an iPhone app on IndieGoGo

My entrepreneurial buddy Francis and I tried to crowd fund a startup. It was an iPhone app. More specifically, an Instagram for one second videos. We failed. Spectacularly.

But don’t let that discourage you from trying. Here are some of the lessons we learned.

Update: For validation of our concept, see now twitter owned Vine and Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Every Day that emerged over six months later.

Boot Screen

Recap for new readers: In the summer of 2012, me and Francis decided to experiment with crowd funding. We’re both busy running a couple of other startups, but since we were both n00bs to this crowd funding thing we thought we’d better get some experience and without potentially involving our main brands.

In short, we were trying to crowdfund an app to shoot and share videos composed of one second shots – six months before Vine and One Second Everyday. (I still remember people laughing at the idea back then…)

Roughly speaking there are two main types of crowd funding: 1) Funding against selling equity, percentages of shares that is, in your company 2) Funding against selling perks, products, merchandise, hot air and bridges in London – for no equity whatsoever. As we are both stingy bootstrappers, we liked the sound of the last option.

We decided go with IndieGoGo since you needed to be a US citizen to use Kickstarter at the time – or find someone with one willing to be use as a proxy, which would raise all sorts of other issues like liability, legality and added costs in fees – and the potential of a 3rd party effectively being able to hold your money hostage if successful.

Here’s what the last iteration of the video pitch on IndieGoGo looked like:

Starting out, we had some assumptions and there were a few things we wanted to test and (in-)validate:

  1. Is it possible (for us, right now) to crowd fund (without equity) the development of an iPhone app?
  2. Is there any interest in this product in the market?
  3. How efficient is spamming, mailing, tweeting, posting and otherwise contacting friends, fools, families, bloggers and journos?
  4. What is the conversion rate from blogs and news sites when and if we get published?

The tl;dr answers:

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. Abysmal
  4. Disastrous (extrapolated)

Read on for the more longwinded answers and conclusion.

As luck would have it, during our campaign I also got the chance to ask IndieGoGo co-founder Danae Ringelmann (@GoGoDanae) in person at a panel on Crowd Funding of startups in Europe moderated by Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) at the Campus Party EU in Berlin.

Mike Butcher moderating panel on Crowd Funding at Campus Party EU in Berlin

Danae was kind enough to sit down with me after the panel and give me more advice on our crowd funding campaign. Here’s what we learned from her:

  1. For a very successful IndieGoGo campaign example, look at Satarii Star.
  2. Add as much as possible to the story of “what’s in it for me as a backer”, “only you make it happen”, “if you help this happen you will be able to do X and Y”, focus on the emotional appeal. Think Apple.
  3. If you can, show “what’s in it for me” in images to help emotionalize it.
  4. Ramp up the communication about what is going to happen if you fail to raise the target amount and make sure to communicate the consequences.
  5. Reach more than $ 1.000 before pushing to the press.
  6. Reach out to people who have already pledged for stories and testimonials, publish their stories about why they believe in you.
  7. You can extend the running time of a campaign. Get in touch with IndieGoGo support if you need to extend the time.
  8. Keep pushing press although they don’t react at first. Just keep it up and ping them back on any kind of updates.

BONUS (and this is from me, not from Danae): Pay or raise the plus $ 1.000 yourself with family and friends you will pay back if you can and if you’re going for a campaign that gets to keep the money regardless if you reach your goal and consider the PayPal fee marketing expenses. I’ve heard this trick is more the rule than the exception on IndieGoGo.

It’s evident to everybody by now that we were spectacularly unable to fund the development of the OneSec iPhone app. Was it because it’s the wrong product? We don’t think so based on the feedback we are still receiving. We still think there’s a great opportunity to be had here. We have not given up on it.

Could we have kept on going, extending the campaign, applying and executing on the knowledge that we gained on the way? Certainly, but we decided to call it quits and call it a #fail. We had learned a lot about doing a crowd funding campaign and it was time to move on.

In the course of the campaign we were tweeting, retweeting, blogging, mailing and Facebook posting night and day. Manually and automated. We spammed around 680+ journalists in an email blast. We posted tips to about 20 of the top tech trend agencies. We filled special interest forums. We instagrammed. We YouTubed.

Here’s the results:

And how did this convert? The honest answer; We have no direct way of measuring it as IndieGoGo doesn’t offer standard referral analytics. You can track how many tweeted and posted your campaign to Facebook using the share buttons on the campaign page – but that’s it.

Having no referrer data is insane if you’re somewhat successful and want to identify where the traffic is coming from and what to focus on. Luckily for us, we were complete failures and measuring conversion of referrers when you have zero effects is pretty easy. We still would have loved to see which source drove the most traffic – if any, though. (See Francis’ posts on stats on publishing and conversion for more on this subject).

The lesson to us was pretty clear that spamming journalists and getting some publicity didn’t convert into any pledges.

We probably also launched our publicity efforts too soon, before we had reached $ 1.000. Next time we’ll consider paying this amount in ourselves and considering IndieGoGo’s cut as marketing expenses.


So what do we think were our biggest mistakes and lessons learned? What would we do differently next time?

  1. We failed to explain the product well enough
  2. We failed to make an emotional connect with more potential users and backers
  3. We failed to identify the target user segments and multiplier groups
  4. We failed with the tongue-in-cheek, no-budget style whereas more successful campaigns have had more of a serious and solid narrative with polished video content

In hindsight, it’s clear we failed to explain the product to people in the pitch video. Talking to people, the single most frequent first response is “I don’t get it”. Then we take the time to explain it and then they are like “Oh, I see. That’s cool”. We could have made a more detailed demo – especially detailing what we’ve planned for the super-easy editing and the social sharing aspects of it. Making an extensive demo would have taken considerable more time and effort than we already put it, but doing a campaign over again we’d probably start with explaining the product in more detail.

We failed to make an emotional connect with potential users and funders on two levels. On the one hand successfully conveying why we’re doing this, why we believe in this and what will happen if we don’t get funded. On the other we also failed to explain and “sell” the “what’s in it for me” the “how this makes my life better” to the potential backers. Doing it over, we would focus on how the product improves the user’s life like keeping more in touch and more up to date about your life, lives of friends and families, sharing more with others instead of your videos just gathering virtual dust on SD cards and hard disks, Apple-style with people showing real-life use-cases.

Starting out, we spammed targeted our friends, families and fellow entrepreneurs and things looked good for a while. Then as the campaign progressed, growth quickly leveled out as we didn’t manage to identify and branch out to new potential groups of users that would love our product and to other communities who’d be interested in seeing us succeed. Next time, it would probably be smarter to to do some research, tests and cohort analysis to find those groups up front before launching the campaign, having an actual plan on who to market it to, where they are, how to best reach them and how to better enable them to engage with and share the campaign.

In conclusion if we could have invoiced all the work we put in as regular consulting hours with normal customers, we’d probably made more than our original target for the funding campaign. But don’t let that deter you from trying. Just avoid doing the same mistakes we did.

For further reading on lessons learned, make check out Francis’ “Tales of Creation” where other entrepreneurs share their experiences and insights.

Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we perhaps test and learn how to fund an iPhone app – an Instagram for one second videos – with private investors for equity.

Until then, I’d love to know what your experiences with crowd funding are. How did your campaign go? What did you learn? What do you think we did wrong? Share in the comments or join the conversation on Hacker News.

OneSec screenshot 2

Update: We were approached by a major investor in [insert name of massively successful camera product brand here] after we had decided that the experiment had run its course and shortly before the Vine app hit the street. Of course there is no telling if that conversation could have gone anywhere interesting – or not – had we decided to revive it and press on. However, perhaps the last lesson learned was that these things take more time than you think. To create and manage – but also for your message to reach out to interesting new places. And just as you are about to lose faith and passion, your luck just might turn if you stick to it. However, we had already decided to kill it as we had run out of personal interest and passion. With the release of Vine immediately after, that decision was reconfirmed for us and I don’t think we regret killing it.

Events, News, startup

We made it to LeWeb 2011!

We at @getGauss made it to LeWeb 2011 all because of people like YOU helped vote us there! We are very grateful for your support!

Have you been wondering what our bootstrapped startup is all about? Watch our live world premiere from on stage at LeWeb in Paris:

This is what Gauss – The People Magnet is all about:

The amazing pitch coaches to whom we owe our pitching steez – Chris Shipley (@cshipley) and Michelle Messina:

Videobombing Sean Parker’s keynote live on-screen, meeting Geraldine and Loïc backstage:

Interviewed by TechCrunch Europe on the LeWeb Radio:

Interviewed by the wonderful Mylène Schwinte (@swantoka) for the Leonardo Davinci Institute:

Hustling in the LeWeb Startup Exhibition hall:

Time to thank our fans personally after voting for us:


Gauss – The People Magnet

I’ve been way too busy lately and should probably have filled you in on what the hell I am up to these days much earlier. Anyways – here’s the lowdown.

As I alluded to a while back, I’m co-founding a new tech startup in the social/local/mobile space. It just took a hell of a lot longer than expected to assemble a willing and able crew of bootstrappers to make it happen, but now it’s finally happening!

Introducing ‘Gauss – The People Magnet’!

Did you ever find yourself wondering if you are missing out on meeting interesting relevant people around you right now? Gauss (@getGauss) answers that question for you; It discovers, helps you with approaching, connecting and actually meeting up with the people relevant to you around you right now.

Gauss (@getGauss) is a real-time proximity based discovery and introduction engine. The first product we’re shipping is an iPhone app; a People Magnet for your pocket.

You connect the app with the social networks and services that you currently use (like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc), pocket the magnet and carry on. Gauss will instantly start with discovering and attracting relevant people to you.

Gauss aims to reduce the seeming randomness of serendipitous encounters and the hassles related to approaching and connecting with relevant new people in lasting and meaningful ways.

Gauss is also the unit of measurement of a magnetic field, named after the legendarily awesome German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Be sure to sign up and spread the word for an early beta access if this sounds like your kind of thing! You can read more on the Gauss Blog.

Software, Usability

How to Improve the List Experience in the TweetMag iPad App

Have you tried out TweetMag yet? It’s an exiting new iPad app that will let you comfortably read an aggregate of your @twitter feeds. The app is not totally unlike Flipboard, but it’s currently and it let’s you consume the content in a more flexible and enjoyable way in my personal opinion. However, the way TweetMag (as of writing) facilitates twitter list management sucks. I’ll suggest a quick and dirty fix to that below, but first, take a look at the sweet TweetMag app in their promo video:

The problem with lists in TweetMag

Right now, the process of adding and managing twitter lists in TweetMag can be a very painful chore especially if you are following many lists from one single user. You have to add each list separately, one at a time, by dragging the icon of a list from the menu bottom right to the top menue bar or rack (up to “TOP STORIES” and “CATEGORIES”). As that was not bad enough, you need to drill your way down the interface to find the same user again and open her lists again for adding the next list. And again. And again. And again. Ouch! And as if that wasn’t enough, you can’t even see which lists you have already added! That’s just silly and poor design if you ask me. Click on the image below to see a screenshot of the current TweetMag app on the iPad in its original size:

My improvement suggestions

It doesn’t have to be this painful. I’ve made a very quick and dirty improvement suggestion illustrated below, adding a simple visual cue and an extra button.

The user should visually be reminded of the lists she’s already added by labeling and/or fading out (ghosting) the already added twitter list’s icon (illustrated). It is not possible to spot which lists the user has already added in the current version of TweetMag, potentially leading to a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth operations to verify if a list has already been added or not.

Currently, to add another list from the same twitter user, the user is forced by the software app to step out of context, remembering (internalising) the previous steps and repeat a multiple step process to get back into the context of continuing to add twitter lists from the same user.

That’s just not nice to the user in my book. I think the software should play by your processes and let you stay in your context. By adding an add/remove list button directly in the list overview, the user would be able to add, remove, manage all list operations in one process without having to leave context or having to remember previous steps and keeping the original goal in mind while working herself back into context repetitively per list management operation.

Adding colour to the add/remove buttons like green and red could further enhance affordance.

Should you be worried that any spatial navigational cue of having the user dragging the icon to the TweetMag rack might be lost for each add/remove operation using simple button operations instead of drag & drop, I suggest looking at how Apple OSX is doing this; You could animate the icons flying up on the rack, flying down out of the rack respectively to retain the visual cues. Take a look at the image below for a quick and dirty mockup of my suggested changes:

Tweetmag iOS App list management improvement suggestion

I also added the suggestion on Get Satisfaction should you be interested in my suggestion to improving list management in the TweetMag app.

Your opinion

What do you think of TweetMag? Do you love it? Hate it? Perhaps you prefer Flipboard? Do you create and manage twitter lists with TweetMag?