From the ashes of Twitter’s development community comes living photo company Flixel – with co-founder Bretton MacLean
Opportunities are not lacking in the mobile and pervasive computing industry. It seems that every business model and every function of business is up from disruption through the small screens and sensors floating around us at all times. With this opportunity comes a lot of noise that entrepreneurs and businesses need to sift through in order to find a true sweet spot that either allows them to build a business or grow revenue.
This type of patience – the kind that tests the balance between passion and pragmatism – is what makes or breaks companies.
We’ve all seen this scenario play out: An entrepreneur builds a product only to have the dream of growing that product into a business disappear because it relied on someone else not getting into that business or it being too fertile of an opportunity enticing thousands of other companies to get into the same space. It does take someone with eyes wide open to be realistic about the chances of success and decide to move on to something else.
This is exactly what happened to Bretton MacLean. He and his partner launched a product called Tweetagora (see Don’t run when your provider becomes your competitor — differentiate! With Mark Pavlidis and Brett MacLean, co-founders of Tweetagora) – a Twitter app for power users – 2 years ago and quickly saw their business evaporate when Twitter moved into their space with the acquisition of Tweetie. What did Bretton and Mark do? Find a newer, larger opportunity at the start of the growth curve and this time it is the “living photo” revolution.
This episode goes into the deep crevasses of the Tweetagora story before turning to the opportunity that is their new company, Flixel. This is a great snapshot of the mobile entrepreneurs mind and the lessons learned the hard way. Do not replicate them – learn from them here.
Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
What is Flixel 1:45
What happened to TweetAgora 4:00
What lead to the decision to abandon TweetAgora 7:00
The risks of building upon someone else’s platform 13:45
How many paid customers for TweetAgora 15:40
Lesson #1: Aim for simplicity because revenue follows it 17:00
How do you decide pricing for power users 18:00
Lesson #2: Freemium vs premium pricing model 18:40
In retrospect, what would you have done differently 20:00
Don’t rush the launch (“Playbooking” it) 24:00
One platform or two for development 28:15
Why should app makers integrate analytics into their apps 29:40
Revenue strategy: Small group of paid vs large number of free users converting to paid 34:00
What happened to RIM? 39:00
Deep dive into Flixel 41:20
Why is Flixel important – the backstory 43:30
The Living Photo revolution 44:05
What was the appeal of Flixel 46:20
Making software more like a game – without the ramification 48:11
What have the challenges been in building an app like Flixel 50:00
How to become the standard 51:45
What is the revenue strategy 53:40
How to decide if/when to kill a product 58:00
What were some of the issues faced when launching Flixel 104:40
My key takeaways
Listen to the voice in your head (and stomach)
When Bretton and Mark set foot at the Twitter’s CHIRP conference ready with their brand new product for Twitter superusers, Twitter had just bought a competitive app called Tweetie. Bretton looks back at that moment today and realizes it was the beginning of the end of the developer support provided by Twitter. There really wasn’t a developer-focus after the first (and only) annual conference and the support they received had all but dried up after that. Tuning into what your head and gut are screaming at could save months of futile effort.
Be careful building on someone else’s platform
The “open API economy” is great to get things off the ground in a very inexpensive way. There hasn’t really been a time where you can build product so quickly and for so little money. There will come a day when you need to realize that “cheap” costs and building an entire business on someone else’s technology – where a single change or acquisition on their end – could destroy the value you provide to your customers. Think ahead and answer this question: What happens if your provider changes their model? What is the impact on your business if they do?
Is what you are building a feature or a product?
When Twitter bought Tweetie and then bought TweetDeck, it destroyed 1000′s of businesses instantly. Don’t put yourself in the situation where your product can be replaced that quickly and effortlessly by incumbents. Is what you are building a product or a feature of someone else’s product? Be the first, run from the second.
Understand pricing is not about dollars
We have been conditioned to price based on a curve in the various app stores but that is new. Bretton only realized after Tweetagora failed that his pricing structure was not appropriate. Understand who your customer is and price to them accordingly – even if it doesn’t fit into the current structure of the ecosystem. It’s you or them…
Super users are a tough sell
This was a key takeaway for me and may go against the understood norm: Super users may be the worst type of customer to target! They are early adopters and jump ship when they get bored. Better to go after the customer that takes their time to make a decision as they are more likely to stick with their choice.
What do you think? Also, what do you think of the new format for the episodes? Do you like the chapters for quick reference? The takeaways? What else would you like to see. Leave a comment or two below or email me.
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About Bretton MacLean
Bretton is a Co-Founder & Chief Design Officer at Flixel Photos. He has over a decade of experience designing for desktop, web, and mobile platforms – and the (mental) scars to prove it.