Early in 2014, we called out 7 early stage startups that seemed worth keeping an eye on for the year ahead.
Rather than leave it at that though, we decided to actually do as we said and see how they’re getting along now at the start of another new year. If you didn’t read that first piece, you should go and do that first.
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We caught up with Benjamin Dell, founder of project tracking platform Updatey to see what has happened in the last year.
“Ah, yes indeed. That seems like such a long time ago now – such is the pace of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup these days. Since then we’ve further refined our pricing model, where we essentially now have just two pricing plans. We are now generating revenue and are in profit. That being said, I am sure there are further adjustments to be made to both the pricing, and underlying model and platform.”
What was the hardest part of that transition for you?
“With the new pricing model, we decided to remove our free plan. Removing something that was previously free will always be a tough decision; this was no exception. Whilst we had found that those adopting the free plan, in terms of percentages, were pretty low, we still wanted to offer a reasonable alternative – albeit one with a cost attached! As such, our entry level plan costs just $3 per project. We feel this is low enough to remain attractive to those that either need to use Updatey in a small way, or are simply looking to experiment.”
Where are you with Updatey now? You launched in October 2013 – how were the year one metrics?
“One thing that I am sure won’t surprise you, is that with Updatey firmly entrenched in the Project Management (PM) space, ‘done’ never means done. Expectations are extremely high in this space, and for good reason. People are entrusting the day to day running of their projects with you. To this end, we have a fairly extensive and long-running roadmap laid out in front of us. Right now, we’re probably about 40 percent there.
The next year will see a number of additions and improvements rolled out that will help elevate Updatey and place it firmly ‘outside’ of the run-of-the-mill PM tools out there – which has always been our intention. We don’t exist simply to be another one of those PM tools you might find on the Web. Instead, our focus remains on providing genuinely useful and approachable tools for both the project manager and client (or stakeholders as the case might be), alike. We don’t care much about burn down charts or velocity – but real-world, tangible pieces of information instead, that just about anybody can understand.
In terms of metrics, we’re actually looking at Jan 2014 to Jan 2015 as that is when we moved out of Beta. Based on those, we currently have 9 month metrics to share. Customer numbers are up 160 percent and revenue is seeing a 35 percent month-on-month increase.”
Do you have any other product updates on the horizon?
“We have a new global dashboard in the pipeline (for those with multiple projects to manage) and a brand new client report designed to help PM’s keep clients and stakeholders in the loop, without having to ask them to register an account at the ‘XYZ project management tool’. In fact, when clients consume the report they need not know that there’s a powerful Updatey platform sitting behind it.”
Are you still a team of 5? Are you still privately funded?
“Yes and yes. As always we’re open to investment opportunities but I am not actively looking for anything at this moment in time.”
With 2015 now properly under way, what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
“Delivering the global dashboard and client report technologies are at the top of our lists. This time next year I’d hope to be able to talk about stable and robust user and revenue growth. Our major development plans should have reached a conclusion by this point, opening the way for our secondary and tertiary strategies.”
What would be the one key learning or take-away you’ve learnt from Updatey over the last year of which you’d advise other startups?
“Entering the Project Management space is NOT for the faint hearted – [there’s] so much expectation for what makes the perfect PM tool. It’s a space we love being a part of though.”
Up next: Snippit >
We caught up with Joe Grano, co-founder and CEO of Snippit, a platform that lets you share short customized music clips.
When we last caught up you’d just had your official launch, following a soft launch. How has the last year been for Snippit?
“The last year has been quite an interesting roller-coaster ride for us.
When we first launched Snippit in February, we were offering free music to our users and allowing them to create “snips” from free iTunes song previews. Users were loving it and the growth we were experiencing was incredible. Then all of a sudden, about 3-4 months after launch, iTunes forced us to stop snipping their song previews because it violated their music licensing deals. We then decided as a company that the best thing to do is stop offering free music altogether and go about things the right way by getting our own licensing deals.
So for the last six months we put the business on pause and essentially went back into stealth mode, focusing solely on acquiring licensing deals with every major music label and publisher. The good news is we are finalizing all those deals now, with many of them already signed, after months of tough negotiations. So we are now planning for a ‘re-launch’ in early 2015, with the entire music catalog of every major music label and publisher available for free on our app. And we will essentially be the only social sharing music service out there that is fully licensed and operating legally.
As far as I know we are the first app to receive music licenses solely for the sake of creating short ~10 second song clips. It’s a completely new territory and a pioneering deal structure, in a sense.
In many ways we look at that initial hurdle as a blessing in disguise, because it forced us to get ahead of the curve and start working with the labels and publishers to create these new types of licensing deals that haven’t existed before. We’re definitely glad we turned our focus to it when we did, because it’s definitely a process, and we’re lucky to be coming out on the right side of that process now. And it’s something every player in this space will need if they want to succeed.”
Now, one year from your soft launch, and taking those changes into account, are you still achieving the traction you wanted (and saw) in the early days? How were the year one metrics?
“Year one for us turned into a totally different thing once we decided to press pause on all our marketing and growth initiatives…We were certainly on pace to reach our internal goal of 1 million users in year one, but it’s only really fair to look at our year one from the purview of our first 3-4 months when we were providing free music and doing some marketing.
Looking back at our numbers when we launched, we reached 120,000 downloads in the first three months. We started with some social media marketing campaigns to get the word out, and soon after we started to see really strong organic growth. By our second month we were growing at about 10,000 users per week. And users were staying on the app for an average of over eight minutes per session. So the first few months were incredibly exciting, and then factors emerged that forced us into stealth mode. We decided not to offer free unlicensed music while all our competition continued to do so.
I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been frustrating to essentially take ourselves out of the game and sit on the sidelines while we negotiated these licensing deals.
We’re frankly surprised that none of these other apps have gotten into legal trouble and received takedown notices yet, because the music industry has taken a firm stance that it’s a direct violation. Whether you allow people to share 3 seconds or 30 seconds of a song. But now that we will be re-launching Snippit as a licensed platform with every major music catalog available to our users, we definitely feel that it will be a huge competitive advantage for us. Because at some point the other unlicensed apps in this space will have to “face the music” so to speak.
This is a whole new wave and marketplace that the music industry is facing, and music is being shared in ways it never has before. Sooner or later they will go after these guys. Just like in the Napster days. They already have lists of everyone they’re prepared to take action against. I’m just happy that we now have the music industry on our side and rooting for our success.
Now all our focus is on what the metrics will look like after we re-launch in 2015.”
Given the shifts, what are the biggest product changes for Snippit’s relaunch?
“The biggest update is obviously that we will be offering free music on our app for our users. Finally people will once again be able to experience Snippit the right way, by searching for any song they want and selecting 4-10 seconds from it to create a post.
Beyond that, the next big update is video, which we are currently integrating now. In addition to posting song snips to photos, users will also be able to sync music clips to video, which really brings the app to another level. It was always our plan to integrate video, and we are super excited to finally be able to release it. There are some music apps out there that utilize video, but we’re going to have a little bit of a different take. Snippit is first and foremost a music app before anything else, so the music will always be the real focus of the content, especially with video. We plan to include some really cool ways for users to discover and quickly apply music to their content, whether it’s photo or video.
We’re also going to be adding some cool features to the app such as filters and some other add-ons for video, for instance.”
Have you taken on additional funding in the past year, excluding the $500,000 friends and family seed you told us about before? Is it still the same 8-person team?
“The team is basically still the same size, with just a couple additions. And we’ve recently brought in some more capital to help finance the music licenses we’re currently acquiring. But we plan to raise a much larger VC round in the early part of 2015. Now that we have music licenses in hand, I think it’s definitely a much more secure and attractive investment for anyone to make.”
With 2015 now spluttering into life, what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
“Our next key milestone will be the re-launch of Snippit, which will be sometime in the first quarter of 2015.
Providing free, searchable music on the app will make it accessible again and allow everyone to have the best possible experience. And, of course, video will be a game changer – the type of content users can create by making mini music videos really elevates the experience. I truly believe having both photo and video available together as compliments to each other is the best way to share music on a social platform and what users want.
This time next year I’d obviously love to tell you what any app founder hopes to tell you – that our monthly active users are through the roof, that people are loving Snippit, and that people are using it both as its own platform and as a tool to share content to other platforms, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
But even more that, the primary goal is for Snippit to become a premiere music platform, for both creatively sharing music based content as well as for discovering music. We want Snippit to be where artist’s go to tease a new song release, and where people can use a song clip to create content that in turn helps the song go viral. Maybe even before the song is officially released!
So I’d love to be able to say that we have had some major artists premiere snippets of their music on our app and that many artists utilize our platform to interact and share with their fans. I’d also love to say that up and coming artists have had breakthroughs on Snippit, with us featuring their music and encouraging users to create content that helps people discover it.”
What would be the one key learning or take-away you’ve learnt from Snippit over the last year of which you’d advise other startups?
“There’s a lot more than one I could give you! I’d say this: if you’re starting a business, the path is never a straight line. As cliched as that might sound. There will always be hurdle after hurdle, and a lot of things you won’t see coming. Just don’t be dissuaded when it gets really hard, because it’s not supposed to be easy. As long as you have a clear vision, and if you can surround yourself with good talented people who all play a role in helping achieve that vision, you will put yourself in the best possible position to achieve something special.
And the most important thing I can say is that if you’re truly passionate about something, and you’re willing to put in the crazy hard work and dedication it takes to build something from the ground up, it is the most rewarding experience you can ever have. Despite any stress there might be, I’ve never had so much fun in my life. And I feel like we’re just getting started.”
Up next: Range >
“There was a lot of excitement – getting the first leads, developing the core feature set, visiting and speaking with teams in order to see the nature of their work and if Range could help them – from small video production boutiques to large international interactive agencies. All of this was very stimulating.”
What was the hardest part of that time for you?
“While we had the same idea for what Range should be, there were differences regarding how to get there. Add to the mix that we still had to run the [Monterail] agency on a daily basis; you start running out of time while attempting to weigh the best scenarios and try out each option in order to leverage the initial success.”
Where are you with Range now? Did you get past the prototype stage you were testing with teams?
“We halted all work on Range a few months ago. We still use it internally and there are private beta users that use it on a daily basis, but we had to make a hard choice between focusing on the services or product part of Monterail. And we chose services.”
What did you learn from Range that’s applicable to Monterail?
“Range is suited for teams of specific sizes – team scheduling works differently based on three key factors: size of the team, number of the projects and urgency of the work – ie. if you can stick to your plans, or if everything is happening so fast that the day’s work you’ve planned in the morning isn’t valid in the afternoon. Some teams could find the value in our way of scheduling, some couldn’t.
We’ve managed to grow from a team of 10 to a team of 40 and a lot of the workflows and processes had to change.
Outside of Range’s domain, the positive outcome was that people who we’ve contracted for consulting on the product part got hired as product designers and we’ve started offering those services to Monterail’s existing client base, which worked very well. This made us shift the product design competency, an added value to the technical services at that time, to our core expertise. Product and design people are now an important part of our development process.”
Will you be reviving that particular product as a standalone business? Or launching any more separately of Monterail?
“There are no plans for Range or other products at the moment, but we’re not closing this path.”
What would be the one key learning or take-away you’ve learnt from Range of which you’d advise other startups?
“It may sound clichéd, but focus is key. While we had the necessary resources and knowledge on building Web-based products, we were running the development agency during the day and worked on Range during the night. It’s a terrible strategy and doesn’t work long-term.
The only scenario in which we would resume Range or any kind of bootstrapped product would include building a team dedicated for it.”
Up next: Shadow >
We got in touch with Shadow’s founder Hunter Lee Soik to find out how his dream database project was developing.
“2014 was quite an exciting year; we’ve had our share of ups and downs but all in all we are moving in the right direction. No question [that] we are behind schedule, but I keep reminding myself of this thought: you can have it right, or right now.
That said our initial goal was [and still] is ambitious. We needed to explore new ways to organize content [dreams] and surface relational content that is meaningful for you. The alarm and dream recording is done, now can we show you four other people who also had a Flying Monkey Rocket Ship dream last night.”
It’s quite a conceptually unusual project, has that been a particular hindrance in selling the idea to users and investors?
“Mostly everyone gets it, I believe, because everyone sleeps and everyone wakes up – and whether you remember or not, everyone dreams 3-5 dreams per night. I can actually see the moment when the light bulb clicks when I tell people and it’s pretty exciting.
As for investors, we have a very tight group of angel investors and we have not approached institutional investors yet. Maybe we never will, we are very conscious about how we build the company and who is involved.”
Where are you with the product now?
“We have a small group of alpha testers, mostly Kickstarter backers; we will release another version later in the month. As for launch, no one wants this product launched more than I do, but again I remind myself, you can have it right or right now.”
Have you taken on additional funding in the past year? How would you want to monetize the product ideally?
“We have assembled a team of very thoughtful and influential humans. To date we have 20 angel investors from 8 major cites around the world. We have 16 PhDs advising on everything from lucid dreaming training to integrated sleep medicine, and specifically neuropsychology as it relates to slow wave sleep as an indicator for memory consolidation.”
With 2015 under way, what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
“WE HAVE FOUND IT.”
What would be the one key learning/take-away you’ve experienced from Shadow over the past year of which you’d advise other startups?
“I love quotes, mainly because they are from someone else who has lived it. If I use the journey metaphor, quotes are the messages etched into the bark of trees as you forge forward. So I’ll leave you with this one which sums up our last year. ‘Either I (we) will find a way, or I (we) will make one.’ – Philip Sidney, English poet and courtier.”
Up next: Peak >
We contacted with Andrew Wilkinson, founder of team productivity tool Peak.
When we last caught up you were just approaching public launch following a private beta. You reported sales “in the five figure range” – how has it been since then? What happened next?
[At the end of 2014, Metalab decided to try and sell Peak]
[I’d rather not] share revenue stuff. It did well but there wasn’t a good customer fit for some people.
What is happening with the product right now? Have you managed to sell it? Has there been interest?
We have been looking for the right team to take it over. I think we’ve found someone and we’re working through a deal.
Have you taken on additional funding in the past year for Flow or your other products?
Nope. 100 percent self-funded.
With 2015 under way what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
That Flow is still growing like crazy with a passionate user base.
What would be the one key learning/take-away you’ve experienced from Peak over the past year of which you’d advise other startups?
Focus. Peak is a great product and we hope someone can take it to its full potential, but we just can’t hire enough people to maintain two products at the level of quality we expect from ourselves.
Up next: Snapwire >
We caught up with Chad Newell, founder of Snapwire to see how 2014 had treated the photo marketplace.
When we last caught up you were just embarking on your journey with Snapwire, you had just moved from a private into a public beta – what happened next?
“When we started Snapwire, only invited mobile photographers could thrive doing what they loved. When we quietly moved from private beta to public beta, we opened up our product so anyone could submit their best photos to our photo challenges.
If their photo is nominated by our creative teams, users level up and can play in the big leagues. These Challenges serve as a gateway to being able to submit to paid buyer requests from real businesses and brands.
Now, one year from that beta, are you still achieving the traction you wanted in the early days? How are the year one metrics?
“Last July, we publicly launched Snapwire’s Photographer Marketplace and the word got out amongst the mobile photography community that Snapwire was not only a on-demand photo assignment service for mobile photographers, but a growing marketplace where the best photos are made available via a traditional search. We now have over 100,000 photographer users in over 100 countries, supplying over 1 million images to Snapwire.”
Do you have any product updates on the horizon?
“We are very proud of the product we have built, but there’s always pressure for improvements. Prioritizing what gets built next is always a challenge and takes focus.
With a two-sided marketplace like Snapwire you have to let the pendulum swing to photographer-centered features and then swing to buyer features. In 2015, you’ll see improved photographer upload flow and better quality controls for buyers.
Snapwire has had several thousands sales on the platform so it’s great to see it working. In response to many Web users with power cameras on Android, they will be delighted to hear that our Android app releases at the end of January.”
Have you taken on additional funding in the past year? Is the team still the same size (just 6 people)?
“We see taking on any additional funding as an accelerator, not a requirement. We’ve on-boarded some very strategic angel investors in 2014 and are now ramping for a priced round to really put fuel on our fire.
It’s always a great feeling to have investors knocking before you need the funding and we’re excited to explore the future. We’ve doubled the team since last we spoke, we are now 12.”
With 2015 under way what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
“2015 is all about growth. In 2014 we localized Snapwire in 9 languages and opened our 1st international office. 2015 is focused on offering more solutions to our buyer users and that means more localized offices in targeted countries and territories. We also aim to have key partnership announcements.”
What would be the one key learning or take-away you’ve gotten from Snapwire over the last year of which you’d advise other startups?
“It’s all about your team. At Snapwire, we firmly believe that you are only able to execute based on the talent you surround yourself with. We are always looking for teammates who can dive in.
To help with any gaps, I’ve required all our team members to watch Sam Altman’s How to start a startup series. I’d recommend this to every startup team.”
Up next: Exposure >
Exposure‘s co-founder Kyle Bragger agreed to let us know how the photo narrative platform was faring.
When we last caught up you were just embarking on your journey with Exposure, you had just had your official launch following a private beta – how has the last year been for the company?
“The last year has been awesome. [We’ve had] over 10 million views across nearly 50,000 stories from our members. [We’re] also well on the way to profitability.”
Now, one year from your official launch, are you still achieving the traction you wanted in the early days? How are the year one metrics?
“Definitely. December was our strongest month ever in terms of revenue, new signups, new subscribers. Things are picking up speed, too. We’re just now starting to look at ways to spread the word about Exposure. All our growth to date has largely been organic via member referrals and story views.”
Do you have any product updates on the horizon?
“A few things that aren’t ready to see the light of day quite yet, but suffice to say we are really eager to help our members get (*ahem*) more exposure. So, possibly looking at stock photography and other ways we can help them be prosperous, [but we’re making no promises right now!]”
Have you taken on additional funding in the past year? Is the team still the same size?
“No additional funding, and the team is still three people.”
With 2015 now under way, what is your next key milestone? What do you want to be telling me this time next year?
“When we catch up in a year, I’ll hopefully be telling you that we’re wildly profitable.
The next key milestone is really just getting sustainable. When a company is able to sustain its own operations, literally anything is possible.”
What would be the one key learning or take-away you’ve learnt from Exposure over the last year of which you’d advise other startups?
“There are no overnight successes.”
Featured image credit – Shutterstock