It is a toss up in the technology startup world between what is the most popular phrase. The prize either goes to:
“what is your mobile strategy?”
“We are (insert industry name here) meets Airbnb”
Mobile is big, duh.
I’m preaching to the choir. We are only where we are because our ancestors moved from place to place. Humans are nomadic. People are mobile, people want to use devices while they are mobile, mobile is big and has room for growth. Don’t believe me? Believe Mary Meeker:
For the blind, the graph demonstrates the room for growth of the smartphone industry. I am not sure what percentage of this is in developing nations but I am sure much of the room for growth is stemming from that region.
Before you balk at the length of this post. I will give you a summary of what it covers to make sure I don’t waste your time. If I at any point I am wasting your time just click here.
- Why we are a different ad company
- Why we had to build a photo/video app to support our ad company
- How the world being flat helped us
- Discussing the Sponsored Pageflip™
- More details if you want to get involved somehow with this revolution
If building a startup … mobile must be, if not a focus, a consideration.
Our company VIRURL does not sleep at night, we promote sponsored content all day and all night long. Our philosophy is very simple – Traditional Banner Ads suck. We hate them with a passion. We protest them. We throw darts at them. During our hiring process we do eyecam tests – if you look at the banners more than 5% of the time – you are not getting the job because you do not hate banners enough.
Our mission is replace these obtrusive traditional banners with a content experience. Firstly, we believe that we can swap traditional banner ads with content ad units that make you smart, make you cry, make you think. Secondly, we believe that ad units should be unobtrusive. They should not suddenly take over your page or auto-play. In our books, these obtrusive ads cannibalize users’ time – the complete opposite of what the internet was created for.
We bought the domain VIRURL in early 2009 (because VIRAL.com was sold out) to begin this mission. Soft launched VIRURL in October of 2010 and today we have over 115,000 influencers and publishers distributing great sponsored content. Today we work with a range of content creators seeking to increase the size of their audience – the small mommy bloggers to the leading content creators (ex. VICE, Funny or Die, Sports Illustrated, etc.).
Initially VIRURL launched with a web-enabled version of the platform. As we’ve grown in the last couple months, our advertisers have asked about mobile. We were hit with the repeating question “How does VIRURL work on mobile apps?”. In January, our response was “we’re thinking about it”. Fast forward to today and we finally have one small baby step in the right direction with VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ SDK.
Given that our mobile ad unit is non-traditional, we need lots of data in order to refine the experience and in turn the SDK. Creating a crappy mobile app to display our mobile ad unit was not an option. If we were going to build an ad unit in mobile, it had to be elegant, native and most importantly, be held within a great app.
We built a ridiculous app to seriously learn about mobile.
“With Artsy Head, you take a photo or video, add sound over the top, and then choose a soundtrack. You can also add one of several styles of mustache right on top of the video as well. Once you take this masterpiece of video and sound, you can share it with your social networks, like Facebook or Twitter, or with the Artsy Head community.”
The excuse for building out Artsy Head was that it is a fresh way to create something different. We all have picture apps, video apps, sound apps but nothing seemed like a good option when wanting to mish mash the three together. I call it an excuse because in the end we probably could have found a developer with a soon to be released app for cheaper and faster. As we know this does not always mean better.
Pain can be good, sometimes.
I had never been heavily involved in designing and developing a mobile app. I did not know the pain points of time, effort, Apple approvals, Apple tracking, contracts, etc. etc. I knew the process because I had read about it but had not experienced it. Big difference.
I’m not claiming to be an expert but now when I speak to mobile developers, I know what it is like. I can somewhat relate. That is a huge part of being able to effectively do business. I have always thought that doing good business is hard for egomaniacs because they cannot seem to relate. Understanding the nuances of the ecosystem, the tools available is critical when entering a market.
Although it may have cost more to develop Artsy Head in-house – it was a road that had a destiny we could control (better). I knew that at some point an app would be on the Apple store market with VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ SDK. If I would have knocked on developers doors, I probably could have secured a few launch partners. The key is the world -probably. And I wouldn’t bet my startup on it.
By being maniacal and creating our own in-house iOS app not only was I able to nearly guarantee that an app would have VIRURL ad technology but I could also gain valuable lessons and pain points about an industry I knew very little about.
The world is flat and really connected.
Going into the whole thing. I knew my budget was razor tight and I had to execute near flawlessly. This project could not detract us from our bread, our live platform with live customers. It had to be a tiger project – one that would operate in a near vacuum from the core VIRURL engineering and management team.
Like most of you, I am a big proponent of social proof. In July 2012, I saw a positive recommendation from one of my LinkedIn contacts to a designer, Boban Pajić. If it were not the inefficiency of PayPal in Serbia we would have been up in minutes. I engaged Boban with an NDA, opened a Moneybookers and began working with Boban within a few hours.
I’m giving an unsolicited review for Boban’s skills. He is a sharp designer, can take words and turn them to art. Efficient, doesn’t disappear and always willing to redesign without complaining.
Even though, I am not a designer, I like to hash out prototypes quickly and have a better artist help me polish the look. Within a few hours, I had mocked up some horrendous designs and Boban clearly improved on them:
It was not until we had all the designs that VIRURL began developing the designs into a native iOS app. Our iOS mobile engineer, plugs in from none other than beautiful Isreal, world-renowned for many things but amongst others – talented engineers. Now our team was truly operating on a global basis:
Obvious to some but not all, the portion of the project that took the longest was optimizing and refining the app. Apparently building an app that lets you take a picture, then erase part of it, then film behind it, then select a song and stitch it together to a community that can support a million people is challenging. It surely is and we invested hundreds of hours refining this and crushing bugs. This apps mission is not done – I’m the first to admit – the app still sometimes crashes and everyone that uses it has a clever feature we should probably support. If you’re alright with that and the fact that it is currently free – you can download it here. Hate mail welcome to email@example.com
I hope Artsy Head brings thousands (maybe millions) of people entertainment with a new format. After over six months of design, development and testing Artsy Head was accepted into the app market. But more importantly than the fun app, something special for us was packaged inside – VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ technology.
The Sponsored Pageflip is our trojan horse.
If you’re still following me, I congratulate you – I could have never made it this far. Anyway, now it makes sense to backtrack into why we touched mobile in the first place. We don’t like the way most of mobile advertising works. In general, it is a very jarring experience. Picture this – you are sitting down on a Sunday afternoon reading your favorite app, suddenly you see a mobile banner, you click on that, it takes you out of the app, now you’re downloading a new app and by the time the download is done – you’ve forgotten where you were in the first place. The experience is broken.
Artsy Head was released to showcase VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™. We believe the Sponsored Pageflip™ is an elegant way of displaying recommended content and also an unobtrusive way to advertise if executed correctly. The vision is that – every time a page is flipped the user is happy that they just learnt or felt something, the mobile app developer is happy because they just got paid and the advertiser is happy because they just engaged the right audience in the right way.
By allowing users to stay in-app viewing recommended content via the Sponsored Pageflip™ we defeat two birds with one stone – we could eliminate the jarring experience of leaving the app and save more real estate on such a small screen.
We’re just getting started.
We will continue building our network of mobile developers and add more great content partners. I know that we didn’t invent the pageflip, I know we didn’t invent the idea of the content network. What keeps me up at night is not knowing that we did or did not invent these things. What keeps me up at night is knowing that our problem of recommending the right content to the right user is infinitely complex and will never completely be solved. Not by us and not by anyone. Therefore, to make the world a better place we must keep improving the way content is recommended – one story, one user, and now, one device at a time.
Virurl Inc., Co-founder and CEO
If there are any developers out there who want to try it out. PM me