Via.Me: Multiple Media Services in One Platform

At the beginning of last year we ran a number of articles highlighting some of the fundamental challenges that face a tech startup and some ideas on how to approach and handle them. Two of these posts were based on interviews with Fergus Hurley, a Galway native who now resides in California. Fergus discussed the importance of design in the Role of Design in Getting a Product to Market and project construction in Developers and Product Development.

Fergus is now Director of Products at Radium One and on March 1st, this year, he and his team launched Via.Me. For the last couple of weeks at TechVo we have been exploring the Via.Me platform as it offers us the potential to use upload different types of media just using one service.

We have experimented with services such as Audioboo, Instagram and SoundCloud and they are all great. (I, for one, will continue using them as I have already established my own little mini-communities on each of them.)

It is almost a paradox in the world of social media that as the services and choices become bigger and more numerous, activities and communities become more fragmented and more narrowly defined.

However, for a multi-media platform such as ours, and for other users who would like to post pictures, video or sound according to which medium best suits what is intended to be communicated, keeping track of what has been published where has become a job in itself.

Via.Me is a number of different services in one platform. According to Fergus, it is a way to, “Upload all your different types of media. Photos, videos, voice-notes and text/stories in one application across all the social networks. In this first incarnation it supports all those media types and it has the web presence and mobile presence that very few other applications have.”

Fergus says that there are four different target audiences:

“One, is consumers. People who are coming to the site and they can use it themselves and start interacting with it.

“Two, is celebrities. That means celebrities posting their content and building up their audiences on our platform and allowing people to subscribe to celebrities while getting real-time updates from those celebrities.

“Three, is publishers. Brotips, Notebook of Love and Men’s Humor are posting content all over the networks and then people are coming back to view that content on Via.Me. They create one central hub for all their content and they have the view count showing so they can get a metric.

“Four, is the brands. In general, as a company, Radium One’s biggest focus is on brands. We work with a lot of the top 100 advertisers in the US helping them with their online advertising.”

Although Via.Me is comprehensive in its capabilities. Fergus believes that it is important to, “Keep things really, really simple. You have to keep the application as intuitive and as simple as possible. If you build something that is really difficult and is hard to explain to other people then it’s going to be really hard to get adoption. We definitely kept the product a simple, sharable concept with instant gratification.

“It’s about getting the users onboard. We have already had over a quarter of a million downloads of the application and we’ve had millions of people come to the website. It is about growing the audience from there.

“A lot of people are using it as a publishing platform. They see the links and comeback and comment on our platform and then they start engaging with our platform on a daily basis.”

PicBounce: Fergus Hurley And Next Generation Media

In a previous article, “Fergus Hurley And The Silicon Valley State Of Mind“, we spoke with Fergus about what it was like to work in Silicon Valley and his experiences surrounding getting Clixtr up and going. His latest project is PicBounce, an iPhone app that allows you to take a picture and post it on Facebook or Twitter with just two taps on the device. In the first two weeks of its release, PicBounce has been downloaded over 200,000 times and over 100,000 pictures have been uploaded.

Fergus has been very busy recently, to say the least, but he very kindly shared with Technology Voice a small portion of his time to give us another update on what it is like being an entrepreneur doing business in Silicon Valley.

How did PicBounce come to be?

“One thing we learned from Clixtr is that we became experts in this whole area of photo sharing, real-time photo sharing more specifically, and more specifically than that, real-time photo sharing to social media services. There is just this need, which is very, very common, where people want to get their photos as fast and as simply as possible from their iPhone onto Facebook and Twitter. With PicBounce it is two taps to take a photo and get it on Facebook, that’s it.

“We’re pushing out the boundary here on the whole area of life-streaming. People don’t want to stream everything. For a long time, people thought that people were always going to stream their location. But people [prefer to] check in because they want to selectively share where they are. With this photo service, it is the same thing. People don’t want to be streaming all the time, but they want to be able to take photos and videos and be able to share them instantly and easily.”

There are over 300,000 apps in the iTunes store now. How do you compete with that?

“To be successful in the iPhone application store, you have to have a really simple, shareable use case or concept that gives instant gratification to the users. If you look at any of the top apps in the app store they all match that criteria. For most applications that are successful in the app store it only takes users two seconds to recognise the benefit of the product.

“You just need to catch people straight away and you offer them instant gratification. People download the application and they post their photo and they are like ‘cool, awesome, done’, and it is just two taps and they just use PicBounce in the future as their camera app on the iPhone.”

How important is it to be developing products such as Clixtr and PicBounce in the Valley?

“One of the advantages now at this point in where we are is that we are able to get meetings with people at Facebook, Google and Twitter very easily and be able to get talks going about potential partnerships down the road. I don’t have to get on a plane to be able to do that. I just e-mail one of them and say, ‘Hey, do you have time for lunch next week?’ By getting these meetings, you get to understand what their roadmaps are, what their goals are and how we could potentially work together.”

What have you learned so far?

“What we found is we have nearly twenty times more content is going to Facebook than Twitter. The overarching theme here is that the photo-sharing category and the media-sharing category is an industry that is just getting started in terms of the real-time stuff. There are huge businesses to be built there and that’s where we see the opportunity.

“We are just on the content creation side now where people are posting these photos. But content consumption is where the majority of the time is spent. There’s one Facebook creator for every hundred people who view it, if not more, most of the time. We need to build out the viewing experience. It’s about building the best products, so we need to build the best products for viewing this content as well.”

Where to from here?

“We have started off with this very simple little app. We wanted to build the minimum viable product to determine what people actually want to do in that market and how people are actually using the product.

“The roadmap is to build out a lot more functionality into the application itself. Being able to do video, being able to have multiple Facebook accounts and multiple Twitter accounts and being able to have other services such as Tumblr and Posterous.

“We have built this real-time media sharing platform, and so we consider ourselves a next-generation media company. Instead of being a newspaper or something like that, we are a media company in terms of showing people relevant content to them based on their social graph and building tools to enable that. PicBounce is a utility tool right now but there is a lot of interesting things we can do around that in terms of adding social relevancy to the application.”

Fergus Hurley And The Silicon Valley State Of Mind

Images of Clixtr HQ.

Fergus Hurley, a native of Galway, and a graduate of University College Cork and MIT, now resides in California. He is the CEO of Clixtr. His new venture – Picbounce – is in beta and will be live shortly. In a very short time, he has acquired a lot of experience doing business in Silicon Valley, and he shares some of his thoughts with us here.

We started off by discussing the role of venture captialists (VCs) in Silicon Valley.

”In businesses there are certain things that have to be done every time that are replicable and repeatable, and the same for every business and other things that are unique to that business. You have to excel on the things that are unique and that makes you different because other people are going to be very, very good at doing the business side of things and executing very well. So the VCs are able to execute well on the business side while you are able to innovate well on the product side.

“There are two aspects there. One is the VCs looking at an idea and seeing if it is a good one or not. They can use their pattern-matching skills to look for indicators that tell them that’s a good idea. What are user-growth numbers that are standard for this sort of product at this stage? What is the team that is required to build these sort of products? And so on. When all these elements come together it could look like the next big thing.

“Basically, all good VCs are pattern matchers and that’s one of the good things about being out here is that they are willing to meet new people, whereas in Europe you have to know people really well to get the meeting. Over here, anybody can get a meeting with anybody. They are very open here to people from all over the world.”

So how does one get started in Silicon Valley?

“I think that getting involved with the incubators and co-working spaces in Silicon Valley is a great way to get out and get involved in a very efficient manner. You get these deal-review sessions where the investors come, and these are the top investors in the world, and entrepreneurs can go and just pitch to them.

“Other entrepreneurs in the incubation places can give you a lot of feedback and insight, and a lot of them are very successful entrepreneurs themselves. If you are in one these incubation or innovation centres or co-working spaces, everyone around you is doing a startup. So that’s the best way to get started.

“When we came out and got started we went to Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale. They have about three hundred companies working in there and their other centres. There might well be mulitple deal-review sessions with venture capitalists in their offices every week.”

But not all of us can go to Silicon Valley for various reasons, family commitments, etc. What about them?

“I think Silicon Valley is an ideology, a way of thinking rather than a place in itself. People think they can create Silicon Valley in other places, but Silicon Valley doesn’t think it is even a place. It’s just a bunch of people working on tons and tons of stuff and just trying lots and lots of experiments. People can be a part of that anywhere in the world.

“The magic of the Web right now is that you don’t need to be here. Before, people would say that and people would believe that you didn’t need to be in Silicon Valley or one of these tech hubs to be successful, but the reality was that at that time you still needed the advice of people.

“Now all these very experienced people are on the Web blogging. I am reading the same blogs that anyone in Galway could read. You can get insight from them about what they think entrepreneurs should be thinking about. So you don’t really need to be here anymore.

  • One, the technology is available to anyone in the world.
  • Two, the Web is available everywhere in the world.
  • Three, all these thought leaders have blogs and books and materials on the Web that you can access from anywhere and be able to learn from.

“One book that is very, very popular among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is the “Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank who is an advisor to our company. I audited his class at Berkeley last semester. He has extremely good insight. His book is very detailed but it’s a great book to start with and his blog is fantastic.”

How have you applied it to your own experience?

“When you are starting out the first time, you come up with this great idea and that great idea is going to change the world, but when you study the history of all these companies that are very successful they ‘pivoted,’ which is the word they use for this. They mean that you learn a lot when you do this stuff and when you learn a lot your assumptions change. Your assumptions on how the market would react and what was going to be successful on day one change over time and you have to be willing to change the business as well.

“People in Silicon Valley are very accepting of people pivoting. If you are learning from people that certain things work, and certain things don’t work, then take those learnings on and include them in your future plans.

Picbounce which we are launching shortly has taken a lot of the learnings from the Clixtr project. What we found is a ton of people want to post their pictures to Facebook and Twitter because that’s where their friends already are. They want to do that as fast and as easily as possible. You launch the application: it goes straight into the camera. You take the photo and it says upload to Facebook and Twitter, you press upload and then it’s back to the camera.

“We can do a lot of interesting things around that using geolocation. If you and me were at the same event, we can share media together across the Picbounce network based on its knowledge of who our mutual friends are: instead of sharing with everyone else at the whole event. It’s all about leveraging the social graph connections as well as the time and location information associated with the media. There is also a reminder function to remind you to take photos to make a record or a diary of your life.”

How do you manage all this?

“It’s a matter of being efficient with your time – you can’t do everything. You have to have people help you with the different aspects. But I have to say that with these consumer internet companies that the CEO has to be the product manager. They have to know all aspects of the product like the design, the development and the distribution.

“One of the key learnings I have from being out here is that there’s tons of people who want to start a consumer internet company, and think they have great idea,s but they need to learn the skills to be able to build these companies in terms of design, development, distribution. Otherwise, you can’t even hire great people if you don’t know what you’re hiring people to do.”

Is there a final piece of your directly-experienced learning that you can share with us?

“People in Galway and the rest of the world need to accept that if the first idea doesn’t work, try the next one, try the next one, keep trying, and over time you’ll hit it, but it’s not going to be overnight.”

If you want to hear more from Fergus you can watch his presentation from BlogTalk 2010 here.