Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. This is a special and great episode - episode 432. I get to speak with co-founders, founders from around the world, and today I've got a co-founder of a really cool app. It's an app that I've been playing with for over a year in beta, it's an app that has absolutely crushed it on ProductHunt, had a massive launch recently, a long time waiting. We're all going to learn a ton, so if you're an app entrepreneur, an app founder, a startup founder, just interested in apps and do side projects, this is the podcast for you. Let me introduce to you the co-founder of Anchor - this is a great app that I've been playing with - his name is Mike Mignano. Mike, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Mike: Thank you, Paul. I'm excited to finally talk to you as well. As you said, it's been a while.
Paul: Yes, so for everyone listening, we connected over a year ago now, and you had Anchor and then you basically took the decision to go into beta and have a really long timeline for iterating the app and doing a beta, and you have now had a massive launch. So tell us what that year was like for you.
Mike: Sure, so I think around the time when we reached out to you, we had only just created the beta shortly beforehand; it was probably around a year ago at this point, maybe in February or March 2015. And when you have a beta, you naturally want to get feedback from people who you think will understand and appreciate the product, so I think the way we found you is we were looking around for people who had podcasts, people who were used to recording their voice and comfortable recording their voice, we discovered your podcast and loved it, so I think we just sort of cold reached out to you, and that's how we got talking. But I think shortly after that we realized that the product maybe wasn't quite ready for as many people as we initially thought, so we got back to working on the product and iterating on the product. We worked on it for a really long time, almost a year since we initially kicked off the beta.
Paul: Let's talk about the product, Mike. I look at it as recording bite-sized podcasts that anyone can join, but tell us in your words what is Anchor.
Mike: Sure, so we like to think of Anchor as radio by the people. There's this concept of radio that's been around for about a hundred years; we all know what it is, we've all been hearing it our entire lives, but radio has always been something that only certain people can realistically contribute to. It's always been something that you can only really break into if you are a professional broadcaster, or if you had some really expensive equipment, or you understood the tricks of the trade. Then podcasts came along, and podcasts were great because they helped break down some of the barriers, but they're still just not something that every person can do easily. I can tell you this from my own personal experience; I wanted to create a podcast, and I found it to be pretty difficult. So I think that was the initial idea for Anchor - we realized that this was a process that more and more people were interested in, yet there still wasn't an easy way to do it, and that gave us the idea for Anchor. We said, "Hey, let's democratize the voice-recording and sharing process. Let's make tools that are extremely simple, and let's make a medium that is more closely similar to how we all communicate in real-life, in person: we talk, we listen, we have a conversation, and let's make Anchor conversational. So let's take radio, let's take podcast, let's make them easy to contribute to, easy to consume, and let's make them conversational, just like having a normal human conversation."
Paul: So Mike, when you were starting working on the beta, what were the big changes that you made as a result of the feedback that you got? Because you guys were changing so much stuff, it was wonderful watching you. What were the big takeaways over the year that you worked on it?
Mike: I'd say one of the biggest, and probably the one that's most obvious in the product and the one that people probably the most exposure to is the time limit for waves - in Anchor, we call recordings waves. We initially launched the beta, the very first v1 of the beta and we didn't have a time limit for waves, we just left if completely open-ended. We figured, you know, these people aren't professional podcast creators, so naturally the audio that they record will be short, and bite-sized and easily consumable. We actually found that that wasn't the case. When people didn't have a time-limit, they just talked forever. We found that to be a bit problematic, because given that these people don't have broadcasting training, given that they're not professionals, giving them a completely open space and open canvas to work with would ultimately lead to content that wasn't super-interesting. So we took a look at all the waves that we had in the early beta and we identified the best ones, the ones that we believe to be the best ones, and we saw that the duration of these waves was on average around a minute and a half. So we said, "Okay, let's try two minutes", and that's where the two minutes came from, and it seemed to work. It seemed like that would be enough time for people to say what they want to say, but it was also short enough that it encouraged them to be concise, speak quickly and get their thoughts out there, so that's where that came from.
Paul: Mike, it's great because I'm seeing a lot of people connecting with me now on Anchor, a lot of people that I follow and recognize. You had just a terrific launch, particularly on ProductHunt, which has, if I remember, over a thousand upvotes. I just wondered if you could talk through the launch, it's one of the big challenges we all face when creating apps. How did you prepare for your launch, and then ultimately how did you actually go about launching?
Mike: Sure, so we've been active members of the ProductHunt community for a while now. I've been going to that site for a while now, and upvoting products that I liked, and commenting; I even had submitted a few of my own prior to Anchor, and I knew how important it was for an early product - especially one that's community-driven - to have a presence on ProductHunt on launch date. So we actually put a lot of preparation into our ProductHunt launch. We had a friend and actually also an investor at Anchor, Matt Hartman, we had him post Anchor to ProductHunt early that morning of launch - I think it was at 6 AM Eastern - and we immediately jumped on there with a comment. We had also prepared images and graphics that we'd add to the page to make the page look alive and enticing, and we just stayed engaged on there all throughout the day. I was pretty much glued to ProductHunt all day, answering questions through comments, making sure people felt like they could talk to me. I think it was a combination of a product that people really liked and the sort of openness that we put out there through the comments on ProductHunt that lead to such a successful ProductHunt launch.
Paul: Mike, I actually did have a previous app I worked on and we launched on ProductHunt and we managed to get to the number one in the music category for the app. I just wondered - what impact do you feel that that launch on ProductHunt had on your position within the AppStore? Are you able to tell where you ended up on the AppStore as a result of the successful launch?
Mike: It's really hard to say exactly where it put us or where it helped us get, but I'm definitely confident that it had something to do with it, absolutely. I think those early community members, especially those who were so passionate about products and trying things out, I think people like that are instrumental early on, in the early days of a product and especially on launch day. So I don't know where it put us in the charts, but I know that ProductHunt had a lot to do with us having such a big first day.
Paul: What I'm learning from you - because we love to try to dissect your success so that we can emulate it - is that I guess having a large or long beta, and having a lot of community already established, when you do have the app hit the AppStore, you're getting a lot of immediate downloads from that community, which then propels you up the charts. Is that fair?
Mike: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that, but what you're saying makes sense. I think we did have a large community of people - not an astronomically large amount of people, but we had our own, small, tight, little community that was excited for us. They were excited for us to launch, they had been waiting for a long time for us to launch, and so the day we did launch they were excited to help in any way they could, whether that be telling a friend, or telling multiple friends, or getting inside of Anchor on day one and helping create some content that some new users could interact with. So yes, I think you make a great point. I think not only is that early beta group totally pivotal in getting that early feedback and helping shape the product, but they're also really important for launch day, in helping make the most out of your launch.
Paul: Mike, one of the other things that we often experience ourselves as app entrepreneurs is we have the post-launch blues, where you've had a terrific launch, you've hit the charts, you've had a lot of downloads, and then momentum seems to tail off. Have you seen a dip now after the launch? Have you got any kinds of press release, PR strategy to keep the momentum going?
Mike: We're not doing any sort of publicity, or press strategy, or anything like that, and I can honestly say that the momentum has sustained up until this point, and maybe even increased. I think it's because of the type of content that's coming out of Anchor. People record this voice content, they put it out there on the internet, they put it on Twitter, maybe they share it on a medium blog post or something like that, and because the content of Anchor is interactive, I think that content is naturally sucking more people back in. So we haven't experienced the lull that you're talking about that. That said, I've worked on plenty of products before and I do know that that lull does come after a launch, and I'm sure we'll experience it just like everyone else does, maybe very soon. But for now, it's been about two weeks and we're still experiencing a lot of momentum. We're working constantly, around the clock almost, to keep the servers up and running, keep the website operating, listening to our users both in Anchor and on Twitter and through e-mail, and fixing bugs and building out new features that the community is asking us for.
Paul: I get a lot of questions about funding and how to go about it. Do you have any tips in regards to your experience, on how you raised funding?
Mike: The reason we decided to raise money, and not everyone chooses to take this path, and I think it's important that whatever it is you're doing, you take the path that's right for you. But we decided to raise money because there came a point in the early days of Anchor, probably shortly after you and I came in contact with each other, where Nir and I both realized we really wanted to make a run at this, we really wanted to go for it. And to go for it meant we had to be working on it full-time. In the early days of Anchor, we were not working on it full-time. We had other jobs, we were working on it at night, we were working on it very, very early in the morning, before having to go to our full-time jobs, and we realized that to got for it we couldn't sustain that schedule. We couldn't maintain working on it as a side project, we had to put a hundred percent of our effort into it. And neither of us were in a personal situation in which we could support that lifestyle financially, neither of us had those means to do that. So we realized if we want to make a go at Anchor full-time, we're gonna have to go and raise money to be able to support this endeavor, and that's ultimately how and why we decided to go and seek out fundraising.
Paul: That is wonderful, because you did actually quite a few interesting projects beforehand. Have you got a quick snapshot of what you did before Anchor?
Mike: Sure. I was originally a computer science major and came out of college working for a couple of consulting firms, but then realized that I really wanted to work in an industry that I was very passionate about, and I've always been passionate about music and audio, so I got a job as a freelance web engineer for Atlantic Records, the record label here in New York, and I ended up working with them for about five years before deciding to go off into the startup land, and I joined a company called Aviary. Aviary is a company that has a really great and really simple photo-editing app for iPhone and Android, as well as a photo-editing SDK. So I worked as a head of product there for a couple of years before the company was acquired by Adobe, and then I went on to work for Adobe for a little while before leaving and starting...
Paul: Yes, Aviary was massively successful, it was everywhere. In fact, I think I even use it within SquareSpace, so it must be adopted as a third-party solution for a lot of different options.
[00:16:22.21] commercial break [00:18:40.04]
Paul: Mike, there's two more things we need to do before we say goodbye to you. One is that we would love to know about you and whether... You know, you've just made the decision to go for Anchor full-time, a year ago or so. I wanted to know, because others are inspired by the guests we have on this show - is it worth it? Is it worth all the pain, all the agony? Would you recommend life and an app entrepreneur?
Mike: For me personally yes, without a doubt; I can say yes, it is worth it. I have always been someone that's wanted to pursue starting my own company, starting my own business, building my own product from scratch, I've always wanted to do that. Now that I've done it, I wonder why it took me so long. But I know that that's a hard decision to make; I even struggled with it, as confident as I was in Anchor, and the idea, and the mission, and what we believed about the product, even I struggled with making the decision, because I had never taken a risk like that before. And there are things that you always hear, that people worry about when they're going to take a risk like that, and I had all the same worries and fears that everyone else did, but I can honestly say that once I've taken the risk, once I've gone for it, there hasn't really been one time since doing it that I've looked back and questioned my decision, or questioned whether or not it was the right move. I can't say that that's going to work for everyone; everyone has their own, personal situation, their own set of responsibilities, and I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I was able to make this work in my life, taking this risk with it, but not everyone might be in that position. I absolutely would say it was worth it for me, and I think it's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life, especially in terms of my career.
Paul: And what is it you love about what you do? If you had to think about one or two things that stand out as being a co-founder, what is it?
Mike: I've always been someone that likes to create things. I've been a musician my whole life and I've loved creating music. I've also been a photographer and I've dabbled in art and painting as well, and I've always loved creating things, and putting them out there into the world. With Anchor, and specifically building apps and creating apps, I love it so much because I get to create something that someone else can interact with and get value out of in their own life. And when it's something that for at least some people has a very positive impact on them, or their life, or their entertainment, or their enjoyment in some way, I think there's nothing better than that - just to know that you can make some tiny, small difference in someone else's life with something that you create. I think that's the best part of it.
Paul: I love it. So the final thing is I want to try to figure out how people should be using Anchor, in your mind. So if anyone's listening to this and wants to know whether they're suitable for using Anchor, what kind of user cases do you find get most value from Anchor?
Mike: I'm hesitant to say anything too specific because what we really want from Anchor is for people to just feel like they can be themselves, like they can just talk and say whatever they want to say to anyone, anywhere in the world. And in doing that, it opens up the door for anyone else to respond, and engage in a real, human conversation with that person. So initially, when we first started talking about Anchor, I would say the type of content that would be most successful on Anchor is the same type of content that would be successful on the radio, but I don't really say that anymore because I don't want anyone to have any sort of preconceived notion about what it is they should or shouldn't be saying on Anchor. I just want them to be themselves and say whatever comes natural to them.
Paul: Yes, because I guess the other thing which we didn't touch on, but is absolutely obvious, is it's a real platform. On Twitter, all the celebrities have departments running their Twitter accounts, but with Anchor there's a realism that you get when hearing someone's voice, and genuineness. Is that right?
Mike: Absolutely. I think it's a special medium; I think voice is a special medium that carries a different type of weight than the weight that text, or photo, or video carries. I think when you hear someone's voice, it comes with so much nuance and emotion, and I find that that's something that gets lost in other mediums. My friend Matt Hartman and Betaworks investor likes to say there's something very special about having someone's voice speaking directly into your ear. It makes you feel like you know that person, even if they're on the other side of the world, and I think Anchor can do that for people, and I think voice is special.
Paul: Well, it's been a wonderful chat. Everyone listening, they can go to episode 432 on theappguy.co and get full links to Anchor and Mike and Nir. In the meantime, Mike, how best can people reach out and connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?
Mike: I think the best way, naturally, is to go into Anchor and search for my full name, Michael Mignano in Anchor and we can talk on there. I've been talking to a lot of our users on Anchor every single day, and it's great to just have these real conversations with people. Of course, I can also be found on Twitter, @mignano, or you can reach out to Anchor on Twitter, @anchor.
Paul: Wonderful. Mike, it's so terrific chatting with you about Anchor, an app that I absolutely love and highly recommend. Everyone should be downloading it, playing with it. Thanks for coming on the show and talking about Anchor!
Mike: Thank you, Paul. I'm really glad we were able to talk.