Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, this is Paul Kemp. This is the show that goes around and helps app entrepreneurs, app developers, anyone working on a side project regarding apps, this whole world of apps. We help you by finding the best people to speak to in the industry, and then deconstructing their success, what we can learn from them so we can actually take that into our own businesses and our own lives. Today, to help with this endeavor is a great guest because he's in the whole field of audio, his name is Parviz Parvizi and he is the co-founder Clammr, which is a social discovery app and a platform for audio. So Parviz, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Parviz: Paul, it's so nice to be with you.
Paul: It's great that you're here. Please tell us about Clammr and what it is that it can do for us.
Parviz: Sure, so we made Clammr to make great audio easier to share, and also discover. One of the things that we found to be a challenge for our own selves - my co-founders and I - is that there's all this great audio out there, but it's often hard to really dig into. If you think about audio, it's kind of the wrong unit size for discovery, especially in spoken word - podcasts are 15-20 minutes, hour plus - so if you know about something, that's great, but if you don't know about a podcast or you're not familiar with it, it's a big commitment to dig into it. And we actually thought if you shrink the unit size down, if you actually have a platform where you can have these bite-sized moments and introductions and highlights from podcasts, that actually makes it easier to discover new podcasts and new audio. So that's really why we've built Clammr, for the purpose of making great audio more accessible, and also bridging it to social media, which I can get into.
Paul: Parviz, it is great, you're tackling this big, massive challenge. But I wanted to know why did you do this? What inspired you to actually tackle this problem?
Parviz: Yes, it goes to something personal with one of my co-founders - David - and I. We actually met in law school many years ago, and we were in the small group. At law school you take the same classes, with the same 12-15 people in your first semester. And the reason I bring up law school is because we both bonded over the fact that we were slow readers, which combining law school and being a slow reader is a pretty big challenge. So we always bonded over that, and we're both big self-learners, so audio for us has been this really great hack for self-development, at the same time as being on the slower side of being readers. Over the years we've always shared audios with each other, sending links to each other with a timestamp and saying "Hey, fast-forward to this part, check this out!" or even putting audiobooks on Dropbox and referencing particular parts, and it really came out of that definitely kind of out there, weirdo behavior on our part, where we were engaging in this behavior of sharing audio with each other, where David said one day, "Hey, why can't we just tweet these moments at each other? Why can't we do the equivalent of tweeting something to each other, and then sharing that little nugget? And then if you want to hear more or if you want to hear the whole thing, you can do that." That scratched a niche for us, and it was tied to something that we were doing, and we thought that actually something like that would make other people's lives better, and we picked our heads up and said, "You look around and every major format has a bite-sized social flavor: text has Twitter, images have Instagram, video has Vine, audio doesn't really have anything like that, and audio isn't really present on social media in a significant way other than for music." And we thought, you know, if you could actually have almost a butler who curates all these great moments from audio, that you could kind of get this power feed and then decide what you want to listen to, that could be a really cool experience. So little by little, we started off just spitballing it and then creating these clips for each other and putting them on Dropbox just to test out what the experience would be like, and then it really took on a life of its own.
Paul: This is fascinating. You know, we love to get behind the idea, and many of us have these ideas but few of us actually go ahead and create something, so how did you get it off the ground once you knew what you wanted to do? Did you have to quit some kind of job to get this done? Tell us about how it actually became a reality for you.
Parviz: Yes, it became a bit of an obsession for us in addition to a reality, it's really where it came from. Again, we just feel that the way the world is headed, in a lot of ways when you reflect on it, human species has been around for 200,000 years, and we've been coding our knowledge in text and written form for less than 3% of that time. And there have been a lot of good reasons for doing that, in terms of storage, transferability etc, but we're just getting to a point where that more natural motif, speaking and listening, doesn't suffer from its traditional disadvantages of things like storage and transmission, so it's a little bit of a back-to-the-future move. But in terms of how we actually got from that initial germ of an idea to rolling out a company - it really came step by step. Initially, we just wanted to test the basic concept, and so as I started to reference earlier, we simply made a series of these short clips for each other, and curated great moments that we were listening to in our daily lives, and said "Okay, why don't we over the next week grab our favorite moments in a clunky way, and put them together in playlists and show them with each other?" We did that as our very first step. Then we started sharing it with some friends and other folks, just to get initial feedback. We still didn't just go all in, we then set up just a really simple website version. Neither of us had programming backgrounds, and I think that's definitely - for launching a product in the year 2016 - something that's definitely a disadvantage, in that it's a basic skill at this point that people have, and it's very helpful for iterating. So we, for a really basic website, we just spent a little bit of money, got someone to help us out and get something up just so we could play with it without having to, say, go launch QuickTime and Dropbox, or whatever. So we started showing that around friends, testing it out, and then we really decided to jump in full time on it, and pull together a team. So Ken and Oren, who are two other co-founders, who have programming backgrounds, they joined the effort and then we really went at it in terms of developing an app and a website. And in a lot of ways our app is a bit of a sandbox for us... I don't know if you've run into others who've had this on The App Guy, but we love our app, we love people using it, in a lot of ways though we see it as a proving ground, because we think of Clammr as really a social layer for audio, and a platform. We're less trying to strictly aggregate audiences with Clammr and instead trying to really bridge audio into other social media. So one of the really big ways people use Clammr is they share moments to Facebook, to Twitter, and the Clammrs play natively in those places; it's not just a link, but it actually shows up as an autoplay embed.
We've also created a series of Clammr buttons that we've embedded inside of other people's audio players. I think last month we reached 16 million people who are being exposed to that button, and it's embedded inside of Libsyn's player, inside of PowerPress, and some of the leading audio players. And again, when someone's listening to audio, they can hear a moment and just press that Clammr It button to share it out. So that's been another aspect of how we've thought about the app. We certainly early days focused on the app and having a decent experience. In a lot of ways it's provided lessons to us in terms of really building out a platform where we want really a network of soundbites to be around and available in people's lives, where they actually consume content and make their audio decisions.
Paul: I'm learning a load from you, Parviz. The first thing is not trying to recreate the wheel without social media platforms, and I learned that also from an episode with BuzzFeed, the VP of marketing; they made the decision to just be everywhere, no matter what the platform is. Almost be platform-agnostic, and that's what we have to be, I guess, with our apps.
Parviz: Yes, I think so. I mean, it's time-dependent, right? If you're in the year 2015, 2016, and you're trying to build a consumer experience, certainly you can take inspiration from Facebook and others, but I think simply saying "I'm gonna create a social network" is a little bit tone-deaf to the reality we live in, and also not taking advantage of the reality we live in. People have already created social graphs for you, so why recreate another one? Why not take advantage of that? I think BuzzFeed is a perfect example, they've done a brilliant job leveraging social graphs.
Paul: I wanted to ask you then, since you've been running, was there any particular time where you had a specific breakout, where you just knew that this was working, because of the spike in downloads, or something you did, some kind of growth hack? Was there any moment you could talk through?
Parviz: I think there were a couple moments. One is we - maybe a little earlier than we should have - but we just went to a trade show not long into some of our development - this was last year, New Media Expo, which is part of the National Association of Broadcasters. New Media Expo was kind of the biggest podcaster conference in the US. It's now defunct, so I'm glad we got in that last year, but great gathering of podcasters, and we said "Let's go a bit native with the audio community and really just expose what we're doing and get feedback. That was one great breakout moment because we just got a lot of great feedback from the community and really got to know the community well. And we came in really just with our ears open, that was really primarily the reason we were there. And one big breakout there was just to learn that this problem of discovery was a really big deal. We actually even ended up doing a survey of podcasters afterwards, publishing an article about it, and that really helped in terms of building a core community. We had some podcasters even start a private Facebook group for Clammr power users, that we participate in. We got this kind of core group who started giving us feedback, and that helped really solidify our thinking to say "Look, this really needs to be something that's a social layer and a discovery layer, and not a destination-type move." Because we'd certainly had in our minds, in an ideal world, from where David and I had started from, if I could wave a magic wand I'd have an app, just turn it on and it has all the content in it for me already. But again, if you're in 2015, 2016, that's hard to make happen when people are already spending a lot of their time and energy as content creators on existing social platforms. So that really was one moment, getting that feedback from the community and really helping shape our direction. The other really came this past December, January, when a set of our partners started embedding this Clammr button into their players, and we saw a lot of increased creation and exposure from that. So folks like Blubrry with PowerPress player, Libsyn, Simple Podcast Press, Awesound, some of these other great folks.
Paul: That's wonderful. What I've learned from that as well is that it's great to have good partners by you, and really add value to them because that gives you the exposure that you need.
Parviz: For sure, and I think we got lucky in that the podcast community is such an open, friendly, collaborative one that when we first created the plugin it had bugs and things like that, and we really appreciated that folks kind of stayed with us, gave feedback. It was obviously beneficial for them to have this capability available to their users, but like anything else, developer time is scarce, and the fact that they were willing to take a look at our early draft and give us feedback was incredibly helpful.
Paul: Parviz, one of the things I'm really interested at the moment is - because I'm building my own community around a Slack group, I wondered from your perspective, do you have any guidance on building a community, people that are testing your app, that are giving feedback, that are participating... You already mentioned the Facebook group, but do you have any tips for us to help build our communities?
Parviz: Well, one thing I'd actually... It's not a tip from having done this well, it's more looking back in retrospect and giving feedback to ourselves, is I'd say starting as early as possible would be incredibly helpful for building a community, and here's a part of what I mean by that: I think when we started really engaging with the community is when we had an early beta version of Clammr, and we had something that we could show people. And that's great, but I think we could have helped ourselves even more by simply participating as active members of the community and not being shy earlier, like six months earlier, and just establishing ourselves as thoughtful people on the topic of audio, on the topic of podcasting. Because then you can really kind of be more peer-like with people, where you're in the same boat with them, rather than "I have something, I want you to try it out." While I think the podcasting community is one that's just been incredibly open and collaborative, there's always an aspect of, you know, when you have yet another app, people are busy and there are a lot of apps, and they think "Oh, you just want me to download your app", right? There's a little bit of a fence that goes up, at least with some people. So I think just participating in the community without even having anything is a great way to just build a bunch of friendships in a peer network, before doing anything else. So even things like publishing articles, running a newsletter - those can be incredibly helpful. After we went live, we published a [unintelligible 00:16:29] in TechCrunch over the summer, and then another one over the winter. Those were great, those were actually great relationship-building tools. People would write to us and they would share their thoughts with us, and we'd have these back-and-forths, and we'd actually build a set of very good relationships. There's no reason why we couldn't have done that before having an app out there. So that would be my biggest tip: engage early, not just when you have something that you want people to try out.
Paul: So there's two more things, Parviz, that we need to do before we say goodbye to you. One is that we love to learn about the lifestyles of app entrepreneurs. We've had people who have actually left corporate jobs and who listen to this show and have joined the kind of lifestyle of app-preneurs, and you had in front of you a law school, which I'm assuming that you had the chance of going into law, and having a very corporate type of career; you've chosen the life of a co-founder, of your own company. Tell us - was it worth it, and would you recommend this lifestyle to others?
Parviz: Yes. It's a good question, I haven't reflected on what I do as a lifestyle, so I'd have to think more about it; it's actually provoking some thought that I probably can't just immediately react to, I have to marinate on that one. Actually both Dave and I, when we graduated, we both went and got these kinds of blue chip, corporate-type jobs. We had started a business in law school together, a winter hat company actually, and it was a lot of fun. We knew we liked working together, we knew we wanted to jump and do something together. I was lucky enough my former employer actually paid for law school, but we both we wanted to save up a little etc. Talk about the extreme of corporate jobs: he was an M&A banker at Morgan Stanley, and I was a McKinsey consultant, so you can't get any more corporate than that. But we both kept a line open with each other, and we were always kicking things around, and we even invested in a couple of things together. When we really jumped ship it was really less of a lifestyle decision and more of something we felt we had to do; I can't think of it in a different way. It felt pretty continuous; in my case, I'd been serving media companies and wireless carriers and telecom manufacturers, all around the topics of digital consumer behavior, digital strategy, so it felt like a natural next step to actually go do something, rather than the mode of being an advisor - which is a great job, it has many benefits, but it felt like just another toolkit, and another opportunity to grow.
Paul: But how did you actually cope? Because I actually jumped ship from a similar kind of thing, it was an institutional asset management company, and I found it quite challenging adjusting, especially the difference in salary, worrying about the income. Do you have any tips on how to transition from basically a monthly salary where you don't have to worry about money at all, in a way, to then running your own business and worrying about payroll, and paying yourself, and all that sort of stuff?
Parviz: Yes, so part of this also comes to how you might think about the process of exiting. If some of those things are necessary, having the higher salary etc. then you sort of shift how you do it. In our case, we got a little bit lucky, I'd say, if nothing else. We actually started off creating a set of just content-focused websites, like a ranking website, that was pretty fun; it was kind of crowd-sourced rankings, and we generated revenue out of those. That was actually one of our initial sparks - we got really into that, and we were doing that for a while together. So we pretty much off the bat had steady incomes, and both of us also just happened to be in - this is something I've heard others say too, I didn't think about it expressly, but I have a very low-cost lifestyle, a low burn lifestyle. David now has a couple of kids, but his is also low burn relatively speaking, you know, with having two kids. So we didn't really have habits that were expensive in our lives, so that also was helpful. But I think we got lucky in that the first thing we jumped off and did was something that was a cash flow generator. It wasn't something that would necessarily generate a lot of equity value, it was really just cash flow, ad-based businesses, but that was helpful and also gave us some confidence to really then take a swing of the bat as we started getting obsessed with the Clammr idea. We said, "You know what? Yes, it's a bit of a risk", but to focus on something that's really not... Clammr was not gonna generate immediate revenue, but it gave us some confidence that even if it's a fail, we at least feel like we have some skills that we could fall back on things that are a bit more cash flow generating if we need to.
Paul: I love that, you've just picked up on a theme of this show, which is no matter what the risks are, the learning that you get from running your own company, your own startup sort of outweighs the risk of failure.
Parviz: Yes. And that's why when you asked that lifestyle question I really thought of it as a continuation of my education, as opposed to a lifestyle... We have this little rule, David calls it 'the Parviz test', because I guess I said it to him once, which was when you're choosing to do something, you might ask yourself the question "Even if this thing doesn't work out the way I want it to, if I think of the worst-case scenario, would I still do it? Would I still be happy that I did it?" And I think starting something like this definitely falls into that bucket, because it's a life experience, you learn from it regardless.
Paul: Well, Parviz, this is why I do this show, to meet people like you, that give me a reality check as well, because I left my six-figure corporate salary and I wish I had followed your advice at the time. What I've learned is one, having some income that you're generating, even it's from a side project, and I guess the second one is to have a low-cost lifestyle, which is quite beneficial The last thing then, Parviz, what should we be doing to enjoy Clammr? How can we use it the best, to get the maximum out of it?
Parviz: Sure, so let's split it into two sides: creators and people who are more purely audio consumers. I think on the creator front, really think of it as a tool. Clammr is a way to amplify your social presence, and to make your audio usable and discoverable in the places where people are actually finding content, which is on social media, on places like websites. We actually have a user guide that we've documented, because why not, and in there we have a section that says "Okay, I'm now using Clammr, how do I actually grow my audience?" We just did a study actually, and the podcasters who are using Clammr, they reported a three times higher engagement on their social media posts that use the Clammr format, versus normal ones. So I'd say take a look at the user guide and the tips, and they're for people who are audio creators. It really comes down to posting on social media; everything in Clammr is an open object, so you can embed Clammrs on your website, and that's a way to expose things like past episodes to people who visit the website, and we're actually just rolling out a premium product, which is we partnered with Entrepreneur.com to create a Recommended Podcasts section next to their articles, that has podcasts featured in there, where people can actually play the preview without leaving the site. So that's an opportunity for folks using the same content they would with Clammr to basically promote it on a premium site as a way to get some additional audience exposure. I think one of the real challenges in podcasting today is unless you're somebody who has an existing relationship with the radio world, there are no systematic ways to promote your podcast. So we're just getting that off the ground, we've had a bunch of people sign up; Microsoft signed up, in terms of blue chip, big companies, and then a whole host of independent podcasters have, as well. So that's on the creators' side. On the listeners' side, getting the most out of Clammr - give the app a try, and give the website a try; it's mobile-responsive for Android. I think the biggest thing you can do is to really customize it for yourself. We have a set of playlists, but go find the people who you're linked to on Twitter and Facebook - we have a mode where you can find everybody who you're following on Twitter and Facebook - follow those people, follow the specific sources you want to create a customized feed of audio for yourself, rather than the sort of generic feed that some of the playlists have.
Paul: Okay, well obviously I'm a creator and we've just created an episode, so it might be a little bit specific, but let me understand - this episode we've created, should I be clipping out some of the best extracts from our chat and then using Clammr to then post that onto social media?
Parviz: Exactly, exactly. You can grab the highlights. Your podcast doesn't necessarily lend itself to this, but I'll throw it out anyway: we also have integrated GIF search on Giphy, so you can mash up the audio with GIFs or just still images, as well. I think that works for a lot of podcasts; it may not work for this one in particular, but maybe I said something goofy that I didn't realize, that ties to a GIF, right? So I'd say keep that in mind too, but yes, exactly, you would go to the app or the website, and there's a button that says create, and you can basically highlight and extract up to 24 seconds, and then add a message and send it out. In that user guide there's some tips - this is maybe way too specific for your audience, but one of the things that we definitely recommend is using tagging. I see a lot of early users who will just tweet out a moment from their podcast, but they don't mention anyone, they just tweet it out. One of the things that's happened with Twitter that's become pretty clear in recent years is Twitter is really not a reach platform, Twitter is an influencer platform. I.e. if you're just tweeting stuff out, unless you happen to be someone who has a large audience and they actually hang on your every word, it's kind of like going into a black hole. So the way to really make use of Twitter is to mention people who you actually want to reach, who you want to influence, who you want to get on their radar screens. So being a little bit savvy about how you share them out, not just sharing them, but using the @ mention, and ditto for Facebook, given that they're applying algorithms and it's not simply open exposure. Using the @ mentions and tagging appropriately to get the attention of people can help a lot.
Paul: Well, that is excellent, I'm really keen on giving it a try. I love what you've done as well, it's been so inspirational. So full show notes will be on theappguy.co's episode 439, if anyone wants to go and check out the notes. But in the meantime, Parviz, how can we reach out to you, how can we connect with you?
Parviz: Sure, so I'm the primary Wizard of Oz behind our Twitter account, so you can always reach us there, reach me there; I'm on Twitter, I have a personal account, it's just @pparvizi. Our Twitter account is @clammrapp. On Clammr itself there's a simple messaging function and I'm @parviz on that, so feel free to message me within Clammr, and you can always e-mail me on email@example.com, you can e-mail our whole team at firstname.lastname@example.org I really always love to hear from folks.
Paul: Parviz, thanks very much for joining me on the show tonight, and all the best with the future.
Parviz: Thanks Paul, it's been a pleasure!