Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show that helps you in your journey as an app entrepreneur, so if you are working in a corporate job or you're a startup founder/entrepreneur, it's a world of apps and what I do to help you is I try to find the most successful app entrepreneurs out there, and we go through their journey of what they're doing with their apps, how they're promoting them, how they're fundraising - all this stuff, it's great.
Now, I want to just cast your mind back to an episode that I had with BuzzFeed - if anyone hasn't listened to that, go listen to it, you can search on theappguy.co - messaging is all the rage, and they talked a lot about how viral messaging is going, how important it is, so why not get someone who's doing some really awesome stuff with messaging? His name is Mathieu Rigolot, he is the co-founder and CEO of Hiboo.co and he's going to talk to us about his messaging app. Mathieu, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Mathieu: Hi Paul, thank you. It's a pleasure to be there, and hi to everyone!
Paul: So tell us then what is different with Hiboo, compared to all the other messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger... How are you differentiating yourself?
Mathieu: Of course, so Hiboo is a messaging app that allows you to see what your friends type in real time, so you can see every keystroke that they send through, you don't need to tap Send any more. It has a much more fluid flow, it's a new way of communicating. For example, when you're stuck on Facebook Messenger or Viber, sometimes your friend is typing for five minutes and you can't see anything and it's so frustrating sometimes; you see these three dots rolling, your friend is typing, your friend is typing, but you can't see what he is actually typing. Hiboo solved that problem and allows you to see everything without the need to tap Send any more.
Paul: Mathieu, this is absolutely fascinating. This is a definite need, solving a problem. What is your biggest challenge with the app and getting it out there and downloaded?
Mathieu: Yes, it's a major problem for basically every messaging app - how do you acquire your users, basically. We started the journey more than a year ago now, and of course we built the product, tested it with our community and everything, and we finally built something that we thought was great, and now was the time to go public, right? So we did prepare a launch for probably four months at least, and we did launch the app on the AppStore on the 30th of January. We didn't want to spend much on marketing, so what we did is we focused on PR outreach. We've built a list of a lot of relevant journalists, targeted for apps, for social networks all around the world and among more than 30 countries all around the globe. It took a month to do that, actually, it was really tiring, but at the end when the time came we did reach all these journalists, sent hundreds of e-mails and we were covered by a lot of magazines, mainly in Latin America, in Spain and Portugal. We ended up being featured on the Portugal AppStore and we did reach 10k downloads in three days, over the weekend actually, and 20k within a week. So for us, it went pretty well I guess; only PR, that was our main strategy.
Paul: I'm pretty sure that everyone listening would be very interested in that e-mail list that you created.
Mathieu: Yes, but you know, we tried not to be spam-ish because usually journalists don't like that, so we tried to put up several templates together and find the most relevant ones to each journalist. So we've been careful about that, we didn't mass spam to anyone; we tried to be customized, even though when you send hundreds of e-mails that's a bit difficult, but we've tried to be as thorough and customized as possible.
Paul: The main thing I'm learning from you, which I think is an immediate takeaway - and I've never almost heard of this - is testing the responses of e-mail to journalists, and picking the best template that gets the highest conversion.
Mathieu: Yes, definitely. Well, we had the luxury to have some friends who are mainly in PR, so we could test beforehand, before sending hundreds of messages, to test it. But it's definitely something that has to be tested, because it can influence quite highly your response rate. Probably the headline is the main point to test, it's probably the most important thing, because journalists usually are being sent hundreds of e-mails each day, so they don't have the time to screen everyone. So I'd say the headline is really important.
Paul: And it sounds like you did all that yourself, rather than employing a PR agency.
Mathieu: Yes, we basically did it ourselves. Do-it-yourself PR, that's it. We had a small experience about that when we did launch our beta version at Web Summit, it's an interesting story actually. We did the same kind of thing, we screened through all the attendees at Web Summit, on their website, because it was public. We scraped them and sorted them, like which journalist wrote about tech, about apps in particular, about social networks, so we did the same process and contacted them beforehand, before attending the event. We had a couple responses, but we were a bit late in our timing. We started ten days before the event, and journalists were already super booked and super busy. We really tried to customize the pitch really highly and focus on the main writers, so in our case we focused on Martin Bryant, who is the Editor-at-Large at The Next Web.
Paul: Yes, for anyone listening, he's been on this show, we have a past episode with Martin, so they can search for that. It was a great episode in how to reach out to him.
Mathieu: Yes, exactly, so it's even more relevant then. So actually we did a bit of research about him, and we found that he had a band called The Star Fighter and we listened to a few of his tunes and we decided to customize our pitch and include really subtly titles of his tunes in our pitch e-mail.
Paul: That is genius, seriously! We're learning so much here: the benefit of absolute targeting your pitch.
Mathieu: Exactly. I can provide you the pitch e-mail perhaps; actually, Martin wrote an article about that, so perhaps it's not necessary. So we did send it, and Martin replied saying "Oh yeah, full marks for the pitcher, it was really nice. My schedule is really full, but I'll try to hop by your booth." That was it. So we were exhibiting at Web Summit... Actually, we took advantage of free spots, because at Web Summit your were only allowed to exhibit one day, so we took advantage of some free spots for the other days, and we were able to exhibit there freely for the full event. But that's another story...
Paul: I'm loving this journey, I'm really loving going through the journey. We feel like we're going through it with you. One thing I would like to know, and I'm sure everyone of the appster tribe would also love to know is you mentioned that community - you've been working on the app for over a year, and you then have a community that you've been able to launch to. How did you build that community up? Tell us about that.
Mathieu: Well, we didn't build that out of the blue, right? We've reached our friends, asked them "Is that something you would like?" and they were like "Yeah, that sounds amazing. But aren't you worried of that and that and that?" Then the discussion was starting and we were refining our ideas. We tested it among different kinds of people: teenagers, students, working people and we had a good idea of what to do, what not to do, and what to provide for our users. So we built the first version of the app with that in mind, and when the time came to launch our beta version, we already had over a hundred of private testers, a circle of friends, friends of friends etc. The first thing we've noticed when we launched our beta version was the amount of people saying "Wow, that's so cool!" They were really enthusiastic about the product and it was really something we were proud about.
Paul: How did you communicate with them? Did you use an e-mail list to keep them updated with the apps' progress?
Mathieu: Exactly, we did that. We built an e-mail list, we've built a website with a subscribe e-mail, the basic stuff. We also implemented a really great tool called Instabug - you can implement it really easily into your app. You have SDK provided, and it allows your users to swipe left and provide feedback directly in the app. So you don't need to call the founder or write an e-mail, you can directly screenshot a bug, draw a circle around it to really pinpoint the problem, write some lines and that's it, it's sent to our server. We were able to communicate with them and see what the problem is.
Paul: One of the other challenges that I have within my community that I run on Slack is often how to build the app. Are you doing this yourself, or are you outsourcing the development or the app?
Mathieu: We do it ourselves. Basically, we do everything ourselves for now.
Paul: It does sound like that, yes.
Mathieu: Yes, but you know how it is, startup style - everybody is doing everything. We had the chance to have a really highly technical team, so that's not a real problem for us. Even though we all hold master degrees in IT, it's challenging. Only a few people probably did that before, so you still have to learn a lot on your journey. Even though you're a technical person, you learn so much through the journey of building this product, and you also have to account for the classical problems - scaling, how you organize your backend architecture and everything. All these we had to learn on the fly, basically; even though we are technical people, we still had to learn a lot.
Paul: So if you were to go back and start your journey again, I know that there are services out there where you can actually appoint highly qualified technical teams. Would you do the same again? Would you keep it in-house or would you be open to the idea of outsourcing the development? Did you do the right thing?
Mathieu: Well, I think for us it made sense because we were both able to do it. But in the case of a business, or a marketer, a designer or a founder, I think it makes sense as well to consider outsourcing. The problem is to find the right people, that's the main thing. If you're not into the industry, it might be difficult to find the right people, the right price, have this quality/price balance, that can be difficult for people who are not very acquainted with the technical world, programming languages etc. I think for us it made sense; we felt able to do it because of our background knowledge, so I think we wouldn't change much in that particular area.
Paul: That's interesting to know. There's a company I know that is building their whole business on the back of that particular problem. In terms of your journey with the app, we've talked about the community, we've talked about the PR outreach, we've talked about a lot of things, but we haven't talked about how you funded the whole journey. Is this off your own back, bootstrapping or is this from angel investors or VC money?
Mathieu: For now we're still bootstrapped, although we are soon to be finishing our first seed round with private investors. Hopefully it will go well, but yes, we are still bootstrapped; it all comes from our own funds, because we've been freelancing for a couple of years before, so we had some financial stability. We're still bootstrapped at the moment.
Paul: So Mathieu, there are a lot of people listening who are in exactly the same position as you were maybe a year ago, and they would love to get their projects off the ground. Do you have any guidance for them on the process that you went through to be successful in keeping the project flowing whilst there was no income and you're funding it yourself? Any tips for the audience on how to go through that period?
Mathieu: Well, I think it's difficult for everyone, it makes sense. Sometimes you're doubting of what you're doing, you ask yourself a lot of questions when you're a founder, but I think the most important thing is to never give up, basically. If you really believe in what you're doing, keep working hard, keep hustling - hustling is really important, actually. Keep doing what you think is best for your company, for your product. Keep doing and it will happen, eventually.
Paul: And any tips on how you pitch the investors? I'm assuming the investors that have funded your initial seed round have received a presentation from you, a pitch.
Mathieu: Yes. Well, I don't think I'm an expert on that, first, so don't take my advice to the letter.
Paul: Right, but you can tell us the do's and don'ts of what you have learned going through the process.
Mathieu: Basically we've reached investors at various stages of the project, and what I can tell is the three main points are... Because you would be evaluating your company in the end, right? So the three main things to account for is team, idea and traction, I'd say. Those are the main three points that have to be evaluated. In order to raise money, you have to have the three points. If you can't justify some traction in this environment... It's tricky, especially in London, to raise money because VC's are a bit [unintelligible 00:18:00] everywhere, so you really have to have a strong team, a strong product and strong traction. In that sense, we did achieve good traction and good momentum. We reached 20k downloads in a week, which was quite solid and we had a very strong technical team behind, and the idea was really innovative, I think. So that's probably why we are interesting for private investors. But I'd say don't try to be too marketish in the pitch; it might depend, but in my experience investors don't really like it. They prefer honesty, and for you to be open about everything you do, even if it's unconventional; they like people that can think out of the box. That would be my two cents.
Paul: So there's two more things, Mathieu, before we say goodbye. One is I just wanted to carry on this line with the investors, and I wondered during the questioning that you got from them, what do you thing is their biggest single reason for investing in you? Is it some kind of statistic like downloads, or is it the engagement, or is it the idea itself? Give us an idea of what's the biggest attraction to investing in Hiboo.
Mathieu: So it's mainly a combination of all the points you've mentioned. They see the market, the huge potential is there because no messaging apps are [unintelligible 00:19:56] that rings a bell to investors; the market is huge, so they see that. They see the potential is there, they see the end game. Also, they see a crowded; there's a need for innovation somewhere, and they won't accept to invest in any messaging app, because it just has the potential to have nine figures valuations. It now has to be something others can't provide, or something that is difficult to do. That's the main attraction of Hiboo - it's really something innovative. It's difficult to actually describe it with words because it's addictive and you really have to try it in order to experience that feeling. It's really a new way of communication, so in that sense we're really innovative and I think that's the main attraction for us. Also, you have to consider the technological potential behind. It's a really unique technology and it's something that can be patented, and that's also a strong point for us.
Paul: So I've learned three things from that, which is what the appster tribe can think about when they're assessing their app ideas. One is the potential in the market, the market itself, how big that is, and number two, even though it may be a crowded market, there is a need for innovation within that market, and number three is the tech itself, making sure that what your solution is is offering some unique tech that perhaps is not out there.
Mathieu: Yes, and it [unintelligible 00:21:51] you have this example with Parse, which was a service provided by Facebook - it was recently announced that it will be discontinued. So you had a lot of apps relying on Parse, and all of these apps now have to migrate their tech because of that, because Parse will be shut down in a year. So that also has to be accounted for.
Paul: Oh, I see, a change in the market. Got it. So the final thing then is that we have a lot of people listening to this who are interested in becoming a founder, a CEO of their own company, their own destiny - my question to you is is it worth it? Is the lifestyle that you live and the ups and downs that you go through in your journey - is it something you would recommend to others?
Mathieu: Definitely. For the experience and for everything that you learn in this journey, that's fantastic. On the contrary, as you said, you have ups and downs, and you ask yourself a lot of questions, and you never count your hours basically. If you are comfortable doing your five to seven job, and if you want to be a founder just because it's trendy nowadays, "Oh yeah, I want to improve my lifestyle", well, don't do that, because you'll be even more worried about everything. But you learn so much during this journey that it can only be beneficial. Even if you work hard - and, of course, you have to work hard, because you have to create value out of nothing, basically, so of course you have to work hard, but yes, I would definitely recommend that for anyone who is determined to learn more and work a lot, and believe in his ideas. Definitely.
Paul: Mathieu, this has been an amazing chat and for everyone listening, there will be full show notes on theappguy.co, just search for episode 443 with Mathieu Rigolot and you'll get links there, but in the meantime, how can people reach out, connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?
Mathieu: Well, you can reach to me via e-mail. If you're going to hiboo.co you'll be able to see it, or just reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org I'd be glad to answer any questions.
Paul: Yes, you've inspired me and I'm sure you'll inspire people listening to this. Thanks so much for coming on The App Guy Podcast, and all the best for the future of your messaging app.
Mathieu: Thank you very much, Paul. It has been a pleasure.