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Show HN: We decided not to apply to YC so we could try Kickstarter
10 points by iamjonlee on Apr 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments
Hey everyone! We spent the major part of the year preparing an idea we had for the YC application. At last minute, we decided not to go through with YC.

I mean, we've had our fair shares of failed startups and this was one of those make it or break it scenarios. We took everything we've ever learned and strived to make an app that we were proud of. We spent so much effort into making this app that we couldn't bear stopping short and applying to Y Combinator. (Mind you, there's nothing wrong with YC.) We didn't want to apply to Y Combinator at the last minute because if we had really gone that far and really poured our souls into this time, we might as well go all the way and instead ask for funding from Kickstarter. This the app that we've always dreamed of making and we're finally getting close. We've spent inch by bloody, paintstaking inch working on it and it seriously feels good to finally let if off our chestslana del rey by showing off what we learned during our time as entrepreneurs. Thank you for your time!

Persona is your autobiography in graphic novel style. It's everything you are, in pictures.


I think there might be a good nugget at the core of this, however I've already spent a minute on your site and watching your kickstarter video and am still unclear on exactly what it is the app does. And especially, why it's different from any other photo gallery out there. I think you guys need to work on communicating your product-- maybe talk to a copywriter friend or something, have them clarify your ideas for you. The good news- I like the design of your site. And the tagline -- graphic novel of your life -- is appealing to me. But it does not yet translate from what I can see into your product. Good luck!

The design is good and the app sounds interesting, but the rewards on kickstarter are lackluster. $60 for an ebook, a sticker, and 5 business cards isn't very enticing, so I'd suggest reworking the rewards, if possible.

Thanks for the feedback! I get what you mean but I see it a bit differently. I've pledged on several Kickstarter projects that offered absolutely no incentive besides sending me a thank you email. I do it for the same reason that I donate to charities, for the sake of hopefully seeing an awesome ending/finished product some day. I understand this kind of thinking might seem naive, so I do want to expand on this a little bit further. We chose the rewards carefully because we simply don't have the resources to do much more. Kickstarter + Amazon payment gate way take 5-8% of your pledge money. That money is taxed as income. We're realistically looking at roughly 30% of the pledge money to be taken off from the top before we even consider the rewards. The unspoken rule that Kickstarters seem to follow is that they offer all previous pledge rewards with each reward tier.

This means that the sticker, 5 business cards (after paying for shipping of cards to my house) shipping of those items to you and including the hours it will take me to write the ebook,we're barely left with enough to pay for development costs. Having to need to create fancier, and more seemingly valuable rewards will definitely attract more users, but require more time from us because we'll need to do most of the work by ourselves. This ultimately cuts down from our development time and time is money. I would technically have more money to contribute to the app than the $60 pledge if I worked by the hour. The only problem then is that I wouldn't be working on the app, which in turns makes the whole project pointless.

I would really love if I could do more for the people who are helping out and supporting my cause, but I just have my hands tied. I sincerely appreciate your honest and open feedback because it really helps to let me understand what people's first impressions are and it'll help me try and figure out at least some kind of solution to this problem. Thank you!

Cool. What problem does it solve?

I guess Persona is still a pretty enigmatic topic. We're trying to build an app that focuses on you rather than your friends. In other words, it's an about me page, in pictures.

Through pictures, you're able to learn hundreds of things about a friend that you might never think of asking. What's their favorite color, their allergies, what do they like to do on the weekends? Rather than a timeline, Persona encourages users to post photos of anything that makes them who they are.

Persona asks people "What does this photo mean to you?" because when you answer that, it's no longer just a photo sharing application. It's become an intimate bond that people can connect to. Do you like eating cold pizza? I do too. what other things do you eat cold? I think cold rice is disgusting though. It's at that moment that I can feel a more personal connection towards a stranger that I've never met by talking about the idiosyncrasies that make you who you are.

Persona is everything you are, in pictures.

I think this 'problem' is already being solved pretty well by Tumblr and Pinterest. Tumblr is mainly used (by teenagers) to post images of things they think represent them (an activity that is very popular with teenages - the same reason they like to put up band posters in their bedrooms). I think Tumblr was meant to be a blogging platform, but this has become its main use. Pinterest can be seen as an extension of this but with more features (ability to group things rather than just having a single stream). I think a great deal of the success of Tumblr and Pinterest can be attributed to their extreme ease of use: to build up an online persona all you need to do is browse peoples' profiles and click 'reblog' or 'pin' - no need to even pull out your smartphone camera. My advice would be to make your app integrate well with these two services (offering an easy interface to upload photos from your phone) and try to slowly ween users from these services.

I get what you mean and where you're coming from but Persona's concept is still pretty different. People do post images of things they think will represent them, but that doesn't say much about who they are. Anyone can post photographs and upload them, but it's the meaning behind the photograph that creates a bond. For example: If I take a picture of Hot Cheetos and post it on Tumblr or Pinterest, people who view it will normally associate me being interested or liking Hot Cheetos. But the truth is, nobody cares because millions of people like Hot Cheetos as well. On Persona, we focus purely on things around you that make you who you are; when you post an image, we ask you "what does this mean to you?" If I were to post Hot cheetos on Persona, I'd say "Hot cheetos are musthaves for me when I'm programming." That might not mean everything to everyone, but for the people that can really relate to it, it becomes an intimate connection. It's all the small idiosyncrasies that describe who you are.

It's difficult to fully depict the differences because all apps of similar nature have some sort of overlapping. For example, most people still can't fully explain why Path is so different from Facebook. I use Path but I can't seem to tell people why it's different, aside from the fact that you have a private network vs a public one. If you're asked, "How is Tumblr different from Pinterest?", you'd have just as hard a time answering.

From what I see, Tumblr and Pinterest users don't answer the question of why they post something. I use Tumblr for the sake of killing time and just seeing what pops up and reblog and share things that I think are cool. When I post on Tumblr, I don't think "how does this relate to my life?" I used to ride a motorcycle so I like reblogging nice bikes on Tumblr but that doesn't mean anything to anyone. It doesn't tell the story of how I saved up money to get my first motorcycle, the first time I dropped my bike, or how upset my parents were with me buying it. For me, Tumblr is just a great, mindless way to kill time.

Pinterest for me, is a better way of organizing my bookmarks. I share links and photos from other sites because they interest me. Like with Tumblr, I don't necessarily stop to think why I'm putting a photo to my board- it's just a great way to visualize all the things that interest me and my friends on one page. I have a section for recipes, a section for funny stuff, another section for just cool arts and craft stuff. I browse Pinterest by categories just to find something cool/interesting that I want to go back to afterwards. It's a great service because I've use my browser bookmarking feature a lot less now.

Here's a question I asked myself for Tumblr and Pinterest: "Can you figure out what your friend would want as a practical gift for her birthday?" I wouldn't be able to; my friend shares everything from recipes to pictures of dogs to wedding gowns. But truth is- she's doesn't cook, is allergic to dogs, and is already married. It wouldn't make sense to buy her a dog or kitchenware right? Knowing that she doesn't cook, that she's allergic to dogs would be the prime examples of the kind of personal understanding you'll have of someone on Persona. It's not about what you're liking, reblogging or upvoting. It's about the real side of you, the one where you parents and only close friends know about.

Thanks for the feedback!

Why did you take off your kickstarter? Are you trying different ways of getting funded? I almost thought you gave up since the kickstarter page doesn't say much about the cancelation.

Hey! Thanks for asking. We got about $4.2k in funding in 3 days. While this was a pretty good start, we realized a few factors.

1) We weren't going to make our Kickstarter goal at the rate we were going because at the rate the pledges were adding up, we would be short by a large sum of our initial asking $48,000. A good part of the pledges were actually from friends and family so it further adds to the possibility that the Kickstarter goal wouldn't be reached anyways.

2) With the feedback we've gotten on HN and other sites, we've realized that we really really need to cut down on our description and go over it again with the copywriter to rewrite it so that it's absurdly simple to understand how our product is different. Nobody is going to read 5 paragraphs of how why you're different and if people keep asking us why we're different, we're doing something wrong with our copy.

3) People are interested in the product but not willing to pledge. I got an email from a few people that it sounds like an amazing app but they don't want to pledge because they needed more information (our fault again- our video only showed a very basic view of the app because we had just finished a quick prototype without any features when we shot the video) and so they wanted to see if they could have a beta test or more screenshots of the app before they pledge. If they have to request this of me, again, we're doing something wrong.

I've learned a lot with the whole Kickstarter deal in the 3 days it lasted- we're going with an even better marketing plan. For now, we're looking at alternative funding and have actually applied to YC late. As you said, it's not just about the funding. We lack advice and guidance in many other areas. We also lack the connections that YC can offer you with the tech community. If need be, then we'll do Kickstarter again when our point is clarified and people understand what we're about.

Meanwhile, we're just improving, revising, and making our overall product ready for launch. It'll be amazing.

I agree with everything you said. I hope you'll make it into YC. Good luck guys!

What problem does this solve?

Of all the dozens of social networks in existence, none of them truly define us. They're always about your friends or family rather than yourself. Persona solves this problem because it brings back the importance of the About Me Page section in social networks with images that represent your life.

Honestly I don't understand from your post what the reason for not applying to YC was.

You're absolutely right. I never actually stated what my reasons were. Sorry, we had been up too many hours by the time we wrote the earlier HN post so we left out our reasons entirely.

Like a lot of the other startups here on HN, we're boot-strapped. We have basically no funding besides our own personal savings and a dream that we'd like to persue. When you're in that situation, you're forced to really get down and dirty and try to do everything yourself. Nobody will miraculously jump out and offer you a hand, so you're forced to learn everything and try new ways of entering the market by yourself. From each time we've failed a startup, we always learned something new. We took that experience and used it to build what we have today, Persona. It's like riding a bike, you keep falling and injuring yourself but eventually you learn. That's how we feel about Persona. We're confident enough that this is the app that's different from all the other times we've tried.

So back to the topic, because we've gone so far doing everything hands on ourselves, we wanted to try and get funding ourselves without having to rely on YC. We get that YC is a fantastic program and they have exactly the right connections to put you in the spotlight, but if we join YC now without trying ourselves the very last step (getting money to continue), we'll regret that decision for the rest of our lives. Because we'll never know then if we would have been capable of making a dent in the startup community we live in. It'll answer the question "Are you able to successfully grow your userbase and product without relying on VCs or Angels?". Thanks for the heads up!

Have you already watched DHH's "How to Make Money Online" presentation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY&feature=playe...)? If not, watch it ASAP.

If you go down the bootstrapping road, you must have profits coming in, to fund and further the development of your product. Sooner or later you will have to make money and since you don't seem to have a lot of funds laying around, the sooner the better.

Moreover, have you validated your idea(s) (included the previous, failed attempts to excute them and build a viable business)?

Are you sure that there are enough people out there with the burning desire to throw money at you for this app to make it worth the hustle?

(assuming you want to sell your app, which would be the best and most simple way to make money)

As PG says, the worst mistake one can make trying to build a company is building something THEY think is NEEDED by their customers and not what the market actually needs. Listen to your audience.

Do the people need an iphone app to "truly define us"?

Creating a kickstarter campaign was a good move, by the response you'll get you'll understand if you are solving a real problem or not.

To expose more people to your app (and validate it or not with a wider set of data) you can use an adwords\facebook voucher and create a campaign (just search for them).

Link to your homepage, track how many visitors opt in vs how many of them just land and bounce away, not interested.

Ask questions on Answers sites, open threads on forums your ideal customer hangs out, the more eyeballs the better.

Best wishes

BTW I liked your previous headline more. (thanks to Google cache)

"It's everything you are, in pictures" is clearer and easier to understand than "your autobiography in graphic novel style".

I still think you miss something unique and diverse at a feature level (what your app can do that other don't) and not on a concept level ("IT'S ABOUT YOU! NOT YOUR FRIENDS OR FAMILY, BUT YOU!").

I'm watching the link right now- very interesting, thank you.

I think we've truly taken bits and pieces that worked from our failed attempts to build a viable business. We've cut down from what we had before to focus on the core features that we believe will work.

From what we've seen from our signups so far, we're sure that there are enough people who are really to give us support, but they're far spread out and hard to reach. We've had quite a lot of signups, but almost no tweets which I don't understand. Our last revision had a lot more tweets.

PG is right in saying that one of the worst mistakes to make is to build something that we THINK is NEEDED, and not what market actually needs but it's a difficult situation to address. What if your product faces the chicken and egg problem? I'm not sure how accurate I am here, but I wouldn't have believed that the market would actually need twitter. I think twitter believed that people could benefit from their services and find it interesting to use and therefore build their business that way. Maybe I'm wrong, or twitter is a very rare example, but I get where you're coming from.

I think people generally need a way to define who they are. Take mySpace for example. I think they really understood the importance of showcasing a person's uniqueness or individuality. Your profile page on mySpace used to scream everything about you, from your background image to the number of friends you have, your moods, what music you're listening to, the About Me section, your blog- it was basically everything about you. Sure, it's true that mySpace is no longer doing as well as they have since then and they're changing their profile page layouts, but giving back the user focus is what led them to success in the first place.

From what I've gathered (omitting my own thoughts to avoid bias), your friends on Facebook don't know anything about you. Ask most of them what they know about you and they won't be able to tell you much. That's the point we're trying to illustrate. People spend so much time caring about how they look in real life and it's really all the idiosyncrasies that you talk about in life with your friends and the people you meet that make you interesting. So why is the web not picking up on this? With Persona, we want to bring back that very intimate connection you see in real life. We want to make a product that binds people together rather than just another social network about your friends.

We've launched a small Reddit campaign, and we've been getting a ton of signups from that, but the problem is we have no idea how they feel about the Kickstarter. People don't give feedback and Kickstarter doesn't offer analytics to track how many people have seen your page.

So far, we're getting a 10% conversion from people who visit our homepage and do signup.

I'll take your advice on the answers sites and the forums. I'm really looking for a way to promote sharing on twitter though - I feel that it would be the best way to generate more traffic.

Thanks for such constructive feedback.

Thanks for your answer.

I think your idea is good and has a lot of potential.

Don't get me wrong. I understand what you say, but still I'm not sure I get what the relation with YC really is. To me it doesn't matter if I make it into the startup world with or without YC, it matters if I make it. And YC is not as important for the funding, as much as it is for the advice and the experience.

They could help you avoid making mistakes.

Best of luck with Persona! I think I'll sign up.

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