I have been rather tardy in updating this blog. The last update was all the way back in beginning of Jan 2012! Truth be told, I have been working quite hard on RecordBox and have not had energy to sit down and write up my thoughts and impressions.
But now RecordBox is again in an 'in-between' phase. There has been lots of activity in the last five months, many lessons learnt, and a new plan for the immediate future. I think it's as good a time as ever to write up on the state of affairs.
Plus, I am taking a short break over the memorial day weekend in the beautiful Mendocino county. Writing while enjoying these views can't be beat!
A brief Recap: July 2011 to Jan 2012
Back in Jan 2012, I had finished the first complete version of RecordBox. At that time I had:
- A fully functional website which supported the upload, search, annotation, and playback of audio.
- An iPhone app which enabled a user to record and upload audio to RecordBox.
- A payments system to charge for subscriptions.
It was more or less exactly what I had decided to build when I started on RecordBox in late July 2011, and I was quite happy with the progress.
At that time, I had decided to focus more on marketing and less on the product, since I thought most of the development work was behind me. For those who are interested, here is a blog post chronicling the first six months of the RecordBox journey.
Since then, I have indeed focused on marketing. But based on user feedback, I have spent a fair bit of time revamping the product as well.
I will summarize the marketing and product development activities separately.
The Marketing Chronicles: Jan to May 2012
On the marketing front, I decided that the best way to proceed was not through blogging and social media marketing as I had originally intended. The rationale for this decision was two-fold:
- I was doubtful of the efficacy of social media for a niche, early stage, product like RecordBox. I think that social media works better for products which already have fans, users, and momentum. By contrast, online social media is probably not the best way to win the first users and customers.
- I didn’t really like doing social media marketing, and could not find anyone to do it for me.
So that left the question: How should I go about winning the first users and customers? Based on external advice, I decided to reach out to members of the local musical community of which I am a part, since they are tangible, accessible and relevant.
So I decided to run RecordBox demo days at local music classes. In these demos I showed each set of students how I use RecordBox, how it works for me, and how it could simplify their workflow.
Through these demos, I also got an opportunity to present RecordBox as part of a tabla solo by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri in front of a large number of local tabla students (approx. 200). For posterity, here are the slides for the presentation, and here is the front of the flyer I distributed.
The demos and presentation went well. I got asked a lot of questions and learnt something about the habits and needs of my target audience as a result. I also got a handful of signups, but nothing resembling hockey stick growth. I will detail the lessons learnt from this exercise later in this post.
Product evolution: Jan to May 2012
Another thing I did in the last six months was to revamp the product to put music sharing and collaboration at the heart of it.
Recall that RecordBox was originally built as a private repository of music. However, the number one feature request from all my early users was for collaboration tools. They wanted the ability to share and discuss their music with their classmates, band members, etc.
Since the old RecordBox was not designed for sharing and collaboration, the interface and codebase needed major changes to make it happen. I decided that it was worth doing, because sharing and collaboration would bring a viral element to the heart of the product, and that would help it spread.
In the process of implementing sharing, I upgraded the technology so that RecordBox now feels like a desktop application running inside the web browser. This was a big architectural move and took a lot of work to do right. I am quite proud of the result, if I do say so myself.
Apart from the core product, another thing I did was to revamp the pricing model. This was again based on feedback from my early users. Let me explain.
My first pricing model was to charge a monthly subscription for a fixed amount of storage. It was 250MB free, and then $9 for 10GB, $14 for 20GB, and $30 for 50GB. My users were uncomfortable with this for two reasons:
- There was a fixed upper limit in each plan. I always got the question ‘What if I need more than 50GB. What do I do?’ -- I had no good answer.
- They also worried about taking their data out. Would they have to pay $X per month simply to access their data on RecordBox? Again, the pricing model suggested that this was the case.
So I changed the pricing model to refresh the storage quota of each user every month, based on their subscription level. The Free tier would get 1 hour of uploads a month, $6 would buy 4 hours of uploads per month, $9 would buy 20 hours, etc.
This model of pricing addressed both issues in a clear way, and I think that that was worth doing.
Three big lessons
I think that I have learnt some valuable lessons about RecordBox in these past few months:
First, for most people, a single exposure to a product is not enough for them to try it. Getting someone to change their habits and try something new requires regular messaging and re-enforcement. I read somewhere that the average brand has to appear in front of a consumer 7 times before they begin taking notice of it.
My demos were a great start, but I need a plan for regular followups in order to drive the signups.
Second, and as a corollary to the above, marketing a new product has a long ramp up time. This behooves one to start early. I always thought that I needed to be more feature complete before I made a major marketing push. I think that this is erroneous.
I now think that RecordBox, while not anywhere near complete, is functional enough to merit a wider push. This means I need to spend more time marketing to the existing base (tabla students in the Bay Area) while simultaneously spreading the base by targeting other Indian musicians in the area and by targeting western musicians.
Each of these alternate channels needs to be cultivated over time before I can realistically expect results from them. So now is the time to start.
Finally, I am now convinced that mobile is the future. Nearly all the early adopters are trying to use RecordBox solely on their mobile devices, viz. iPhones and iPads. What’s more, I have gleaned some interesting stats from the RecordBox iPhone app in the last few months.
- The number of signups from the app is 10-15x the number from the website. And nearly all of the people who sign up from the app upload at least one file to RecordBox. That is insane engagement.
- There are approximately 20 active users per day on the app. The website usually has 1-2 users per day by comparison.
- Everyone who has a mobile computer (tablet or phone) tends to prefer using it to a laptop, even for things that require typing. The convenience and immediacy can’t be beat.
In light of all this, I think it is clear that I have not focussed on mobile nearly as much as I should have. The website is not so good on mobile. And the app is very limited in functionality. I think this is a big hole in the RecordBox offering, and is probably my biggest mistake so far.
My four month POA
So what’s next for RecordBox? Based on the lessons learnt, I think the path ahead is clear:
- Focus on Mobile: I will invest most of my development resources into bringing the mobile experience up-to-par with the desktop. Right now, that means building fully featured iPhone and iPad apps.
- Diversify the customer segments. Reach out to non-tabla students of Indian music (for example by building relationships with the vocal/instrumental teachers and accessing their students through them). Reach out the Western musicians: I have contacts at the Stanford Jazz workshop, and friends on the east coast who play music professionally. I need to figure out how to leverage those resources.
- Be persistent with each customer segment. Start by consistently following up with the tabla students I have already demoed to. For the other segments, develop a plan for following up along with the plan for tapping into them.
I have neglected marketing in the past. However, the past few months have shown that I am capable of being persistent with direct marketing. I enjoy talking and interacting with users and prospects.
The combination of multiple well-defined segments along with a strategy for engaging with them over a longer period of time provides the conditions for focus and execution. That is something I have been lacking in the marketing department in the past. It has taken so long to learn that lesson!
Where I want to be in September 2012
Back in October 2011, I wrote a post about where I wanted RecordBox to be in October 2012. In that post, I said that I wanted have enough paying customers to be able to live a modest life in the Bay Area, amongst other things.
I don’t think I can reach that goal, because that will mean growing to at least 500 paying customers in 5 months. I currently have 2 paying customers, both family. So I am essentially starting from 0.
However, I am not giving up on RecordBox just yet. I am as convinced as ever that there is a need for a tool for storing, organizing, sharing, and discussing audio --nobody I know who works with audio has good tools for organization and collaboration.
The problem is that it takes a really well made and complete product for people to begin switching habits. Changing habits is hard, and the first customers are the hardest ones to acquire. So I just need to dig in and wait.
Thus my new goals for 30 September 2012 are:
- Have some paying customers. 10-20 will be great, especially if they are split evenly across all my target segments.
- Have a great mobile experience.
- Be a registered LLC.
- Get other people on board, at least on a part time basis. I already have one developer doing part time work on RecordBox. I need to expand from here.
That is what success would look like in September. If I don’t reach those goals, especially with the customer count, I am not sure how I will respond. It will be hard to give up on RecordBox, and my gut says I will find a way to make it work.
If I do reach those goals, I will be really encouraged. It will be the beginning of a new chapter in the RecordBox story, and I for one hope to get there soon!