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Spottly launches video sharing as it tries to grow its social network for travellers


When we last covered Spottly, the Hong Kong-based startup had put the finishing touches on the first version of its “Pinterest for travel” mobile app. A social network for perpetual wanderlusters, Spottly lets users post photos and brief descriptions of their favorite cafes, restaurants, clubs, and tourist destinations around the world. Other members can then comment, share, and save posts.

Today, Spottly unveiling a slightly revamped 2.0 version of its app. The main difference between the newest build and the former one is that the team has introduced video sharing. Whereas before, users could only share photos of their location, the app now lets users record brief clips. Spottly co-founder Edwynn Chan tells Tech in Asia that he believes video will ultimately become the app’s core.

“From the consumer point of view and the creator’s point of view, everybody’s pretty excited about video. It really gives you a whole different perspective on the place,” says Chan. “Hearing the ambient noise of a place does give you a truer sense of what it’s like being there,” he adds.

In conjunction with the rollout of video, the Spottly team is also officially disclosing a US$850,000 round it completed in November 2013, with participation from Gobi Partners, 500 Startups, and Cherubic Ventures. When we first reported on Spottly, the team told us that 500 Startups and Cherubic ventures had committed to investing in the team, so today’s news comes as confirmation of the then-upcoming seed round.

Spotting the peaks and the pitfalls

More than one-and-a-half years since its inception, Chan tells Tech in Asia that the team is pleased with its growth, but he admits that building a social network from scratch hasn’t been easy.

“If I had to describe this past year in one word, I’d say ‘perseverence,'” says Chan. “It’s easy to understand what the value is, but it’s hard to make it happen. Of course people will say that they like recommendations, but how do you start a community around it? How do you make it grow? It totally makes sense [in retrospect] once the network effect has kicked in. But how do you get it to the network effect? That’s the part that no one really talks about.”

To date, Spottly has attracted 80,000 downloads and 36,000 individual posts. The team won’t disclose any figures regarding active user numbers. Chan says that he and his colleagues remain focused on attracting quality users who post good content on a regular basis, which will ultimately drive more users to the network.

Finding the right benchmarks to measure traction has been an ongoing learning experience for the Spottly team. On the one hand, it’s a social network, so one might hope its users check it every day. On the other hand, Spottly zeroes in on a specific niche – travel. This yields the question – how active should Spottly expect its users to be?

“We changed from a DAU (daily active users) to a WAU (weekly active users) number [to measure retention] because it wasn’t practical for people to look at travel stuff daily. It we compare ourselves to a chat app, which has huge retention on a DAU basis, we would not be competitive. But if we compared ourselves to TripAdvisor, which people only use to travel, then our DAU would be a lot higher than them. So an issue that we continually work on is… what are the benchmarks we should be using?”

But even beyond generating users, Spottly has to ensure that the content on its network is compelling – as that’s what ultimately gets new users to stick around. In order to drive content generation, has continually tweaked minor parts of its product with an eye towards ease of use. Even the small things matter. For example, whereas Spottly’s main feed UI one year ago featured large-pictures that took up about one third of a smartphone’s screen, it now shows its user-submitted photos in a tile-style layout. Chan also says he saw an uptake in content creation when after the team made it easier to tag locations for uploaded photos.

These minor successes have been accompanied by plenty of roadbumps. Chan points to a change in the log-in process as a tweak that turned out to be a mistake.

“Currently we use the Facebook SDK to do our onboarding. Someone suggested that we look into doing iOS Facebook SDK. We thought that doing the iOS SDK would probably up our funnel by five points, because some users had been getting lost [in the log-in process]. But after we implemented the change, we actually saw a 10 point drop. We looked into why that happened, and the result was that most people just didn’t have their iPhones linked to their Facebook account on their system level. As a result, they got pushed into Safari and had to log in manually.”

Moving forward

Chan says he’s proud of the team’s decision to forgo marketing (via Facebook or other channels) in favor of building a social network organically. In his view, this allowed the team to focus exclusively on fostering good content, which then enriched the quality of Spottly’s community – though it no doubt saved money too.

“You want to grow with the right people. If you grow a community too fast, you lose the identity of the community. We’re happy that we really haven’t pushed for marketing in the past year as we just weren’t ready. Now that we feel better about the strength of our community and the way that the product has evolved, we feel a lot more confident starting marketing.”

Chan claims that he and the team remain happy with the quality of content that Spottly users share. But he candidly notes he has yet to discover the magic solution that will ultimately help Spottly achieve a critical mass of users.

“Each startup is different in what they do,” says Chan. “We do media. I think that there is no shortcut to media. Doing a media social network is all about getting people to create content. There is no silver-bullet growth hack to make that happen. You get more people consuming this content when you have great content. So the toughest part is breaking this chicken and egg.”

source : http://www.techinasia.com/hong-kong-spottly-launches-video-sharing-travel-social-network-850k-funding/

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