Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I am Sabba and I am the co-founder of VEED.IO along with my partner in crime Tim. We are a London-based bootstrapped startup. Our web app, VEED, is a simple online video editing platform that allows users to do a bunch of cool stuff like auto subtitle videos, add video effects, add music, trim, rotate videos and much more all in the browser.
We launched just over a year ago, started charging 4 months ago and as of this interview, we are at $5,300 MRR and are just about profitable (Ramen profitable).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Tim and I met during an online hackathon. During the hackathon participants were encouraged to meetup for real. We actually got on really well, and stayed friends and kept spitballing ideas for a startup for years.
At this time, I was a design student at Central Saint Martins and I had recently won a competition for Sony Music creating an interactive music video for the band Hurts with my friend Virgil. Then soon after graduation, I started working as a creative technologist in London for a bunch of different advertising & branding agencies and a few startups too.
Be personal in your communication.
Meanwhile, Tim was working on his CompSci research at King’s College London for his dissertation. He was building an automated video editing platform that used AI and Natural Language Processing to summarize news articles and turn them into short, bite-sized informational videos. Finally, he would aggregate them into a video feed. He called the project VEED.
We were both really excited to use Tim’s final year project as a base for our startup. But first, we had spent a good 6 - 8 months of trying different ideas, until we finally landed back on our original idea, to build a simple online video editor.
Due to the complexity of building an online video editor, we have hit a lot of walls early on and had to change the tech stack multiple times when trying to validate the concept. After 3 months of coding, we finally had a basic MVP and hit Product Hunt with it. At this time, we only had basic editing features like trim video, filter video, rotate video and draw on video. While simple, it started resonating with users and started to grow slowly but surely.
As our MVP went live, we pretty much ran out of money and had to both go back to contracting to build up our runway again. Luckily as developers and UI/UX professionals, finding work in London was not too hard. To keep the site moving forward during this time we had to work mornings, evenings and weekends alongside our contracting jobs.
We also hired two amazing part-time developers (Who are still with us) and overtime grew the site to 20,000 MAU. 4 months after that I have quit my contracting job and moved back to working on VEED and Tim followed a month later with 5 months runway in the bank.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the early days of VEED, we had to build out a lot of basic infrastructures to allow us to build all the features we have now. We needed a solid foundation that all our other products would be built off.
We must have built at least 4 different iterations of the product using different software stacks to get to where we are now. Unfortunately, there was very little content online that explained best practices in cloud-based video editing, therefore we pretty much relied on trial and error. Eventually, we have landed on a React + webGL front end build and FFmpeg + C++ on the backend with batch job cloud architecture to hold everything in place.
Once our MVP was live, we had very few users and, unfortunately, none of them were very responsive in giving me feedback. We had a hunch that social media managers were one of the biggest user groups we had, so I decided to sign up for Upwork and interviewed as many of them as I possibly could. This helped me get into the mindset of the user.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The most important part of starting a business is having time to do so. We initially had saved some money from doing contract work. That gave us our first 4 months runway. We then won some money in a university pitch competition. But after that initial money ran out, as we had no revenue and had to go back to our contract jobs. After saving up again for 4 months doing contracting, we went back to full-time on VEED and have now reached ramen profitability.
We didn’t really have a big launch. It all started as a blank site online, then every day we would update it multiple times and shaped the product as we went along.
As a software business, we don’t believe in the idea of one big launch every year/month/week. Because our product gets marginally better every day, we do little marketing pushes all the time that reflects new features and improvements that are available following code updates.
For example, we have just added Instagram Video Templates feature. This allowed us to make more landing pages, launch it on Product Hunt and blog about it, all of which brings more traffic back to our site. We are about to launch video filters and will do pretty much the same. So far this strategy is working well for us.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To start attracting our first users before we had any traction, we tried a lot of different techniques. From numerous experiments, we worked out that posting answers on Quora were the most effective means of acquisition.
This is how it worked:
I would search for terms like Subtitle Video then I would go through every question and answer it in as much detail as possible, adding photos and videos too. If it was relevant, I would wrap the answer around our product and in other cases, I would just try and help people out and put a link to our product at the bottom of the answer.
In the early days, we would see only 5 clicks from Quora per day, but the users from Quora would spend over 6 minutes on our site, compared with much lower session duration from other channels. Once we worked this out, we invested much more time on the platform. Now we get over 10,000 views a month on our Quora answers, diving thousands of users to VEED over the past year.
The second thing that worked really well for us was to create a landing page for each use case of our product and try to rank these pages on Google. For example, if you search “add image to video” we should be in the top list of results. We then did this for everything you could imagine like trim video, rotate video, crop video, add music to video…. You get the idea. Finally, once we made each page, we made sure they were optimized for SEO and had a clear call to action. Over the space of 6 months, traffic to these pages ramped up over time big time.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are now at Ramen Profitability and are making just over $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue. This is just enough money for us to pay Tim and me as well as our two part-time developers. Our server bills are currently covered by credits for the next 8 or so months, but we should be able to cover them ourselves by the end of next month.
Day to day and week to week we are always adding new features and improving the site. Our newest features Podcast to Video one that our users have been asking for, for months. So we are really excited to launch it!
As for the future, it is hard to say. We talk to our users and make decisions based on their needs. As most of our users are social media managers, we are designing the product around their needs, but as more users come the way we are always looking to open up our tool to new use cases.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the most important things I have learned through starting VEED is how to write. I am not amazing at it, but much much better than before. It's hard to offer one take away from the experience, as we are still in the middle of building our company. But here is a list of what I believe we have learned so far.
The most valuable lessons we have learned are as follows:
- Build fast
- Ship Early
- Deploy multiple times per day
- Talk to users
- Luck plays a part
- Failure will happen again and again
- Choose small input high output tasks
- Be personal in your communication.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a bunch of different tools, here are some of the tools we use daily.
- Drift - Instant messenger
- Google Analytics - Analytics
- Mixpanel - Funnel Triggers
- Stripe - Payments
- Profitwell - Tracking Cash
- Netlify - FE hosting
- Docker - Containers
- Deliveroo - Ramen 🍜
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For technical, knowledge and ideas
For picking my mood up with an inspiring startup story
I am not much of a book reader as I struggle with attention, but I have done all the classics like Zero to One, The Lean Startup and The Innovator's Dilemma as audiobooks. They are a little abstract form the day to day running of a company, but there are some great lessons to be learned from them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
There is never a good time to start a company, you will never have enough runway saved up, we will never have all the skills you need to start, you might not even have an idea of a co-founder.
So the best way to start is to just do it!
But by just doing it I don't mean coding for months. I mean launch something, learn how to market it, start talking to users, attend events in your city or join online communities.
We have made every possible mistake in the book and if you are like me, reading advice is one thing, but acting on a piece of advice is another. Here are my top three startup mistakes to avoid, but they are a lot easier to avoid once you have made them yourself.
- Do not overbuild and build fast. Use off-the-shelf products and tools to get your product out asap.
- Talk to your users all the time. Attempt to set up calls with every single user that comes onto your platform and also find potential users to talk to too.
- Tell your story. Get in the habit of blogging and sharing your content every week, we have seen thousands of users come to our platform from just blogging about our startup, progress, and tools.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not actively hiring right now, but if you like what we are doing and think you would be a good fit in any department you should reach out to us via the contact page on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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