My College Project Inspired Me To Start A $240K/Year Audio-Sharing Platform

Derek Omori
Founder, Blerp
$20K
revenue/mo
3
Founders
12
Employees
Blerp
from Salt Lake City, UT, USA
started January 2019
$20,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
12
Employees
252K
alexa rank
1.04K
followers
1.39K
followers
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Start An Audio Sharing App

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Aaron Hsu. I started Blerp in my junior year of college after I made the viral Shia Lebouf soundboard app. In the first few weeks after launch, we had over 100K downloads. It was at that moment I realized there was an opportunity to make a full sound sharing platform instead of downloading one off soundboard apps at a time.

We describe Blerp as a soundbite-sharing platform. Today our largest integration is on Twitch and we work with over 40,000 streamers today and have helped them generate over $1M in revenue through sound donations.

Blerp takes a small cut of soundpack sales. We’re excited about bringing more ways for creators to monetize their brand and their most iconic moments.

my-college-project-inspired-me-to-start-a-144k-year-audio-sharing-platform

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My family is immigrants from Taiwan, I was taught from a young age to work hard and earn what you get. I graduated from the UofU in game design and computer science. I like hiking, making TikToks, and sleeping.

One day, my friends and I were just laughing over the Shia Lebouf video and I thought hey maybe I should make this into an app!

It wasn't until we had such great reception and we made our first thousand dollars from app purchases that I realized there was something special here and an opportunity for something bigger.

We first built our text messaging apps on IOS and Android and had some decent success but it didn't stick. In hindsight we feel like it was too early to the market, thinking of sounds as memes weren’t a thing yet.

It wasn't until Tiktok started getting more momentum and we integrated with Twitch that we started to see a ton of traction. As we built we focused on making Blerp the easiest way to enhance a moment with sound and live experiences like Twitch became one of the best places to do it. Within a year, we were 30x bigger than GIPHY on Twitch.

One mistake we’ve made is thinking the MVP is a one-time thing. We’ve quickly learned that we need to use this approach for essentially every new feature and product.

When I started Blerp I was still in college, I was coding at night. Then I got my first corporate job at an edtech company. I learned a lot there but I still spent all my extra time on Blerp. After about a year and a half, I decided it was time to quit my job and go full-time on Blerp. I was really careful with my money and tried to invest in the right things to make sure I could keep working on Blerp with really no income coming in.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

At first, I was the designer, salesperson, and developer. Later, I met my first co-founder Evan in school and he started helping me improve the user experience. Our first version of the app was very rough. The design was old, the UI was cluttered, but people said it was very fun to play with. It was the same fun as when I first saw people use GIFS to enhance their communication. Over time we realized that a sound-sharing platform deserved its brand, so we reworked the design.

my-college-project-inspired-me-to-start-a-144k-year-audio-sharing-platform

Our first product was our iOs and Android app. We quickly saw a few thousand users but then it kind of flatlined and we didn’t see active users at the rate we felt confident to start doing paid promotion for. We were considering doing a rework of the app to help retention when Twitch launched its extension program. We debated as a team if this was the right direction but ultimately we felt a new opportunity like this was worth the shot. We were quickly accepted and got to work building.

After just a few months we were able to go live. After the first couple of weeks we were getting hundreds of downloads but still weren’t seeing them convert to weekly active users. That summer we were also able to attend Twitch Con. Being super scrappy we didn't buy a booth or anything we just walked around and chatted with tons of streamers. We were even able to get into parties with Pokimane and other top streamers. Many of our top streamers today came from the relationships and friendships we built at those conferences (Tip: Be where your customers are!)

In the fall we started investing more in customer success and directed new users to our discord server for support. That's when the product started to take off. It was through those daily conversations and walking users through setup and optimization that we were able to tackle bugs and changes at a much faster rate. Getting so much feedback allowed us to make improvements to make the product more sticky. By spring the next year we were able to increase retention from 30% to 60%.

Today we’re at over 50,000 Active streamers, and many have been able to turn their passion into their career with the help of Blerp. We’ve generated over a million in revenue for our creators. Our Discord server has over 10,000 streamers that continue to give us feedback and refer their friends to use Blerp. It’s cool looking back on where we came from but we still have SO much further to go!

Our tips for founders:

The creative process is never-ending. One mistake we’ve made is thinking the MVP (minimum viable product) is a one-time thing. But we’ve quickly learned that we need to use this approach for essentially every new feature and product. It’s the rapid testing and prototyping to get real feedback that has helped us grow so quickly.

Don't try to solve things with money, solve it with a good product (offering as much value to customers as possible)

Early on, our costs were really low because I was doing all the coding. We were able to get server credits from google so we didn't have any costs. To this day we still haven't spent much on marketing and it's really all been word of mouth. We also were able to secure some start-up money from our school's entrepreneur program at the Lassonde Institute.

my-college-project-inspired-me-to-start-a-144k-year-audio-sharing-platform

Describe the process of launching the business.

When we launched on Twitch we were lucky to get featured on the front page of their extension store. We were excited to have over a thousand installs in the first week. But what we quickly realized is that installs do not translate into active users.

So a few months later we decided to pack up and head to Twitch Con. We didn’t have a booth but we just went around and made friends with streamers. Many of our core users today were from relationships that we made during that week. It’s hard to quantify just how many people use our products today because of that small group of streamers we met. Not because they were big streamers but because they told their friends then their friends told their friends. Word of mouth viral growth starts with simple friendships and conversations.

We didn't know the name for it but what we realized later is that this form of growth was called “Product marketing”. It's the strategy where you put all of your resources into talking to your customers and building with them so they will market your product. Today we have over 70% six-week retention and we attribute it to our whole team talking to real customers daily.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

People advise on their experiences… and everyone's experiences are really limited. I won't say “don't take no for an answer” but rather go see how many people from different backgrounds are saying no and why are they saying it. People often accomplish what they limit themselves to.

Don't try to solve things with money, solve it with a good product (offering as much value to customers as possible).

This is what we describe as product marketing. Each release drops more growth and a higher likelihood of referrals!

my-college-project-inspired-me-to-start-a-144k-year-audio-sharing-platform

We invested in our efforts in our Discord server early on. Being as quickly responsive as we can and working with streamers through issues over calls built a lot of strong relationships but more importantly strong feedback loops.

Recently we’ve been investing in creating social content on TikTok. We just passed over 300k followers and it has been a great way to drive awareness of our products. Here are some examples of some organic videos we’ve made of our products being used going viral:

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Our social strategy: it didn't happen all at once we tried to do this for over 6 months. But we recently went from 7K followers to over 150k in just a few weeks and the breakthrough moment was just finding our right audience.

Similar to building a product in social content you have to find your audience and provide really valuable content to them. Who are they, what do they talk about, what are their goals? How you can provide content to them that scratches an inch for them.

The real key is in making each video feel like a story. The meta thing about corporate TikTok accounts is that viewers know it's being run by someone just like them and you can lean on the feeling that they want the person behind the account to succeed. All you need to do is deliver good content to them and they will engage with it. If it feels like a corporate ad it won't perform well, but if it organically shows the story of your company it can do well.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Since launching we’ve grown to hundreds of thousands of Blerps being shared each day! And work with thousands of creators.

We closed funding with the Amazon Alexa fund and some notable gaming VCs last year. The process was pretty quick, we did have a mutual intro but once we had the first meeting we had a term sheet within about two weeks.

They were interested in our team and the dynamics of how we built the product. From there the terms and the vehicle were not a big concern of theirs. We’ve found that corporate investors care much less about that stuff than VCs and are more interested in long-term BD plays.

We have helped our creators make over $1M in revenue through our products. With live streaming, we give viewers a more interactive way to connect with their favorite streamers. Within gaming, we give you a way to instantly share a sound in a voice chat.

We have 12 full-time employees (65% development).

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Don't just hire smart people to solve problems, take the time to understand the problem then hire the right person. It will be tempting to just hire the really smart person you meet with, whether it be their background and experience or just the way they can relate to you within the vision you have.

Having the wrong smart people in the room will not solve your problems. We’ve found that the “right” person may not always be the smartest person you could have hired but it's the person that has the right mindset to get things done.

A lot of people glamorize start-ups but when it comes time to do the “dirty work” they often aren’t as excited to do that. Start-ups are a lot of hard work with undefined roles and responsibilities. You need people that can just show up and get things done.

Creating an MVP and testing that MVP to get to product-market fit is not just the thing you do at the beginning of your startup. You should use this mindset (lean start-up) in all your future releases and products. Try to test everything as rapidly as possible with as little resources and time as you can.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We created an in-house CRM to manage our 250K+ streamer database. We looked at a lot of solutions but the effort and time it would have taken to integrate into a CRM and then pay the 2K+ a month to manage all of our contacts was not worth it. We ended up building the CRM over a weekend hack and then spent many more hours after refining and adding data visualization for our users' behaviors.

We now manage our 4+ products on the CRM and it has been great for the most part. Still, a lot to maintain and update but an out-of-the-box solution didn't work for us as a B2C2C company. (most CRM’s are based on volume, we work with too many users)

We used Twilio/ SendGrid for a while but have recently moved off of it. For automatic emails we still use SendGrid but for marketing emails and newsletters we are going to just export a CSV and use MailChimp!

We’ve loved apollo for our success team and BD work. My friend who is a Director of Sales at Alchemista suggested it to us and we’ve got a lot of value from it. One of my favorite tools has been the email finder on Linkedin. It essentially lets you find the email of anyone on Linkedin. It's super helpful for fundraising in that you can find email addresses for investors and angels.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Our favorite podcast is How I built this. We tend to focus on the big lessons they learned and how they worked through the hard times than focusing on how they succeeded though.

Another favorite is start-up school.

Good to Great is a must-read for all entrepreneurs. Level 5 leaders and Hedgehog concepts are key concepts to understand! We actively refer to how we refine our hedgehog concept every couple of weeks!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Get out there and validate the problem you want to solve! Don't start with your solution in mind!

There are so many ways to get creative and test the problem you think is out there. Go talk to potential customers and if they say “Yeah! I can see someone using this!” you don't have a problem.

People will always say I won't use it but someone will. You have to find that someone. You don't need funding or any other resources outside of time and some wireframes to test to see if the problem is real and people are willing to pay for it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always hiring good engineers! You can apply by sending your resume and a brief cover letter to [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Derek Omori, Founder of Blerp
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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