The latest in our series asking startups to share the challenges they face and lessons they learn as they grow catches up with Ryan David Mullins from oolipo, which was a finalist for the BookTech Company of the Year Award at the FutureBook Conference 2015.
oolipo is a technology media company, and as a startup, everything is in constant flux. Presenting our product, its mission, our content strategy, business model, and its technology as part of BookTech had many benefits.
First, of course, is the feedback, insights and constructive criticism we received from people who've also thought deeply about similar issues. Moreover, we enjoyed the opportunity to discuss and interact with like-minded folk who've also embarked on the journey of releasing new, innovative products to the world. So, the struggles, obstacles, worries, etc., all these could be discussed and made clear and there's a very useful and advantageous community there. That's nothing to sneeze at. When you release a new product, especially in its prototype or alpha phase, there's the angst that what you've released will be a colossal and herculean failure. But, as Reid Hoffman once said, if you're not completely embarrassed by your first product, then you've launched too late.
Nonetheless, the process of releasing an early prototype and later iterations usually comprises lots of palms-to-the-forehead and much of the hard feedback is like a cold dash of water to the face.
TL;DR: BookTech provided a platform to present, discuss, debate, and vent to a community of people with parallel interests, fears, and obstacles. Guess it was something like a rehabilitation meeting.
We've just released a closed prototype test. In fact, we're opening another round of testers. So, if you're using an iPhone 6, go to www.oolipo.com and sign up to participate in the testing and join the journey to help develop and improve our storytelling experience.
This particular release doesn't focus on functionality or product features. Rather, it focuses exclusively on story structure, story experience, and story navigation. It's critical in this phase of development that we nail "story" and the oolipean language of story.
So what's oolipean about oolipo? We've introduced a completely new format and a new manner of engaging and navigating stories, so that experience has to be clear, simple and, above all, generate a wow-effect. We're not there just yet. But, in order to get there, we require feedback from our testers concerning flow, pace, and the general language and syntax our stories exhibit. oolipo is participating in the evolving language of storytelling in the digital space. No one has really got it right. And, we've encountered the challenges in the journey to an oolipo story. So, it's about finding a satisfying answer to the question, what is oolipean about an oolipo story? What is that kernel of identity? That takes some time, some failure, some confusion and work to wiggle through the hazy creative process and execute on something that people find entertaining, fun, informative, and beyond their expectations.
Beyond oolipo, I'm always fascinated with the words and work of Chris Milk over at Vrse. I think he's not only whip smart but he's built a solid team who've built and continue to build a solid product. VR is undoubtedly, as Zuckerberg recently said at MWC, the next platform on and for which everything will be built.
The startup space, I think, is changing rapidly now that platforms have more or less taken over. It changes because, when you have eight-10 platforms on which most people in the Western world live, move and have their being, it becomes near-impossible to wrest attention from, say, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and build a habit-forming, compelling product whose value exceeds the dominant platforms to such an extent that you're building a growing and thriving community. The question, then, for a startup becomes: how do you achieve, what I call, sufficient platform overlap? I think the classic marketing question - how do you get people to your product? - isn't correct. It presupposes that oolipo is a destination that, when sufficiently sexy, will attract interested people. But, given what I've said above about platforms, anyone who attempts this, I think, has serious obstacles. Instead, if you think of it in terms of overlapping with existing platforms, integrating via APIs, and thinking in terms of co-opetition, then you're literally developing a go-to-market strategy. Your product is going to the people where they are and where their digital lives primarily unfold and develop and integrating your service and value into existing platforms.
Most of the startups I'm following and have a significant interest in, honestly, aren't in publishing or anything resembling that stuff. I'm more interested in machine learning, AI, blockchain, and debates in the future of computing. That said, all the developments in these exciting fields will have, indeed, a major impact on the development not only of oolipo but on media in general. In fact, our entire company, as a technology company, is built upon a machine learning backend. This allows us, as a platform, to link people, personalise, and create more compelling dynamic experiences for all the people who will use oolipo. We're excited about what's to come. And, more importantly, our early testers feel excited about oolipo as well. Now, it's about failing, correcting and iterating.
Ryan David Mullins is the co-founder of oolipo. Catch him on Twitter @rdavidmullins.