NOTE: This is a cross post from Yo.com (October 4, 2014) . We’re sharing our story as it happens. Join us at: http://www.yo.com/#!/our-story
YO! in Silicon Valley.
So… there is no turning back now.
I am writing this entry on a flight home from San Francisco to Vancouver, and I am doing so with mixed emotion. Normally, when people use that phrase it references that strange hybrid feeling where joy and sadness comingle, but not this time. This time, what I am feeling is a strange blend of terror and excitement.
You see, we are coming back from the heart of the technical jungle, Silicon Valley -- where ideas come to life, fortunes are made, and where there are more ideas per capita than anywhere else on the planet [not a scientific statement]. And most importantly, we are coming home after showing off our baby for the first time at TC3, The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley’s annual event for innovation.
"This executive summit [is] the premier telecom innovation event of the year -- which highlights the relationship between the companies building networks, with the companies inventing the next generation of technologies."
Over the past 4 days, we probably gave more than 100 demonstrations of YO! to some of the smartest minds in telecom, trend spotters, venture capitalists, our Board, and other vendors from within the mobile arena. The response we had was overwhelmingly positive.
Yes, sometimes some of the mobile carriers were a little unsure of what to do with us. One even swore openly once we explained what we had already created and our vision for what we could do, saying that “Well the best thing for us is if we could just make you go away, but that is not going to happen… so let’s find the best way to work together and make this work together.”
The giant whooshing sound you heard on Wednesday morning was the collective sigh of relief as Chris, Saju, and myself exhaled for the first time in six months.
You never know how people are going to react in situations like this. Were they going to say, “Oh yeah that… We’ve seen that before.” Or perhaps, “Mildly interesting, but we don’t see the need, we don’t have the pain, and the opportunity that you are pursuing is not really there.” Or worst of all, getting the dreaded "Meh."
We got none of that. The pain that we thought we had identified is real. Telecom carriers are looking at innovative ways to offload data. They are looking for value added services that they could bring to the market and help them become more than just a “dumb pipe” … These were their words, not ours.
The people we spoke to, especially the carriers involved in emerging or developing markets – Telefonica, SMART Communications, China Mobile, Saudi Telecom, etc. – they understood the pain point that YO! can solve.
Their customers are buying smart phones by the millions, often for the very first time, yet these same customers will not be using data plans. They simply cannot afford to. Data is too expensive and bandwidth is too precious. Oh… and those that are sharing and connecting are going to crash the global networks in a ‘data tsunami’ before the decade is up.
That is, of course, unless innovations come about that change things. Innovations like YO!
When we started journaling this effort 6+ months ago, we spoke about wanting to tell all and share this journey. And in so doing, we wanted to share both the good and the bad while giving those that follow after us a bit of encouragement to step into the world of entrepreneurship and into the unknown. In the spirit of this, here are some random learnings, each of which probably deserves its own post, but given time constraints, this probably won’t happen.
Stand out from the Crowd
Full credit goes to the team for this one. When we first committed to going to TC3 and registered for a demonstration table, we were given strict rules to follow, including:
"Your display must fit onto the 36” circular cocktail table and cannot be taller than 24”.
As soon as I shared this information with the team, Joe stated matter of fact as though it was not up for debate, “Well it is simple then. You will be the display.”
And so we were, we had bright green golf shirts that while still classy, could be seen from across the conference hall. People noticed us, especially in a world of dark suit jackets.
And the same was true with the display itself. Lighting is key in tradeshows as it attracts the eye. Our team hand-crafted a glowing, circular display that caught everyone's attention and disrupted the status quo. On top of this, we had the Yo.com website homepage on loop via a front-facing flat screen display. Oh yeah... we also had YO! on full display running on a few Android devices plus our personal devices (the ones used were $100 smart phones from India.) All these phones were meshed together via an off-the-shelf ASUS WiFi router that was not connected to the Internet.
Have Something People Want
After drawing people to us, we had to have a story to tell. We had to listen to understand the visitor’s pain and then explain not only how we solved that pain, but how we were different. While the sales and marketing experts say that the product itself is merely a prop to the story you weave, I have to say that without actually having a product to demonstrate, people wouldn't believe what we were saying.
“Yes… we are letting people share and connect without the internet.”
“No… we don’t require a server or any special router or hardware.”
“Yes… it is free for users.”
“No… We are not passing it through the Internet.”
“Yes… that file was just sent in a few seconds.”
“No… you cannot have it yet. Unfortunately, we are still in a private beta while we test the application in different environments around the world.”
Have Something People Need
Wants and needs are two different things. And while YO! addresses a real need for consumers and for carriers, the need that I am referring to was the best tradeshow giveaway by far. We were offering up free pre-charged solar power packs to anyone who saw the demonstration of YO!
These chargers were great. Each was pre-charged with enough juice to recharge two devices. And as each day wore on, people’s phones were drained by mid-afternoon. Each came equipped with an Android and Apple adaptors so we were not discriminating. Oh… and they had a solar panel, so they could be charged via USB or simply by clipping onto a backpack and sitting the charger in the sun for a short time.
Total cost per unit was less than $10 when purchased wholesale.
While a great giveaway for a telecom conference, it also helped us tell the story that YO! is not being developed like so many innovations today for the developed world where power is plentiful. There are parts of Bangladesh, South America, Africa and around the world where reliable power is a problem. Technology can help them connect and share. The theme of empowerment runs true.
Make it Personal
Yes, each demonstration of YO! attempted to personalize it to the needs of the audience, and thus become more relevant. But what people wanted to hear was a story – a personal story. I think that this was because many at the event (and throughout North America) had a hard time understanding that data is not unlimited and sharing is not always easy. What made people understand was relaying a story about our development team in Bangladesh, and in particular telling them this:
“After building web brands for the past 4.5 years, we developed a certain daily development rhythm. This included frequent Skype calls between Canada and Bangladesh. What we did not realize, however, is that if we were having these calls during the Bangladeshi day (our night), the team would need to stop working, sharing, and communicating internally. The bandwidth was too precious. So to compensate, they built YO!, allowing them to message inter office AND keep connected with us back here in Canada.”
In short, our team in Bangladesh had a pain that was not felt by our team in Canada. It was personal.
There were a few glitches here and there in our demonstration of course. Those things always happen. But these are all reasons why we are still in private beta... testing and refining to make sure we get a minimum viable product that can now live up to very lofty expectations.
It is always hard to know where these things will go. But I am very proud of the team for getting it this far. The next few months (and years) are going to be one hell of a ride.
What do you think? Have any launch horror stories to share?