9 December, 2020
This seventh episode titled ”Building Deepstash, the Social Media Antidote”, that aired on December 3, 2020, we had Vladimir Oane (CEO & Co-Founder @Deepstash, Co-Founder of uberVU) in a conversation with Ramu Yalamanchi (Founder and former CEO of Hi5, CEO & Founder @Sona Labs).
Born out of its founder’s frustration with navigating the concepts he is learning, Deepstash offers an easy way to discover and organize bits of knowledge into broader collections. An accomplished founder, having previously sold UberVU to Hootsuite, Vladimir and his team are set to build a new way of consuming bite-size information in a more meaningful and useful way than social media’s infinite scroll of cat pictures.
Vladimir and Ramu shared invaluable insights into launching new social media apps and the competition landscape today. Here is a sneak peek into their live discussion:
Listen to the full discussion on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts too.
3 takeaways from Vladimir and Ramu’s live discussion:
►”We are doing this, as you said, out of conviction and unnecessarily to prove a consensus. And this is a quote from Margaret Thatcher that I kind of like. I mean, you should do things out of conviction not to appease to some consensus. So yeah, this is one of those things where I feel a product by powers has to exist and the whole team that I’m working with kind of believes the same thing. We’re building a team of believers.”, Vladimir, on overcoming product disbelief.
►”And so, for many years, it felt like there was a question as to whether social media could even become at the level that it is today, obviously, but wasn’t even in the realm of radio or television or any other major media format that we that we can think about today. So that was a big question that came up. And then as it sort of weaved itself into the fabric of society, it had both positive and negative effects.”, Ramu, on the early days of the social media format.
►”And when people started to put us in the bucket with, I don’t know, like Facebook, and Instagram, and Pinterest, and TikTok. And then I was like ‘What? Why?’. And we had to interview people, and go to reviews, and stuff like that. I was expecting Deepstash to be compared much more one on a feature level with, I don’t know, like a note taking app, or like a bookmarking service, or things like that – the feature set. But the opposite happened, and that by itself was a was a huge surprise.”, Vladimir, on the swift change Deepstash took towards a social media app.
Are you more into Reading? The Full Transcript is below!
Ramu: Hi Vladimir!
Ramu: How are you?
Vladimir: I’m good, looking forward to chatting with you and the whole How to Web crowd.
Ramu: This is memorable for me, to come back to How to Web. I think probably my first visit to Romania was back in 2010. And it was for the first How to Web conference. And I was, you know, there, and so it was, it’s wonderful to be back. This happened. We’re not talking about Hi5, we’re talking about Deepstash. So why don’t you start off and and tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to starting Deepstash?
Vladimir: Yeah, so I describe myself as an as an entrepreneur. That’s kind of how we got to know each other. Back in the day you were you were an advisor to my previous company, company called uberVU, which was one of the early social media analytics platform that existed. We started that in 2008, I think. So yeah, we met very, very soon after, after us starting. And yeah, I was with uberVU until 2014 when we were acquired by Hootsuite. I served there as a director of product, I managed a few product lines. And, yeah, almost two years ago, I started this thing. It went live a year and four months ago. But yeah, I am thinking about a product like Deepstash for the past, like 10-15 years. So I said like, I should probably do it while I’m still young. I was lucky enough to have, alongside me, people that were crazy enough to say ‘Yeah, this could work. Let’s give it a shot.’ So yeah, that’s kind of how Deepstash started and what I did before before that. Happy to go into details on what it is that we’re doing and how I got here.
Ramu: Well, a few things I wanted to mention too. So, I remember our first meeting. I think it was in in Bucharest. I had been on that first visit that I came. I distinctly remember that. During the time that I had helped or advised with uberVU, and also my involvement in Deepstash as well, both were very enjoyable experiences. The first time I met you, I thought ‘Man, this guy is going to go places!’. I continue to believe that. It’s very good to be here. And it was it was really exciting to watch the progression of uberVU. And it’s also been interesting, exciting, to watch what you’re doing with Deepstash. It’s obviously a topic that resonates very deeply with me, because it’s the antidote to social media.
Vladimir: Well, yeah..
Ramu: Go ahead, go ahead.
Vladimir: Yeah, well, I mean, like it’s something that we’re noticing as.. it’s a behaviour that is starting. We don’t want to, I don’t know, kill Facebook or I dunno, have anything against Twitter. I love those services. I’m using them myself. But there is like this shadow to these social media services, they can become quite addictive. And a lot of the users that, our early users who have started using Deepstash, they describe a service like ours as a much more meaningful interaction they have with their phones. So, instead of I don’t know, being going on these social platforms day in and day out, and, I don’t know, having high levels of anxiety because of it, we are kind of the counterbalance, offering an experience that is focused on personal growth, rather than, I don’t know, watching the news or 24/7 entertainment. So while this is not our goal, to kill anyone or, I dunno, from a founder perspective – I mean, it’s terrifying to go against Mark. And you did that a decade ago.
Ramu: I did.
Vladimir: So, yeah, it’s terrifying as a business strategy. It’s not what I want to do, but it so happens that the the users that are using Deepstash right now think that we are a more meaningful experience than Facebook. We’ll see if that that will continue.
Ramu: How do you see Deepstash in the landscape of social media? Do you see it as a competitor to time that people might spend on Instagram or Facebook or TikTok? Where do you see it falling in the competitive landscape?
Vladimir: Yeah, definitely. I mean – we’re fighting for attention. All services like ours usually get adopted by the younger crowd. I think this was the experience that you had when you are running Hi5. And from that point of view – yeah, we are against everyone else who is fighting for your time. But I think people are starting to realise that there is a value on time spent, and some spent time is more valuable than others. And it’s not like there was a study and they’re making this conscious choice. It’s just something that I think people know, deep down. And, yeah, we are a product that helps them make that, that feeling, more more permanent, if you will.
Ramu: So let’s get into some of the points that you made a little bit earlier. So one thing you mentioned is anxiety, and anxiety from social media. And I think this is a topic that has been talked about quite a bit. If I go back to when Hi5 was started, which was launched in 2003. And the the idea that social media would become this whole new media format was heavily contested; it was heavily debated. It was, and I’m sure you remember this from from the uberVU days as well. And so, for many years, it felt like there was a question as to whether social media could even become at the level that it is today, obviously, but wasn’t even in the realm of radio or television or any other major media format that we that we can think about today. So that was a big question that came up. And then as it sort of weaved itself into the fabric of society, it had both positive and negative effects. So I think some of the things you’re talking about are these negative effects, which happened from the media format. So, tell me a little bit more about that specific aspect, anxiety, and you know, related negative effects of social media, and how Deepstash helps address it.
Vladimir: Yeah, I’m not an expert. I’m watching the the craziness unfold around it. And I remember, I started uberVU with the same idealistic tendencies of all of all founders. When I started, I thought social media is a positive good. I mean, like, what can be bad about it? It’s awesome. It’s amazing. And the product that we were putting up helping marketers understand and navigate this world was also positive. I mean, if you could be in touch with with your customers and understand what the issues of your products are, you can improve them and you can create a better company. I mean, you know, the idealistic pitch. And that all made a tonne of sense to me. And somehow it kind of, I dunno, went more to the dark side. I’m not really sure how that happened. But I imagine I was still working at Hootsuite. And that was one of the defining moments when I was like ‘I’m done with this industry!’. It was when I was watching Zuck testifying against in Senate. And that was that was so awkward and weird. Not not specifically because, I don’t know, I think Mark did a bad job. But the whole question and the whole setup was too much for me. And I was like I’m out of this industry. It’s not it’s not going where it should be. There are clearly tonnes of reasons for it. I mean, there are books written about this phenomenon. It was not my task and my colleagues task to fix Facebook or, I don’t know, improve on Twitter or.. it’s not what we are set up to do. We started Deepstash to a very simplistic concept called stashing, which is information overload, There is so much information out there and as we consume all this information, which by itself creates an anxiety and the fear of missing out, it is super helpful to stash the, what we call ideas, that that you get from from articles, or books, or podcasts, or all these, all these things that you’re consuming and to use them as social objects themselves. This is something that I’ve observed in my own kind of practice, like the if I have a collection of ideas that will improve my professional and personal life. But also those ideas, those snippets, those thoughts that resonated with me can can serve as a much more meaningful and fruitful conversation in just like, I don’t know, regular interactions. And through that interaction, I think people are trying to escape the anxiety. Because the content that you’re seeing on most of these other social networks is is inside the news, or it’s entertainment. That’s kind of what’s working. And the news that we are exposed to are all set up to create some sort of like fear. I mean, you are scared all the time. There’s always like a crisis happening. And yeah, fear is contracting. I mean, it crushes kind of your, your soul. And with Deepstash, you have access to, I don’t know, topics that are more expensive for your mind, that you can engage in more deeper conversations that cross the divide. I mean, you don’t start a conversation whether, I don’t know, you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Like let’s talk about, I don’t know, about breathing, or I have this idea on how to write emails better that I got from this book. I mean, it’s a different type of conversation, a much deeper level.
Ramu: It feels like you turned a negative into a positive. And I think that’s one of the brilliant things that I’ve found about Deepstash. So if we look at all of these media formats, like television, radio, social media – they all have some element of bad and good. And, and so it seems like you’re doubling down on the part that can help people grow. And having built a social network in the past, a lot of the algorithms are designed to show users… it’s all based on like, what content is going to go viral. So the the social network is not necessarily looking at – oh, this is good or bad for people. It’s looking at this is going to generate more page views, this is going to generate more time spent on the site. And that’s I think a lot of how the products have been developed. And you’re basically making a very overt recognition that this is not the way things should go, it should go in in a in a potentially different direction, where the thoughts that you’re putting into people’s minds are positive thoughts and thoughts on how to grow and..
Vladimir: Yes, yes. Although truth be told, we’re evolving into a much more user generated content. And we’ll see where people, where people take it. We think that through our formats, we’ll be able to contain the bad and amplify the good. But yeah, I was quite an idealistic when I started uberVU, as probably where you when you started Hi5. And, I mean, it’s easy to identify the things that went wrong in hindsight. I’m at that point where I don’t see how this will not be the Garden of Eden. But yeah, probably I’ll be surprised.
Ramu: What have been your biggest findings about how users are engaging with the service?
Vladimir: Well, I did not expect this whole like social media, social media comparison, to be honest. We thought early on that we are building a very functional product, focused around curation. We thought we were a curating platform, and we still are, functionally. So yeah, we were quite surprised by the implications that we are more than that and that we are part of a larger narrative. When I started Deepstash a year ago, it was very, like a very humble product. You could, I don’t know, take some notes here and there, you can save them in some some folders and like yeah, that’s it. I mean that’s not much to it. And when people started to put us in the bucket with, I don’t know, like Facebook, and Instagram, and Pinterest, and TikTok. And then I was like ‘What? Why?’. And we had to interview people, and go to reviews, and stuff like that. I was expecting Deepstash to be compared much more one on a feature level with, I don’t know, like a note taking app, or like a bookmarking service, or things like that – the feature set. But the opposite happened, and that by itself was a was a huge surprise.
Ramu: Sometimes users surprise you.
Ramu: They say all kinds of things. And you’re looking in one direction, and you’re like -this is really what I want to build. And then all these users are using your product for something completely different. And then you look and say ‘Oh, my God, that actually, that actually makes a lot of sense.’
Vladimir: True. Yes.
Ramu: You know, when Hi5 was in its first several years, probably through, I want to say even 2007, three or four years into building the product. At this point, we had over 10 million users. Just a lot of traction around the world. There was still a tremendous amount of doubt from investors, the press, about whether social media was gonna last or whether it was a fad. And today, we know that that debate has been has been… But you’re starting something very new and innovative. And it’s different than anything that’s out there. That takes a tremendous amount of conviction, as a founder. And there are a lot of naysayers when you do something new.
Vladimir: Definitely, yeah.
Ramu: Where do you feel like you are in that lifecycle? So when you started it, I’m sure probably had the most naysayers, right? And then over time that starts to change.
Vladimir: I think we made some some progress on, I don’t know, the naysayers. But I don’t think that that was a lot of progress. And the good thing is, I don’t know how you are as a founder, but I actually thrive in, in negativity, if you will. It’s not negativity, but I don’t know.
Vladimir: Challenge, yeah. I kind of like that. I have, like..I remember, I mean, like – when I started to uberVU, and I was talking to you. I mean, like, it’s easy for you to, I don’t know, to look at uberVU and what we’re doing as, I don’t know, ‘These guys are onto something’, and join us in in that journey. But for a lot of the the local people that I had access to and industry people that I was hanging out with, like that – the idea of creating like a SaaS product in 2008; an international product! Like, like that – like, no. That’s not gonna work. And we don’t even know what those words mean. And, and I wasn’t like ‘Oh my God, I have to, I don’t know, validate myself in front of these people!’ No, for me that that was a challenge. Like, okay, just watch me. And if I’m gonna, I don’t know, crash and burn, still I’m gonna make it the most amazing show. I mean, like, it’s I’m gonna give it, I’m gonna give it a go. And, and probably is the same this time. Clearly, the fact that I have some experience, myself and my co-founders. To go through this before gave us some, I don’t know, emotional stability, and yeah, emotional stability to try something that is much more ambitious. Much, much bigger. And, yeah, there are a lot of people who don’t get it or whatever. I don’t want to prove them anything right now. I don’t care that much. We are doing this, as you said, out of conviction and unnecessarily to prove a consensus. And this is a quote from Margaret Thatcher that I kind of like. I mean, you should do things out of conviction not to appease to some consensus. So yeah, this is one of those things where I feel a product by powers has to exist and the whole team that I’m working with kind of believes the same thing. We’re building a team of believers. And yeah, we’re gonna give it our best shot. We seem to be on to something. And now it’s up to us to take it to, I don’t know, the level where you were, when you had 10 million users and things were, things were growing.
Ramu: 200 million is where it got to. And and you need to surpass that.
Vladimir: No pressure, no pressure.
Ramu: Being contrarian is hard. Right? And, and it takes conviction. But I think what’s interesting about it, and I see this because I use Deepstash, and I get the notifications. And I’m like ‘Man, this is really good!’, right? Sure. I’m sure as a founder, you think the same. I recall having those moments when we were building Hi5, and we would see people use the product in ways that we might not have initially anticipated. So families were getting reconnected from across countries. Today that’s common, right? It’s not, it’s not… But in those days, the idea of connecting on the internet to people that you didn’t know, or that you haven’t been in touch with for some time, was a foreign concept. And that completely became disproved, right. And you get these like little, little, you know, signals, as a product developer, that you see, that sort of give you – it’s sort of that, that boost for every day, for you and your team, to take it forward and say ‘Man, what we’re doing really, really is going to be game changing.’
Vladimir: Yeah, that’s like, we have lots of like, I don’t know, bad days when things are not going our way, we have trouble building the product. Or, I don’t know, there are there are things that are not necessarily where they need to be. And then you get an email from a user telling you like a Deepstash story that pretty much blows your mind. And then we share that on our internal slack. And, yeah, I really think that startups are living on on motivation and enthusiasm. And having that balance between, I don’t know, the drug, the everyday drudgery of I don’t know, building something that scales and those moments of light, and hope, and positivity. I think that’s extremely important. And, yeah, you’re extremely right. It happens to us, as I’m sure when the naysayers were saying like, this whole social network thing doesn’t go anywhere. And you had the story of people being connected after many, many years. I mean, it didn’t matter what the press was saying. I mean, you just changed a life. And probably that was the main thing.
Ramu: It changes a life and it changes you as well. You’re like ‘Wow, this is actually impacting people!’. What has been the biggest challenges today in starting Deepstash?
Vladimir: Oh, probably the biggest challenge was to assemble the team. And probably that’s the biggest challenge for every company. Yeah, I was probably expecting it to be easier. But yeah, it’s a different world. Tech right now is huge. It’s huge all over the world. There are I mean, like, the largest companies in the world are tech companies. Everything is tech. So, getting people from that industry into a startup. It’s, it’s challenging. I assume it’s super challenging in the Valley. And it’s, but I was surprised to be as challenging in Europe, in Eastern Europe. And it’s very hard to get access to good people and then to, you know, convince them to join this crazy thing.
Ramu: It’s great. Um, we have one question that we’re gonna take on and then we’re going to go to an ad break. And so the question is for me, it’s: ‘Ramu, when you started Hi5, did you imagine social media was going to evolve and reach this point where it becomes your identity?’. The short answer is no, I didn’t know that. This big. The longer answer is that the fundamental need that we were looking to solve, it was related to connection. So in the time that we started Hi5, the internet was much more of a solo experience, versus the experience that you have today where it’s a connected experience. So there were these theories, like how hypotheses, about how the next stage of the web was going to be this this level of connectedness, and how that was going to evolve both into services and like, you know, sort of technical implementations of that as well. So I didn’t, I didn’t realise how much… I knew that every person in the world, or I believed every person in the world, would become involved in social media and on a social network. The breath to which it’s taken, I think, was more difficult to predict. So like having multiple social networks, which we have today, I think was also challenged quite a bit. And there was there was basically a thesis we could only have one. Today, we’ve disproven, right? We have so many! So it’s really taken a form of its own beyond I think what we could we could have imagined. So I think we’re gonna, we’re gonna go to an ad break right now. And after that, we’ll come back and chat more.
Ramu: Yeah, we’re back Vladimir. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the plans for Deepstash from here going forward?
Vladimir: Bigger, better! Yeah, we have a tonne of work on on the product. We have to grow the team. I’m probably not gonna say anything like extremely, extremely news breaking. But yes, I mean, we are we’re we’re building a more solid team to execute on a better product. So we can grow faster than than we have so far.
Ramu: When we were building Hi5, we thought about these transition stages. So stage one was acquisition, stage two was engagement, and stage three was monetization. And so we grew a lot in terms of acquisition. And, and then, if you had acquisition without engagement, then you basically had a leaky bucket. And then if you had enough users, then that basically gave you certain scale effects in monetization. And I’ll give you a couple quick examples on that. And then we’ll come back to Deepstash in particular. So with with large websites and advertising based models, if you can get into the top 10 websites in a country, then a a disproportionate share of the ad dollars, just kind of flow your way. And so that was really the goal that we had set in a number of markets around the world. And, and it worked, right? We would we get into the top 10 sites. Hi5 was, I think, a number one site in 30 countries across the world at one point. And we would set this target of getting into the top 10 and in different European countries and Latin American countries, and then the media dollars would just come in. And you would be able to subsequently do a deal. Have you thought about your business in terms of these stages? And if so, which stage you do feel like you’re in?
Vladimir: Well, definitely we’re probably in the engagement phase. I mean, that’s kind of what we’re optimising for. Not to say that acquisition is not important. But usually if you have strong engagement, acquisition can be scaled on top of that, or at least this is kind of what we believe in right now. So yeah, acquisition is important, but I think engagement is more important. And what we are not spending a lot of cycles is on monetization right now. Not to say that it’s not important, it’s super important, and we like money, just like everyone else. But you we think we can only do so much. We’re a small company. And once we have an all product that we think is a is a better reflection of our vision, and we kind of have like a flywheel in terms of acquisition, engagement, and all of that will, we’ll focus our attention on monetization. So it’s a choice for us to put that on the sides. We are thinking about monetization. And we have quite a lot of ideas actually on how to make money. But yeah, we are not executing on them right now. Because we think we have more important things to do. Yeah.
Ramu: Do you find it? How do you find it to be disciplined about sticking to those lanes versus intertwining? A little bit of monetization, a little bit of acquisition? A bit of engagement? All of these things? I found it hard. So I’m curious how you’re finding that challenge?
Vladimir: Well, it is hard. And I think a younger me would have probably, I don’t know, put my fingers in all these buckets and try a little bit of everything. I know that the most important thing that we have is time. And focusing on the most important thing is the most important thing that we should be doing. So yeah, I think it’s that sort of discipline that comes with with age, with experience. It’s not my first thing. And yeah, I hope that 10 years from now, I look back and find 10 ways in which I was so stupid, because that means I evolved. But yeah, I think it’s some progress for how I was thinking about things like, like 10 years ago when I was doing uberVU, or 10 years before that, when I had a web marketing agency. So yeah, it’s small, incremental progress. But focus is something that me and the team, I think, we’re very focused on.
Ramu: Focus seems to come more with age, as your time becomes dispersed in different ways, like, you know, other obligations.
Vladimir: But it doesn’t come naturally for me. I mean, I get to come here and speak, and things like that. But you probably know me, I mean – I’m an all over the place guy. I have so many interests, and probably, I’m too visionary for my own good. And it’s not something that comes naturally for me. The way I kind of balance that is through the partners that I that I bring on. So, in this case, Dan, my co-founder is my angel on the shoulder. Because he’s the pragmatic of the two of us. And while I’m dreaming, the visionary, and stuff like that, he knows how to bring me down to earth. So, for example, I mean, like Deepstash, when we started we weren’t necessarily thinking in these lanes. The question was what is the first thing that we put out? Right? I mean, like, the 10 year vision is quite ambitious. But what like, yeah, like what do we do like tomorrow? You know, and, and yeah, and I’m still lucky to be working with with Dan, for example, who is much more pragmatic and like ‘Listen, we need to focus on one thing’. And then that forces, forced us, we were just the two of us, Cristi came out a little bit later, to think about what it is that we want to put forward. And through that conversation and his pragmatism, we decided on the focus. But again, it’s not something that I’m naturally born into. It is it is something that I forced myself, to be more disciplined. But for the people who are watching, get amazing partners that actually complement you.
Ramu: I think that’s a great lesson. I’m sure many, many entrepreneurs founder types, it seems like it almost has to be part of your fabric a bit to be a little bit all over the place. Because in the sense of how do you explore lots of ideas, if your mind is only, you know… That sort of helps your creativity and helps your ability to look at lots of ideas and pick the ones you want. But it’s also something you have to fight once you are focused on one idea, because it actually works against you. Once you’re executing, right? We have some questions from the audience. I want to start running through a few of these. So one question for you Vladimir. It’s the following: ‘Probably self knowledge is the first step towards change. How and where would you place what Deepstash does in the personal transformational process of your users?’. It’s deep.
Vladimir: It’s very hard to place it because I don’t know what the map looks like. Um, for some people is just the.. I think the, and again, I don’t know all our users, and they all have like their own unique stories. But I don’t, I don’t think we’re teaching people anything. So I don’t know, if you, if I put something on Deepstash that reaches 10,000 people on whatever topic, let’s just say – happiness, to take a very broad term. And I put an idea around happiness. I don’t think that people who are reading my ideas, all of a sudden they understand happiness. What I think happens is that through these sharing of ideas, people find the language to explain to themselves things that they already kind of knew. So that’s where the huge value is. In understanding things that you instinctively knew. And through that deeper understanding finding new things and expanding your your horizons. But it’s, yeah, it brings concepts that are fuzzy, and gives them like a higher resolution. You know, I mean, you kind of knew what happiness was, it was hard to define, but you found this idea on Deepstash in this little card. And it has just like, right, the right words and it’s like from this source. And like that, that’s exactly what I think happiness is. And then you save it, and then you discuss it with some other people. And now you are starting to use the words. And I really believe that there is a lot of correlation between being able to articulate something and knowing it. Language and becoming are interrelated. Being able to talk to yourself and to others about things that you are believing transforms that belief. So yeah, that’s kind of the thing that we are doing. I don’t think people come here to understand how nuclear fusion works. And I mean, like, there are courses, universities, for that. But this is – yeah, it is a social interaction around deeper topics, ideas, things that are not news and politics and that grab.
Ramu: There are couple of things that I wanted to just touch upon that you mentioned. So this idea, I don’t know, I was thinking about something. And then I got a Deepstash notification that was somehow related.
Vladimir: It’s not our crazy algorithm, we’re not that good.
Ramu: It was just, it happened to be targeted this particular article. And it was enough nuggets in it that it led me to a conversation with my wife. And I thought ‘Wow, this is great.’ Like, this is like related to something that that we were discussing. But I mean to to be able to do that, and get into sort of the day to day, I think is extremely powerful. And that definitely resonates with with what I’ve seen from that.
Vladimir: Yeah, and by the way, I mean like going into like my my use of Deepstash, I got into a lot.. I have a lot of Deepstash stories with my wife. A lot of times and on, I don’t know, improving relationships, or things that we could do to raise our daughter better, and things like that. So it’s quite helpful for couple therapy. Because language is important when you are, I don’t know, when you have like a common objective or even when you’re fighting. You need to understand what it is exactly that you’re talking about. And in a lot of our discussions, I go back to my relationship stash. And I have the right language to be articulate and productive in a discussion. So yeah, I definitely resonate.
Ramu: The other thing I wanted. The other related item I want to mention is when you’re telling me about the the investment round. And you mentioned the users and what they were doing. And you mentioned, I think, like engineers and these certain profiles. I thought that was kind of interesting. And maybe you can talk about that a little bit more – the sort of profiles or personas that that you guys have identified.
Vladimir: Yeah, I mean, like our users are on the young side. But yeah, I mean, considering the majority of the content on Deepstash is on this general general type of knowledge on how to be productive, and psychology, and improving general human relationships, and things like that, you would expect that people within, I don’t know, more non technical background will be into it. And actually, a lot of the traction is on the people who are in like a computer science tech type of background, which I think speaks more to to the need for this sort of information, this sort of like format, then anything. Or maybe these people are more tech savvy than than the others. I don’t have the full answer to be honest. But clearly, it was not something that I expected. This is another one of those where users will surprise you. Because, I mean, like it’s my dad, when I told him about Deepstash, he said like ‘So this is like an app for philosophers’ or for people who are like drinking their gin, and smoking their tobacco, and discussing about where the world is going. And actually no, we have like hip people who are into like, you know, building cool products. And there’s probably like, I don’t know, like a drive for meaning that that we are feeling with our product.
Ramu: My dad, since I could start to read would bring me all kinds of books that were way beyond my reading level. But they were like, the psychology of winning, or Dale Carnegie books, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. This is like when I was five and six years old. And he had grown up in India, where there just wasn’t access to this knowledge. And so he would always talk about his thirst for finding a Dale Carnegie book and reading it from, you know, from beginning to end. And this is one when he was a kid. And it’s sort of like a little bit of a growth mentality, I guess. And I mean, I could see when I look at Deepstash – this is very much part of people that gravitate towards the growth mentality. Deepstash has a very strong fit there.
Vladimir: Yes, for sure. But I also think. I mean, like if you think about it, there’s very little original content on Deepstash. I mean, like, there’s little, there’s almost zero. All of these ideas are coming from other sources. There’s like articles and books for this. We are not creating anything new, we are just exposing that in a different format. We are curating, not creating. And it’s quite puzzling that an app like us has the amount of traction that it has, considering that information is there. I mean, like, if you want to go there’s a book – read it, and there’s an article – read the article. But I think the users that are attracted to an app like ours are the type of users who are have have grown with with these modern social media apps. And it needs to be like, I don’t know, faster, smaller things that they don’t need to take like hours, I need to see the benefit. It’s like very, very quick and fast. And also I want to do something with it. And Deepstash has this benefit of giving you something that you can take with you. These ideas that you can save and reread, and revisit, and things like that. So there is this this generational transformation that I think we are writing on. But yeah, it’s another thing, in another chapter, in the ‘users will surprise you’.
Ramu: Yeah. Let’s run through some product questions. We’re both, we both come from product backgrounds, and it’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts as to how do you build great products? So I’m going to run through these a little bit quicker. One question is a zero to one question. Right? Zero to one conceptually. Practically, how did you get from zero to one K users? How did you get from one K to 100K? Maybe wasn’t just one, you know, it just was like 02.. and then you kind of just kept growing.
Vladimir: Yes, I cannot point to any sort of like an inflection point that finally propelled our acquisition. I think it came down to constantly improving product, and great reviews, and some some some word of mouth that that took us there. That’s not necessarily a great answer. Especially from an investor, because it feels like an accident, which probably it was. But it also showed that we were on to something because, clearly, we didn’t plan. We didn’t plan for this. So yeah, there’s no recipe that I can give to people that I could replicate. And I don’t even think that those recipes can be copy pasted
Ramu: In terms of in terms of the progression – built a product, launched it. And then yeah, organic initial organic growth is what is what you basically saw. And that took you up that up that trajectory of of users, okay. On user retention, of what learnings have you had from from Deepstash? And also maybe before we get to that, how do you define an active user: monthly active, daily active? Like, what is the metric?
Vladimir: Yeah, for us, the metric is weekly. We are not a daily habit for the majority of our users. It’s something that, that we need to improve on. But yeah, we’re looking at them weekly. If things are going well, we’re going to become like a daily driver for more people than we are that we are right now. In terms of things that we learned, everything for me is like new. I mean, like, I was doing, like social media dashboards and big data analytics and like, what you’re doing now? Switch roles. Yeah, exactly. But, yeah, so to me this transition to mobile consumer was all new. So I probably, I don’t know – the biggest learnings for me are probably like, I don’t know, lesson number one in the manual of how to do a consumer app. So yeah, I don’t think I have like, huge insights.
Ramu: I have one for you. So I was thinking about this a little bit before, before we had this discussion. With consumer apps, there’s obviously how much you can do in the product design. Right. And then there’s there’s luck, this luck element. In terms of the product design, now, and I contrast this to a SaaS product that I’m building, that have been building for the last couple of years, and where you get a lot of customer input, and you can iterate the product based on the customer input. And people are clear about, I need this and they need it on a certain timeline. Whereas with consumer, you really need to predict and have gut on what you believe people will want. I think it’s interesting. One thing you mentioned, a lot of the early users are technical computer science graduates. It’s I mean, that sort of describes you and Dan a bit, right? And so it’s like you’re building a product for yourself, really. I mean, initially.
Vladimir: The younger selves, yeah,.
Ramu: The younger selves. You’re forever young. But you’re building it for your younger self, it’s resonating. And that is really your product development and consumer. And I felt similarly actually when we were building Hi5. You’re building it kind of for something you want and the the data and consumer so much so much wider, right? It’s like, basically..
Vladimir: It’s crazy. Because I was so accustomed to asking people, or looking at what they are doing, and getting to a conclusion really, really fast. And that’s how things work in like b2b. And again, that was not the case. But ever since the whole agile and the lean startup, and get out of the building mentality took roots, all the good product managers and I are talking to the users, are engaging with their buyers. And it’s, it’s easy to get some lessons out of a few interviews and crystallise the jobs to be done. And that methodology. It’s super hard with consumers now, because people don’t know what they want. And even if they do know what they want, it’s very hard to put it in words. Even if they manage to put it in words, what you understand out of those words may be really far away from what they actually meant. And multiply that with like a million people. That definitely quite intimidating, and can put you in like a sea of confusion. So yeah, that’s that’s probably one of the issues that we’re still struggling with. But it’s more of more of a letting go and accepting that you cannot control it the same way that you could control like a b2b SaaS product where you can tweak something in the sales process. And I don’t know, you can tweak how you’re onboarding people. And you have pricing levers that you can play with. So there are methods in which you can keep things under control. Yeah, with with consumer, it feels like I have no idea where we’re going and I don’t know who is..
Ramu: It can be exciting too, though? It’s what makes sense. Um, let’s take another question. So building a team and production. How long does it? How long did it take you from when you had the idea to when you basically were able to execute it to the initial product?
Vladimir: So we played with the concept for half a year, where it was just me and Dan trying things, talking to friends, trying to understand what it is that we’re doing. By the time we decided, like here is what this should look like, and how it should be, to actually putting something out there it took us about three to four months. And that’s, I mean, it’s quite fast. And the product that we put out in, I think, April of last year, May of last year, was quite shitty. To be honest. But uh, yeah, actually, that’s one of the things that I’m the most proud of. Because I’m a perfectionist, and I want the product to be beautiful and to work amazingly well. And definitely, the first version was not that. Not to say that today what we have is perfect. But oh man, you should have seen the first version. It looks horrible. It barely worked. But yeah, I had it in me and clearly Dan’s influence. Like, let’s just put it out there and see if people get this thing. Because that was the main question. I mean, like we may work on this beautifully designed, crafted, whatever experience, then we put it out and nobody knows what this is. And then we just wasted two years of our life. Or we can, I don’t know, spend some of our own money, work with, I don’t know, agencies try to get anyone who could lend us a hand, and try to push something in three or four months just to test it out and to see if we’re onto something. And if we are, let’s continue to iterate. If not, we’re going to think of something else to do. And again, that’s not something that comes naturally. I mean, I sometimes tell myself that I suffer from the Steve Jobs syndrome. I mean perfectionism, like let’s design the back of the computer and all of that, but this is not the route that that we took. It was like, let’s put something out there, knowing that it will suck, and we will build on it. And it will be a slow process towards greatness. And that’s so smart even with consumer, because you will learn things along the way. And the product that you will end up in years will be fundamentally different than if you built it in the basement, without any customer input.
Ramu: Yep. How would you best describe the social dimension? You guys are being compared to social media. How would you describe the social dimension in Deepstash?
Vladimir: It’s quite, I mean, in terms of functionality, it barely exists. I mean, we’re still working on the social interaction. But yeah, I mean, most of social media is used to consume things. So people are consuming entertainment and news in the social media format. So everything kind of looks like social media these days, including ours. So probably the main social media element is this consumption format that looks like social media. It’s short, it’s punchy, just like social media. So in terms of behaviour, we are piggybacking on on some training behaviour, if you will. And there’s so there’s a behaviour muscle that we’re piggybacking on, but the content itself is different. So you’re kind of going through the motion, you’re still using the fork to eat, but the food just tastes better. So yeah, I mean that’s kind of where we are. Initially, as I said early on, we had no idea that we will be drawn in this comparison with social media. But now that we understand why that happens, probably we’re going to double down on it. And we’re going to make it even more social in the future.
Ramu: Excellent. So we have one last question. And then, you know, we’ll close it out. So why don’t I take this question from Razvan. So Deepstash is a nice to have, not a must have product. This will make it harder to grow. How do you plan to overcome this issue?
Vladimir: Yeah, it’s a good question. I don’t have the clear answer. We have tonnes and tonnes of of ideas. But I would say that most consumer products start like nice to have. And then, if they do a good job, they become a must have. What is a must have in consumer space is not as easy to define as it is with b2b. So yeah, I think we will get to there. But we will not get there by by defining like a set of very tactical functional jobs that our product kind of solves. There’s, as you know, with Hi5, the, the mix of emotions and people incentives. It’s, it’s quite diverse. So you will get there through a combination of factors. Making a simpler product, getting enough of a network where you have to want to be part of the conversation, by building a library of ideas that you start to identify with, that you feel like Deepstash expresses you better. And that comes with time. I mean, like, if you use the product for five years, and you have, I don’t know, 1000 ideas well organised into some stashes, you’re probably gonna feel a different attraction to the product. So it is a process, it is it is a journey. I don’t think a consumer product can be a must have on day one. But if they are successful, and if we’re successful, we’re on a journey to become a must have.
Ramu: Yeah, I completely agree with that. And there’s a word I think that captures it: addiction. And addictions can be negative or they can be positive. And so when you guys are at your hundred plus million users, you’ll have a positive addiction. Going down that path. But here it is. It was it was wonderful catching up with you today. I really enjoyed it.
Vladimir: It’s always a pleasure.
Ramu: Wishing Deepstash the best of luck. Happy to be part of this journey with you guys as well.
Vladimir: Thanks so much for being part of this journey. Hopefully our conversation was useful to the to the people that that watch this. Thank you so much!
Ramu: Take care!7
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Welcome to How to Web Live! The show you need to watch to find out the latest news and trends from who’s who in the tech industry. Every other Thursday, log in on Crowdcast and get inspired! This seventh episode titled ”Building Deepstash, the Social Media Antidote”, that aired on December 3, 2020, we had… Read more »7