It happens every day in a major city: a young, driven tech-inclined professional has a killer idea for an app. Engineers are summoned and consulted. Venture capital is raised. Articles are written — some gushing, others critical. But then! Success pours in from every side. Hundreds of thousands of downloads occur seemingly overnight. More articles come out, maybe even a feature, complete with the founder in skinny jeans, a blazer, and Converse sneakers speaking in great detail about today’s social experience. Then they try to scale. And then, just like that, the startup crumbles under its own weight, angry investors pull out, and the startup fails.
Jeff Needles, who does business operations and analytics for Houseparty, could have easily fallen into this cycle. But he’s been able to sidestep these typical problems, at least for now, by helping establish the infrastructure that can support the growth. Before Houseparty, Jeff began working for Meerkat, a social networking streaming platform which had brief success. After shelving that project, he and his team started a whole new social experience, Houseparty. Using the facing-forward camera, you can chat with up to eight people at a time. If it seems like a version of Google Hangouts or FaceTime, it is, a bit — but with a more intimate, fluid feel of mingling with closer friends and their friends, instead of the wider, more impersonal array of your entire social network. The feeling is supposed to resemble going to a friend’s house on the weekend — hence the name Houseparty.
The theme of Houseparty is “spontaneous togetherness,” and perhaps unsurprisingly, the app is the most popular among high-school and college-aged students. Unlike working adults, who don’t necessarily have a strong affinity for the officemates, high school and college social groups organically evolve constantly and bonds form over many activities: homework, plays, or just hanging out in the hours between classes ending and dinner. In the age of the internet, however, a digital presence is a viable substitute for a physical one. So you can take out your phone, open the Houseparty app, and gossip about crushes, discuss homework, or just be together without any set agenda. When I spoke to Jeff, he assured me that it’s less about creating cliques of people, and more about letting them choose their own social experience in real time.
But how do you figure out what’s next in your company’s journey? For that, you need data. And, so, Jeff connected with the A/B testing company, Taplytics, based in Toronto.
On a video conference call, co-founder Cobi Druxerman and his fellow co-founder came up with the idea of Taplytics by developing tools to modify apps that had already been made. Cobi and his partners were already in the business of creating apps for fun, but there needed to be a link between the nontechnical and technical members of the team. They created a bridge with technical and design components, the bridge became a business idea, and Taplyitics was born. “What we ended up doing in the first version of Taplytics was to create a way by which any team could do [what we did] — any team could allow non-developers to modify the look and feel of the app on the fly without any code.”
Jeff got involved with Taplytics in late 2016, he told me during a video conference call, which led to experimentation and tinkering the following year. Because Houseparty was such a popular app (and he had built a lot of suspense before the app even went live) winging it was not an option. “For us it was really just about getting better understandings about the changes we made to the product — how they affected metrics.” He added, “we couldn’t just try things — we had a lot of users.”
A tour through Taplytics showed me the nitty-gritty of their core product offering, their A/B testing capabilities. Marketers and product managers can select which segment of their target audience they wish to target and make either cosmetic changes such as the color or position of a button, deeper changes such as the UI layout, or both. What stuck out was their A/B testing for push notifications, which can be activated based on location, i.e., a consumer walking into a company’s brick-and-mortar store, reminding them to make a purchase. You can try things like personalization or rich media. When I asked Brendan Deveraux, sales engineer at Taplytics, which product customers used more, push notifications versus other aspects of the app, he told me you can purchase the push notification package separately, but most Taplytics users use both.
The granularity seemed to be just what an app like Houseparty needs — hard data and feedback to determine the next course of action for a startup. With millions of dollars in capital raised, a young consumer base with high expectations, and ruthless competition with other apps, a wrong step can decimate a tech business, leaving room for the giants such as Facebook and YouTube to swoop in.
Details aren’t always the most exciting part of running a business. It can be tedious to look at all of the individual components of an app and test them across different segments. But for a successful app, it’s completely necessary, even vital, to ensure a startup continues on a path without any serious missteps.