It’s good to be back at blogging (after 3 years!). In last three years I have started a new company, raised capital and pivoted into a more focused domain. In this post I will be discussing about past, present and future of iKnowl.
We (I and my brother) started iKnowl with a vision that creating/developing educational apps for mobile and tablets should be an easy process for education providers. To develop a mobile app, an education provider would hire a development firm and whole process from development to publishing would take at least 3-5 months, and would cost somewhere around $5,000.
I wanted to minimize the cost and the development time by building a DIY platform for educational apps. Our team worked for 3 months and initial product was ready to be launched, we started signing up some beta users who loved iKnowl’s platform. But after 6 months of iKnowl’s release, I realized that it’s going to fail. We did some iterations and after 6 months, we ended up discarding our product (which was quite heart breaking for our team).
Why iKnowl’s platform failed? There are a lot of reasons:
a) We spent too much time on releasing our first version.
b) I was wrong about the market size, it was much smaller than I expected.
c) In 2012, Apple started to enforce a policy that “Similar versions of same app with different content or name would be considered as spam”. This was a big roadblock.
d) Our business model required that from each in-app purchase we will keep a 30% cut. Publishers weren’t happy about it so they increased value of their in-app purchases about 30%, hence for the learner it wasn’t feasible to buy edu-content on their mobile devices.
I could have done a number of things to fix these issues but it wasn’t a good idea to ride on a sick horse. After almost an year, I and my co-founder decided to pivot into a more specific domain (more on this later). This failure taught us many things that would minimize the risk for our next product.
While working on our next product, something struck my mind, a post that I read in 2011 by Andrew Chen in which he said “It’s easier to reinvent something to invent it.” He discussed that for entrepreneurs it’s easy to target existing categories with innovation instead of creating new ones. This statement wouldn’t be valid for some of the successful startups out there but for most it’s 100% true.
Now we just needed a product idea which can be improved or re-invented in such a way that users would love to use in online education category. How hard could it be, right? Well for 7 days straight I couldn’t sleep, eat or focus on anything else, other than finding a gap that can be filled with our product in education category. I had few ideas, some of them were good and some of them were really bad (almost stupid). But this time I had to be extra careful on selecting ideas to execute. After a week of tireless thinking and research I finally settled on a product idea that would fill in a wide gap in online education market (if executed carefully). For 14 hours straight I discussed it with my co-founder on how we can execute it and what our user acquisition strategy & business model should be.
In January 2013 we started working on Artsly (YouTube for Art lessons), an iPad app that provides video lessons in photography, dance, music, crafts etc. Simple enough, right? An artist would upload his paid or free videos lessons on Artsly in any art related category and his lessons would be available to Artsly users. Artist would be able to earn through ads or through paid lesson sales (this isn’t finalized yet as we are still tinkering with new ideas and business models).
Why Art and why video lessons only?
First video is wildly popular medium to learn anything, need proof? 40 Million YouTube users have subscribed or watched channels related to Art such as makeup, dance and food decorations. Almost 10M searches and countless blog posts are made each month related to art.
But YouTube already has such content available?
Yes! But it’s unorganized and finding high quality lessons is not easy, everything else is cluttered. Human beings love organized consumption of content, especially if your motive is to learn something.
So, what are we trying to achieve with Artsly?
With Artsly we want to build a community of Artists and learners who deeply care about learning new artistic skills. And of course key to its success would be high quality video lessons.
Our targeted audience is mostly female learners, they are most active on YouTube and other content channels. I discovered this gap by learning more about other e-learning companies such as Lynda, Team Treehouse, Udemy etc. All of them are targeting male audience (mostly) and female who want to learn technical skills. Now there are few of our direct competitors and one of them is Craftsy. They are focused on crafts and paid lessons while Artsly is more of an open learning platform.
We used Amazon’s reverse product releasing strategy to launch Artsly, we launched something that didn’t existed! A landing page with our initial product idea was released in early January and with little or no marketing in just 4 weeks we were able to secure 1400 BETA signups and 1600 Facebook Likes. This doesn’t guarantee that Artsly would be successful but it does tell that artists and learners are interested in such a platform.
Just five months later we published our iPad app, our first version that will be improved with new features in coming months. We do not expect it to be a straight hit but we expect to gain decent traction from it, traction that would give a strong indicator of its future success.
We will be publishing our Android and iPhone app in next few weeks and a web version will be released soon after that. Building a learning platform is easy but bringing in users who truly care about your product is the hardest part.