Short-video service Watchbox takes winding path to success

watchboxEntrepreneurship can sometimes be a relatively straight line to success, so to speak, but then there are companies that take a more winding path. Such is the case with Icelandic service Watchbox, which launched in April on iOS as a means for sharing videos through public or private groups.

Watchbox CEO David Simonarson tells me that the story really begins with the launch of Blendin, a service that would allow users to alert friends with just one click whenever they are going out, in private beta in December 2013. For 5 weeks, he and his fellow co-founders dedicated themselves to the project, adding features like tools for messaging, adding photos, custom checkins, and moving backgrounds, but they ultimately concluded that they had taken the wrong approach by simply building the product as they wanted and largely keeping user feedback out of the picture. So, they decided to scrap the project and move on to something else.

Having failed at their first attempt to build a product, Simonarson says that, in February 2014, they decided to take a bold step by moving out to San Francisco. Despite having no product, users, or metrics, he says that they each took out a $10,000 bank loan (which others said was “crazy”) and moved into what he says was an insanely-expensive apartment. Within 6 weeks, their risk seemed to have paid off, as they had developed a new product and already obtained funding. Things seemed to be going well for Blendin as they reached 10,000 users, but then they hit a wall. People simply stopped using the product because they found it to be far too complex and the team failed a second time. This time, Simonarson says that the issue was that they did not have the solution for the problem that they were attempting to solve. But, as they say, the third time’s a charm and, determined to press on, they reverse-engineered Snapchat in December 2014 and built an MVP that attracted 25,000 daily active users in Iceland, indicating that they finally had the right idea.

Regarding the product itself, the Watchbox app for iOS includes features that will be familiar to users of other services. The platform allows users to quickly create short videos and share them with private groups or with the public. Users can follow others in order to be alerted to the latest posts, as well find videos with a search.

Simonarson states that they have 15,000 for the app, which is free for the time being. They have pulled in $150K from Volta Labs and are in the process of obtaining more in order to get the business going. One of the most important moves that they have made to grow the service has been to partner with one of the largest media companies in Iceland, through which Watchbox offers an in-browser player that allows reporters to supplement their stories with videos of a particular event.

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