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OurDoings – The Photo Site Designed For Your Memories – Shoestring Startup

Tech geeks, learn sales and marketing. You can have the best idea in the world, implement it, and still have a long road ahead getting it adopted. I’m speaking from experience. I’m going to share three things with you in this article. First, the best web startup idea in the world and how I implemented it. Second, the obstacles I encountered to adoption. Third and finally, what I’m doing about it. Then I’ll ask you for your advice.

Digital photo sharing is a largely untapped market. Everybody is taking digital photos. But most people leave them on their computer, where nobody can really enjoy them. They do this because sharing them involves too much decision-making. You can’t just upload them all, because your photo sharing site will be an unwieldy mess, dominated by times you took 20+ shots trying to get one perfect.

Even if you’re in that minority that successfully culls your photos down to a reasonable number worth sharing, eventually you still end up with an unwieldy mess — not in any individual album, but just the pile of albums. And if you’re particularly unlucky, you’ll come upon a stash of photos from May, 2006. But now it’s October, 2010. So your “May 2006” album ends up right next to your September 2010 album. In 2013 you’ll never be able to find it.

There’s a straightforward way to mostly fix this problem, automatically. Today, almost every picture is taken digitally. Cameras come from the factory with the date and time already set, and have a separate battery or flash memory to keep them from losing that information. Many photos are taken from phones, which continually set themselves to the correct local time. As a result, every photo has metadata (invisible information) that says when it was taken.

This means computers can organize your photos automatically. People have been doing this for years on their own computers. They’ll have a folder for each year, a subfolder for each month, and a sub-sub-folder for each event. That’s the natural way to organize your memories. Desktop photo organizers like iPhoto and Picasa show you your photos by date.

Oddly, though, the web sites designed for use with iPhoto and Picasa show photos by “album”. Why? Because they aren’t designed for memories. They’re designed for portfolios. Photography professionals and enthusiasts love the “album” concept. You can have an album for landscapes, another for portraits of people, animal pictures, etcetera. When you bring new photos into your portfolio, you can delete a few old ones to keep it manageable. Portfolios don’t grow into big piles like memories do.

With this in mind, I built the photo site designed for your memories, OurDoings. Each month has its own page, with groups of photos for each day, so that you can scroll up and down to find what you’re looking for. This format requires a lot less clicking around then having a subfolder for each day; it’s all on one page. May 2006 is going to be right there between April 2006 and June 2006, no matter when you uploaded the photos. This makes it more navigable than traditional photo sharing sites.

Taking it a step further, I fixed the problem of those 20+ attempts to get the perfect shot. For days that have more than 24 photos, only the first 12 are shown (these numbers are adjustable), with a “more photos” link to get at the rest. So when you’re scrolling through a month, you see a variety of photos, no effort required, even if you took a huge number of photos on one day.

At some point, you get interested in seeing that day’s photos and click the “more photos” link. The slideshow lets you feature different photos, so if the ones shown on the month page are all attempts at the same shot, that’s fixable. However, as I mentioned above, even before you try to fix it, the month pages is showing an enjoyable variety of photos. Picking the best is no longer a barrier to sharing.

This is huge! Tons and tons of people everywhere are stuck behind this barrier, not sharing photos because they don’t have time. What’s worse, the times when you’re doing the most (and producing the most photos), there’s no time left over for sharing. So the barrier is strongest when you want it the least.

But wait, there’s more! You can add text/headlines to any given day to make it very blog-like. The photos prompt you in what to write, so now it’s easy to record your life and your children’s lives. OurDoings totally solved my problem of keeping my extended family updated on my nuclear family’s doings. And obviously it can solve the problem for other people as well. So it should take off like wildfire by itself, right? Don’t great products sell themselves?

Short answer: no. For an example, take Google. In 1996 two Stanford students made a new search engine using PageRank to make the best results appear at the top. In 1996 it was demonstrably the best. What did it take to become the biggest? Four more years, 25 million dollars in funding, and a deal with Yahoo.

Search engines are easy to try out. You can switch from one to the other instantly. Chances are you can do two or three searches in the course of 5 minutes. You’ll know in no time what works better. You would think that word of mouth and people trying it themselves would be sufficient to get a better search engine to dominate.

OurDoings has a tougher row to hoe than Google. Trying a new photo site is a bigger effort than trying a new search engine. You need at least ten minutes. And people think you need even more. If they’ve used other photo sites that require more work, they expect every photo site to work in the same labor-intensive way.

Further, suppose they do go ahead and try it, uploading two or three photos. The value of OurDoings isn’t apparent with only two or three photos on it.

Make no mistake about it, OurDoings is growing. People from around the world are using it, and it’s “sticky”, meaning people keep using it for months and years. But making it grow into a sustainable business is a big sales and marketing challenge.

Here’s the thing: I’m a technical founder. I don’t know sales and marketing. I’m willing to learn anything, but with this big a challenge I should probably find a cofounder who’s a sales and marketing ace. But how do I find her or him? It’s the same challenge a non-technical founder has finding a technical cofounder. We tell them to learn programming themselves, make a minimum viable product, and at that point they’ll know enough to tell who’s good at the technical skills they need.

If you learn computer programming and make a reasonable attempt to solve the problem on your own, you can find online forums where highly skilled people are happy to give tips on how to get past difficulties, and give you feedback on your plans. That’s because people who are really good at programming love programming, and they love challenges. They won’t spend hours coding a solution for you, but it’s fun for them to jump in and spend a minute or two pointing you in the right direction.

Getting this kind of help doing your own programming can be a good way to meet programming enthusiasts. You might meet someone who could become your technical cofounder.

Here’s what I don’t know yet, and if you know please share your knowledge in the comments: Does what I wrote in the above paragraphs translate into something a technical founder can do who needs a sales/marketing cofounder? I’m trying to learn these things on my own. I’ve been working through the Toastmasters advanced manual on Persuasive Speaking, which has several projects to help one understand the decision-making process buyers go through, and how to meet their needs in that process. I’ve been following Chris Brogan and other online marketing gurus.

Is there a forum where sales and marketing enthusiasts hang out? If I tell them what I’ve done so far, will they chime in with ideas? How do you recognize who’s good at sales and marketing in general, and how can I recognize someone who might be good for my specific situation?

I love the idea behind OurDoings. I think it’s great, and can appeal to a lot of people. I’m not about to drop it for something easier to market and sell. But if you’re still in the phase of choosing what idea to pursue, I have some advice for you. Don’t think only in terms of “Make something people want” (Paul Graham’s mantra for creating wealth). Think in terms of how people can discover what you’ve made, and how they go about recognizing that it’s something they want.

Know up front if you’ve got a challenge in terms of acquiring users. Because if you do, the idea had better be one you love as much as I love OurDoings.

Bruce Lewis

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