One of the reasons I got into the investing side of things was Instagram. Over the years as a writer, I had “zeroed in” on many companies that would go on to become hot properties from an investment perspective (Twitter, Foursquare, Square, Quora, etc). But Instagram was something I had watched from its inception (when it was still Burbn), and for various reasons knew it had that potential to be the next big thing.
A little over a year into investing, there are several companies I have such hopes for (CrunchFund probably wouldn’t invest if we didn’t!), but one that stuck out in particular in the past year was Vine.
Vine, as you know, was recently launched by Twitter as their new stand-alone video application for iOS. What a lot of people don’t know (or have forgotten) is that it was a startup before it was a part of Twitter. That’s easy to forgive since the entrepreneurs decided to sell before they actually shipped a product (which, as you might imagine, is bittersweet).
It was around the middle of last year when we were first looking at Vine as a potential investment (hence, how some of my Vines date back to that time). It took less than a day of playing with a still very early beta to get it. In the then white-hot race for the killer mobile video startup (the “Instagram for video”, if you will), Vine was the first product that as a user kept me coming back for more.
In that regard, it did remind me of Instagram, as I told the founders at the time. I wasn’t a photographer before Instagram. I wasn’t a filmmaker before Vine (a failed attempt to make it in Hollywood, not withstanding).
Now, my usage is hardly a foolproof barometer of success. At best, I’m only one demographic. But I have found over the years of writing and now investing to trust my gut on a product level. If I really like using something, that’s a great signal. Vine passed that test with flying colors.
What is it about this particular video app? For me, a small tweak to the capture process is key. You no longer have to tap a button to start recording a video and tap that button again to stop it. (Why are we tapping a “button” that doesn’t actually exist anyway?) Instead, you simply hold your finger on the screen to record a “shot”. Taking your finger off the screen stops the recording. Then you can re-position your phone to take another shot. These are all stitched together into a very short video.
Most user-generated videos suck because the creator is not a filmmaker. They don’t do interesting things with composition or cuts. So you get an overly-long shot that is either boring (static) or vomit-inducing (all over the place). Some of the editing apps that have sprung up (such as Socialcam, which we were also an investor in before it sold to Autodesk) have helped polish the garbage footage with filters and overlays. But the underlying problem with the recordings remain.
Vine changed the equation by making users think about what they were shooting. These people weren’t worrying about “fixing it in post”, as the saying goes. Vine was teaching people Filmmaking 101 without anyone realizing it.
And the time-limit element was important as well. Newsflash: videos are not pictures; they cannot be created nor consumed in the same way. Consumption is an equally vexing problem because you can click on a video and 5 minutes later realize you just wasted 5 minutes. Vine’s 6-second limit cuts that risk.
It’s the same reason why I loved another video startup back in the day: 12seconds. They were before their time (before the mobile app revolution, in fact), but the idea was sound. No one wants to watch your 5-minute video, drunk Scorsese.
That’s not to say Vine is perfect, of course. It certainly has its issues — that you can’t save a clip to use later, for one — goddamn iPhone autofocus, for another. But the product has come a long way since the initial builds. And it’s exactly what it needs to be from an entry-level standpoint. Just like Instagram, it’s simple. The service gives you enough rope to make things interesting but not enough to let you hang yourself. While everyone else was focusing on filters for video, Vine focused elsewhere.
I imagine that’s what captured the eye of Twitter, which felt the need to swoop in quick with an offer that clearly couldn’t be refused (unlike, say — wait for it — Instagram). Who knows if we’ll ever see another Instagram-like success story, but I could not wait to see Vine out there in the market. Launching first as a Twitter property perhaps blunts some of the potential impact, but it without question helps Vine in an number of ways (immediate scale, being the biggest, obviously) as well.
It has been fascinating to watch people use Vine to express their creativity. My favorite is probably Jake Lodwick (incidentally, the founder of Elepath, another CrunchFund portfolio company — though you’ll know him best as one of the founders of Vimeo). The capturing mechanism and time-restriction has guided a new art form. A realtime, live look into the world. In some ways, it does make Instagram look, well, static. Maybe it lasts, maybe it doesn’t, but I am still using Vine all these months later.