Haystack Goes Global!
I spent a lot of time wondering how to launch Haystack on the international stage. Technically, we just have to tick a checkbox, and it will be available on Google Play and the App Store in any country we choose. Getting people in that country to actually use it, however is a different matter altogether.
It always seemed sensible to launch in the English speaking countries first, but for a long time we debated whether we should stagger our launch territories or just go for broke by launching in North America and the UK as soon as we could. From about a year before launch however, we had pretty much settled on trying to conquer our home market of Australia before we went offshore. Our logic was that we should launch relatively modestly, and do a lot of learning and fix all our mistakes before we went international. I had also had some early advice from someone at Google who told me that seeking VC funding was much easier when you could point to tangible success in one market which was not diminished by lack of traction in other countries. We believed that launching in our home market of Australia and sticking with it until we had at least hundreds of thousands of users was our best option. And for at least the last 12 months, that has been the plan.
I clung onto this idea of sticking with the Australian market for quite a while until I realised that the speed of global App growth was reaching warp speed. Good Apps were going global very, very quickly and only Apps with particular geographic operational requirements like Uber were using a phased approach. Uber needs a fleet of drivers and a small operational group in every new city it adds to its network and that takes time to set up and grow to critical mass. Uber is also quite localised in many aspects of its operation and Uber customers in Sydney don’t need Uber to work in Brisbane or Perth. Haystack however is different. In one of the comments to one of my early blogs, someone pointed out that the business world was inherently global and therefore a business card App really needed to be global to be useful.
The main constraint to Haystack working globally, was our limited database of brands which is the visual graphics magic that make Haystack cards look better than physical cards. Haystack now has over 3000 Australian brands in our database and about 43% of all Haystack cards belong to one of those brands. But to build the graphics for each brand, Joe had to spend time doing a bit of internet searching to figure out the right brand attributes for the new card, then create the main logo and background colours for the brand in question. Over the past 6 months, we have continued to optimise this process to the point where we can create a new brand in about 10 seconds. But 10 seconds is a lot of time when there are over a thousand new cards being added every day from companies not in the database. Since launch, we had swept along behind new cards that were added to the system, making sure we added any popular brands as quickly as we could. The feedback from many users was ‘wow’ when they opened up Haystack and saw that their new card looked much better than before.
But no matter how many brands we added, we have struggled to keep up with demand as more and more people have started using Haystack. In some cases, new users were very disappointed after installing Haystack because their card didn’t look ‘cool’. Many of these new users with unbranded cards lose interest in Haystack straight away. If this is a big problem for us in Australia, then we had no hope of coping with demand for new brands in the USA and UK once Haystack got any sort of momentum. Fortunately, we did have an idea to automate the brand production process in the App itself. If we could get users to create new brands as they came across a brand that was not already in the database, then the brand creation process could change from being a problem area for us to being one of our best features on the App. At first, I was very sceptical that this could be done, but Jordie, our main UI/UX guy persevered, and after a few weeks of hard work, our ‘Auto-Brand’ feature was ready to roll.
At first I could hardly believe how good it was. Jordie coined a phrase that went something like; “I’m so happy that our customers are going to help us build our product”. Whatever way you looked at it, around 90% of new cards would now be branded and therefore look great. This took the functionality and look and feel of Haystack to another level but gave us another timing issue. On Valentine’s Day I had shown the working prototype of the App that included ‘Auto-Brand’ to Brian for the first time and he was as enthusiastic as I was. Three days later, I had a thought and sent Brian the following text; “should we patent Auto-Brand ?” . His reply; “Yes we should”. For the following two weeks, we waited for the development guys to get a full working version going to make sure we really did have something special. Applying for a patent would take us at least two weeks, and would divert the attention of three or four people. This would also delay our overseas launch even further because we could only apply for patent before we put Auto-Brand in the public domain. We held an investor meeting and put it to the investors and the response was also unanimous; Patent!
I told the development team by email that night as they were all working strange hours by this stage. Despite the almost zero response by email, I was sure I could sense a collective groan across the ether, because exhaustion was setting in. The development team all wanted the international launch to happen as soon as possible and the new version of the App with Auto-Brand to be released immediately. When we delayed the launch by two weeks to do the patent and then a further week due to the Apple watch launch, I could tell we were pushing some of our guys to their emotional and physical limit.
But in a record 10 days, working 18 hours a day, we managed to submit our patent application and with the small matter of the Apple watch out of the way, we were now ready to go live in the USA, Canada and the UK. We set the launch date for Tuesday, March 17th, three weeks later than our original target date. Those three weeks had seemed like a lifetime but had given us a little bit of space to maximise our PR efforts. We had planned to approach the big four US and UK tech publications in the hope of some decent publicity. We had restricted our PR efforts to these few high profile publications in the hope that our offer of exclusivity would help us get some space in one of the truly global publications. Our holy grail was to bag a feature in TechCrunch, my bible for all and everything that is worth knowing about in the tech space. Getting a small review in TechCrunch was more important to me than a full page in a national newspaper but as the days ticked down towards that Tuesday, I had heard nothing back from anyone and I was in quiet despair. We were going to have to do this the hard way.
On Monday night Kristie, Rebecca and I swung into full gear kicking off ‘Plan B’ – we started scheduling emails to a list of 150 notable app reviewers – some publicity is better than none. At 1am we were just finishing up scheduling the last email – and then the email came. Sarah from TechCrunch sent a quick note “you said launching Tuesday. I can see the app is available on the App Store already”. To which I replied “in Australia, it is already Tuesday ”. We scheduled a Skype call for 2.30am – two hours from email to finished Skype call, impressed.
And so at 4am on Tuesday morning I am finishing this blog and then going to bed. By the time I wake up the TechCrunch article should already be out, and Haystack should be a household name by then. Right?
I am nervous but optimistic. For the last few days, everyone at Haystack has been like a prize fighter that is about to step into the ring for a one and only shot at the world title. We are full of hope and self-belief but deep down still a bit unsure of the result. Yes, we’ve managed to fight our way to a shot at the title, but Haystack is still an outside bet with 12 hard rounds ahead. For many challengers, the days before their one and only title fight are the best days of their career. Then they actually have to step into the ring and sometimes they fail and never get another opportunity. Maybe that is how it is for me. I’m the CEO of the Haystack App which my brothers and I have taken from an idea we had almost three years ago to a fully functional App that is about to go global. I’ve even been interviewed by TechCrunch – can it get any better?? Well only if people in North America and the UK like Haystack as much as I do.
So come on USA, America and Canada. Help us win the world championship by downloading Haystack today!
Read the TechCrunch article