AUSTIN, Texas — What do you do when your app fails? If HBO’s Silicon Valley has taught us anything it’s that you pivot.
When Twitter cofounder Biz Stone’s Q&A app Jelly bottomed out in the App Store rankings after a much-hyped launch he knew he had two choices.
“We have plenty of money in the bank, we could slog away on this for four years,” he said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be the next great search engine. We need to do something that’s going to have a whole lot of people using it in order to affect any kind of positive change in the world. We have to make something fun.”
And that’s how Stone’s newest app, Super, was born.
Stone, who was in Austin for SXSW sat down with Mashable ahead of his panel Saturday to talk about Super, how an app becomes successful and why Jelly failed.
The problem with Jelly, which was premised on the idea that people can answer certain types of questions far better than a search engine, was not enough people had questions to satisfy users’ desire to answer. Today, a small group of dedicated users is the only thing keeping the app alive, Stone admits.
“We’re supporting Jelly because there’s enough people that use it and really love it that we feel bad turning it off but we’re sort of on the fence,” Stone said. “The right thing to do would be to shut it down and focus completely on Super but we feel kinda bad about it.”
Super, on the other hand, was designed to be that “just fun” app. Launched a few months ago with little fanfare, it shares DNA with just about all of Stone’s other ventures — user accounts are connected to Twitter, it has a bit of a Q&A element, and it’s all about sharing stories and ideas — and yet it doesn’t feel like any of those products at all.
Each post begins with a prompt called a “super,” ideas like “the best,” “Unbelievable,” “I love” or “check out.” You then add some brief text, a signature and a photo. The app, full of neon colors, wacky fonts and dramatically stylized filters, is much more image-driven than any of Stone’s previous ventures. Each post must contain a photo, either a preset, or one from your camera roll or from a web search.
It looks and feels nothing like Jelly but Stone says the two apps ultimately shared the same theme.
“I know this is eye rollingly hallucinogenically optimistic and I could probably do a walk-on on that show
He is adamant on this; that users can use Super to “transfer” their emotions to others. He tells the story of an acquaintance who posted a message about wanting to escape and being burned out (the accompanying image was a piece of blackened toast) and signed it with a rocket ship emoji. A sympathetic user responded by sending her a picture of a beach.
“On most social media you would glorify your day and try to make your day look better and your life look greater than it is,” Stone says. “This is more authentic.”
It’s only been a few months since he made that pivot from Jelly to Super but Stone sounds like he’s already more pleased with Super’s progress than he ever was with Jelly, though he maintains it takes years, not months, to really judge the success of any platform.
“It took Twitter from 2006 to 2010 to get to 100 million active people on the service,” he says. “The only way to really win is to totally believe in yourself, have emotional investment in what you’re doing and work on it for a long time. Maybe you have to change your whole thing.”
In other words, success takes time, hard work — and sometimes a pivot.
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