Turns out some good relationships can start in a bar. ‘Relationship’ may be a stretch of the term, but it seems nothing less can describe how Daniel Hanks, creator of the improvisational app SnapDash, feels about his invention. If you like fun (everyone) and if you like to take pictures of yourself (everyone—even the ironic ones count) then chances are if you haven’t heard of the app sold exclusively on iOS, then you soon will. Beyond having a truly cool product (and a super adorable French Bulldog on his site) Daniel has a novel take on the growing trend of the success of apps worldwide, and even here in DC where appearances say a stiff, buttoned-up demographic dominates. SnapDash proves the somewhat elusive sentiment of what we traditionally think is the means of a flourishing startup—it all starts with a good idea…and it also doesn’t hurt to have a few drinks.
First, explain what you do exactly, as if I were an idiot.
SnapDash is a mobile app that enables users to quickly pose to one of hundreds of randomly generated phrases and then share the content with others. Our app exists somewhere near the intersection of photo utility and social game. Currently, we are iOS only.
We are effectively productizing the “Now, do something funny!” group photo. It just so happens that thousands of teenagers are using it for Selfies.
When and why was the company started?
In 2012, SnapDash was founded in the back of a bar, where I was trying to take funny pictures of my friends, but all I was getting was the same ol’ faces and poses. I started to shout things like, “You saw your sister’s sex tape online!” and strangers started jumping in with us. Weeks later over dinner, I was explaining my disillusionment with my job, and my girlfriend said, “You remember that night? That could be something. An app.”
Smash-cut months later, after going through a short period with an ugly, suboptimal alpha product that somehow has good engagement, we launched on December 12, 2013.
It’s hard for me to briefly encapsulate why we started SnapDash, but what originally got me was the fact that something like this didn’t exist. Since the advent of cameras, people have been telling their friends to make a funny face, etc. Unfortunately, the result is often a mix of constipated looks, Charlie’s Angels poses, and looking off-camera. Why doesn’t this exist? Nothing brings a group of people in one place (room/bar/etc.) faster than someone saying, “Let’s take a picture!” This behavior is already happening! We’re just making it more of a game-like performance in real life.
How would you categorize yourself/who is your biggest competitor?
We are a photo entertainment app – a photo game.
The number of photos being shared and uploaded everyday has grown 100% annually since 2008, and it will cross 1bn this year! However, all the photo apps out there are utilities – editing (i.e. Hipstamatic or Camera+), sharing (Instagram), and messaging (i.e. SnapChat). The time has come for people to actually do something (entertain, spread laughter, etc.) with their photos, instead of telling people what sunset they saw or where they are studying.
Without a doubt, we are competing with all of these types of apps for the attention of the user, but you can use SnapDash along with others during the same experience. In fact, our users take 13 photos per day on average, as opposed to .75 for Instagram and 8 for SnapChat.
What was your/your company’s best moment?
It would be one of two different milestones, both of which happened very recently. We eclipsed 100K downloads to date, and we crossed the 2 million SnapDash line, too. To hit both in only six weeks after launch was very surprising to us, but what we’re doing is resonating with some folks out there, and we couldn’t be happier.
Why did you choose DC as your home base?
Daniel: Pretty easy answer to this – Was living here already, my girlfriend is here, and the growing DCTech scene has everything I could need for now.
What were the major “Do”s and “Don’t”s when laying the groundwork for the app?
DO: Plan every interaction / screen / bit of copy before design and development
DO: Make sure every bit of content in the app (over 1,000 “Snaptions”) is funny.
DO: Focus on one platform (in our case, iOS) and make it great
DO: Go to where your users are.
DON’T: Think that virality just happens
DON’T: Focus on events, meetups, etc.
In what areas do you hope to impact people’s lives the most?
We want our users to have more fun with themselves and one another; we want people to inject more creativity and humor into their lives; we want to give purpose to a very small percentage of the 1 billion-plus photos shared EVERY DAY.
What improv shows do you like to watch (if any) and how did they inform the idea of SnapDash?
I watched Whose Line, and I currently watch the shows on IFC (Comedy Bang Bang, etc.), but I have been more informed by my various classes at The DC Improv. I remember walking into my first class, convinced I would be exceptional…given my high success rate with fart jokes over games of Beirut. Quickly enough, I realized that I was maybe fourth quartile in the room, and I was surrounded by all these folks who just gave themselves up to the scene, to their partners, etc. This experience taught me a lot, but the pertinent learning with which I walked away was how creativity could be extracted and/or allowed to bloom with nothing more than a couple words.
I hope an analogue exists in what we’re trying to do with SnapDash, but we might simply end up as the app people use to take funny pictures and selfies.
How do you feel about the non-SnapDash selfie in general—are you a believer or did you create SnapDash as a kind of cure for the whole “peace sign in a mirror with pursed lips” epidemic?
They’re all terrible – duck face, sorority squat, skinny arm, teenager-at-the-mall peace sign. We didn’t necessarily create SnapDash to try to curtail this scourge on the planet, but we often highlight how you don’t have to concern yourself with looking perfect. Caring about how you look has no place in SnapDash
What’s your favorite SnapDash creation, one made by you and one by someone else?
VERY Hard to pick – here’s one…
What was/is the biggest challenge in launching this app and making it grow?
Several challenges come to mind, but the two biggest are:
1) Building and marketing this app with little capital. There’s a reason that independent developers aren’t written about as success stories that often. Roughly 1,000 apps are released in the Apple App Store everyday. Even though most are terrible, that’s a lot of noise to sort through. Building awareness is extremely tough, and your friends and family only care enough to download it and use it once or twice.
2) For a while, I really struggled with having the conviction to pursue my vision for what SnapDash needed to be. The idea for SnapDash is so simple and straightforward that everyone has a suggestion for where the product should go. “Oh, you should make it where I get a notification to do a funny pose when I’m next to the Washington Monument!” If I didn’t trust my vision, I would think the best direction for the app is the most recent one I heard.
Why do you love SnapDash and why should everyone else who may not be familiar with it love it too?
Do people like fun? They should. Do people already take a lot of photos? You bet. We’re a simple, fun, always unpredictable way to inject a little laughter and creativity into your day, and we’re not trying to over think it. More to come, too, in the future!
You can find more SnapDash creations and download the app on the SnapDash website.