Millennials associate memories with clicking pictures. With the advent of selfies, taking pictures has become an altogether different ball game – with perfect lighting, angle, and background. With a smart digital camera, composition is fun making storing memories a painless process, it does become painful when it comes to the following step – sharing these images. WhatsApp does not allow sending more than 10 pictures at a time, Instagram and Snapchat require manual selection of pictures from the gallery. From an album of 100s of pictures, the selection process is lengthy and time-consuming…often times, leading to the pictures not being shared at all.
The startup was launched as a social media network in 2013, with a very Facebook-like approach towards status updates and a link sharing interface. When that model did not really gain any significant traction, it was revamped as a mobile app to the present version of Vebbler. Begins Sahil Bhagat, CEO and founder, Vebbler, “It was around this period we saw several shifts in the social media space. Networks were becoming more visual than textual. Hence, we trimmed the product and removed status updates and sharing of links on the platform.”
The startup has, to date, raised over $500K and is backed by investors such as Anupam Mittal, founder and CEO of People Group, Sharad Sharma co-founder of iSpirt, Venkat Raju, CEO of Kyron Accelerator, Pranav Pai & Siddarth Pai, Founding Partners of 3one4 Capital, among others. The startup has also recently been selected for the FbStart programme.
A Camera-First Approach To Sharing Pictures
“The idea for Vebbler started in college when I wanted to build a product that made it easier to share photos and videos in private groups. Back then, we used to take hundreds of photos during night outs, holidays and celebrations, but the process of sending these across was extremely cumbersome, often resulting in most photos never reaching us.”
Many photo collaboration tools start with the notion that the users have already taken the pictures. Vebbler is inspired by Instagram and Snapchat, making clicking pictures and applying filters a core experience for the user. The app also allows users to post their reactions to the shared pictures, much like what Facebook does. Reactions function as visual comments, where users can react via either selfies, animated GIFs, emojis or captions. Users can share their pictures within groups or publicly with anyone in their network. Vebbler also has other features like art filters – to transform photos into stunning works of art through filters and promoted profiles of leading online influencers from India.
The elasticity of the app allows people to share pictures in clubs as well as with individual users. A Crowd Layering Model (CLM) lets the user organise people in various groups such as family, friends, work etc. The users also have a choice to download selected pictures from the whole lot. Focussing foremost on privacy, Vebbler only allows users to share photos in clubs, which require prior access to gain entry into.
Vebbler claims to be unique, in the sense that it does not have a one-to-many sharing approach. The idea is to allow like-minded people to form spontaneous clubs and easily share pictures with just each other in real-time. “Vebbler acts as a chronicler – with one simple tap, users will be able to digitise their experiences. Vebbler isn’t a photo-management app, it’s not based around location, or facial recognition,” Bhagat says.
The Niche Social Network
Vebbler also has ‘Club Codes’- where users can generate a unique URL (link) within the app, and send to their contacts via message, email, and only the ones that accept will be able to join the group. ‘Promoted Profiles’ is a newly launched feature where Vebbler connects with celebrity profiles from India and helps them gain fans and followers. For example, many fashion bloggers have created their profiles and fans can follow their updates, pictures, and gain significant social media mention/attention.
The app essentially targets millennials. As per a report by Nielsen, smartphone penetration is highest among millennials aged 18-24, 98% of whom own smartphones. Millennials aged 25-34 are right on their heels, with a 97% ownership rate, followed by Gen Xers aged 35-44 at 96%. Sahil adds, “Considering India is a young country – 50 percent of the population is younger than 24 years and smartphone usage is responsible for a big chunk of the growth of photo sharing products.”
It claims to have garnered over 400,000 users across 118 countries including locations like India, USA, Iran and Argentina, Ashburn etc. Over 15,000 clubs have been created so far with over and over 500K photos been shared. Most of its users are between the 18-24 age bracket and 41% of the users are women.
Monetisation: The Marketplace Way
Like other peer-to-peer networks, Vebbler plans to bank upon in-app purchases, advertising, and partnerships with various brands to monetise in the future. But right now, the company is focussed on user retention and acquisition to create a large network of users, for the advertising model to become viable and sustainable. Monetisation is part of the startup’s focus in the next phase of its expansion. The current focus is on building out the user base and fine tuning the design to make it a world-class app, before monetisation.
Explaining the same, Sahil says, “If you look at the journey of any social media network, the growth is not measured in the kind of revenue it makes, but the kind of active user network it has. The first four-to-five years are all about making your product the default option for your targeted user base. The thing about monetisation is, it is only going to be as good as the users we have on our network.”
Following this sentiment, Vebbler would like to explore a marketplace-based approach to making money, where it aims to strategically partner with other companies like Canvera, Zoomin, Alma Mater, Superhero, Printnaama, etc. by connecting users who wish to avail services. It will charge a commission for the same. For e.g. it’ll offer the users the option to print their pictures, and after the user approves of the in-app purchase, Vebbler will notify Canvera and the delivery will happen from the vendor’s end. By connecting the two, the startup also aims to bridge the gap between offline vendors and online audience.
Mobilising Groups Across India: The Localised Road Ahead
The camera is key for businesses looking to engage with millennials, according to a survey by Mitek and Zogby Analytics. Owing to this shifting trend, startups all around the world have tried to capture this new, yet highly lucrative market. Facebook’s Moments that makes photo albums; Cluster, that allows private group sharing between friends and family; Snapchat and Instagram are the frontrunners in this race, and domestic players like Plix, Galleri5, Shoto, Kabutar etc are trying to create a niche for themselves by offering innovative features such as ‘daily selfie’, photo curation analysis, filters using AI etc.
Vebbler plans to differentiate from the international players in its fundamental approach towards photo sharing. Sahil adds, “In the case of Instagram and Snapchat, you’d see that they don’t solve for photo collaboration at all. Currently, there’s no way I can sync my photos into a feed on either. It’s a one-to-many model, as compared to us – which is a many-to-many model.”
Additionally, to have an upper hand on the homegrown players it plans offers the very app in local languages, including personalised, localised stickers, and filters. The idea would work somewhere along the lines of chat messenger Hike, that offers personalised and nuanced stickers catering specifically to the Indian audience. This personalisation becomes an important strategy for the venture because apps like Snapchat and Instagram do not have a wide reach in Tier II and Tier III cities in India. The startup aims to localise the entire app in such a way that people are able to understand it.
Since the app targets millennials’ attention, it has collaborated with various night clubs in Bengaluru for the promotion of their app. Additionally, the 15-member team is currently also running a massive ‘Campus Ambassador Programme’ across the major metros of India to mobilise college students and onboard them onto Vebbler through word-of-mouth. The team is working with over 200 campus ambassadors and is looking to add several hundred more in the coming weeks.
It has also partnered with several event organising companies as well as experiential travel companies to mobilise groups to use Vebbler in their travels and activities such as wedding ceremonies and other functions to share pictures.
The camera phone has changed the way society captures events, turning smartphone owners into the biggest customer base, giving rise to photo-based social media apps and creating new products like the selfie stick. For eg, AI driven fashion-tech platform Fashion Eye, that means that the phone’s camera works as an image search and tagging platform. This trend is gradually adding up to dollars and cents, with more businesses beginning to cater to consumers through their smartphone’s camera lens.
MasterCard recently announced it will start experimenting with a new programme of approving online purchases with a facial scan rather than a password. PayPal is also offering a similar concept through its mobile app and recently, Apple filed a patent allowing facial recognition technology to unlock your iPhone. These emerging trends and the hotly coveted consumer base – millennials – show a clear affinity towards using pictures more than keyboards.
Instant gratification has become the go-to market strategy when targeting millennials and Vebbler offers just that: a real-time, hassle-free exchange of pictures directly via the app, making the phone gallery almost redundant in the photo sharing process. Banking on user privacy and with its constantly evolving model, Vebbler posits a huge opportunity. But Instagram and Snapchat already have a huge and sustained user base, not to mention shorter user attention spans means homegrown players such as Shoto, Kabutar, and Vebbler are already playing with a narrowed field of demand.