Ryan Sit: Dropshots, Inc.
SP: Can you
tell our readers a little about your background?
RS: I went to UCSD and got a BS and MS in computer
science. Business has always been an interest and I picked
that up through reading news, books, research, and practice.
SP: What type of service does DropShots
RS: DropShots is a unique service that helps people
keep relationships connected through photos, videos, and
conversations. Since DropShots was intended to primarily
support communication and connection between close friends and
family it had to be simple and easy to use for any level of
computer user. Most of our aunts, uncles and grandparents tend
to not be that computer savvy. My greatest computer
engineering challenge was to finally make available a personal
media sharing service that was usable by anyone so everyone
could keep connected through it.
SP: How do you
differentiate yourselves form other video sharing services
like YouTube, Vimeo and Sharkle?
RS: 1. DropShots was designed for an entirely
different purpose - a means to improve human relationships and
the emotional bonds between people. DropShots is not just
another technology solution for the purposes of posting
digital photos and videos to be viewed on the Internet.
DropShots uses the sharing of life experiences captured on
photo and video to support or "anchor" the relational part of
the process; the interactive communication module of the site
- where close friends and family keep in touch and discuss the
happenings what is going on in their life. You will notice
that the conversation/interaction is the centerpiece to the
site, not simply the photos and videos.
See sample site: http://www.dropshots.com/moorefamily
Additionally, many other photo sharing sites are really
just fronts to entice you and your family to buy prints. That
is their business model and agenda, so it is not really
designed to be an ongoing relationship portal so to speak.
2. Because DropShots was designed specifically to connect
families together it had to be incredibly easy to use and
accessible by every member of the family - including grandma
and grandpa. As a result DropShots is by far the easiest to
use system to share personal digital media with the entire
Most every other service for photo (esp. video) was
originally designed by and for the technically savvy, the
generation Z market, or as a place to host photos for the
online bloggers. You are right, there has been a plethora of
them and as a result they have tried to out-feature each other
ultimately making their systems more complex and intimidating
for novice users.
3. Private versus Public. The big technology interest and
trend at the moment is to catalogue and index all the digital
media on the Internet - user generated photos and videos. Most
all the photo and video sharing services display and make
available your images to the Internet at large. At DropShots
it is exactly opposite. The purpose is to be able to share
personal life experiences with an invited close circle of
friends and family. None of our user`s pages are indexable by
search engines and none of the "tags", descriptions, captions
or comments are searchable outside one`s personal page. This
is a huge distinction for family users.
In summary, DropShots is much more than a place to upload
your photos and videos; it is a destination to connect, share
life experiences and keep in touch with family and friends -
privately. This is why before it was even commercially
available more than 50,000 people joined DropShots by word of
mouth alone - there is much more to it than photo and video
SP: Throughout the
development process, what was the biggest obstacle standing
between you and your dream to make DropShots a reality?
RS: I think the main thing is you need to keep
yourself motivated, most obstacles can be solved if you are
motivated enough to go through the problems. If starting your
own business has always been a lifelong dream of yours that
can help fuel motivation. Before we got funding, finding time
to work on DropShots after my full-time job was hard.
Developing the business took time. Finding investors took a
lot of rejections. Through all that I learned how to keep
motivated to get past all the obstacles that come up.
SP: What were your start-up costs?
RS: Our main start-up investment was buying a new
$500 web server. From there we bootstrapped from serving our
website from my home DSL internet connection, then to a
friend`s home cable internet connection, then finally to a
co-location facility. We never spent more than we earned on
recurring monthly costs. That gave us good motivation for us
to improve our business model so we could pay for more
bandwidth and continue our service. Only when a new marketing
plan pushed our user growth faster than our bootstrapping
model could sustain, and increased competition was foreseen,
did we seek outside investors.
SP: How did you fund the cost to
start this business?
RS: I used my own cash and time, and bootstrapped
for the rest of the costs. I must mention that you can`t
bootstrap every type of business. When deciding to start a
business, finding one with a business model that can be
bootstrapped should be a important consideration. Furthermore,
because of my background I was able to do the programming
myself. When choosing to do a business it can be easier to
start with an idea that builds upon a skill you or a business
partner already possess or can quickly learn.
SP: What was the thought
process behind the design of the DropShots website?
RS: Simplicity, value, and solving problems. We
started with the idea of making something that is valuable but
hard to do as simple as possible. Then we continued to build
more and more value on top the solution. We started with photo
sharing, but found more problems and added automatic
organization, a conversation system, video sharing, and more.
The initial idea turned out to be just a starting point for
the design process.
SP: What was the most important element
of the website to you at the time you were designing it?
RS: One of the most important elements of the
website is our video sharing. Before starting the feature we
already had a really simple photo sharing experience, just
drag and drop. We realized that in order to add video and not
decrease our simplicity, sharing videos on DropShots would
need to be as simple as photo sharing. After days of
researching many different solutions we pioneered a new way of
sharing video online. We found a way to convert many different
video formats into a single Flash video format that is
playable on 98% of web browsers. We knew we were doing
something revolutionary 2 years ago when we first designed the
feature. Now our video sharing solution has been widely copied
and is currently driving the recent demand for personal video
sharing online. That is exciting to see.
SP: I`d imagine that
DropShots would need a very fast data transfer method to
support all of the 150,000 video clips and over 2 million
photos that are uploaded and downloaded on your website. Do
you support this in-house or do you outsource this
RS: The normal way to support a large amount of
bandwidth is place your servers at a co-location facility
designed for pushing large amounts of bandwidth. You can place
a server in a co-location facility for as low as $100 a month
and it is the most cost effective way to buy bandwidth.
SP: Can you talk a little
bit about your marketing strategy method for getting DropShots
into every family`s living room?
RS: Our primary
marketing strategy is viral growth. There is no other strategy
as effective viral growth. One of the key considerations when
developing a company is how you are going to get your
customers. If you have a great product, but no good way to
market your product, you don`t have a good business. You need
both. Our viral growth has been astounding to me. We are
growing at a rate of more than 35% month to month on viral
growth alone. Now we continue to add tools to enable and
support viral activity but beyond an adword or two we have not
spend a single dollar on advertising yet.
SP: What avenues do you utilize to
advertise DropShots? Which of these avenues has proven to be
the most successful?
RS: As mentioned above 98% of our growth has come
from one DropShots user uploading their memories then inviting
their friends and family to keep in touch using DropShots
themselves. Beyond that I would say for the start-up
entrepreneur, the most effective way I have found to advertise
online is through search engines. I would recommend that all
entrepreneurs learn how to advertise through search engines.
Increasingly search engine advertising is one of the most
effective ways to advertise for almost all types of
SP: What kind of
strategies are you implementing to support the future growth
RS: Since search engine advertising can only provide
a constant amount of traffic each month, we are implementing
more and more features to improve viral growth. Viral growth
seems to be the only way for our company to sustain compounded
user growth. We also are being approached by a variety of
partnership opportunities that will provide us free exposure
and new membership growth.
SP: The DropShots core
concept is built around the Human-Computer Interaction; can
you talk more about this?
RS: HCI (human-computer interaction) is the study of
how people interact with computers and to what extent
computers are or are not developed for successful interaction
with human beings. Basically it is a study of how to make
software simpler for people.
SP: Do you have any
partners in your business? If so how did you establish the
relationship and more importantly, how do you maintain it?
RS: I brought in 2 investors that are now the CEO
and COO of the company. After contacting many different
investors, one that I had met a year earlier was impressed by
our progress and continual development of the business and
recommended his organization to find us a mentor. That mentor
turned out to also be a good match for an investor. After a
few months of business development with our mentor a
relationship grew and an investment was made. Before you even
agree to take on a partner you must make sure you are socially
compatible. A business partnership is much like a marriage.
SP: Do you have any paid
RS: Yes, we have a number of paid employees and
SP: What kind of business
did you form? (S-Corporation, LLC, etc.)
SP: What is your
projected revenue for the year?
RS: We are a closely held private company and do not
disclose that type of information.
SP: What words of wisdom
do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
RS: DropShots was a side project since spring of
2002 until an investment was made in the fall of 2005. If you
are an aspiring entrepreneur don`t be afraid to start your own
startup today on the side. It is better to have something that
you can experiment with and learn from, than to start nothing
and just keep aspiring and not practicing. Also don`t let
rejections and obstacles stop you, instead use it for your
energy to continue and improve your business.
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