is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
A bummer of a coincidence from yesterday: after using Everpix for several months and enjoying it immensely, I decided to pony up for the US$49 annual fee. Hours later, I happened to read that Everpix is shutting down. A note signed by the Everpix team said: “We were unable to secure sufficient funding in order to properly scale the business, and our endeavors to find a new home for Everpix did not come to pass. At this point, we have no other options but to discontinue the service.”
Possibly losing forty-nine dollars doesn’t bother me so much, since Everpix promises to refund all of its subscribers (they hope to do this by 15 Dec). It’s the fact that Everpix was a terrific product that in many ways fit the bill for what I think a modern photo experience should be: an inexhaustible storage locker in the cloud that effortlessly backs up my photos from every source.
Facebook, Twitter, Path, Instagram, my phone’s camera roll, even pics that people sent to me via MMS; Everpix comprehensively backed up all of these sources to the Web and made them navigable through an intelligently self-organizing and elegantly designed web interface. It was really a pleasure to use, especially its Flashback feature, which would send me daily emails to remind me of photos taken a year or two ion the past.
While I have no inside knowledge of what went wrong with Everpix (the writing was on the wall for a long while, apparently, and The Verge has a lengthy account of the wind-down), I have some guesses.
Fighting Free, and for Whom?
First, it’s incredibly hard to build a service that unseats an incumbent as entrenched as the iPhone’s Photos app. That is essentially what Everpix was doing with its own iOS app, which looked very much like a photo browser. Worse, what Everpix was actually competing on was superior cloud storage, putting it in the same game as iCloud, which of course is also free. So it was never immediately apparent to the average consumer why one would need Everpix if one had the Photos app and iCloud. Never mind that Everpix offered a stark advantage by backing up every photo you have while iCloud only backs up the last month or so; the distinction between the two services was fuzzy for those who barely understand cloud computing to begin with. (As an aside, I personally found iCloud and Everpix to be highly complementary, but then again I think a lot about having redundant backups.)
Absent a crystal clear value proposition, and apparently lacking the marketing budget to push its message far and wide, Everpix made the fatal mistake of trying to be a tool for everyone, or to be more accurate, marketing itself to no single customer base. The target Everpix customer, from what I could tell, was everyone, which is a fantastic aspiration for the team and a wonderful story for investors, but it presents a formidable challenge for a new business trying to crawl its way into the consciousness of consumers.
When you have a product for everyone, the old saw goes, you really have a product for no one. This is one of the most telling lessons I took away from my experience building Mixel. The notion of pitching something to “everyone” is simply too wide a net to cast.
Startups take on so many challenges on so many fronts, but they can compound all of them by not settling on a specific, narrow understanding of who their first customers are, and just as importantly, where and how they can be reached. When your audience is as broad and undefined as ‘anyone who takes photos,’ there’s no ‘there’ there in terms of a single venue where you can reach a plurality of them, or a means for you to aggregate them together and get them talking to one another, or a method for you to measure how well you’re converting them into customers.
It might have worked better for Everpix to have chosen a particular slice of the photography market — sports photographers, say, or family photographers — and focused solely on that audience. A choice like that may have forced the product to take on features or nuances that didn’t make sense for a mass market, but it also would have made the company’s job much easier in terms of finding specific cohorts of users, speaking to them in a relevant vocabulary, servicing their needs, turning them into effective evangelists, and then measuring their adoption.
The emphasis is on “might,” I suppose. All my speculation here amounts to an impolite brand of Monday morning quarterbacking. I guess I’m turning it over because I was such a fan of the service, and thought it represented something that really should exist in the world. I wish the team the best of luck, and I also hope someone else comes along to make something new from these hard lessons learned.+