Cardinal Blue was one of Echelon 2011′s Launchpad startups. Since then, they have moved on to new heights by being accepted into Dave McClure’s 500 Startups accelerator program. The Taiwan-based company has developed a new product called PicCollage which is a simple and intuitive photo collage app for iOS devices that allows user to combine their favorite photos from their library or Facebook account into beautiful collages.
Tell us about your experience at 500 Startups
The program has really worked out pretty well, with the mentors, design reviews and networking opportunities. The time pressure of Demo Day served as a way to push us forward, and we’ve gotten some leads to some investors following Demo Day.
Why did you choose 500 Startups over other incubation/accelerator program?
We knew Dave McClure personally, and also a previous company, Ninua recommended it to us. 500 Startups has a great shared office space and a focus on design and user experience, which is something that we wanted to get better at.
What trends do you notice when comparing Asian startups such as yourself and Singboard with other Western startups? Are Asian startups closing the gap?
There were several startups founded by Asians including Daily Aisle, Singboard, Snapette, Launchbit, AppGrooves. I didn’t see too much difference with the other 500 Startups companies, except perhaps that they tended to stay at the office later at night (e.g. past midnight). Snapette and Singboard did a great job in terms of marketing themselves, which is something that Asians stereotypically are not as strong at.
In your opinion, who was the best startup?
How can programs like 500 Startups be replicated in Asia to suite the regional startups? Or, based on your experience with 500 Startups, how can already existing accelerator programs in Asia be improved?
I think that the presence of mentors and angel investors are key ingredients that might be harder to replicate outside of Silicon Valley. I guess existing programs can try to reach out to experienced entrepreneurs or Silicon Valley refugees who might be able to provide mentorship.
Cardinal Blue’s best takeaway from 500 Startups
Be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities. There were several startups (including us) that scrapped their plans halfway through the program and pivoted to a new product. We started off working on a whiteboard scanner app, but then found that our PicCollage app had much more traction. console.fm (electronica music site) started off as HelloWorld.im, as a social network for developers. console.fm was a weekend side project that got thousands of users right away. SingBoard (YouTube + karaoke) started off working on vvall, an iPhone photo sharing app, but decided to pivot when that app wasn’t getting traction.
Another takeaway for us from 500 Startups was that we were told to talk to users and do “customer development”, not just “product development”. When you are first trying out new ideas, go out and interview at least five to ten target users and ask them about their daily activities and pain points – you might find out an even more critical problem than the one you had thought of.
When you already have a product, show it to new people without explanation, and ask them to talk out loud as they try to figure out the product – this will help you understand the new user experience and motivate you to make the product simpler and better (rather than just adding more features). Steve Blank, the leader of the “customer development” movement, tells entrepreneurs: “Get out of the building!” Instead of debating amongst your team, go out and talk to your users.
What are your future plans?
We are currently following up with investors who have contacted us following from Demo Day, and will continue to build out our product. We hit 500,000 downloads in five weeks, and are working hard to keep up the momentum.
Update: Since the interview, PicCollage has hit 600,000 downloads and is the Top 10 photo app in 15 countries (including US, UK, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc). Also check out Cardinal Blue’s own blog post on 500 Startups.
Link to full article