An Interview with Sabba Keynejad, Co-founder of VEED.IO
Hey Sabba, can you tell us a little about your background and what you're building?
My background is in design. I worked in agencies and startups for about 4 years after graduation. While freelancing, I found the Indie Hackers community, then read a bit about companies like LogoJoy and Scott's Cheap Flights. It was inspiring how they'd built their companies from basically nothing, and I wanted to start my own similar project.
I didn’t necessarily know if I was going to start a bootstrapped or VC backed company, but just wanted to get something out there. For the past year or so my Co-founder Tim and I have been building VEED.IO - an online video editing platform that's accessible from the browser. It's collaborative, and simplifies things that would take a long time in other video editing software (like creating social video content) down to one or two clicks.
Why did you decide to build VEED?
I’ve always been interested in video editing (I have an unpopular YouTube channel), and enjoy making content. I realised software in this space was pretty outdated and clunky for a lot of the things people actually use it for, like social media. I wanted to see if we could simplify video editing, put it in the browser and make it more accessible for people. The inspiration was Giphy's GIF editor, but for video.
What’s the vision for VEED?
We want it to be like Figma or Google Docs for video editing. VEED needs to be everywhere our users are, so this eventually means mobile, tablet and desktop software in addition to the browser.
It's important to ask ourselves ‘what other tools do content creators need?’ and work on that. For example, we’re currently building a screen recording tool - making it easy for people to screen record in the browser as well. The vision is to make video content creation easy, accessible, fun and collaborative.
How did you validate your idea?
It was primarily my own need. I was making videos and putting them on Facebook with text at the top and bottom. Lots of other people were making content at that time, and there were always job posts for people to do this at large companies. All these signals pointed the same way.
To be honest, at the start we didn’t really understand what validation meant. We'd do it very differently now. We assumed back then we needed to build a 1.0 to test the idea, but realistically we should’ve broken it down into individual actions like a video trimmer, a cropper, a subtitle tool etc - as it would’ve been easier to build and lower risk.
We validated by launching on Product Hunt, getting user feedback then iterating. As we got more sophisticated, we realised there was huge demand for online video editing tools from looking at keyword research.
Video editing has been around for years, it started by people cutting up film then sticking it back together with sellotape, before moving to computers. We didn’t re-invent the wheel, we just moved it to a new platform, and highlighted a specific and growing use case.
What went into building the first version?
The first version had text on video, trimming, colour correction, you could change the aspect ratio and draw on your videos. That was pretty much it. It took a couple of months to build, there was no login, no saving projects, just upload, edit and download again. Really barebones.
In hindsight, this wasn’t the smartest way to build the original version, and we probably built too much. It was only after we started charging users that we found out what the real pain points were, 6-8 months after the original launch.
What’s your tech stack?
There are three main parts - the frontend, backend and render node. We use React on the frontend, and the video editing is in Web GL. On the backend it’s OpenGL and Node.js. The render node is built with OpenGL in a docker container and an FFmpeg.
How would you have done things differently if you started again?
We didn’t intentionally think about what we wanted from VEED when we started, or realise how big and competitive the market is. At this stage, in hindsight, I would’ve identified what we wanted out of this - done more extensive keyword research, competitor analysis and market size calculations.
I would then take my time to consider the smallest MVP to prove the concept, plus acquisition channels to make it work. On that - I would've also focused on acquisition and monetisation earlier, and been more aggressive. We were learning a lot on the job while we were building it. I don’t look at our journey in a bad light, it was a learning experience. Be prepared to have your own journey - it’s good fun.
Can you tell us about your business model?
We have a freemium model. Users can edit videos that are up to 10 minutes long and under 50mb for free. Anything longer or larger is $20/month or $200/year. The goal is to get people through the top of the funnel (which is incredibly wide), and filter down to those who are serious and willing to pay. Pricing is never static though, you should always experiment and try different things over time.
Providing enough value in the free tier is also important. It means more people use and talk about VEED, which of course helps with growth. The number of people who use Canva for free is huge compared to their paid user numbers, but the free users tell others about it and build the funnel for them.
Funnily enough, we only started charging users after being rejected by Y Combinator! They didn't understand why we had no paid tier despite 30k Monthly Active Users. In a last ditch effort over the weekend, we turned on a paid tier to try and get in. We didn't, but started making money and understanding what users really wanted. We haven't looked back since.
We're always thinking about how to optimise our subscriptions, and how we can provide more value to our free and paid users.
What growth tactics did and didn’t work for you?
None of these things worked: cold calling, messaging people whose website came up #1 on Google for 'Social Media Manager', interviewing 50+ Social Media Managers for feedback to see if they'd use VEED.
What worked was launching on Product Hunt to give us a kickstart, inbound traffic from Quora answers plus other content marketing, creating specific landing pages for different user needs and writing about our journey (a lot of entrepreneurs use VEED and connected with our story).
We think a lot about the Jobs To Be Done framework, and apply it to marketing as well as product. We want to make sure people find us at the point they're looking to scratch a specific itch. If someone Googles, for example, 'add image to video', we want to be there for them at that moment. It's about really understanding what the key use cases are.
What was your lowest point in building VEED so far, and how did you get out?
We ran out of money just after launch... our 'crypto safety net' also dropped from $50k to $5k in a short space of time. Our interns could see things weren't going well, and quit. Me and Tim had to find contract roles to keep money coming in. I remember very clearly standing in Victoria, near our old office after we were kicked out. All our friends had jobs, it was the end of summer and we had nothing. It was really, really bad. Everyone loves you when you're succeeding, but apparently not when you're failing.
I have to remind myself how hard this was, but we were so determined. We knew we wanted to get it right. To get out, we used our contract job income and made two hires to continue building VEED while we were working, and we worked on it at weekends.
We were so lucky to find those guys, especially as we'd made previous hiring mistakes. They're still with us today and have equity in the company - the most besides Tim and I. Over the next 4-5 months we kept building product, users were growing and when my contract came to an end, I moved back to full time. Then we were invited to Y Combinator, so Tim quit his job too, and of course it led to us getting our first paid users. We just didn't up, kept solving problems and keeping things moving.
People don’t always understand - it just takes time to build software people will pay for. If you have an MVP up for a couple of months and it’s not working, it doesn't mean you can't succeed. You may have just not figured out the right users, or found the right acquisition channel. It’s about iteration and not giving up. The reason Instagram went from a check-in app to the most popular photo sharing app on the planet is because they iterated and kept moving, not because they had the perfect idea first time. You never have the perfect idea first time.
What else have you built before VEED, and what were the biggest lessons from those experiences?
Where do I start... my first proper business was selling American red cups on eBay when I was 16-17. I wanted red cups for my 16th birthday party and could only find them in the US, which brought expensive import fees. So I found a European company who could ship me a box for cheap. My friend Perry and I started realredcup.co.uk and it sold pretty well, but we gave up when we went to university for various reasons.
Next, I sold Breaking Bad costumes online during the final series, just before Halloween. We bought chemical hazmat suits with gloves, made blue sugar candy and imported gas marks from China. Costumes were purchased on a 5 day lead time, but the supplies came via next day delivery, so it was fairly efficient. We made £25k in a month and were the biggest distributor in the UK at one point.
After leaving university, I started building games. One of them (Three Points) did pretty well and had ~1m downloads. PewDewPug was good fun, it was about stroking a dog's tummy. These and some others all died out eventually, as games do. It's very hit based, and not very fun when you put your heart and soul into a game then it receives like 2 downloads.
When I started working with my now Co-founder Tim, we built a bunch of things before arriving at VEED:
- A similar product to Lucky Trip, but we didn't end up launching it. It was hard to get data and book flights online through an API.
- A Spare Room competitor, until we realised it was very hard to launch a 2-sided marketplace.
- Yum - a visual menu for seeing what the food looked like at restaurants,. This never really got off the ground.
After a few false starts and Tim finished university, we decided we needed to be full-time and all-in to make it work. From our previous experiences we knew we could actually build something, which seems trivial. But when you learn you can make something market ready, it's a cool feeling and gives you confidence. We also learnt if you catch something in the right moment (like Breaking Bad costumes before Halloween), and you time the market correctly, it can be incredibly powerful.
What are the most common mistakes you see Indie Hackers make early on?
The most common mistake is building and not launching. Next is not marketing your product, thinking you can build it and they will come. Whoever you are, you need to put a lot of time and effort into marketing your business.
Not charging early enough. Not being all-in doesn’t help either - as your rate of iteration isn't fast enough. It's not just about spending more time on your product, the intensity matters too. It's easier to start a fire by making it really hot early on than slowly raising the temperature.
Also, if you’re doing B2B products, be prepared to have long sales cycles. It can be hard to bootstrap these, as you can run out of money before your first sale.
How do you stay focused and avoid distractions?
I am the sort of person who has a million ideas, but I've realised that to get even one going properly, you need to be all-in.
Also, keep looking after yourself, listening to podcasts, educating yourself, working out - that helps keep you sharp and in a clear frame of mind to focus on the next problem.
How did you transition to full time Indie Hacking?
We started off at Kings20 (the Kings College London accelerator), had some savings and just decided to go all-in. One day we quit our jobs and started working.
Favourite indie products?
Favourite apps on your home screen?
Favourite Twitter follows?
- Indie Hackers
- How I Built This
- Reply All
- 99% Invisible
- Startups for the Rest of Us
- 20 Minute VC
- Revisionist History
- The SaaS Podcast