Creating Ivideon: From Idea to Successful Implementation 2.0
Since the creation of a successful global company has become a matter of my life, I have read many books and articles on the experience of others in this matter.
One of the tips that went through all success or failure stories with a thin thread is a simple thought - do not rely on geeks to create a mass product. Geeks are great guys, but the most moody audience. They are easy to get to users of your new product, as they are interested in everything new, but they are difficult to keep. The needs of the geek almost always do not coincide with the requests of the mass user. Therefore, very soon they will begin to show dissatisfaction with the product, demanding more and more sophisticated functions that the ordinary user does not need at all. As a result, attempts to modify the product lead to the fact that it becomes too complicated for a simple user. This is one of the traps that failed startups often fall into.
We knew about this trap. Therefore, when we started a blog two years ago on Habré, a resource devoted mainly to geeks (in the good sense of the word, after all, I am a geek myself), we expected that he would allow us to attract enthusiastic programmers to our team , but in no way not users ...
But it turned out that Habr helped us significantly increase our customer base.
Several of our large corporate clients told us that they read about Ivideon here and began to work with us.
Others, honestly admitted that their employees - system administrators, after they found out about us on Habré, insisted on using Ivideon to organize video surveillance in the company when such a need arose. Surprisingly, our seemingly very simple product, even a child can cope with it, has become interesting to the audience of Habrahabr.
The first article “Creating Ivideon: From Idea to Successful Implementation”, which I wrote two years ago for our blog, was never completed. The last sentence ends with the phrase “to be continued ...”. I was often asked when the full version will appear ?! And I evasively pointed to an uncertain future, understanding that with the growth of the company less and less time was left for such a pleasant activity as writing an article on a blog and communicating with the most interesting audience with which I have so much in common.
Last week, the chief editor of the CPU and part-time, just a good person, Konstantin Panfilov, conducted an interview with me. And when it was published, I realized that it can be used as the very full version of my story that I started writing in 2012. With your permission, I am giving an interview here.
Vladimir, why did you even start doing video surveillance?
Education leaves its mark on a person. At school I studied in a strong humanitarian class, where there were more literature lessons than physicists and mathematicians. But, having learned the humanities, I knew for sure that I want to be an engineer. And he entered the Moscow State Technical University. Bauman. There, at the Faculty of Robotics, I became interested in programming.
In 2003, I was offered a very interesting job as a developer in a team creating software for professional video surveillance. Very expensive solutions for large objects, from Rosneft to the Historical Museum. In early 2004, I began to pay attention to smartphones. Then came the Nokia 6600 on the Symbian S60 and Siemens SX1. I suggested the management to take up this direction - to teach our software to send notifications with photos to these devices. Surprisingly, at that time they were worth four of my salaries. Nevertheless, they bought me and gave me the opportunity to realize the task, which I myself came up with. In fact, this happens quite rarely when management goes forward in such a way. I remember this, so now in Ivideon I support our team if it has interesting ideas.
Did the trust come true?
In a couple of years I have developed this area so much that it was possible to watch videos on smartphones and gain access to the archive of records. Networks were then weak (GPRS), but we were able to show a stable picture in real time. In 2006, I was asked to advise one American project. As a result, this consultation resulted in the fact that I began to develop a mobile application for them in my spare time from my main work. The project lasted several months, but during the work on it I learned more than in the previous few years. I found out what the Internet is.
Is the Internet so complicated?
This may sound strange, but now, in 2014, there is a whole layer of developers from the video surveillance and security systems industry who still do not understand what it is and how to live with it. And, most importantly, how to use it for your projects. It was then that I had the idea of creating a cloud-based video surveillance service. Replace the expensive systems to which the cameras are connected with a simple and user-friendly Internet service. Even then, I saw the development of IP video surveillance and realized that for a simple user the camera should become intelligent. Not a passive device that hangs and says nothing until you connect to it, but active. This concept formed the basis of Ivideon.
I proposed this project to my management. I was not interested in money or shares in the company. I was interested in making it. But the leadership, he seemed uninteresting. Like, why video surveillance for ordinary people? Then I began to develop separate modules for implementing my idea on my own, in my free time from the main work.
So you took the technical side on you? But the business itself?
In 2009, at the height of the crisis, I realized that most of the project was ready for a pilot launch. Yes, there weren’t many of the features that are now, but the basic features worked. At the end of 2009, I was lucky enough to meet Andrei Yudnikov, who had unique managerial experience working for Procter & Gamble, and then in a small but very strong bank - he was the head of the sales department.
Andrei Yudnikov and Vladimir Eremeev
As a developer, I was well aware of the shortcomings that I had at that time. I did not know how to sell, I did not have experience in managing the company, and it was very interesting for me to concentrate solely on development. When I told Andrei about my idea, he instantly caught fire. He became so interested that he decided to quit his current job and found a company with me, as well as help me find the first investment. In early 2010, we both quit and started building Ivideon.
Where does the money come from?
For the first two years, I have developed a pilot project from and to. I did it in my free time and at the weekend. We already had something to show the investor. When we quit, we had a small supply of money and the understanding that an investor was about to enter our project. The fact is that Andrei is an extremely interesting and very sociable person. He, even firing someone, makes the dismissed person smile and rejoice at this fact. After all, he was not thrown out of work - they helped him understand that his potential was not at all here, that we did not want to restrain him, and we believe that somewhere there big victories await him.
So, having such abilities and working in a bank, he very quickly met and found a common language with people who had large financial assets. We held several meetings, and everyone with whom we spoke expressed interest. With one person, we agreed that we are going to a deal.
It looks as if everything is very simple.
If. We immediately rented an office - small but very comfortable. It was very inexpensive, but it did not have a normal repair. We began to do it at our own expense, realizing that after the transaction everything will be compensated to us. But at the last moment, the person with whom we agreed had problems in the business, and he could not fulfill his obligations. It was very sad, especially given the crisis. But we believed in the project so much that we were ready to finance it ourselves. First I sold the car, then Andrew did the same.
At that time I was fond of parachuting (although now I look with nostalgia into the sky). It is a pity that investors asked not to jump out of a flying plane anymore. In general, the second victim of Ivideon was my friend, who saved my life more than 100 times - my parachute.
I still had an apartment in the suburbs, and Andrei - in Kaliningrad. They became our last property, turned into an investment in Ivideon. We hired developers, paid for the expenses of the company and, without discouragement, negotiated with investors. At the end of 2010, we found a strong partner who had successful experience in building an IT business. He agreed to become our first investor. With all this, we were still limited in money. Unlike our American rival Dropcam, which could concentrate on creating a mass camera, we also had to think about getting money into the company. We participated in various B2B projects. The kind of idea of Arkady Moreynis about the "dark side" began to haunt us long before he came up with and voiced it - the company should earn.
You just want to compare with Dropcam, which Google recently acquired for $ 555 million. Why could they concentrate on the mass camera, and you not?
Everything is simple. Money. The USA has a very developed venture industry - when a company is highly valued, not based on its current cash flow, which is now, but on the potential of this company to give significant cash flow in the future. In Russia, they are actively looking at revenue. Therefore, at a time when our revenue was virtually absent (there were no paid tariffs), they could not give us $ 6 million and $ 12 million, which Dropcam received at the very beginning.
We understood that our development required much more money than we raised. We also understood that in mass service we won’t earn much in the first two years. Accordingly, in order for the company to have money, we had to be distracted by B2B integration projects that had little to do with B2C.
Therefore, we concentrated on the platform.
Dropcam at one time chose Apple's strategy - to produce its own camera and its own software. Ivideon has chosen the Android path. We decided that we would make the best cloud for video surveillance in the world and will provide it to camera manufacturers. Our main victory is that we succeeded. As you know, Philips cameras, which proudly show off the Ivideon logo, are now sold in Apple stores. These cameras fully work on our cloud, and in no other way. Samsung launches Ivideon-enabled cloud cameras.
But the most important victory is yet to come. The Dropcam uses the Ambarella chip as its heart. These are the same guys who technically gave life to such a project as GoPro. So, at the end of last year, we became Ambarella partners. I even went to their headquarters in Silicon Valley to meet with their CEO. For me it was a very significant event. All in all, they saw Dropcam's success. We saw the growth of camera sales. But they realized that they needed to sell more chips. Well-known companies are knocking on their door that want to make a camera the same as Dropcam and sell it under their own brand. But they don’t have good clouds. And then Ivideon appears.
In the spring of 2014, at the Hong Kong Sourcing Fair, Ivideon, together with Ambarella, introduced a hardware and software platform that makes it possible to produce an already working cloud camera with minimal investment and as quickly as possible, using any case design and, of course, any brand. In quality, such a camera will not be inferior to Dropcam, since the basis of Dropcam is the same chip from Ambarella, and the quality of the Ivideon cloud speaks for itself. For example, the rating of the Dropcam app on Google Play is 4.2 based on 1200 reviews. At Ivideon this indicator is higher - 4.6, and more than 4200 users left their reviews.
Besides Philips and Samsung, did someone else come to you?
Now we are working with several companies from the top 100 world brands that are ready to launch cameras with us. Be sure to tell about this, as we are ready. But we try not to forget our market. Here we entered into partnerships with Lexand and Texet (well-known manufacturers of DVRs in Russia) that by the beginning of autumn they will produce and market affordable and high-quality cloud cameras with Ivideon.
Does the acquisition of competitors by the largest technology company somehow affect your business?
This is a landmark event for Ivideon for several reasons. First, Ivideon is a member of the Apple MFI (Manufactured for iPhone) program and expects to become a cloud provider through the recently announced Apple HomeKit platform. Dropcam is a very strong competitor who could also claim this role. After the purchase by Google, which may be considered a competitor to Apple, the road, in fact, freed. Secondly, when Ivideon was founded, it did not have competitors, so many funds considered this direction not promising. Having a $ 555 million exit from our competitor has proven that we are on the right track. Thirdly, the fact that Google began to engage in cloud video surveillance is a signal for IT giants Apple and Microsoft to pay attention to this direction - and we are already here.
I heard about you as about almost the only Russian guys who managed to get to the Apple store. What is meant by this if you do not produce “iron”?
It is about our joint project with Philips. The camera is called Philips Monitor with Ivideon technology. It works exclusively with our cloud and is very easy to use. It does not require a computer, and it is easily configured from an application for iOS or Android.
I understand that you can connect any camera to your cloud. Then what is the point of such co-branding?
Any. But there are two connection options. Normal IP camera, webcam or DVR. These are passive devices. They themselves will not tell you anything. If you are not connected to them, then you won’t even know that they stopped showing. To “give them intelligence”, we connect them to the cloud using the Ivideon Server application, which is installed on the computer. But this solution is either for business, or for professionals or geeks.
For the home user, we have a different solution. We make the camera smart without any computer like Philips. She has on board our software, which itself communicates with our cloud and transmits information about alarms, motion detection, sound, or turning it off. All firmware of this camera from and to is developed by our team.
The camera itself with the help of Ivideon tells you about the problems. And you can always come back, for example, a month ago, to see what was there. You are mobile. Communication with the camera is carried out using our applications for your smartphone. But you can also access it from a browser or a classic desktop application.
How exactly did you manage to end up with Philips? A large office.
It probably sounds hackneyed, but we just made a cool product. Prior to working with Ivideon, Philips tried to implement a cloud camera on its own and with other partners. But after the release of the market, this camera began to be returned, and the rating of applications in iTunes and Google Play barely reached two. It was a failure. But Philips did not give up. They abandoned this cloud provider and began to look for new options. Their search and work with new cloud providers has been going on for eight months when a Philips employee found us on the App Store. He simply could not understand how we manage to work so well and get such a high rating of applications - 4.6. In the summer of 2013, he gets in touch with us and proposes a joint project.
Andrei and I fly to their headquarters in Hong Kong and find out that in three weeks there will be a demonstration at Apple, and during this time we need to do what the four previous cloud providers failed to do in eight months. And we do it. Apple appreciates what we have done. By the way, this was the reason why CEO Ambarella Fermi Wang invited us to a meeting in Silicon Valley and offered further cooperation. He then said: “We at Ambarella are generally the most famous video experts in the Valley. Especially after the success of GoPro. If you need my recommendation, here is my phone number, you can give it to the fund from which you want to attract investment. I will explain everything to them. ” Not yet used this offer. But the business card remained.
It’s interesting from a technical point of view to see how difficult it is to develop such a system? How did people search? What difficulties did you face? Know how
We did it the first time. They built a company. We made a lot of mistakes. As a rule, in the management and prioritization. But we are very proud of the team that we managed to create. Of course, the Ivideon project is very interesting in itself. We do not sell slippers over the Internet - we are building a world-class cloud service. And that really motivates the developers. They are very interested in such tasks. Therefore, we are glad that despite the abundance of large players, such as Yandex or Mail.ru, who take a large number of programmers from the market, strong developers continue to come to us. And from those who were with us from the very beginning, not a single one quit. That says a lot.
The main difficulty, in my opinion, when it comes to development, is building the team itself. We have very strong guys. In a sense, even geniuses in their field. And for several geniuses in one project it is not always easy to work together. At the very beginning, Andrei and I put a lot of effort so that they could work together effectively. We did everything possible so that our eyes burned not only with us, but with the whole team. It seems to me that we did it. In the beginning, I brought several of my acquaintances from previous projects to the team. Then they recommended their friends. That is, they took according to the recommendations. We started using HeadHunter and other tools relatively recently.
With the technology it’s clear, but sales and marketing? Searched for "stars" or sold yourself?
The suit is exclusively an attribute of business trips. We
did everything ourselves. And the more Andrei and I do this, the more we realize that there is no cool magical uncle who will come and do everything. Do you want marketing, do you want sales. Perhaps this works in B2G, if you hire a former deputy minister. But B2C is all about product. Our traffic and user base growth has always been organic. Several articles in our blog on "Habré" and on other resources. After people found Ivideon and used it, they immediately recommended it to friends and acquaintances. And now we have cameras in general, for the sale of which and the distribution of our service our partners are happy to undertake.
We now have 70 people in the team. But I still periodically look at user requests, participate in the formation and release of the product. Often I do this between flights. This year has flown around the Earth several times. It's hard. But I really like it. This is a drive.
I am already looking forward to how our readers will find such colorful descriptions suspicious - they are interested in the pulp. Have something to say about money? Are you paying off?
From the first day we were very attentive to the resources that we had. Our goal was not to build another internet bubble. In terms of financial performance, our cloud is very efficient and profitable. We can say that this is a machine for making money. Another question is that more than 500 thousand users by the standards of the Internet are few. We are now operating payback. We did not attract investment from funds. But those partners who are now in the queue for integration with our cloud show that we now need to strengthen the development team and not make them wait. And we are ready to do it. Also very important is the opening of a physical office in the United States. In this case, we can temporarily go negative.
500 thousand users is a lot. Especially for the video. How to cope with such loads? Is there a life hack?
There are several life hacks. Video surveillance is such a thing in which traffic is very asymmetric. Users view no more than 1-2% of the records, but write very large volumes. Accordingly, the Amazon cloud storage model, which was created more for the web, does not fit well. Amazon can easily burn a single file and share it with many users. In the case of video surveillance, you need to record a lot of unique information, and read only a small part of it.
We created our own platform, which was developed exclusively for the purpose of video surveillance. By the way, Dropcam uses Amazon. And due to Amazon’s limitations, Dropcam has a preset bitrate on the camera in the region of 512 Kbit, but our platform allows you to use any quality. On the one hand, we rent a server in bulk, and this gives us a discount. And on the other hand, we try to enter into partnerships with providers.
Many providers today provide cloud-based video surveillance services for their subscribers under their own brand. In terms of technology, Ivideon is behind them. We easily integrate with their billing and adapt your personal account for providers. So that their user can pay both for the Internet and for video surveillance in one place. Working with providers, we get very good conditions for server capacities.
Do people not complain that the FSB or the NSA is watching them through you?
This question has two aspects. There are people who do not quite understand what the Internet is and the technologies that they use. The same mobile phone has long had a camera, a microphone, and you have no idea what it is transmitting to and where. The same goes for laptops with built-in cameras. Email and social networks. We all store a tremendous amount of data on other people's servers. Today is the norm.
We accept this because we get a huge amount of benefits. On the other hand, the absence of a phone, camera, or other technologies will not allow you to protect yourself from the FSB and the NSA if you fall into the scope of their interests, but make life much less convenient.
The second aspect says that there is a category of people who need remote access to cameras to solve their own problems, but they do not want to use the cloud, since the NSA will monitor them. Again, they also do not understand the internet device. Even if they are connected in the old fashion directly to the camera directly without our service, the data will still go through the same public channels, because we use the common Internet. But only in the case of Ivideon they will be encrypted, and the user will receive many truly convenient options that are not there when the camera acts as a passive device.
An interview published on the CPU is available at this link .
Instead of a conclusion
Reading success stories that describe someone’s path, in no case should you consider that it can be repeated. Often we simply underestimate the role of chance in our lives, believing that we controlled each of our steps ourselves. The only thing that can be learned from such stories is that one should not be afraid to fail and just keep going forward. No need to be afraid of failures and if you were not allowed into the door - look for a window.
But the most important thing that I learned during all the time I worked on Ivideon is that nothing is more important than the product. It would seem common truth. But it’s so easy to stumble on the road to success that the most important is the available marketing resources. With a good product, you can achieve excellent results even without promotion money. Whereas with a bad product, any advertising budgets will simply be lowered to nowhere.
Surely I was not able to touch on many topics that might be of interest to you. I will be happy to answer questions in the comments.
By the way, in spite of all our successes, we still have a difficult and at the same time exciting work to create Ivideon, which we see in the future. And, of course, we will be very glad to see among us new like-minded people who like our idea and who are ready to work with us on it. Highload, UX, C ++, Python, Java Script, Product management, iOS / Android development - we have a lot of interesting tasks in each of these areas! Boring, of course, also have. How could it be without that ?! We will be glad to see you as part of our team! Welcome!