In a feature-rich world, one St. Louis startup embraces the beauty of the keep-it-simple-stupid ethos. By Lorraine Sanders (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
Open the Muzio app on your iPhone, and a black-and-white screen greets you. As you begin to add images to the app, which offers a quick way to create multi-media collections called “muzes” and share them with others, you’ll notice that you’re hanging out in what is, essentially, the virtual equivalent of a white-walled gallery on the day in between art shows.
That is to say, there are no vintage-inspired filters or Polaroid-esque frames or drop-down menus populated with font lists to tame, enhance and trick out the photos and videos you’ll add. There is no community waiting to follow you or be followed, no likes nor unsettling lack thereof. Instead, the app beckons its users with an uncluttered, gender-neutral space they can use to collect multiple media formats around a single idea and share them with as many or as few people as they choose.
You could say that simplicity was by design.
"We really like clean, beautiful, simplistic design…We wanted to create something that would showcase your work like a museum would showcase artwork," says Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin of B&C Designers, a boutique design firm she runs with app co-creator and business partner Elizabeth Buchanan.
That meant cutting out the clutter you’ll find in many scrapbooking apps and image collage tools and opening the platform up to include not only images and video, but short audio snippets and simple blocks of text. Instead of aiming to be yet another social sharing community, the goal was to create a tool that’s compatible with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, but also compelling to users outside those networks.
"That’s really what sets us apart, the idea that you can keep this private and share it with mom if you like or you can put it on Facebook," says Buchanan.
Also setting Chamberlin and Buchanan’s approach apart is the co-founders collaborative process: they don’t settle until they’re both happy.
"If one of us doesn’t agree with something, then we need to understand why and that means this isn’t the right answer….We come up with a solution that’s better than the solution before," Chamberlin says.
That has led them to the latest version of Muzio, which stands out not only for being simple and easy to use, but also for cleverly partnering with businesses to create branded muzes that are just as much advertisements as they are examples designed to give new app users inspiration for their own future creations, whether they be extensively narrated and image-heavy recaps of globe-trotting adventures or pared–down collages of simple pleasures such as dogs, food and family moments.
Along with a love of simplicity, Muzio’s founders also have some simple advice to share. Read on.
You're a mere 8+ weeks out of the gate with Muzio. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started this project?
We wish we knew more about the funding process. We are natural problem solvers and when we do not know something we try and learn as much as we possibly can.
Working closely with a co-founder as you conceptualize, launch and grow a company can be extremely rewarding - but it can also be one of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur faces. How do you make it work?
The key is to work with a partner you respect and trust in terms of their judgment and skill set. It is essential to have the same core values, as well as goals for your company to make the partnership work. A business partnership is often like a marriage.
Disagreements can happen and communication is key. The fundamental is making sure your partner is as committed and dedicated as you are. As a rule of thumb, if a disagreement does come up, step back, figure out what the problem is and work together to come up with a solution. It is also important to recognize that your partner’s feedback on your work or your project is not personal, but comes from a place to make your overall product that much better.
Elizabeth and I often joke that we need to learn to find solutions and troubleshoot an issue with our husbands/boyfriends, like we do with each other. We never hold a grudge, always have a reason for our comments and are patient. The bottom line is, we know we are in it together and are committed to each other as a team.
Muzio is your newest project, but you also run a design firm. Could you have launched the app without the firm or are the two inextricably linked? In what ways did having the firm in place make launching the app easier or more feasible?
B&C was the foundation for Muzio. It provided us with invaluable experience on how to run a company, manage sales, work with large corporations, manage development teams, marketing and more. All our experience at B&C has made Muzio that much stronger right out of the gate. Our focus has shifted to Muzio, which is now our priority. We built Muzio in an extremely lean way. We could not have done this without the knowledge we gained running B&C. We understood what pieces of the process were expensive, what we could do without and where we needed to get really creative. We are both designers and UX experts, allowing us to do the bulk of the work for Muzio in-house. Building apps, websites and more for our clients taught us all the fundamentals we needed to build Muzio with a strong foundation.
What advice do you have for new iOS app creators to make their path to market and release a smoother one?
- Testing: Test, test and test your app before you send it to the app store. This makes sure you mitigate any bugs and get accepted to the app store on the first try.
- Beta Testing is Key: Have a select few users test the app like a regular user. Make sure these users have nothing to do with your product and better yet have no knowledge of it. Make sure they chronicle bugs and the steps in which to duplicate issues they encounter, making your bug fixing process much smoother.
- Customer Service is Key: Listen to your initial reviews and reactions. This will really help you understand market need.
- Encourage Users to Give Feedback and Be Transparent: Make it easy and welcoming for your user base to get in touch with bugs, issues, suggestions and make them feel part of your team. Our Muzers are the reason why we built Muzio and continue to make it better and we make sure they know that.
- Marketing, Social Media and Press: Make sure you understand how these can work together and have a plan of action before you launch.
- Be Authentic and Build a Brand: It is important to make sure all collateral and touch points the user sees are cohesive, reinforce your brand message and are an authentic reflection of who you want to be as a company.
Are you undervaluing simple?
About the blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a journalist, blogger and media consultant. She is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle Style Bytes column and writes regularly for FastCompany.com and others. She is founder of the blog Digital Style Digest and an inhabitant of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Connect with her on Twitter @digitalstyledig or @lorrainesanders.