Voodle was a tech startup that built a short-video messaging app that launched in 2020 and shuttered in 2022. The initial idea was for a mobile-first “async short video” app that would be “tiktok for work” for sales and marketing teams to talk to each other. First versions launched in summer of 2020 during COVID pandemic conditions, and while 10k+ users tested the app with their teams, the rise and dominance of team messaging activities within Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Meet platforms proved too high of a friction for any meaningful adoption of 3rd party apps in this era of the industry. Meaningful integration of Voodle within other apps proved difficult, as the APIs for rich video playback was minimal or not available to 3rd parties.
Voodle evolved to focus on 1-to-many “me-casting” workflows–such as a sales outreach, coaching group, or other special interest space for asymmetrical chat (eg: not everyone participating making videos, rather, most users watching the videos of a main/principal maker). Email notification workflows, analytics for views/engagement, and other more traditional sales/CRM features were added.
The last phase of exploration in summer and fall of 2022 included Web3 token-gated spaces for creators to build audiences around a mixture of NFT, video, text, graphic posts.
Here’s a quick demo from fall 2021, and some screenshots of key UX and features.
In fall 2015 we made an ”emerging tech” bet on VR and chose a “swing for the fence” scale risk-reward approach. We believed VR would rapidly emerge as a very large-scale industry based on anecdotal buzz and our own profound amazement at early trials of the 6-DOF systems floating about Seattle via Valve’s early-access demonstrations.
I’ve been a founder of several businesses and by my count worked on ~15 v1.0 software products at both startups and large co’s. Pixvana’s SPIN Studio platform far and away exceeded anything else I’ve ever been involved with in terms of system design, technical innovation, and the potential to be of large commercial consequence for decades. Alas, the work also scores as the most catastrophically irrelevant (measured by adoption by end-users we achieved) of my career.
Voodle by comparison was a practical, pragmatic application that required very little technical innovation or real change in users’ expectations, but it did come on the scene at a time of “app saturation” when we were welcomed by a market with quite a bit of app-adoption-friction. We executed well-enough, but failed to find product-market-fit.
Over the last 7 years our approach evolved and ultimately meandered as we shipped a series of interesting tools that scored as not-quite-right for customers. We started with large media companies and followed with makers; pivoted to enterprise learning orgs, to individuals on teams, and ended up in last efforts with “one-to-many” affinity communities. From VR, to mobile selfie video-messaging and of late to web3 and utility for NFTs in community.
All of us that worked on the projects are incredibly disappointed. Hard work, good execution, dogged perseverance – these are table-stakes. Timing and luck are also brutally critical ingredients. We aspired to delight customers. We didn’t. I’m chagrined that we pursued such a wide set of interesting technologies in search of problems to solve—a cardinal sin.
To our shareholders and advisors Thank You for your support of me and the team with your trust, mentorship, and capital. To my colleagues, we did a lot of great work and I know we all take our experience together forward into new chapters to come in our lives.
— Forest Key, Dec 2022
The last 7 years touched the lives of many team members who worked together. For many Pixvana + Voodle were a first job right out of college, and for a few it was their formal job before retirement. From an office in Seattle, we evolved into a remote team in 8 states in our pajamas. We collaborated with passion, and experienced disappointments and achievements.
Over holiday break i was reading Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in all of its native Spanish-language-delight (what a masterpiece), and between chapters placed the book down on the beach while i stood to stretch. Out of the blue and after more than 3 hours in that spot, a *much* larger wave came ashore and submerged all of my stuff, book included which was a sopping mess and “not readable” until a good week of drying out.
I had a few other books already on order a few days out on Amazon’s planes/trucks (If Then by Jill Lepore, Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut)–but up-next for my spouse and at my arms reach on the beach was book one of the series: The Fifth Season. I haven’t read a fantasy fiction book since The Belgariad series when i was 16! I had absolutely zero curiosity or intention to enjoy beyond passing a few moments while i mourned my soaking-wet book-of-intent…. but 1300 pages later i have to say I really, really enjoyed.
Diverse POVs = Fresh Ideas & Empathy
Just a few chapters into the series I sensed the diverse voice of a non-white-male at the helm, which was instantly exhilarating and “new”, creating an experience completely unique from the “fantasy” tropes of so many other worlds (Tolkien, R.Martin, etc.):
Jemisin is an African-American woman and nearly all of her story’s characters are either female or gender-non-conforming. This emphasis feels as dramatically natural as Tolkien’s entirely male universe–but obviously stands in ironic contrast. I found myself thinking between chapters of what might 2000 years of western canon literature have told via entirely female voice/characters?
She alternates between a 3rd and 1st person narrative voice from multiple characters–including using a 1st person voice that speaks to the reader as “you” (I don’t think i’ve ever read anything like this before, is there precedent in literature? There must be? but it was new to me!) And without giving away anything, there are multiple-folding-twists throughout the series that connect and pivot and transform the reader’s understanding of the narrator–clever shit! Very, clever.
The richness of The Stillness world is elaborate in historical details but always in vital ways that drive the story and characters; i really felt like i was living in the world she created, while 3-4 seasons of hopefully fantastic television-writing-worth of drama was taking place. I was exhausted and relieved after powering through the series… just reading this much creative thinking was exhausting, i can not imagine CREATING this world!
The unique narrative POVs that she brings to her writing created for me a more profound sense of empathy and connection to the characters. Hearing/seeing different types of characters made me feel for them, and identify with them, even in ways in which as a cis-gender-white-male I have never really felt connected to “lords” and “magicians” and “elves”, all of whom were created in the image and spirit of their white-male authors?
Diversity in Software Product Management Teams?
… which had be thinking about my continuing understanding of just how important diversity of POV and experience is in forming high performing teams in all walks-of-life, including in my industry building software.
We started voodle in late 2019, before the worldwide COVID pandemic had accelerated what we already felt was coming–a dramatic disruption in how people work and collaborate using mobile devices and asynchronous short-video. We spent 2020 organizing ourselves as a fully remote team, shipping our mvp app on web/ios/android, and listening to thousands of users and their early-product feedback.
Whenever we open ourselves up to diverse POVs, we are better. Incorporating diverse POVs, leads us to better solutions to problems, to greater relevance with our diverse customers, and ultimately to success in all of our goal metrics.
We are searching for product experience team members that have a passion for our mission and demonstrated excellence in skill areas related to product management and user experience craft. We are assembling our team with a mix of diverse background experiences and prior domain expertise, aiming for a wide-ranging point-of-view. We are not looking narrowly for a specific candidate, rather, we are recruiting a TEAM.
This led me today monday to spend the day tearing apart a somewhat narrowly crafted JD we have been recruiting against for 6 months, for a proverbial “chief product officer”. I’ve been really unhappy with the lack of diversity in the candidate pool, and the search has yet to yield a hire. I think our search was too narrow. The Broken Earth trilogy directly inspired me to break apart the JD into a new “matrixed” search which more broadly seeks talent across early-to-late career continuum of product managers.
We are recruiting TEAM MEMBERS. If you are drawn to our mission and think you could add value as the CPO, or as a college hire IC — or anything in between!… we’d love to hear from you.
Very excited to kick off life for Voodle for iOS, which launches Monday June 29th 2020. As my son Carlos explains to gen z friends, “Discord and TikTok had a baby and named it Voodle”. To older gen X friends i explain Voodle as a “tiktok for the enterprise” user experience–a short-video a-sync for teams. We started building Voodle before the covid-19 disruptions this spring, so we hadn’t imagined the zoom-fatigue phenomena that is now upon us. As we launch, it really feels like Voodle is a very well timed app that brings lighter-touch, short-form-video, as a compelling alternative to time-sucking synchronous “zoom” meetings that have now started to dominate a lot of professional team interactions.
Give Voodle a try with your colleagues at work or other “teams” that you want to share short-video updates with. You can download it now from the apple iOS app store here.
Nice coverage of Voodle from Venture Beat which says “Voodle’s eponymous software is as efficient in execution as it is in concept.” An app that lets business teams share short video updates, complete with automatically generated captions and transcripts
In January of 2020, after nearly 4 complete years working feverishly and with great passion and focus on the virtual reality market opportunity that seemed so bright and shinny and attainable in 2015… my colleagues and I at Pixvana made the painful, but necessary decision, to shut down our product and cease all of our efforts in the XR market. It was just, not, happening. We built something great, really the best v1 product i have ever been a part of in my 30+ years building software. It was elastic, it was cloud based, it had incredible VR native interfaces to build really interest and compelling immersive content. The Quest headset is pretty darn awesome (if only that had been the v1 experience for most consumers!) and we got *great* looking 360 and 180 stereo video working on it, over the network and offline, with a great end-to-end vr video publishing platform we called SPIN Studio. But in hindsight we were 3, or maybe 10 years ahead of any real inflection point in the VR market. After a blast of interesting products and innovation from the likes of google, msft, fb, and htc/valve… by 2019 our industry found ourselves in a ever smaller and nichier market with only FB/Oculus really pretending that there was any future anytime soon… and at their last developer event it felt like even they were just pretending. Soccer mom’s were featured prominently in their product advertisements while teenagers watched from the living room… really?
A fateful business trip that I took in the fall of 2019 to China and then Germany to attend the AWE event in Munich, provided both the death-blow to Pixvana’s VR dreams, and the inspiration to start something new from the ashes, which is what we now call Voodle. In China i had the chance to talk to some of the manufacturers of VR cameras. At the time we were still actively building support for these cameras in our Pixvana SPIN Studio cloud: we were teaching our system the nomenclature for the file naming conventions, the warp and optic parameters to solve high-quality stitches to 8k+ resolution master files, the LUTs for camera exposure gamuts… but these camera manufacturers one-by-one either did not engage with me (when they had in past visits), or, were blunt and honest with me and shared that they had ceased development and manufacturing, and in some cases had sold -through their inventory. VR Cameras were not going to be a thing… which as one of my colleagues said upon hearing, “well, that’s a signal” (understatement).
A week later at the AWE conference in Munich, the vast majority of interesting activity at the event was not with headsets but rather, with mobile phone screens. Screens at arms-length, and usually with the SELFIE camera as the primary viewing lens onto the world. As much as Snap and Facebook product managers raved about “over 1bn people are doing AR today with their selfie-cameras”, i couldn’t help but feel that a pivot into phone-based-AR applications using pixvana’s IP and brain-trust would be like signing up for another several years of equal or even greater disappointment.
This 1-2 combo of punches in my face finally snapped me to the realization that many other entrepreneurs had come to in 2019–AR/VR might just not be relevant right now in the world, in any appreciable business scale way. Why would Pixvana continue to spend time on the XR space? Well, after we huddled back at the office, we all agreed we couldn’t.
However, what did strike me as incredibly interesting… in a way that people of my age/generation sometimes struggle to fully comprehend, is just how much people like looking at their selfie-cameras. To take pictures and video of themselves to communicate with loved ones, all day, every day. Over the course of the next several months i started to pay much more attention to how the selfie camera was being used by my family and friends, and the ways and subjects that we communicated to each other in private networks such as Whatsapp and iMessage groups. That, is what led to the kernel of an idea that grew into Voodle.
Essentially, why is it that among my family and friends, almost all of my communications are image, video, and emoji or meme based:
Yet when i’m at work, i’m 99% grounded in text. Long TL;DR text in email applications like gmail, back and forth short messages with an occasional URL or small jpeg thumbnail in Slack or Teams, and sometimes sharing documents such as in Highspot or Onedrive or Google Drive. This schism is plainly evident when looking at my phone screen; if it is text, i’m working, if it is friends and family, it is photos/videos/images. This seems incorrect on many levels?
So what if our work related communications looked a lot more like how i communicate with friends and family? That’s the basic kernel of an idea that led us to create voodle.
A “voodle” is a short “video-doodle” that can be posted and shared among work colleagues. These may be insights into customers, competitors, operations, morale and culture insights… we are going to figure out together with our beta-testers. But what we can already feel with our early tests, is that it is *transformational* to communicate with work colleagues in a manner more similar to that we use with friends/family already. 2 billion consumers on their cellphones can’t be wrong!
We are working on voodle! I will write more about voodle soon. I’m excited, as is the team, to share voodle and voodles and voodle pools…