Startup interview (one of my faves): @zubinwadia gives us the low-down on @quipio cc @surana_h @lfopw @dheerosaur @kellythompson

Zubin Quipio

Over the last week, I came across a very promising new start-up called Quipio. Pando Daily describes it rather well:

At its essence, a Quip is like an Instagram photo with a typographic overlay, or a status update that looks different from the vanilla text seen on Facebook and Twitter.

The image above is from Quipio: it’s really seamless in terms of UX (to search for an appropriate image, I just needed to type in the words and plenty of relevant images came up, and there were plenty of interesting fonts to choose from for the text. I also really like the fact that quips can be publicly shared on Facebook, Twitter and Quipio, or private via email or SMS or straight to your phone’s photo library – the latter feature shows a true understanding of user behaviour).

After a few quick exchanges on Twitter, I asked Zubin Wadia, one of the co-founders of Quipio, if he’d like to answer a few questions for me so I could learn more about the service. Of course he said yes – so here, in his words, I present to you all, Quipio:

Rather coincidentally, someone was recently asking me if a service similar to Quipio existed: a site where you could overlay pretty text over images of your choice. I happily passed him the link to Quipio as soon as I found out about it, because I didn’t know of any other service that was satisfactory till then! From this instance and a few other conversations I’ve had with people, it seems like it was an app waiting for its time, which has come. In your opinion though, why did you feel the market was ripe for an app like Quipio? What gap in the market were you hoping to step into?

Thanks! Quipio had an outstanding debut week for an app that launched with little fanfare. Kudos to Apple for recognizing that we had a different point of view to share with the world.

We looked at three different facets of the consumer web: (1) photo sharing services like Instagram (2) video+animated GIF services like Cinemagram and Vine  and (3) a variety of “text-on-image” authoring tools.

Instagram set a new benchmark for friction-free sharing of photos, and leveraged that to deliver explosive growth in the market. But they remain photo-oriented and there’s only so much expression you can deliver through a visual-only medium.

With Vine and other video services, consuming videos is a lot easier than actually creating them, even with just 6 seconds to fill. For a user to create something compelling, it requires some planning and setup to make the medium work. It’s hard to be spontaneous and visually impressive – something Instagram does well.

The text-on-image tools we assessed were primarily mobile-friendly text editors allowing the user to setup a variety of templates, fonts, styles, layouts and colors. The dexterity of these apps was impressive, but it took time to get great results, and the user expended significant cognitive bandwidth on decisions that really had nothing to do with the content itself.

So in our eyes, there was a big “expression” gap that nobody was filling. There was no service that allowed you to spontaneously combine text and pictures to deliver a point-of-view in a more impactful and cohesive manner. A service that’s as simple as tweeting, but more expressive than Instagram. And so we built Quipio.

Tell us a bit about your background and your journey to becoming a co-founder of Quipio.

I have a background in computer science, economics and management science. At 19, I graduated out of Pace University (in 2001) and much to my mother’s chagrin, have never returned to school ever since. I started as a Java Developer at a company called ImageWork Technologies, a leading IT consulting firm in the Content Management space. Over the years, I’ve moved up to be a partner in the company and set up additional operations in India, via another company of mine called RedRock IT Solutions. I’ve also authored three books on Java Development and Software Architecture for Apress and O’Reilly in this period.

In 2009, I was one of the 40 students out of 1,600 selected to attend the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University, on the Robotics & AI track. Attending that program coincided with the anniversary of my spending 10 years in the United States. Being in a highly intellectual environment that’s full of optimism for the future makes you think about what good you can bring to the world in the next 10 years. That summer was a really invigorating one for me and got me thinking about how I could leverage my talent and experience on a bigger stage.

Towards the end of your time at SU, we are asked to pursue a 10^9 project: a project that will positively impact 1 billion people in 10 years. And so, CiviGuard was born. CiviGuard was founded in April 2010 and was a Singularity University project spin-off. It is a next generation public-safety platform that provides real-time guidance, routing and bi-directional communications in emergency situations. Until we came along, all emergency notifications were mass-messaged, and SMS+Voice based. We saw mobile adoption and mobile networks allowing for context to be added into this experience. During an emergency, telling people something is wrong is great, but also sharing recommendations about what to do is important. A person should also be able to relay back their own state: whether they are OK, lost, hurt or trapped. CiviGuard has been listed as one of the 100 Brilliant Companies in America for 2011 and as a ‘Cool Vendor’ by Gartner. We have played important roles for NYC during Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. Our “Should I Evacuate?” application has helped over 25,000 New Yorkers to figure out whether they are in an evacuation zone or not.

CiviGuard’s mission is inspiring but extremely stressful. It is serious engineering with serious implications for getting it wrong. So what I do is always have a less serious project that I pursue in parallel to keep things in perspective. In 2011, I co-founded SecretSocial with Alexis Sellier, an HTML5-based precursor to Snapchat’s ephemeral conversations – a truly interesting project that had a beautiful user experience and some forward-thinking ideas around why people connect with each other. Unfortunately HTML5 never really won, and SecretSocial never really got beyond a few thousand users.

In mid-2012, I founded Quipio with Harshit Surana, who is a talented engineer out of CMU that I met at a YC event in NYC. We have complementary skills and a strong sense of responsibility to improve society. We also share an appreciation for good design and a healthy disregard for the status quo. We saw a gap in the market and now we’re filling it.

Who are the other people you work with currently at Quipio, and how did you meet? 

We are lucky to have a talented team that gels very well and has complementary skills. I focus on product, execution and marketing for Quipio. Harshit focuses on the rendering engine, which is responsible for taking your text and pictures and transforming them into a beautiful output. Miles Egan is our iOS engineering lead, and responsible for all things iOS, he is a full-stack programmer with a lot of experience, spent a lot of years at Pixar.

Dheeraj Sayala built the Quipio server-side API and is responsible for all things server-side. Kelly Thompson is responsible for overall UX and all design components, she has worked on a number of projects with me in the past and has a knack for elegant interfaces. Miles, Dheeraj and Harshit were all scouted by me and convinced to come onboard for this little adventure!

Quipio seems to have attracted a considerable user base in a fairly short span of time, almost as impressive as the early days of some very successful apps like Instagram. How do you make sure that you don’t lose focus with what you’re trying to do with Quipio when it is growing at such a fast pace?

First week stats have been outstanding: 40K downloads, 16K public quips created, 45K quips shared publicly and privately. I believe Instagram had a better debut than us, but it did have the benefit of starting out with Burbn a few months prior and creating the foundation of its user-base there.

It’s very easy to lose focus or take your users for granted, but at Quipio, we’ve always had a user-centric philosophy when it comes to product design and functionality. We’ve taken advantage of the scale we’ve reached to really listen to some of the feedback and understand where the current pain points are. Some we’ve already anticipated, some that are new to us. We are already deep into Quipio 1.1, and it contains a lot of enhancements that users requested. We are looking to release it in the coming week and hopefully it’ll be out there in time for Valentines Day! We love our community and we are going to give them a great update.

What’s your favourite app/service, other than yours of course?

Twitter – strikes a great balance between utility and entertainment.

Google Maps – for outstanding utility and beautiful UX (referring to the iOS version).

What is a typical day at Quipio like?

Depends on the day, but generally speaking, we focus on responding to any customer feedback and support issues in the morning and figure out what the team is going to be pursuing in terms of tasks for the week ahead. We checkpoint our progress pretty much every day and do rolling commits to our Github repository as we progress. We are too small a team to really have a process guiding us. We really focus on what is necessary to be executed upon, and do it. We are lucky to have a team that is conscientious enough to raise issues and concerns, and take corrective action when necessary.

What’s the best ‘quip’ you’ve seen so far? Actually make that the best 3 quips!

Haha! That’s like asking someone to pick which son or daughter they prefer! I would recommend getting Quipio and checking out our “Featured” section. Everything on that list is visually interesting and a celebration of human ingenuity.

Have you seen any unusual uses of Quipio yet, in advertising for example? Do you think this is something Quipio might lend itself to?

Yup, we have seen menus, recipes, display advertising, sale items, brands, bands… you name it, we’ve already seen it being plugged and displayed on Quipio. The options for coupling utility with the inherent fun factor of Quipio are exciting.

What are Quipio’s plans for the future?

It’s pretty clear that the core composition and publishing experience is simple and creates a very wide base of creators within Quipio. We have some really interesting plans for Spring that we’ll be sharing with the world in April, but for now, we are just focused making our community happy!

That was fascinating. Thanks very much for your time, Zubin. I’m already excited to see the next version of Quipio being released, and am pretty confident it is going to rise to exciting heights!

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2 thoughts on “Startup interview (one of my faves): @zubinwadia gives us the low-down on @quipio cc @surana_h @lfopw @dheerosaur @kellythompson”

    1. Quiptxt shut shop a couple of years ago, I think – I haven’t heard anyone else mention the two in the same breath, so I think you’re a one-off :-)

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