I caught up with Ramli Jon on a cold winter evening near the university plaza in Waterloo to catch up on Family Tales and the story of the startup. Family Tales is based in the Velocity Garage and Mars Toronto.
Telll me about yourself:
I studied at UW like 5 years ago. Math and Comp Sci. After that I worked at a large beverages company but at the end there was too much red tape. For 4 years. After that I started a startup which failed.
What was the startup?
It was called Lesson Sensei - so we were trying to connect people in Toronto with Sensei - people who are expert at their things. So perhaps like learn to bake a cup cake or something like that or make sushi. So we are able to connect people looking to learn how to make sushi with people who know how to make sushi. And then I ended up doing my MBA. The reason was that I thought I didn’t have any business skills. I was very technical, coming from a math and computer science background.
How did you go from Lesson Sensi to Family Tales?
Ali (Co-Founder) was my classmate during our MBA and that’s where we met. Originally we started Family Tales as a Facebook for dead people & that’s how we pitched it. That’s how met the folks from MBET, we were working with a prototype called Halo Lane where we were trying to capture people’s lives after they passed away.
So why a Facebook for Dead People?
When my grandmother passed away she left us with a lot of stories but people started forgetting them. We felt like the current offering for the death care industry for capturing those stories was too focused on the negativity and depressing. So we tried to liven it up.
So more like cherishing their lives?
Yeah exactly. We tried to stick there for a bit thinking we could innovate there but its tough trying to market death to people so we decided to pivot to families. Capture your family stories in general and we really focused in on mothers to capture their babies stories. So we came out with our beta on our web version, April we came out with the beta for our web app. We got an okay traction. It’s not that great and it didn’t meet our expectations so at this moment we’re working on making a pivot away from the web and we’re going mobile first and connecting to printers right away. As for our target we’re broadening our focus from mothers to families in general. That was one of the biggest learnings - our expertise is web development and we kept pushing web. We really didn’t listen to our market and while talking to mothers and families in general we noticed that they don’t use their pc’s much. They’re on their phones and tablet almost all the time so we’re focusing on creating the best experience we can make on an android or mobile tablet to almost create a scrapbook feel.
So now we’re not focusing on baby stories exclusively but family stories - like Ali my co-founder is getting married so why can’t he create a FamilyTales booklet about it and print it. Another use case is family trips and make it simple on mobile and tablets.
Our goal right now is to put together a Kickstarter campaign in the next few month. We haven’t started building yet and one of our greatest learning was don’t build until you validate the market and that they would be willing to buy. That’s one of the biggest mistakes we did was that we build alot and all of a sudden we realized that this is not what they want. So this time we’re going through Kickstarter to validate the demand and see if people are willing to pay for a scrapbook generation through the tablet and pay for the booklet in advance.
So how did it evolve from the deceased to families? What was the defining moment.
Yeah, I think the toughest moment was trying to share it on our personal Facebook page. I didn’t know how to market this our reach out to people with such a grim message. We talked to a bunch of funeral homes and they were very resistant to it. The revenue from their memorial page was very minimum compared to their caskets business. A small memorial page for them in terms of revenue sharing was very low so we had hard time partnering up with them.
We showed our product to one a person who recently had lost someone and asked her to do whatever she wished with it and she put her babies name in. Our assumption was that she would write about the person who passed away. When we asked her about it she said my baby is my everyday life, I take pictures of her and I am with her everyday.
That was one we were like ‘Aha!’ but that is a very competitive space. There’s alot of players in photo space. One of our differentiators with family tales is that we don’t want to be called a photobook. We are more of a story book - stories with photos. When you print your FamilyTales book it’ll actually look like a story book (Photo’s with stories).
Quickly I just want to jump back to the first startup you did - How long did you work on it & what went wrong?
I worked for a year and one of the biggest learning I had was team. The reason that it fell apart was the team cohesion. There was a point where the team of four just imploded because we had a lot of disagreements in terms of the direction of the product. So my greatest learning coming out of there was to make sure everyone gets along in the team.
The other thing that I was scared of was double sided market - its like your marketing and connecting two different markets at the same time and that was tough. At the same time Groupon was doing coupons for classes and people trying to learn & Lesson Sensei couldn’t get the traction we needed.
What are some of the tough moments at Family Tales?
What is the Big Vision.
We want to capture everyone’s family stories. The bigger picture is that imagine when 20 years down the line, your great great grand children can read your story, listen to an audio of your voice and look at your pictures.
Capturing family stories right now almost like a time capsule so future generations can know more about their relatives and ancestors.
In short it is Connecting Families.
Post Script: Ramli was recently invited to speak at the Lean Startup Conference in SF. You can read about it & watch his talk here