Co-written by Andrew Yang and Joseph Zhang
People today love sharing pictures and videos. Within the past few years, video sharing services have become popular for people of all ages and demographics. With limitless choices for consumers that have saturated the market–ranging from YouTube to Instagram and Twitch–why did founder of Loop, Brian Gannon think that the world needed another one?
The answer was simple.
Unlike most existing services, which focused on spreading content outward to acquaintances and total strangers, Brian saw a need for a service that could privately share content to close friends and family.
He came up with the idea after a series of unfortunate events in his family. His father had fallen ill and was confined to a hospital bed, far away from where he was living. Brian hoped that seeing his newborn grandson would give his father the motivation to fight his suffering, but given the distance, they had to resort to a digital solution.
First, Brian tried by giving his father an iPad, which didn’t work out because he had become too weak to hold it. Then, he built a wearable camera, which turned out to be a horrible experience. He soon realized that his approach to the problem was wrong–the friction was on his father’s end, not his.
He set out to build a prototype of a connected screen, the precursor of what would later become Loop. However, at that point it wasn’t realistic for him to quit his stable job and make it into an actual product. But as time went on, it seemed like a better idea. People had envisioned a connected screen for the home for decades, but unlike before, the technology had progressed to the point where it was actually an attainable possibility. That possibility became reality after Brian and his wife decided that he should quit his job and work full-time on Loop.
Although his product was certainly new, it’s safe to say that Brian’s drive to helm a company was not. From a young age, he was intrigued by the possibility of leading a company. He cited the success of entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as one of his greatest motivators while he was growing up and was mesmerized by the possibility of being a titan of industry like Iron Man. His mother, who worked at the placement office at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, would sometimes bring home printouts of the salaries of recent graduates, and he recalled that he was astonished by the earnings potential in the business world.
However, business was only one interest. Brian also had a deep passion for electrical engineering, recalling that he was building circuits by the time he was twelve. He ended up receiving his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and later received an MBA from MIT’s Sloan.
After graduating, he worked in consulting in Sydney, but later moved to Silicon Valley where he became a general manager for a tech company. At his job, he found himself building new products from scratch. It was, in many ways, similar to the company he would later create. He worked extensively with image and video processing products, so the underlying technology was not foreign to him.
When he did eventually make the jump, he found that the technical side would be the least of his concerns.
Even with Brian’s extensive experience with working on innovative products, Loop’s journey was far from easy. Before Brian had quit his full-time job, he got together a group of engineer friends and acquaintances to put together a more refined prototype. Unfortunately for Brian, almost none of them were committed to the project, and progress stalled. Brian really wanted to get a prototype out there, so he told them that he was committed and had quit his job to work on the project full time. Instead of inspiring others to dedicate effort into the product like he hoped, every single person except one went radio silent. He didn’t expect them to quit their jobs and join full time, but he was still shocked.
The one person that stepped up did work, albeit slowly. Nevertheless, they put together a working prototype that got them into a startup accelerator called Highway1. Luckily for Brian, Highway1 was new and had few people applying, and they were able to squeak in. Highway1 gave them a small amount of money, but what really counted was the space they shared with about ten other up-and-coming hardware startups. And unlike before, Brian was now in an environment where others were as motivated as he was to see their product succeed, which is how he found his founding team.
Now, with an actual team, he tackled one of the biggest challenges for any startup: funding. One problem that many startups face when trying to get investors is how they can differentiate themselves from others. Fortunately for Loop, there really weren’t any products like theirs when they entered the market. However, Brian recalls that he may have been too confident in his product’s marketability to investors.
For him, his product seemed like a no-brainer that would have investors clamoring for a stake. It didn’t turn out that way, but it taught him a few key lessons. First, it was important to create a quality product. It may seem obvious, but there are countless examples of companies that failed after trying to go far without putting effort into the product itself. He also advised that fundraising should be treated as a sales process– a step-by-step, methodical plan.
Brian also focused on his values. For many people, meetings are the most dreaded parts of their work life, but Brian could not disagree more. Brian cares about meetings. For him, meetings are absolutely necessary, as the lifeblood of companies lies in the people. It is especially important that those people are working well together and efficiently, so he likes to check in with employees on a one-on-one basis. Brian said, “Everything happens with people working together and good ideas come from people working together,” and it makes sense. A company may have millions in investment and equipment, but without people working together in a positive way, it’s essentially worthless.
Looking back, Brian remembers a few hitches in their plan that threatened to derail the company. He even described it as being “constantly punched in the face.” The first hiccup was their initial rushed start. They knew their initial product was good, but not perfect, yet wanted to push it out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the release wasn’t what they hoped, but they got valuable feedback that allowed them to improve the product.
When it came to sell the product, however, he faced one of the worst nightmares a marketer could have. An email error caused every single customer who pre-ordered their product to receive an email saying that they won a prize. Because of that, nobody was ordering their product because they all thought they got a prize.
For a company like Amazon, which makes billions in revenue every year, a misprint or typo can hurt, but it probably isn’t enough to sink the business. For a startup without any sales like Loop, it can derail years of hard work. Thankfully for Brian, Loop was able to make it out alive, but many don’t. For Brian, it was stressful, painful and exhausting, but he had to learn to just forge forward.
One message that Brian repeatedly went back to was the importance of having a good product. It seems obvious, but it really makes everything else so much easier. For a small company with limited marketing spend, word of mouth and publicity from reviews is incredibly important to get the word out. Brian utilized Facebook ads and other conventional advertising techniques, but for him, the best marketing was a good product.
Brian advises other entrepreneurs out there to minimize risk and stay grounded. We are all told from a young age to go out and take risks. We are told to step out of our comfort zone and try something new. However, Brian told us how dangerous risk can be. Investors don’t want risky companies that promise big and don’t deliver. In fact, one of the greatest priorities of a business should be to reduce risk. It should also insure that it has a strong foundation before trying to build out too far. A company without a strong product cannot succeed no matter how good its marketing team is.
Founder Brian Gannon has overcome many obstacles while at the help of Loop. Many parts of the business have changed over time, but its focus on keeping families connected has stayed consistent. In many ways, a company that has faced ups and downs can be a better example to learn from than the companies that haven’t. Brian demonstrates that running a business isn’t easy, but can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
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