Viddy becomes Supernova, launches new social expression products including a Snapchat competitor

By Michael Carney , written on November 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Since its launch nearly three years ago, Viddy’s social video platform has been all about self expression in a mobile-first world. But this is a hotly contested category and as a result, the company has been through the full startup roller-coaster in its short lifespan. This includes having a runaway hit product, raising a celebrity-fueled funding round at nosebleed valuations, and turning down acquisition offers from Silicon Valley giants. As quickly as it grew, however Viddy watched usage plummet as its fiercest competition – Twitter’s Vine and Facebook’s Instagram Video – was entering the market. The company then had one founder ousted by its board and saw another leave voluntarily, before finally returning the bulk of the early capital in an effort to realign the business with current expectations.

Despite facing more turmoil in a 12-month period than most companies will in a lifetime, Viddy has rarely deviated from this mission. With the proverbial boat steadied, the company today announced a rebranding and the launch of two new products aimed at further solving this same self-expression problem.

Viddy (the company) will hereafter be known as Supernova, while the social video app will retain its current name. Founder and CEO JJ Aguhob explains that Supernova is an appropriate metaphor for the arc the company has taken to date, once burning among the brightest stars in the galaxy and then experiencing an interstellar explosion resulting in many new stars (its new products, if all things go according to plan).

These new products, including a semi-anonymous group photo messaging platform called Clique and slow motion video platform called Epic, are the result of extensive consumer research and user feedback, according to board member Jason Rapp. Over the last six months, the company invited many of its most loyal users, as well as students at several Los Angeles area high schools and universities to its office to discuss the way they use current social platforms.

The takeaway from these talks was both an affirmation of many of the things that Viddy had always believed and a new perspective on many of the latest trends in social like ephemerality and anonymity. Viddy was encouraged by the group’s emphasis on short form, snackable content, and the value of imposing creative limitations like the 30 second clip length that has been a feature of the platform since the beginning. The company also learned that while Snapchat and Whisper are gaining popularity at an unprecedented rate, many of its users feel that there is a void between the two.

Clique, is the most intriguing of the two new apps in my opinion. It is a surprisingly compelling hybrid of Snapchat, Whisper, and GroupMe. Users are invited to create groups of contacts, or Cliques, from their address book and to have ongoing image-based conversations within these groups. The twist is that each message is anonymous within the group. Like Snapchat, images can be annotated with text-based captions, drawings, and stickers. Users can reply to a given message by modifying the previous image or sending a new one to the group. Each image can be viewed only once prior to replying and once a user in the group swipes to start a new thread, the previous thread is gone forever.

Anyone who’s ever been on an email or text message chain reacting to a funny video or photo can imagine the type of rabid engagement this might drive. Clique taps into all the casual, reactionary dynamics of private group conversations and eschews social pressure and self-regulation introduced by more public social networks. The app could obviously be a major hit, not only among students but also within offices, teams, or other natural group environments.

Clique, which is entirely separate from Viddy, has actually been available in public beta since early August, but the product is getting a complete overhaul in version 2.0 which will hits the iTunes App Store today. In addition to a complete visual redesign, courtesy of the new iOS 7 design language introduced by Apple, the bulk of the focus has been around the simplicity of creating and interacting with groups.

Unlike Clique, Epic is an offshoot of the existing Viddy platform meaning that it’s built on the same social graph. Users can follow the same friends and share content across the two platforms. The new platform focuses on slow motion video, inviting users to “capture everything from action shots to dance moves to the last bite of the most amazing burger.”

Apple added slow motion video capture to the new iPhone 5S, but Epic makes it available to devices as far back as the iPhone 4 (although at lower frames-per-second rates). Users are invited to capture two-second video clips, which are then slowed down to between four and eight seconds of slow-mo video, depending on the user’s device. These clips can then be shared across the Epic network, and also to the user’s Viddy profile.

The Supernova team views Epic as a test. It may catch on as a standalone video social network, perhaps one popular among action sports enthusiasts or other relevant crowds. Alternatively, it may be better suited as a feature within main Viddy product. But the company isn’t rushing into either conclusion. Judging by the user backlash to Instagram’s addition of Video and Twitter’s recent in-stream image update, this may be a prudent choice.

To me, slow-mo video feels more like a feature than a product. That said, there is value in uniformity of experience and an entire feed of awesome slow-mo videos, user-generated content (UGC) quality permitting, could be quite compelling. By contrast, encountering a few slow-mo clips among a stream of full-speed content could be viewed as jarring. The good news is that because Epic is built on the existing Viddy platform, it’s a relatively small bet, resource-wise for the team and could have a disproportionately large payoff should it catch on.

Believe it or not, the original Viddy product back to its growing ways as well, according to the company. A newly tweaked on-boarding experience and the ability to create vignettes from multiple videos has increased both engagement and retention rates over the last few months. The addition of a bit of viral traffic from Epic, should it catch on, would only help this trend.

As much as Supernova is a three-year-old company, it’s really starting fresh today. With the recapitalization and management shakeup that occurred in April, the company relieved itself of the unrealistic expectations of its one-time $370 million valuation. Today, with the name change it’s turning the page on first chapter in its story. With the introduction of Clique and Epic, Supernova is getting back to its roots of innovating around storytelling and communication.

Today, Supernova has just 12 employees – down from nearly three times as many – and a few million bucks in the bank – down from more than $30 million. Like any other startup of this size and scale, the company is searching for that spark that will elevate it to the next stage of growth and engagement – not to mention the ultimate prospect of one day generating revenue. It’s entirely possible that either Clique or Epic will prove to be that spark. Both tap into the the hottest trends in mobile and social communication.

It's said that we learn more in failure than we do in success. Supernova will hope that's true, and regardless of how these experiments play out, the comapny appears to be better positioned than it has been at any point in the last year. Aguhob and his team had a hit product on their hands once before, albeit briefly. The next challenge is to prove that they can create on with staying power.

[Image via StelarPlanet]