Startup Grind Ottawa:
Interview with Joe Rideout,
Co-Founder, Relay

Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Joe Rideout, the co-founder of Relay (recently acquired by Kik) at Microsoft Canada’s offices downtown.

The Interview

Joe worked for Google as a software engineer and product managed for over 5 years before diving into startups. At Google he contributed to projects like Google Buzz, Google+, GMail, mobile search and more! In 2012, Relay was born and several months later, Joe and his co-founder Jon, raised $700k from some really big name investors (Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, The Social+Capital Partnership, Graph Ventures, and Real Ventures). In November 2014, Relay was acquired by Waterloo based Kik along with their $38 Million dollar raise. Some of the most important points Joe had to share with us about business, mobile, and the future of messaging included:
  • How working with larger companies like Google is awesome because of the scope of projects & talent surrounding you, but it can leave you with unrealistic expectations about how easy it is to start something new & acquire users.
  • Recruiting takes time. Ideally you want to talk to people you have an existing relationship with well ahead of time so that timing will eventually be right to bring them on board.
  • Chat is one of the first things people did on the internet.
  • All evidence points to the fact that people love chatting & conversation and content go hand-in-hand. These elements mutually reinforce each other.
  • Animated GIFs was just a hackday project that we added into V1 of Relay just for fun. But pretty soon, the data pointed to the fact that people loved them.
  • You have to obsessively be looking at data. We used Mixpanel to distill down to our most important metrics. For us it was what percentage of new users came from referrals? Basically viral growth.
  • You only need 1 distribution channel that works. When you find it, forget about everything else and focus there. The first part is to figure out where your users are coming from. We used a tool called MobileAppTracking.
  • Your growth can come from anywhere – especially on mobile – and you should do anything you can to encourage that growth. We localize our app and that really helped us.
  • Before you raise money I would spend time really thinking about whether or not you need to. It can be very time consuming and it limits your options.
  • Based on my observations, VC is very binary. Either no one wants to invest in you, or everyone wants to invest in you. So you need to figure out how to become the company everyone wants to invest in you.
  • VCs will never tell you ‘no’, because that would remove them from the opportunity to invest at a later point. So you need to recognize this.
  • Mobile chat has a huge future. People who are coming online now aren’t doing it through a desktop. There’s a convergence between chat, content and commerce.
  • We saw Kik as being one of the last independent messaging apps, extremely large audience, and a company that’s been thinking about messaging as a platform longer than anyone else and there was a perfect fit there.
  • By working together we can build something massive together and we’ve got a better shot at global competition.
You can watch the full video of the event here. Thanks to Robert Decher for recording the event.

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