Brandon Reti is VP of Mobile at Breather – a new startup that offers private spaces where people can meet, work, or relax. I attended a Startup Grind Meetup in Ottawa where Brandon spoke about his digital and mobile product management experience.
The Early Days
Brandon grew up in Montreal and attended McGill University where he earned an Honours degree in Economics. He started his digital career in quality assurance with Airborne Mobile and advanced into roles in research and business development. At Airborne, Brandon negotiated with brands such as the NFL, the NHL and Family Guy.
While at Airborne, he was approached by Manwin – the Montreal-based company that owns large online pornographic properties including Pornhub and YouPorn.
Brandon was initially hesitant to join (I wonder why?) but they offered him the pay he wanted as well as responsibilities for managing a product development team and large volume site. He took the job.
Balance: Business Goals + User Experience
Several times during his talk Brandon mentioned the importance of achieving (and maintaining) a balance between business goals and user experience. Too much focus on revenue (for example, too many ads) could compromise your product offering and diminish the user experience. A less-than-acceptable user experience means that your visitors look to your competition.
At Pornhub Brandon learned to tune traffic flows and product offerings (through real-time feature development and testing) to maximize revenue while maintaining a high quality user experience.
For example, Pornhub was able to triage its visitors by the number of videos they viewed. While many only looked at a few videos, a number of visitors viewed five or more videos each visit. These “five plus” visitors were charged and were happy to pay.
Pornhub is a large volume site (and big business). It gets as many as 20 million views per day with some advertisers paying up to $1 million per month to be on the site. A small tweak here or there can add up to significant revenue.
For example, each of the category images is rigorously tested to encourage clicks. A slight improvement in clickthrough could lead to increased user engagement and ad revenue.
The online market is highly competitive since clients can easily move to another web property. The online pornography business is even more competitive than average online businesses. As a result, Pornhub was the first to offer affiliate links and dating services. Faster load times and HD video are a must.
Just Another Day at the Office
As Manwin grew, Brandon found the company (like any workplace) becoming increasingly political and he was ready for a change.
While standing in the parking lot of Manwin because of a bomb threat, Brandon received a text from Julien Smith. The text discussion lead to Brandon joining Breather – Julien’s new startup venture.
Julien Smith is a successful author, blogger, and speaker. He travels extensively promoting his books and speaking, and came up for the idea for Breather when he wanted a quiet, private, and relaxing place to work and rest while on the road. He found hotel rooms to sterile and not conducive to hosting business meetings.
Breather formed around the time Uber and Airbnb started to gain momentum. Brandon explained to the audience that the sharing economy is part of the fabric of today’s work world and everyday life.
Many of today’s urban workers are freelancers. Owning a car and renting a hotel room is too expensive for many people. They want easy access to quality shareable goods and services.
How Breather Works
Users can access Breather services via the web, an iOS app, or an Android app. The user finds a Breather location in their city and uses the app to book a time. They pay in advance for the room.
When they get to the location they can get an access code in their app. The code is used to enter the room. Initially, Breather wanted to use a new technology from Lockitron that allows clients to unlock the room with their smartphone. However, the technology was not ready so they found a solution from a Montreal-based company.
The room is cleaned and made ready for the next guest after the client leaves.
Breather has locations in San Francisco, New York City, and Montreal. They are expanding to Ottawa and have plans for further expansion.
Julien has an extensive contact network that they could leverage to recruit key people and attract investors. He raised an initial seed financing of $1.5M at Real Ventures and later raised another $6M from RRE Ventures in New York City.
Initially the team was small and worked in a small office the size of a closet. The focus was on the intensive process of building the team.
They are now at 15 employees. Brandon emphasized in his talk the importance of recruiting the right people and shaping a culture of transparency, openness, and ego-free decision-making.
The company attracted its first customers using their personal networks and targeting friends. They made a point of soliciting feedback from the users early in the life of the product.
They started using Facebook and Twitter to generate traffic. They also use a referral engine (“get one hour free”) to get current users to invite their friends to take a Breather.
The core metric they focus on is the number of hours each facility is booked – while maintaining a positive user experience.
Developing the Product
Brandon sticks closely to the lesson he learned at Manwin – specifically that he develops products that achieve a balance between the goals of the business and the needs of the user.
He uses a number of tools to monitor customer usage and experience, specifically Mixed Panel, Intercom, and Facebook Custom Audience.
The development team at Breather focusses on providing a “frictionless experience” for the user. They want the process of adding a new user and the steps taken to book a room to be as easy as possible. Brandon stated that things need to be kept simple and easy-to-understand for the Breather user.
Like any good product marketer, Brandon uses a data intensive approach to determine what to do with his product. He focuses on keeping that balance between the business goals and the client needs.
This article is part of my Digital Marketing guide.