Why Bloon didn’t work

Why didn’t Bloon work? Here are 3 main reasons why.

Acquiring users

Bloon isn’t useful at all with just you on it (1 player mode), not very useful with just you and a friend on it (2 player mode), and somewhat useful when your circle of friends less one are on it (n-1 player mode). Bloon only becomes really useful when your entire circle(s) of friends is also on it, the friends that you would be inviting to your activities.

If you look at any other social network that has taken off (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Pinterest, etc), each network is already able to show its value to the user when the user has just one other friend on it (2 player mode). Even more compelling are social networks where value is provided regardless of whether a user has any friends on it (1 player mode; Instagram for making photos look beautiful, and Pinterest for unlimited window shopping). I think this is partially the reason why these companies have experienced hypergrowth.

It’s difficult to acquire just one user. It is exponentially harder to acquire that one user, and then get that one user to convince a friend to join. Imagine how hard it is to convince a whole group of friends to join a service at the same time. There must be a very apparent value that the service brings that no one else can come close to providing in order for the users to go through this. A few examples of this include fantasy sports (need a 3rd party to track scores), and GroupMe (group messaging wasn’t possible when some friends are on feature phones and some were on smartphones). Both of these provide a large enough value to acquire groups of people at the same time. These are very rare. Bloon simply doesn’t provide enough value for this to happen.

I did spend some time thinking about, mocking up, and testing 1 player products that would fit in with Bloon, but ultimately decided that they weren’t worth pursuing. The flip side to all this is that a company with a large network of users like Facebook or Whatsapp could build a Bloon-like service that could be successful because the circle of friends is already there.

Can’t systematize organizing

Organizing isn’t a mentally complicated process to our human brains, but it is a messy process: organizers have to pry responses out of people, change plans, remind friends, and so on. It’s a process that has basically an infinite number of combination of steps, certainties, and social norms, so it’s difficult to systematize (which is what Bloon is trying to do).

It’s difficult to explain how Bloon works to other people without generating more questions and confusion and running into “corner cases” which actually happen all the time. All of this suggests that freeform emails and texts may be a better solution than a systematized solution; many casual activities come to fruition through a convergence that happens over an organic discussion.

Another reason why organizers ask a few friends first about an activity is that they want to make sure people actually want to do this activity. If these few friends aren’t interested, then the organizer hasn’t failed much (or, less so than asking a whole group of friends). People hate failing, even when it’s getting friends together for dinner. The organizer will sell to convince friends to join (e.g. social proof and FOMO - these 2 friends are joining so you should too), and adjust plans to accommodate others in order to not fail. Systematizing this “process” would be extremely tough.

Elon Musk says that “it's important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy.… [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there." I don’t think that I got down to the fundamental truths before building Bloon, but now I have a good understanding of the fundamental truths.

Value proposition

In evaluating your solution to the problem you’re trying to solve, you have to think about how your users are currently solving the problem. For many consumer social apps, the problem you’re solving may not necessarily be an action, but something to satisfy an emotion (e.g. loneliness or FOMO).

In the case of Bloon, the competition is text, email, and group messengers. Unfortunately for Bloon, it’s more difficult to invite friends through bloon than those communication channels (if your friends aren’t on Bloon, then you have to invite them through facebook, share a link, or input their phone numbers so Bloon can invite them over SMS). Even if it were just as easy to invite friends through Bloon, I think that Bloon would still need a larger value proposition to convince users to join due to switching costs. To overcome network effects, which email, text, group messengers have, there needs to be a platform shift (e.g. smartphones), or else your product has to be 10x better.

You can look at this mathematically:

Value prop of new service  > 10 * ( Work to setup and use new service - Work to use current solution )

There are 3 ways to make to this equation true:

  1. Find the use case where the value prop is great enough,
  2. Change the product to reduce the extra work, or
  3. Increase value prop of the product. Constantly think about this when building the product, and especially during the onboarding process.

For Bloon,

  1. We had a difficult time finding a use case where Bloon was 10 times more helpful than any alternative - among the better use cases were team sports, dinners, and gaming, but Bloon still didn’t provide a great enough value proposition to be adopted successfully in those niches.
  2. We made it easier to invite friends, but it’s still not as easy to use as email or text on the first use. While a native mobile app that accesses users’ contact lists would have helped, I don’t believe that this would have lowered the bar enough to make Bloon compelling (from looking at the traction of apps with similar functionalities).
  3. The value prop of Bloon was not strong enough. We could target a specific niche to make the product more useful to, but I didn’t think that was worth pursuing.

My hypothesis was that if someone successfully organizes via Bloon the first time they use it, they'd most likely use it again (they’ve reached the ‘ah ha’ moment). The actual data shows that this is true: over 50% of users who successfully organize via Bloon on their first try use Bloon again. But the problem is that many users never get to that point because it's too difficult to invite friends, and the value prop to extra work ratio is not large enough. Part of the solution for making value props more apparent and decreasing cognitive complexity is in marketing and copywriting. Part of it is in building a simpler product that solves a more defined problem.