Chelinde Edouard is Co-Founder and CEO of MustWatch, which connects people through television.
Chad talks with Che about creating a social and user engagement platform that allows people to come back and constantly use an app without interrupting TV-watching experiences, how they use data to improve user experience, and fundraising and giving investors opportunities to help build out the app, increase marketing, and potentially build an Android version.
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CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel, and with me today is Che Edouard, Co-Founder and CEO of MustWatch, which connects people through television. Che, thank you for joining me.
CHELINDE: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
CHAD: So astute listeners of the show will note maybe that name sounds familiar. And that's because you and MustWatch were mentioned on Episode 419, which was about the GK Fund with Michael Benezra. And I asked him for examples of the kinds of companies that he was excited about that they had given their grants to. And you're the one he called out, and so that jumped out at me. And thanks for joining the show.
CHELINDE: Thank you for having me. Really appreciate it. And I definitely want to shout out the GK Fund. They've definitely been a huge support to us since giving us the grant. And they're definitely leading the charge in this new avenue of racial inequality and helping startups in that fashion in Boston.
CHAD: So I'm curious; before we get too far down the road of where you're at today and how you got there, let's take a step back and just remind people what MustWatch is.
CHELINDE: Absolutely. MustWatch is an app that's on the App Store now. So even if you have an iPhone, you can download it. And it's an app that's revolving around TV. So it allows you to see what shows your friends watch, chat with them about them, and send recommendations all in one place. So we think of it as like a social hub for all of your TV needs.
CHAD: I think people who hear this might be like, oh, does this exist already? That kind of thing. And there are a couple of things a little bit like this, but it doesn't seem like there's really anything that's quite like this, right?
CHELINDE: Exactly. So a lot of the social TV apps and other services today focus on one feature, for example, chat or recommendations, or giving reviews about shows, or having a list of them. But our app, we do all of it in one place. So on our app, it can show which shows you like. You can also share with your friends directly; hey, you should go watch this show because I think you should like it.
We also have this feature called watchlist, which is our natural social recommendations of here are all the shows that your friends are watching that you don't watch. And so it's a way to give people a way to find new shows without getting the same recommendations from Netflix and Hulu that are not really accurate today.
CHAD: How did you hit upon this idea?
CHELINDE: Actually, one of my high school friends, we were all brainstorming and coming up with ideas for companies. And then one day, he was at work, and he was trying to talk about Game of Thrones, but his boss wouldn't let him because he wasn't caught up on the season. He wasn't there.
CHELINDE: So he was like, how do I find someone or talk to someone who's caught up to where I'm at so I can actually have a conversation? And so we brainstormed, and we tried to solve the problem of let's just create a spoiler-free chat kind of solution that would allow people to talk about shows that they're caught up on. And then that we've iterated and evolved, and that's kind of led to where we're at today.
CHAD: And when was that?
CHELINDE: That was, I want to say, 2014. That was when I graduated from BU. So in the summer of 2014, that's when we first had the idea. And then from there, we just brainstormed, had a bunch of meetings, and then just took a year in stealth mode trying to figure out how we wanted to create a business plan. And then, from there, we hit the ground running.
CHAD: You and your friend, what were your sort of core competencies, the two of you?
CHELINDE: I'm the tech background, so to speak, because, as I mentioned, I went to BU. My degree is in management information systems, which is basically business IT. So I was trying to leverage all my technology skills there and also my business skills to say how do we, one, build the app and two, create a business that can actually support it for the long term?
And he had more of the idea on the customer side of how can we create an experience or a user engagement platform that allows people to constantly come back and constantly want to find more reason to use our app? Because as we know, people watch the show on TV, but the app is a conduit to that. And so, we want to figure out a way to get people to constantly use our app but also not interrupt their TV-watching experience.
CHAD: So you said you're trying to figure out a business plan. You're refining the concept. At what point do you start making the leap to actually writing an app?
CHELINDE: With all apps, you start with this concept called wireframes, and so we built out a bunch of wireframes. Two of my friends from high school we all built the app together. And then one of them went to Miami, and his friend from Miami he's the one that actually helped us develop the app and code. And so we worked with him to actually say, "Hey, these are our wireframes. We're trying to make this into an app. Can you build it out?" And so, we worked with him over a year to make that a reality.
CHAD: And it took about a year to get to launch.
CHELINDE: We actually started on Android, and we were trying to create an MVP or prototype. And so we took that idea like I said, we were working for a year, to this company called Netcapital, which is a crowdfunding platform for startups and companies. And we launched on Netcapital in May of 2020. With that idea, we raised 50k in almost three months. And with that money, we actually built the app from there. And so the app you see in the App Store now is from the money that we've raised on Netcapital.
CHAD: Did you throw away that original version and start over?
CHELINDE: I wouldn't say throw away. We kind of used it as a launching point. But we don't have any Android version right now. We're strictly in iOS.
CHAD: Yeah, that was notable to me. Tell me more about that.
CHELINDE: So going from Android to iOS it was really a business decision there because our developer had knowledge in Android but didn't have the iOS background. And so when we went on Netcapital, we used that money to actually hire a real development team. That's who's building our app now. So we work with them to build our app. And going to iOS has allowed us to, at least in the meantime, expand in the U.S. market a lot quicker.
CHAD: Now, are they building it in first-party frameworks only for iOS, or are they using something that is going to allow you to go expand to Android in the future?
CHELINDE: So right now, we're strictly iOS only. We would like to move to a React Native or a tool that allows us to promote to both. When we first started, we wanted to just focus on iOS, given our costs.
CHAD: These are common problems that a lot of startups or common decisions that a lot of startups have to make. And it's not always straightforward. Were you worried about this?
CHELINDE: Yes. Because that's one of the things now it's we would love to have an Android version. But for me, being more of a purist, I didn't want the code to work in one system and not another. And given that we only had...in my mind, it's like you have one shot to make an impression. And when you go out and launch it on the App Store, I didn't want it to be half-baked in one and half-baked in the other. I'd rather have one be exactly how we want it to look, and then we can adapt as we grow.
CHAD: How has it been working for you, then?
CHELINDE: So far, so good. We're actually in the process of releasing some new features later this month, and so like I said, the watchlist feature, which allows you to add shows that you're going to watch in the future. We also have the ability to create chats through the chat functionality because previously, you had to create a new chat every single time. So we've made it easier for people to start chats, and also you can do group chats as well. So it's not just individuals. You can have a whole group of people in one conversation.
CHAD: So some of these features there must be a backend server powering all of this, right?
CHELINDE: Yes. So we use the Google Cloud Firestore for our backend. And another cool part about our app is we have a lot of analytics about what people are watching. And that's where we take their data from our cloud, the Google Cloud Firestore, and we send it to the BigQuery, also a Google platform. And then we use the Google Analytics that we have on the app to then do our reports around who's watching what, top 10 shows for the past month, the top 10 shows based on if you're male or female, based on what age group. So we have all the analytics on the viewing habits from the data that we've collected.
CHAD: Can you tell me how many users you have now?
CHELINDE: As of right now, we are at 820. We are looking to obviously get a little bit over to that 1,000 users mark, and then we can have a better sense of what kind of insights we can glean from there.
CHAD: Well, hopefully, coming on this show will help you do that. So if you're listening and this sounds interesting to you, where are the best places...so people can search for MustWatch on the App Store, the iOS App Store?
CHELINDE: Yep. And we also have a website mustwatch.com if people want to check that out as well.
CHAD: Yeah, so let's do it. Let's push them over the top and get those numbers up. I'm curious about usage patterns. Are you able to see any patterns in terms of what causes people to either keep using the app or not?
CHELINDE: Yeah. So the main thing that keeps people using the app is having chat groups with people and then also getting recommendations. Like I mentioned before, we have the social recommendations of people just showing you what shows people watch. But there's also direct one-to-one. If you're on the app, I could send you a recommendation. And that's what drives a lot of people to go on the app and find new shows.
Another thing that we see is a lot of people just searching, just looking up the shows that are on the app because our database of shows is actually pretty robust. I was talking to someone yesterday; he's Korean. And he was using his phone to type in a show. And he was using a Korean keyboard, and the show came up. And he was like, "Oh wow, I didn't even know you guys support multiple languages." And I was like, "Yes, we support." Our database of shows is very expansive. So if you're in Korea, if you're in Japan, if you like anime, if you like telenovelas, we have all types of shows on our app as well.
CHAD: Do you get that database from somewhere?
CHELINDE: Yeah, so there's actually a TV show API called TMDB, which pretty much is an open-source, free database that you can pull from. So we use that as our source for shows.
CHAD: That's cool. Speaking of shows, I noticed on the MustWatch website, on the team page, you all list your favorite shows and what you're currently watching. I think you and I have different tastes in shows. [laughter] I have heard of the shows that are your favorite, but I have not watched any of them.
CHELINDE: Oh wow. [laughs] What are your favorite shows?
CHAD: I think actually my shows match the shows listed by Rob, your CFO.
CHELINDE: Oh wow. [laughs]
CHAD: And my all-time favorite show is, I think, The Leftovers.
CHELINDE: Okay. So yeah, and that's the cool thing about this app is like, if you're on the app, you would see Rob's shows on the app too. Because if you download the app, you become friends with all of us immediately, so you have friends on there to start.
CHAD: Oh, that's a cool idea.
CHELINDE: So it gives you a way to just see what the app can look like before...because if you're on there by yourself as one person, it's a social app. It's meant to be with people. It doesn't really give you that clarity. So I bring that up because that's the one cool thing about the app is you always are surprised by what shows people watch, even if they're your friend. It's like, oh, I didn't know you would like that show. Or oh, I liked that show, and you don't like that show.
And it's a very cool icebreaker or just a social connection that you can make because everyone's putting shows on the app. And one way, actually...I was talking to someone the other day thinking about how like Spotify, you put all your playlists and all your shows. This app is kind of like a Spotify but for TV shows and also for movies. So it's not just shows, movies as well.
CHAD: And the cool things that Spotify does in terms of the reports that they release annually to each individual person and everything. Like, that's all stuff you can do too.
CHAD: Yeah, it's cool. So your background actually is in sort of business intelligence, data analysis, and analyst, right?
CHELINDE: Yes, that's correct. For my day job...I just want to back up. I also have a day job while also doing this. And I've primarily been the past couple of years a BI analyst. So previously, I was at HarbourVest, which is a private equity firm here in Boston. And then, I recently joined Liberty Mutual Investments also as BI data analyst. So I've been very involved in the financial services side of data analytics, which has allowed me to just get other insights on how technology works and just also getting exposure to the whole industry as well.
CHAD: So you basically have two reasons why you want to get the number of users up. One is from a co-founder perspective and founder perspective; you want to get the number of users up. But from a data perspective, you want to get the users up so that you have more data to play with.
CHELINDE: Exactly, exactly. The more users we have, the more data we can collect. And then data we can glean insights, and then provide value to our customers as well. Because our app users, if we can know which shows they are liking, we can also then tell them about shows that they also might like. Because once you find commonalities in shows that people are liking, you can then give them better recommendations.
And we think that the social aspect of our app, the fact that we have all of your friends on there and they're giving you recommendations, it's better than just, oh, you've watched this show in the past three years, and it's on Netflix's algorithm of watched shows. That, to us, doesn't really seem as insightful and helpful to people.
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CHAD: So you mentioned you have another job in addition to all this work you've been doing on MustWatch. How has that been? You know, starting a company, working on it while also having a full-time job elsewhere?
CHELINDE: Yeah, it's definitely been, I guess, one of the challenging things I would say. It's definitely been rewarding. It takes a lot of time management, I would say, because you have to balance your day job and manage something on the side. I think the biggest hurdle I had was when we were first launching the app on the App Store, meeting with developers, and trying to fundraise all at the same time because I was just pressed for time.
Because of the COVID, COVID happened right when we were launching. So working from home all day everyday kind of helped because I didn't have an hour commute anymore. So I got two hours back in my day. So I could, instead of going to work and just commuting, I had an hour in the morning and an hour after. I could use that time for MustWatch. But I had to definitely sacrifice some of my social life to make that happen.
CHAD: I assume that you have the plans that you would hope that things with MustWatch get to the point where you could do it full time.
CHELINDE: Yes. The goal is to get MustWatch to a point where we can pay our employees and have salaries, and everyone can just be working from the company. But as everyone knows, if you're in a startup, you got to just not pay yourself and make sure everything goes into the company. How I see it is you can't pay yourself until everything else is working.
CHAD: Yeah, I mean, people hear the startup stories of raising a whole bunch of money, working exclusively on it, having more than enough. I think that that's actually not necessarily the norm; that's the outlier. I think it's more common, more widespread to do what you're doing, to have an idea, and to be working on it and growing it while also holding down another job.
CHELINDE: Because as we all know, the bills need to be paid, [laughs] and those don't go away. But I didn't want to give up on the dream. So if you want to make it happen, you can make it happen because while I was at HarbourVest, I also was at Babson getting my master's degree in business analytics. So at one point in time, I was working full-time at grad school and doing MustWatch. To me, that was probably the most busiest period of my life, but I did get through it. [laughs] But definitely took a lot, but now we're here. And we've gotten support from the GK Fund, and I couldn't be happier with where the future lies ahead.
CHAD: One of the things about the GK Fund is that it's a grant. It's not an investment where you're giving up part of your company in order to do it, which I think is really important, especially for very early-stage companies, not to have to give away a significant portion of their company just to get some angel investment or that startup fund. I assume that's one of the reasons why it's been a big impact for you.
CHELINDE: Absolutely. I mean, one, having it not be an investment was a lifesaver for us. At the time, we were still trying to figure out how to just get cash to get to the next stage. And so, for us, a grant was literally the blessing or a miracle at the perfect timing because it allowed us to...it gave us a little kickstart.
Because I mean, as everyone knows, if you're a startup, you're always low on cash. And you're always trying to decide what's the best way to move the company forward? And that just gave us that breathing room without having to worry about paying it back, or a timetable to now let us actually grow and do what we can do best.
CHAD: Do you hope to take a more traditional investment in the future?
CHELINDE: Yes. So we're actually planning to do another fundraising on Netcapital. This time we're planning to raise $450,000. And that's going to help us build out the app, increase our marketing, and then potentially also build an Android version.
CHAD: So I'm not sure that everyone who's listening will know what Netcapital actually is.
CHELINDE: Yep. So Netcapital is a crowdfunding equity platform which allows retail investors to directly invest in startups. So if you're looking for another way to get into early-stage companies, Netcapital is a great place to do that. It's similar to if you've heard of StartEngine. It's a similar concept to that. And it's mainly you pretty much buy shares in a company, and then that company will then take that money to then use it for the funds that they have set in their offering. And you actually get an equity stake in the company.
And so, for us, it's great because typically, those types of fundraising opportunities don't come for us. You need to have VC-backed or some kind of angel investor to get to that level. But having it be open to everybody, there's a larger pool of retail investors that allow you to get to where you need to go. Because if you can get a couple of your family, friends around to give you like a hundred or a couple thousand, it's definitely a better avenue than just going the VC route or just getting a loan from a grant or a startup, an SBA loan, something like that.
CHAD: Traditionally, something like Netcapital was not really possible. But my understanding is that in 2016, the laws changed to allow smaller investments and get actual equity and for companies to offer it in such a way that wasn't possible before.
CHELINDE: Yes, I believe it's called a Reg CF, Regulation Crowdfunding, and that was the law that was passed in 2016. And that is crucial to us being able to have an offering on Netcapital.
CHAD: So it's not like Kickstarter where, you know, in Kickstarter, you're offering a new product or something, and people aren't becoming investors in your actual company. Netcapital is they are actual investors. And so, as an entrepreneur, as a company, what do your obligations to those investors look like?
CHELINDE: So because they're investors, we have to give them quarterly updates. We have to file our annual report. We have to disclose any conflict of interest. There's a whole SEC team that has to approve and review any offering that goes on the platform to make sure that we are following all SEC guidelines. And then also, we are liable because they're investors. So they can email us. They can reach out to us, and we will respond because they are our shareholders. [chuckles] And so we need to make sure they're happy as well.
CHAD: Yeah, with one of the things that Netcapital does is it sort of works like Kickstarter in that if you don't meet the goals that you've set, it doesn't actually happen.
CHELINDE: Yep, there's a minimum investment threshold, so it depends on how much money you're raising. So last time, when we raised 50k, the minimum was 10k. So if we didn't get over $10,000, all the investors would get their money back. But if we got over that threshold, then that's the money that we would be able to use for our company.
CHAD: 450,000 is significantly more than 50,000. What do you feel like you need to do in order to make sure that you hit the goal?
CHELINDE: So one thing is going on podcasts like this to make sure that people know about it. [laughter] Secondly, we're actually going to be partnering with the GK Fund to do some more media exposure there. And then we're also partnering with Silicon Valley Bank because they're actually our partners on the banking side. And so, I'm going to be partnering with their network to leverage their connections as well. And then we're also going to be just doing the classic social media, posting on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, friends, or family. All avenues of media we will be pushing out MustWatch.
CHAD: When do you expect to open up that listing?
CHELINDE: We're targeting mid-July right now. So that's when we're planning on going live on Netcapital pending the compliance review and all the other legal stuff, but that's when we plan to go live.
CHAD: Okay, well, if you're listening to this episode, it's going to be going live in a couple of weeks. And so definitely follow along and check it out. Cool. Well, what are your goals for that next funding round? What do you expect to use it for?
CHELINDE: We expect to use our funding round on improving the iOS experience, so adding more features because we've gotten some customer feedback. And we have a laundry list or a backlog of items we want to add but obviously limited by cash constraints. So once we have the money, we can do what we want to do.
And then we also would like to improve our marketing. So we want to have a real marketing team and improve our SEO. And then we also have a connection with Hollywood. So the writer for Ford and Ferrari, his name is Jason Keller is on our team. And we want to see how we can get our foot in the door with Hollywood as well.
CHAD: That's really cool. What would that look like in your ideal scenario?
CHELINDE: Ideally, we'd have some celebrities or Hollywood A-listers on the app using MustWatch and then promoting their shows or promoting our app in one of their media engagements as well.
CHAD: Or chatting with people about the episode that just came out and that kind of thing. That'd be really cool.
CHELINDE: Yeah, exactly. We want to get people to just engage on the app with celebrities as well. That's definitely one of the avenues we were thinking as well.
CHAD: One of the big trends right now is TV companies making companion podcasts to the shows that they make. I can totally see them doing this kind of thing as well.
CHELINDE: As we all know, user engagement and fan engagement is crucial for these companies, and MustWatch would be a crucial way for a lot of companies to connect easily.
CHAD: This is a little bit of an aside, but I was sort of surprised that you were able to get mustwatch.com.
CHELINDE: It was not cheap. [laughter] I think for some people who were following us for a while, when we first launched, our name was WatchParty. And that's how we originally started our company. But as we evolved, Facebook released a watch party feature; Hulu, Amazon all have these watch party features, and they weren't exactly like our company. And we didn't want to get any confusion in branding. And so we had a long discussion around what name do we change to, and how do we still convey the right feel for the app, and what we want to do?
Because on our app, you're not watching the show on our app, I want to make that very clear. It's all about finding a new show, chatting, and connecting with people, but you're not watching on the app. And so it's tough to...not tough, but we wanted to make sure that people knew that the app was for finding new shows. But also, it has to be like a must-watch. Like, I need to go watch this right now because it's something really good. And so that's how we came across this name.
CHAD: You mentioned earlier on that expenses are tight when you're working on something new. How worried were you about spending money on a domain name?
CHELINDE: So this is also where our partnership with Netcapital came into play because they helped us in terms of getting us off the ground. And we work with them on the business side as well. And this is one of the avenues where they helped support us.
CHAD: Oh, wow. Wow. It's great that you're able to pull together these different resources and get that support.
CHELINDE: Yeah, to us, it's been crucial because, without the support, it's very tough to get your name out there. It's very tough to promote the idea. And so, with Netcapital and the GK Fund, it definitely puts us in a better light than usual.
CHAD: Well, Che, I really wish you the best and MustWatch the best and your whole team. And good luck over the next few weeks as you open up this round on Netcapital. I ask everybody, again, go check out the app. Sometimes we talk to companies of all different stages on the show. And I especially think it's important when we have someone that's just getting started really trying to hit these user numbers that if people could go check it out, that'd be great.
CHELINDE: Really appreciate it.
CHAD: If folks want to follow along with you, get in touch with you, that kind of thing, where are all the different places where they can do that?
CHELINDE: Reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn, Che Edouard. You can reach out to us on mustwatch.com. We have a contact us email there. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to reach out. I am available on all platforms.
CHAD: Wonderful. And you can subscribe to the show and find notes and a complete transcript for the episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. And you can find me on Twitter at @cpytel.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
Thanks so much for listening, and see you next time.
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