No matter how you spin it, entrepreneurship is tough. You face innumerable challenges and have to constantly make critical decisions. In some cases, even achieving immediate success causes complications for a startup. That’s what happened to Zeev Farbman early in the life of his startup, Lightricks.
While Farbman launched his company with the mission to create accessible mobile tools for visual content creators of all types, his first product, Facetune, caught fire among smartphone users and became the go-to selfie retouching app for the influencer world.
As a result, Farbman and Lightricks found themselves at a peculiar crossroads. They could embrace their early success and deviate from their business plan, or they could stick to their original vision and build products for creative professionals. In the end, Zeev charted a course that helped Lightricks capitalize on their unexpected success while using it to fuel the realization of the company’s vision.
Here’s the story of how Lightricks navigated its early success without abandoning its goals, and the lessons Farbman learned while doing it.
The initial plan
Farbman and his co-founders launched Lightricks with a specific market in mind. Farbman recalls, “With visual storytelling platforms like Instagram emerging at the time, we saw a pivotal evolution developing around both content creation and consumption. Previously, content creation tools like Adobe were mainly used amongst professionals on desktops. However, the shift to mobile sparked a need for similar tools that could be accessed by anyone easily and in real-time.”
Farbman explains, “The initial concept for Facetune was very different from what it has grown to be today. With the selfie craze at its pinnacle, we decided to provide a retouching tool for individuals to express and present themselves as they see fit, separate from our suite of product experiences geared towards digital artists, hobbyists, visual storytellers, small businesses and other types of content creators.”
When Facetune made its debut, it became a sensation. Within a year, it was the number one photo and video app in Apple’s App Store in over 120 countries.
This was a development that would have made any entrepreneur thrilled, but it presented a real challenge for Farbman and Lightricks.
The impact of catching lightning in a bottle
With a best-selling, category-defining app, it would have been all too easy to abandon their ambitious plans to develop a suite of graphic editing tools for creators, and go all-in on Facetune.
At first, Farbman and his co-founders had little choice but to ride the wave it created. He recalls, “The immediate success of Facetune forced us to focus on improving the app by making it available for both iOS and Android users, updating features, adding new ones, and so on. This ultimately delayed the release of our other app tools like Videoleap and Motionleap.”
But rather than dropping their plans to build tools to serve content creators, Lightricks fought the pressure to diverge from their vision. They embraced a system of parallel development tracks that kept Facetune moving forward, while providing a valuable funding stream to further the company’s broader plans.
Farbman explains, “Staying true to our mission, we released the original version of our Enlight apps and Creativity Kit to provide creators and influencers with the tools they need to stand out and express themselves. Garnering accolades from the app ecosystem for our emerging products, which included ‘Best of the Year’ recognition from Apple and Google nearly every year since 2013 and social proof from the creative community, played a major part in keeping Lightricks on track for our original vision of the company.”
Mining the lessons of success
In Lightricks’ case, the success of Facetune ended up helping the business serve its original market in several ways. It provided financial stability that made it easier to aim high with subsequent products. But it also provided Farbman and his team with a crash course in creating apps that cater to specific user needs. The volume of data and experience gained through their Facetune experience molded their future products.
Farbman explains one lesson critical to Lightricks’ subsequent success, “We learned user feedback and interaction were essential in molding functionalities across all of our apps. A lot of the time, users don’t want single-use buttons like we see with Instagram or Snapchat filters that then become somewhat standardized. They want to input specific changes for their personal creative results.”
Facetune also learned valuable lessons in what not to do.
“Each product experience caters to different needs, so it’s less about benchmarking their success against Facetune but rather understanding user engagement trends and if we are fulfilling those creative needs,” Farbman says. “This is measured through user interactions, community programs, reviews, market research, and more. If any particular tool isn’t resonating with users, there are two things to consider: is the tool not as useful as expected or do users need more time to engage and understand the tool’s functionality?”
Lightricks adopted a data-backed criteria that empowered them to make decisions on each new product based on its own merits. Moreover, they did this while keeping the end user front and center in their thinking.
Take the initiative
Farbman’s story shows that you can leverage unintended success further if you take the time to analyze the why behind it.
More importantly though, Lightricks serves as a valuable reminder that initiative is one of the pillars of startup success. Farbman says, “As four students developing an app out of a garage, we definitely had our fair share of naysayers. However, we were intent on creating a photo editor for the mobile generation.”
That determination led Zeev Farbman and his co-founders on an unbelievable entrepreneurial journey.