“Many people think of Dubsmash as an overnight success, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School and Academic Director, Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “They experimented for several years, pivoting their idea several times until they finally got it right. The message is – don’t be afraid to adapt, but do it quickly, and keep on trying out the prototypes.”
Dubsmash, which was joint winner of the If At First You Don’t Succeed Award in the 2016 Real Innovation Awards, was founded in 2012 by three friends, Roland Grenke, Daniel Taschik and Jonas Drüppel. The trio met at a hackathon in Berlin in 2012. They followed the lean start-up model of designing a minimum viable product, lots of user testing and rapid iteration.
A week after its launch in November 2014, Dubsmash was number one on the Apple Store in its native Germany. It has been downloaded more than 100 million times across 193 countries, raised $5.5m from Index Ventures and counts superstar celebs including Selena Gomez, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Stiller among its users.
Like most success stories that seem to come out of nowhere, the reality was rather different. Its three founders burned through many months and two half-baked apps before perfecting Dubsmash’s winning formula.
“One of our biggest learnings was that simplicity for the user is key,” says Taschik. “With our previous apps, we built technically sophisticated, yet way too complicated products. We also broadened our perspective to not just limit ourselves to music but open it up to all sorts of sounds and quotes, to be able to capture the full potential of a lip-synching app: and that’s what Dubsmash is right now.”
“We started Dubsmash very lean and put in all the hard-learned lessons from our previous apps,” says Grenke. “We tested with friends and family first then went to public places like tech meet-ups to expand our tester group. We created multiple stages of development in a short time period and our product team did an awesome job of iterating so fast.”
“What Dubsmash is working on has hit a nerve with all kinds of people,” says Index Ventures partner Danny Rimer, whose fund invested in Dubsmash. In May 2016 the company added a messaging feature to the app. Now it is a fully fledged communication player, a platform where people can express themselves through video and communicate with their friends within the app.
Dubsmash’s revenue comes from clients in the entertainment industry who use the app to promote their new movies, TV shows and music. Rihanna, for example, launched one of her singles with two Dubsmash clips. “Dubsmash puts content at the centre of every conversation, which aligns very well with the objectives and strategies of many of these companies,” says Jonas Drüppel.
Who would have thought that recording yourself lip-synching to pop videos and then sharing the results with your friends would prove so popular? But Dubsmash’s success is down to sheer persistence.