Technology innovator and Ponder creator Jim McLuckie wants you to be yourself, no filter. Ponder: Video Q & A is a meet up application for people to connect through 20-second videos. Users are asked a random personal question and they respond in a short video clip.
Admittedly, I found making my first video a little scary. Full disclosure: I was in my pajamas with no makeup on, but this is part of Ponder’s appeal. McLuckie views Ponder as the antithesis of social networking apps that create manicured or glamorous personas for its users. I sat down with McLuckie, prior to Ponder’s launch, to find out how he got in the business of getting real.
KT: Tell me a bit about how Ponder came about?
JM: "I saw Vine and how they were creating these bite-sized videos and I thought that was such a great way to capture peoples’ personalities in little bursts. You need to give direction so they know what to say and do, so that’s where the question and answer part came in. After you’ve recorded all these videos, you have this video profile that captures who you are in ways that pictures and text never could. Creating pictures and text profiles is daunting. They’re not fun, nobody likes creating them, or writing about themselves, and they don’t do a good job of what they set out to do, to be your first impression to someone. With Ponder, you get a better sense for someone just by seeing a single video."
KT: Who do you envision using Ponder?
JM: "The primary user to me is someone who wants to connect with people in their area, whether you’re new to the area and looking for new friends, you’re single looking for other singles, or you’re really into Game of Thrones and want to talk to other people who share your passion. At the heart of what we’re doing is providing a way for people to be who they are while exposing them to people they may not have met otherwise. And what’s the number one thing we tell people when meeting someone new? Be yourself. Video is raw, and we want people to embrace that.
But we’re still very, very new, so we’re still learning about how people are using Ponder and who the primary user will be. They may be different from who we have in mind, so only time will tell."
KT: Will it be diversified for niches like private groups, or does that defeat the purpose?
JM: "We want to build it into a community. Right now, with us being so new and just starting to gain users, it’s wide open, you see everyone. But as the community grows, we want to provide ways for people to group themselves together based around interests or a central idea."
KT: How do you come up with the questions?
JM: "I wish I had a more exciting answer, but we pretty much just brainstormed and dumped a bunch of questions into a list, picked the ones we thought would appeal to a wide audience, then grouped them into categories. We focused on light and fun questions to start with so that people would feel comfortable and willing to open up. In this next release, we’re going to have a Featured Question that we can change at will, so that will allow us to experiment and see what people respond to most.
I want to dive into deeper questions. Light and fun is good, but at some point when getting to know someone, to really know them, you have to see their scars and hear their war stories. It can be such a relief to talk about those things, and it would mean a lot to us if we could provide that outlet. We just have to be sure that when you swipe to the next question, you get a cat video."
KT: What would you say to someone who has hang ups about doing a video as opposed to the typical selfie/text format of social networking?
JM: "Just try it! Be yourself, don’t overthink it; don’t worry about the lighting or the angle. Find a question that makes you smile and hit record. Once you get over that initial fear and do that first video and you watch it back, you realize how fun it is. It’s oddly liberating in its simplicity.
We got that reaction a lot when we were demoing it at our booth at Movement. People would be hesitant to record a video, so we would pick a question for them and have them hit record. After they recorded that video and watched the playback, they would light up and say, “That was fun! Can I do another?” That’s such a stark contrast from sitting at the keyboard staring at a giant text box that says “Tell us about yourself.”"
KT: Who did you create Ponder with?
JM: "My two co-founders are Celeste Filiatrault and Carl Larson. Celeste is the maker of pretty things. She does all of our graphical work, from the interface to the website to our promo materials. Carl has primarily helped with funding, from bootstrapping to helping us raise some initial funding. He’s going to head up our marketing efforts as well."
KT: How did you take the plunge into a mobile startup from a corporate job?
JM: "The first day I started my first office job at a software company nine years ago, I knew I needed to get out of there. Since then I’ve just been scheming and doing other creative things, like comedy, short films, writing, starting a band, and other side projects to see what would stick. The problem I would always run into was that I was trying to turn these hobbies into careers, and that always sucked the fun out of it. And while I liked doing some of those things like comedy, and while I wasn’t bad at them, I wasn’t in love with them enough to keep going, you know?
I’ve always been a computer nerd. I’ve been working on computers since I was six years old, and I remember even back then thinking, “This is what I want to be when I grew up.” But I always wanted to do creative stuff, and I fought against making a living with computers because I thought it wasn’t creative or artistic. One day it just clicked. I realized technology is art. Engineering is creative. It’s creating something out of nothing. It’s as central to our culture today as music or film or any other art form.
And for years I had all of these ideas for different software projects. When I landed on this one, and I was like all right, this is the one I can’t ignore; I can’t not do this one. I saw a need for it and opportunity for it. I had no idea how to make it happen, but I started reading and working and just doing it. When I hit a point where I couldn’t work full time and do this, I quit my job. I quit out of necessity. I wasn’t doing quality work at my day job because I was distracted and Ponder needed more time and attention, so I had to quit. It was equally exciting and terrifying. Some days I think I’m in way over my head, but that just means I’m on the right path."
KT: As for tech in Detroit, do you see many software startups or funding sources for app development?
JM: "It’s a growing industry, and it’s exciting for us to be a part of it. A lot of startups have been founded especially in Detroit and Ann Arbor in the last few years. Michigan as a whole has seen a big increase in investment, which is great for our economy and great for all the startups that need that funding to start out. It’s a fairly new movement, so there’s a lot of learning going on in every front. But everyone is learning together, which gives Detroit a really unique opportunity to set itself apart from other tech hubs."
KT: How do you define success (specifically to investors) when it isn’t a traditional revenue paradigm?
JM: "As a free consumer app, our initial success is through growth and retention. We have to get users--lots of users--and we have to get them to come back. We need to create enough value for people to sign in on day one and continue signing in after that. When we have those users, we can explore various means of revenue. We have several possible ideas; it’s just too soon to tell what would work best."
KT: What is the ultimate goal for your company, big deal, Inc.?
JM: "I would like to become a software company that does more than just one product. We’re going to learn a lot from Ponder, and I would like to take that experience and try new things and take bigger risks. And I’d love to do it all here in Detroit."
Ponder - Video Q&A is free and available in the App Store. Download it today and use the code hipindetroit to sign up. For more information, check out the Ponder site.