For the fourth entry in our ‘Devs Doing It Right’ series, we spoke to Evan Wray, Co-Founder and Vice President of Swyft Media, a company whose mobile engagement platform helps global brands and advertisers engage with consumers through the use of branded content.
Evan and his business partner Sean O’Brien started Swyft in 2012 while Evan was a senior at Notre Dame. Three years later, they sold it to Monotype for $27 million. We talked to Evan about his startup success and asked him to share advice for other developers and designers looking to make their dreams come true.
You sold Swyft Media for $27 million. To what do you attribute your success?
The moment for us was when we saw the change in the way people were interacting via text messages and within mobile messaging apps. We saw an opportunity in the market and it was more than just sharing stickers or emojis with friends – but rather an effective way for brands and advertisers to reach a captive audience by creating and sharing content that a younger demographic of consumers was looking for. In some senses it was a new form of advertising that didn’t look like advertising.
Millennials are much more likely to share an emoji of their favorite football team than say, for instance, put a bumper sticker on their car. Or they are much more likely to share their excitement about a brand with friends in a text message or in a mobile messaging app – and branded content like emojis and GIFs give them a fun way to do that. By making that content available, you are creating an army of brand advocates. So, we saw this as a huge opportunity for brands to engage with an audience of consumers that they knew very little about – but were becoming more influential and representative of the buying population.
As we have evolved, we’ve expanded on that model and built a platform that allows brands to push content out to different environments, and arm brand advocates in these already massive user bases.
Swyft has worked with many big brands. What’s the best approach for other startups looking to approach and do business with larger, well-known and established companies?
That is one of the toughest things, especially as start-ups are trying to ramp up and capture some of those first big clients. Rather than trying to look at what my product can do for you, it’s more important to take the brand’s perspective, identifying challenges and helping them to solve those issues. Early on, many of our brand partners didn’t know what mobile messaging was, so they obviously didn’t know they needed to be in it, they didn’t really know how to do it, and they didn’t have a strategy in place. So, we had to spend a lot of time educating brands on mobile messaging.
You’ve helped pro sports teams such as the NY Knicks, the NY Rangers and the Minnesota Timberwolves create mobile content to drive fan engagement. Do you have any design tips for creating personalized experiences?
It’s really important to make the content conversational. If you’re the New York Rangers, it’s one thing to share your logo on social, but it’s a completely other thing to share an image of your best player with animated stats. What we see is, the more shareable, the more conversational you can make the content, the more times it’s sent and the more brand advocates you get. You have to go beyond just the high-level logos and generic stuff, and find the insights that really resonate with the team’s most loyal fans.
Swyft made its mark as a successful platform for distributing emojis to messaging apps – which were a new content medium at the time. What are some of the best practices to keep in mind when designing for new mediums?
When designing for brand new mediums, you need to test a lot, and collect as much data as possible. You need to understand what content resonates with users, what content is shared the most, and what content has the most positive sentiment, versus content that isn’t working. At Swyft, we do a good job of understanding what the content is – emojis, stickers, frames, themes, filters – then tracking and analyzing the data to see what is and isn’t working in different environments. For every new iteration or new content type we launch, we can apply learnings from previous content. We then guide brands based on these insights to ensure that their campaigns are impactful from the second they launch.
What are some of the tools you use for feedback loops?
First, we have a lot of event APIs so we can understand what content is most shared versus least shared, including at the device, app and brand level. We have a constant stream of data, helping us determine what resonates with users and what doesn’t. Another tool we use is Net Promotor Score (NPS), and we reach out to our existing clients on the brand side to understand what they think is working and what isn’t. We have individual user interactions with our content from all of the different applications, and we have the interactions of brand partners. We collect information from each in different ways.
What are the biggest technical hurdles your designers face when designing for new mediums?
If a brand wants to launch content on Swyft—emojis, stickers, themes, frames, filters, clickable content, whatever it is—that means 30 different applications, 30 different files sizes, 30 different formats, 30 different criteria around this content. Multiply that by the number of devices – so with Android alone, you’re at over 1,000 individual devices.
The sticker content and format we launch on one messaging platform is very different from the content we’re launching on another. So, we have a lot of internal tools that helps make that process for our design teams much more scalable. One of the things that our designers are great at doing is standardizing as much as possible in a way that is scalable across each of these different environments. The benefit for our brand partners is that they don’t have to figure out content for 30 different applications. With the Swyft mobile engagement platform, we handle all of that on our side by putting a brand’s APIs into these different environments, so the content looks great regardless of the platform.
How do you handle testing on all those devices?
That’s been one of the great things about being acquired by Monotype. We have quickly scaled to become about a 30-person engineering organization, part of which is devoted to our connections and filling up the mobile engagement platform from the front end and the back end. But then part of that is also dedicated across multiple different devices. So that’s one of the really big things that we look at – individual QA, building up a device library, having scripts from a design process that are able to optimize assets for different platforms, depending on what their specifications are.
How do you see Swyft evolving as content formats shift with the advent of new technologies?
We view new technologies as big opportunities. The beauty of Swyft is that we’re not systematically dependent on any one platform or any one partner. It’s really about the network effect and giving brands a portal to deploy content into a multitude of different environments. Today, it happens to be messaging and personalization apps as well as phone and wearables manufacturers – but as new mediums continue to evolve, they’re going to need branded content.
Can you describe your experience working with Samsung?
Samsung has been a great partner and a long-time customer of Monotype. Historically, Monotype worked with Samsung on embedding our fonts into devices like printers and phones. With Swyft, we’ve launched hundreds of different brands’ themes across the Samsung ecosystem. We’ve also launched a lot of content designed specifically for wearable devices and we’re actually working with them very closely on some of their messaging tools as well. Samsung also allows us to have a brand presence on a device at all times, which has been very appealing to our brand partners, as they’re looking for fun, non-intrusive ways to connect with the next generation of consumers.
Finally, a question we’re asking all of our ‘Devs Doing it Right’: What features do all great/successful apps have in common?
If you don’t have an amazing user experience, it doesn’t matter how great the functionality is. This is true of both enterprise-level applications, as well as consumer apps. As it relates to Swyft, the messaging experience is key in terms of retention and ongoing engagement. So, if you look across messaging apps, operating systems, gaming apps, social apps, they’re all starting to have a messaging feature and that’s because it deepens retention and engagement.