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Interview: Michael Crosby - HiLo

Sam Dickie
2 Mins

This month I spoke to Michael Crosby, founder of Hilo, a social media platform to share the highs and lows of life with others.

A year and a half ago Michael decided to leave his job and create an app he had been working on. "It was the riskiest decision I could have made but win or lose I am ok with it (I am less risk-averse than "normal" I think)" said Michael.

In Sep 2017 Hilo went live to the Apple app store with a super minimal version of the app and was well received. At the time of Michael's reddit post Hilo was sitting at over 300 users and just passed their 1,000th post. Although I suspect these number has increased since writing this.

Michael is a self confessed non-technical founder and shares some inspiring advice for all non-technical people out there.

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Michael Crosby - Founder of Hilo

You decided to quit your job and build an app with no technical background in app development. What drove you to take this risk?

It was a perfect storm of events, one being I could not get the idea out of my head. The other being the situation I was in at my current job. I had spent eight years there, for the first four years, I had two of the best bosses one could have. In my last four years, I had two of the worst bosses one could have. I was miserable. I remember the day I decided to quit, I was on a run, and I just said fuck this. Life is too short to wake up every day and hate what you are doing, or let any other person dictate your happiness. I decided to take the biggest swing that I could. I believe that you have to take the risk, make the jump and see what happens. At the end of the day it will be my win or loss, no one else's. That being said, the situation I was in at that job led me to where I am right now. I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat. I learned a lot, good and bad, about how to correctly run an organization. I hope I can apply those lessons to HiLo in the near future.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for Hilo came about?

It started when my friends were attending Manhattan college. I did not go there but I would spend most of my weekends there. The question at the end of the weekend was “ok what was everyones high and low of the weekend?” There is some debate as to which friend actually started this (it was definitely not me).  It being those party days, you can imagine the answers were quite funny. About two years ago I was in the shower and thinking “this could be a way for people to share their days and connect”. That was the beginning of thinking about turning it into an app some how, it took a while to go from idea to where we are now.

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Did you build a prototype or seek validation before leaving your job and starting Hilo?

I did not, the reason being I was going to leave anyway, I could not waste any more time there. If it wasn't HiLo it would have been something else from the list of 70 or so other ideas that I have. Idea validation was done after I left, and Reddit played a huge role in the idea validation stage. I was scared to leave and pursue something that I had no idea on how to implement. I believed in the idea, so I did it. It helped to have a solid support group of friends and family.

What problem is Hilo trying to solve?

This question always makes me think, do products solve problems that are already there? Or do they make us aware of problems we did not know existed? At HiLo we are committed to the belief that no matter who you are, or where you are from, we can all relate on a basic level through the ups and downs of life. We want to be more social and less media. Just the other day a user's high was that she was in remission of cancer, another user's low was they they were just feeling depressed and couldn't shake it. This is real content. I want to find a better way to relate and empathise with one another, and make people laugh while doing it.

You and your co-founder are both non-technical founders. How did you go about creating Hilo from a tech standpoint? ​

We spent the better part of two months interviewing around 20 to 30 developers and dev shops. We were very thorough in our approach to finding the right fit. We made sure to think about price, location (time zones), language barriers, previous products, and overall alignment with our mission. It was a great learning experience. We started with what we thought the MVP should have and then had a company do a project viability document for us. We used this as a guideline to get estimates from developers and companies. These estimates ranged from 5k to 150k. We had some design mockups from a previous shot at making HiLo (early on in idea stage we had a developer onboard for just equity). We made sure to take our time and eventually found a great developer that we know was a solid pick for us.

How was the experience working with a development team?

Eye opening. The intricacies of doing something like this are great, especially for someone with zero knowledge of coding. Estimates and timelines will forever be off. When I first started this journey I thought to myself “If I can just think it , someone can make it” which is true, but it will not happen when you want it to. This has taught me a lot of patience, I tend to be what I call “hesitantly optimistic” now. If it can go wrong it will go wrong, but that means you are moving forward, and you just have to find a way through the problem. I often advise other non-tech founders when they hear about where I have taken HiLo. I can see the disappointment when I tell them what it has taken to get to this small step. It’s not easy, but worth it. I enjoy working with my developer, it’s great to work on something together and see it come to life.

Did you consider any app builder platforms before looking for a developer?

I feel like I considered every one I could find or hear about. Bubble, Dropsource, Goodbarber, etc. so many I cannot name off the top of my head. The reason I did not go with any of them is simple, I’m weak at using them. I’m a big believer in going with your strengths and trying to strengthen weaknesses by relying on the strengths you already have. I looked into learning code also. It just wasn't going to happen. I thought I would be better at finding someone that could build the product I envisioned and guiding it to get there.

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced launching Hilo?

  • Finding a developer that was the right fit and building a trusting relationship with them.
  • Assuming we thought we knew what users wanted.
  • Seeing problems that aren't there, and focusing on them.
  • When we first started with HiLo the mindset we had was that “users definitely want ABC”, it took a while to figure out that the users will tell you want they want so do not even worry about it until they do. One of these was we always thought users should post one HiLo a day, so at first we wanted to have that limit. The truth is our days are always changing, and we noticed that users will post multiple times a day. We would have been at a disadvantage if we had placed that limit of posting ability.

How did you initially get users to your site?

First I curated a list from my personal network that wanted to be on the launch list for HiLo, also a list of redditors that might be interested. Then it was just networking and adding everyone I met to our launch list. These were my initial users.

What current marketing are you undertaking to promote Hilo?

Currently we are focused on instagram marketing. I want to explore Reddit and Facebook ads. I think the best bet is to look where there is a ton of attention, but also where people haven't been pouring money into advertising yet. ​

Now that the barriers to entrepreneurship are getting lower, have you noticed the rise in the non-technical users looking to dip their toes in building small businesses online? ​

Yes and it’s amazing, and completely doable now. As with anything, it is just making the decision to go for it. If it doesn't work out? Start another one. There are too many resources out there for non-tech people to use being “non-tech” as an excuse anymore.

NoCode is an example of this, the sheer amount of information on your site is amazing.

What’s next for Hilo? ​

  • Gain more users
  • Refine product based on user feedback
  • Look for potential investors and accelerators
  • Achieve profitability​

How can we contact you?

You can reach me on twitter @_MichaelCrosby. You can also check out the app using the link below. I would love to hear any feedback.