On how he went from the classroom to founding the new content creator platform Snipfeed in three years.Pierre-Habté Nouvellon joined the MEng program in Fall 2017, studying Industrial Engineering & Operations Research. He arrived at UC Berkeley with a very vague idea of what entrepreneurship was, as no one in his family or social circle had taken this path. In fact, entrepreneurship in France was still something abnormal. Yet, Pierre-Habté had a strong desire to learn. Two years later, he is now Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and co-founder at Snipfeed, one of the most promising new content creator platforms. We had the chance to reflect on this journey with Pierre-Habté recently, in light of the upcoming launch of the Snipfeed platform.
Looking back, what was the first step in your journey to developing the current iteration of Snipfeed?“It all started during the MEng bootcamp back in 2017. At that time I had to choose leadership/business related classes to take from the ones proposed by the program. I remember that it was a tough task because all the topics seemed interesting to me, but even more so because all the professors had a very compelling resume. How can you choose between a course given by a serial entrepreneur, a world master in Negotiation Psychology or a top expert on Organizational Behavior? You want to hear from them all! I eventually took the course about entrepreneurship with professor Naeem Zafar, which influenced my future path. Professor Zafar’s course not only shed some light on the mechanisms of the startup world (how to start, the fundraising cycles etc), but more importantly gave me an example of someone that had succeeded, with the full picture of his journey. I felt I had all the keys now to start my own startup. Two months later I met fellow UC Berkeley students Anas and Rédouane, my two co-founders, and we started an educational startup called Jenyai, an AI tutor and school buddy bot that could answer students questions and coach them through learning with positive thinking.
We witnessed the beginning of Jenyai when you were still a MEng student. Now you’re working on a platform for content creators. How did you arrive here?The initial idea has indeed changed a lot. We have had several pivotal moments since the beginning. They were always driven by some kind of realization and adaptation to reality. The first pivot was switching gears from building an AI tutor to creating a personalized news bot, the first iteration of Snipfeed. We realized that even if students loved Jenyai (we had 5000 users organically), it would take much more research and development to get the product where we wanted to be, and therefore more capital. While AI/education startups were growing exponentially in Asia and well funded, western investors were shy to invest in that field. The turning point was when we got rejected by YC at the final interview. This failed interview with YC was at the end of my time in the MEng program. I remember sitting with Rédouane and Anas, saddened, thinking about what we should do now. On one hand, I had the choice to give up my dream of funding a startup and accept a well-paid job in an established tech company — I was about to lose my OPT visa) — which was the reasonable option to take. On the other hand, I could continue with my startup journey with our amazing team and find a better idea to pursue. I chose option two. Three days and a lot of brainstorming later, we came up with the idea of Snipfeed: the personalized news bot. The idea arose from an observation about Jenyai’s users. Most of them would come back to use the news feature that we had on it (we would push some news and relate it with courses we had in history, science or math). By talking with those users we realized that they loved to get their news from trustworthy sources (NYT, Washington Post, etc.) when it was served in the “snackable” and interactive format that we had created (called Snips). The idea of Snipfeed was simple: Bring trustworthy information to GenZ in a compelling format that would allow them to stay informed without effort. This idea got the attention of Skydeck, Berkeley’s accelerator, and we were accepted in their program one week before it started (after being rejected the first time with Jenyai). Snipfeed, the personalized news bot, was very popular, as we managed to grow it from zero to 1.4 million users in about six months. We were in four different messaging apps (Messenger, Kik, Telegram, Google assistant) and were the number one Facebook bot for news in October 2018. However, we were not satisfied with the limited messaging format: we had to develop our own app. The big realization that triggered our second pivot, going from developing Snipfeed as a personalized news feed to a content creator platform, was that content creators have a much bigger impact on Gen Z than we thought. Big platforms from the previous decade like Youtube, Instagram or Pinterest have led to the emergence of popular content creators that influence our lives in many ways. However those same platforms have failed to provide a safe environment for those creators to thrive, in part due to their advertisement-centered business model. That’s when we reimagined Snipfeed as a platform where creators could create real sustainable businesses without a single line of code. We don’t consider our previous projects as a waste of time but rather as the necessary learning path to where we are now. We managed to find the product market fit — the grail of every startup — and a clear vision of where we are heading. We learned a lot about (remote) team management, the passion economy market, and more importantly, we managed to gather a team of talented people who believe in the Snipfeed vision.
The economic situation has changed a lot in the past three months. How did you react to that?Remote work is in Snipfeed’s DNA. We had people working remotely from the US, France, and Morocco very early on, and thus were prepared for the stay-at-home policies. In terms of business strategy, we focused our development on the web-platform instead of the app, as we thought people would spend more time on their desktops while at home. In addition, we tailored the platform to not just established content creators, but also to other groups that have seen their businesses shrink with the lockdown and are seeking new ways of generating revenues such as comedians, fitness coaches, yoga teachers, etc.
What’s next for Snipfeed?Our vision for Snipfeed is to become the main place where creators can host their content (videos, podcasts, articles), engage with their fans (through private chats, one-on-one communications, etc.) and monetize in one click through tips, subscriptions, bundles, stream events, premium content and personalized shoutouts. The challenge is huge but we have an amazing team of diverse and talented people working hard to give a voice to content creators!”
“I would never have bet three years ago that I would one day be the founder & CTO of a 10 people startup. My journey has just been crazy!” — Pierre-Habté NouvellonPierre-Habté is CTO and head Data Scientist at Snipfeed. He received a MS in Aerospace Engineering from ISAE-SUPAERO in France before getting his MEng degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from UC Berkeley. Connect with Pierre-Habté.
Pierre-Habté Nouvellon, MEng ’18 (IEOR), shares his entrepreneurial journey was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.