Timehop wasn't always the Timehop that it is today. Foursquare & 7 Years Ago was the name of the daily email service that Timehop started out as in 2011, created at Foursqaure’s first ever hackathon. Users received an email each morning telling them where they checked-in on Foursquare on this day…365 days ago. Fun. But they wondered, would people actually want to read this everyday?
A nice surprise to them was that, yeah, people did. In fact, around 60% of users read it daily. So they created a version for Facebook posts, as well as version for Instagram. Those all eventually merged into one daily email called…Timehop! All was well in time travel land. People loved their email.
So why nix a product 90,000 people loved? We're about to dig into that, but it would up being one of the best decisions we made.
Another thing that might be a little hard to believe is that it was actually a pretty easy decision. We had a very highly engaged email user base, but they were not helping with our growth. Users enjoyed opening the email, but we could not get them to do anything with it.
Here’s the rub: users cannot interact a lot with their email. To try and overcome this issue we created a social experience around timehop.com where people could interact around the past, see their friends’ feeds, and use other “social” concepts that gave users tools to be more interactive. It was exactly what we needed because it allowed users to share their posts with friends, which leads to us gaining more users. Problem solved?
The new challenge for us was getting someone from their inbox to Timehop’s website. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. We tried some nice ways and some sneaky ways to get users to Timehop. We once tried only sending users a portion of their Timehop in the email and giving them a button in the message that took them to our website where they could see the rest of their day in history. I realized this was a little mean, so we stopped teasing our users.
The team and I went back to the numbers and saw that over half of our users were opening the email on a mobile device. At first I did not think much of that stat because the Timehop email looked great on a phone. Why would we make an app when a Timehop email already had a working mobile experience? When the growth we needed was still not happening, I realized we had to do something else.
This is when the idea of an iPhone app made perfect sense. An app would allow for more depth, more interaction from our users, and it would hopefully have the same level of engagement as our daily email. We took the time to build the app, and even on day 1 in the App Store we had more new downloads than new users signing up for the email. iPhone users were also coming back each day to see their Timehop, just like those signed up for the email. Problem solved?
No : (
Now our small team was running a daily email service and an iPhone application (no time for fun). It got to a point where I would get to the office in the morning and my engineers would tell me our emails did not send today, but we also have to keep working on important things for the app. It was pretty obvious that investing our time into the email would not help our growth because for a year we were stuck at about 200 signups a day. With the app, people can easily share their content- which helps drive growth.
Shutting It Down
We ditched the email (and over 90,000 users) about 9 months after the release of the iPhone app. Here is the email we sent our users:
You’re receiving this email because you’re subscribed to Timehop’s daily email service that tells you what you did 1 year ago today on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.
We wanted to let you know about an important change. We’re sunsetting the Timehop daily email and pulling all our efforts behind the Timehop mobile app. We appreciate your support and hope you’ll understand that as a small startup we have to pick our battles carefully.
We’ll stop sending the daily Timehop emails in 5 days: Wednesday July 17th.
If you have an iPhone/iPod/iPad? Get our app: timehop.com/iphone
If you have an Android or another phone, we don’t currently have an app for you but hopefully we’ll get there in the future. If you’d like to help us with this, we’re hiring — get in touch!
Thanks for your continued support — and see you on mobile!
Below is a screenshot of my inbox which was full of hate mail from our users responding to the shut down of the email service.
This all was a little heartbreaking because some of these users had been with us since 4square&7yearsago, and if they did not have an iPhone they could not continue receiving their daily Timehop. We could not make everyone happy with this decision, but in order to save our time traveling ship from sinking the email had to go.
Was it Really the Best Decision?
You bet. Cutting the email really allowed us to focus on creating a great mobile product (who doesn’t love Abe?). It meant the team’s focus was not split and the messaging around our product was the same. We used to send two sets of emails out to our user base: one with information for our email users and one with information about the app.
The decision also improved management of our infrastructure because it was always a bit fractured. The infrastructure to send emails is very different than the infrastructure needed to support a mobile app like Timehop.
Now, more people download Timehop every two days than all people who ever signed up for the daily email.
Best. Decision. Ever.