The Story of Yodel & Railroad Project Inc.

Evan Knight, Founder & Chief Design Officer - Boulder, CO (Remote)

I co-founded Yodel. It’s the best way for groups to share photos and videos. You can create stories with friends, or join stories from around the world.

After raising a seed round, we’ve had the runway to launch two apps. Here’s the first Yodel, it had some traction, but eventual led us to pivot into Yodel - Group Stories. I’ve been involved in nearly every aspect of our products, my main focus has been the interaction and visual design. I also created the branding, our website, and a small bit of iOS code. There is an endless amount of iteration. Here’s some of the journey.

Timeline

Working on the Railroad

The idea began as a side-project in fall 2014, we called it Railroad. Frustrated by texting conversations, and the difficulty of scheduling video calls, we crafted a unique way to have asynchronous face-to-face interaction, essentially “Facetime on your time.” You could open a video message and it recorded you as you watched, then flowed into your response. We secured funding under the company Railroad Project Inc., and also filed a patent.

Some of the first sketches of the idea.

We tried to get the UI out of the way as much as possible. The app was simple, just a view with your friend’s names. Once you tapped a name you were either viewing their message or recording your own.

Home Screen Iterations

Railroad Brand Brainstorm

We had our friends and family testing our new beta versions constantly (sorry to my friends and family). After a few months we did a soft launch in the App Store to get some more people using the app - this is when we started learning the most.

Soft Launch

Although we named the app Railroad, we called conversations “Tracks.” For clarity, we decided to change the name to Tracks (from Railroad). We remained in beta, iterating on lots of feedback. Our original idea had some very unique interactions, which some people hated and others loved. One particular interaction was that users couldn’t see themselves while they we’re recorded - we thought this mirrored how in-person conversations work. We eventually allowed users to see of preview of their video before they sent it.

In one of few marketing pushes, we (Tracks) won Miami Startup of the Year.

One Tap Conversations

Just a single tap on a user’s name allowed user’s to record video (either a new message, or a reaction to their message) - then swipe up to send, or swipe down to cancel.

Yodel 1.0 - Videochat Messaging

Around a year after the initial concept, we were ready to launch. After months of feedback we decided on more clear and friendly branding. That’s when we landed at Yodel. We created a couple videos (video 1, video 2), and launched on Product Hunt.

This was a version we felt good about, and made our users excited. We refreshed some main interactions, which allowed users more control over their message. You could add text to your video, choose when your reaction was recorded, and even upload GIFs.

Read more about the launch here: What’s Yodel?

I helped craft the script, and did the on-screen designs.

Yodel Banding Iterations

Here are some of the finalists I created.

Video + Chat

We went with this option because 1.) it hints at the interaction, 2.) it’s simple (easy to draw), 3.) it’s solid enough to be iconic, while flexible enough for creative transformation.

Out came our mascot, Yodi.

Our launch went well, we saw a spike in usage. After a few weeks we saw an unfortunate decline in retention. It became clear the primary recording experience was too unique for people to move away from their everyday messaging platforms. This lead us to thinking about Yodel 2.0.

Yodel 2.0: Group Stories

Yodel 2.0 began as an idea to include groups into the “Facetime on your time” structure. We spent a couple months thinking and prototyping, but eventually realized there were still many social challenges around having your reaction recorded.

Prototype of Group Reactions

Behold! Group Stories

This led us to Yodel: Group Stories. A simpler way for people to share everyday moments. It’s quickly understood as “Snapchat for groups.” In Yodel, you can create a public or private story, then post photos and videos to the story in slideshow format where others can view, post, and comment.

Main Branding Guide

Onboarding

Camera Iterations

Creating a Story

Viewing Members & Friends

Download the iOS app to check out more: Yodel - Group Stories

Other GIFs

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The End

Thanks to Seth Forsgren, Rey Hernandez, and Adrian Hernandez.