How Photo App Oneminute Grew to Over 22K Users in Just 10 Days

The best way to share a moment with people around the world has nothing to do with the leading social apps.

We now have this innate force that leads us to pull out our phones and connect with people by capturing those fleeting Insta-worthy moments. Sunday Funday brunch with idyllic sunlight? Snap. Golden hour over a city skyline? Snap.

But the mundane moments in between the picturesque are part of what connects us too, and that’s exactly the connection that Alex Kwon is tapping into with his new app Oneminute.

At a random time during the day, Oneminute sends out a push notification to all of its users prompting them to pull out their phones and take a picture of their surroundings within the next 60 seconds. Within the first few moments, pictures from around the world start to flood into a feed that captures that global minute with complete anonymity.

Since college, Kwon has had a curiosity about what people around the world are doing at one point in time. A little over a week ago, he launched OneMinute to appease this curiosity for an entire community of people. Talking to him about the app, it’s clear that his early startup elation was still in full force.

(To read about more startups with viral success check out Prynt, Minbox and Sprayable in our Startup Stories series.)


Testing the Idea

Although Kwon was very interested in this concept of sharing what you’re doing by way of a spontaneous photograph, he had doubts about how people would react to it. His two big concerns were:

  1. Will people be okay with being told when to take a picture?
  2. Will the photos people take be interesting enough?

To test his idea, he didn’t start prototyping but instead began actually trying it out by using iMessage. At random points in the day, he’d text his friends: “Send me a picture of what you see in front of you.” He did this for a few weeks and people responded pretty quickly.

Kwon wrote in a Medium post, “I believe that, especially for relatively new concepts, the biggest enemy to starting the product is about overcoming your own doubts.” This was a quick and easy way for him to overcome his doubts and he explained that’s “how I convinced myself that [the idea was] worth pursuing.”

After coming up with the initial concept, Kwon started building front-end mockups and prototypes, then paired up with Jeff Regan after the Product Hunt Hackathon to turn Oneminute into a reality. A couple months later, they began beta testing with members of the inaugural App-A-Month Meetup. The results were high retention rates and extreme enthusiasm from influencers.

It was an early indicator of the success of Oneminute, which only 10 days after launch has over 22,000 users. 


Sticking to Simplicity

The app is extremely simple. No filters. No cross-app sharing. No personal feed. No profile.

When you get the notification from Oneminute, you just snap a thin landscape image of your life at that moment and tap a checkmark. Your photo becomes one of hundreds in the main feed, detailed only by your location.

Believe it or not, when brainstorming about the app, it started out even simpler than that. Kwon wondered, “How can I make it so that people just swipe their finger and be done with it?” His idea was so streamlined that he imagined people just leaving their phone on the table and swiping to take a picture when they got a notification. “So you just take a picture of the ceiling,” he said.

“It was just supposed to be like photography of all the ceilings and skies around the world. Nothing else. Just photos of ceilings,” he added, laughing.

But then he thought about one of his biggest doubts for the app: “Will the photos be interesting enough?” Chances are, a feed of ceilings and skies would be less of a daily experience and more of a novelty one, so Kwon and Regan expanded the concept. Kwon explained,

“It really helped that we started with a very, very simple format … [but] we eventually started discovering that people can take spontaneous pictures, like natural snapshots of their real life instead of staged, beautiful, juxtaposed photos on Instagram.”

Unlike the ultimate connectedness of Instagram, Oneminute is an app for just one purpose, for now. It’s part of Kwon’s philosophy on new technology: “If you try to do five things as a newborn company, people start losing focus on you.” In fact, in beta testing people did question if the app was too simple, but Kwon said, “It’s definitely worth it to get one thing right.”

They have plans to improve the functionality of the app in the future, but for now they’re focusing on perfecting the current platform and trying to “make the most … interesting type of engagement and then try to go from there.”



Not Just Another Photography App

When talking to Kwon about Oneminute, his excitement is contagious. As he talks about its impact, you kind of forget that he’s just talking about an app because to him it’s much more than that. He said,

“Think of it like there’s like this small entity flying around the world and the moment it hits you, it just randomly takes a snapshot of your everyday life when you don’t even know it’s happening. It’s basically like one giant shared view across the world.”

In that way, he feels it won’t compete with more conventional photography apps. Though, he said, “I think there’s something about Oneminute that you can’t quite comprehend until you actually … participate in one.” That was even the case for him.

He said until he started working on the app in private beta, he still had wavering doubts because it’s an experience that’s about an in-the-moment feeling rather than an Instagram post that gives you those fleeting highs as “likes” trickle in throughout the day. Oneminute is really filling a void in the space.

The closest competitor he could think of was Snapchat because of its spontaneity and instant, unfiltered images. “But instead of making the pictures disappear, we [make] it anonymous and tiny,” he said. “Those things can achieve a similar spontaneity.”

To Kwon, the most interesting pictures that come in on the app are the ones of those moments you wouldn’t normally think to photograph. He sent me the photos above as some of his favorites: kids reading on the couch and a dog with its head poking through a railing. He said, “I feel like every moment in your life is almost equally valuable, not just when you’re having this crazy party at a club.”

With a conventional photo app, he said everything about it is intentional. You see something you want to take a picture of, frame up a composition, edit it in at least one app, then think of the clever caption to end all clever captions. But with Oneminute he said, “It gives you the moment, and you, almost as a reflex, just respond to it.”

Anonymity in a Sliver

About those narrow slivers of photos … Admittedly when I first used the app, I thought that maybe when you clicked on each photo it expanded to a full version, but that’s not the case. Kwon said the peep-hole-like slivers of photos lead to the most questions from users — some of them like it and others don’t.

Right now though, he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing: “I think it’s much better to have extreme views on a new feature or new thing a startup tries than to have … average opinions from 100% of the population.”

Still, the photo size wasn’t meant to be a controversial move but instead a step in the direction of more anonymity. He said, “We wanted to limit it in that way.”

It also really amps up the curiosity factor, which is one of the most appealing aspects of the app. He said, “If everyone around the world knows what everyone else is doing at this moment, it really, really caters to the curiosity that’s very much tied to the core of humanity.”

Then there’s also the consideration that with skinny, horizontal photos, you can see more of them in one swipe, which expands the scope of your view of the world in that minute.

If you’re still not totally sold on the sliver snapshot, however, Kwon hinted at an upcoming feature that will appease people who want a bigger picture. He said, “Oneminute focuses way more on the scene and the moment rather than the individual users.”


Small Decisions Make a Big Impact

While the concept and prototype processes were straightforward, they were not without some pivotal decisions that really helped Oneminute achieve the momentum that it did.

Dual-Platform Launch

The days of launching to iOS months before launching to Android are slowly dwindling, and it’s about time. When you’re launching an app like Oneminute that greatly depends on a sense of real community, Kwon said, “I think it’s only fair that everyone gets an equal opportunity at participating.”

He said their thought was, “When there’s the initial spark, we’d better be ready to embrace it rather than wait months and months to support another platform. So I thought it was worthwhile to launch it a little later, but at the same time on both versions.” This dual-platform launch has led to gaining many users from around the world, over 50% of them outside the US.

Not Localizing

Early on when planning for a global user base, they considered sending localized minutes, so they were capturing what people were doing at noon in their time zone rather than what people were doing at 9 p.m. in Silicon Valley while it was 4 a.m. in London. But ultimately, Kwon said, “The real beauty of the app is about that one moment across the entire world.” He said the time zones haven’t had too much of an effect on getting a lot of interesting photos.

Sure you may miss the minute if it comes out at 2 a.m., but there are plenty of people who are still up. Right now, the minute each day is greatly based on PST because that’s where the team is located, but as they continue to progress, they plan to normalize the range of times.


The Right People at the Right Time

It’s no secret that launching with success on Product Hunt can lead to fleets of engaged, dedicated users and good press to get some serious momentum in the early days of your product.

When Oneminute was approved on the App Store, Kwon reached out to one of his mentors, Siqi Chen, CEO of journaling app HeyDay to submit it to Product Hunt. It was approved right away, but unfortunately that meant that they got on the site in the middle of the afternoon. To give the app a full day, PH bumped Oneminute to the next morning and they finished the day as the #4 hunt, with Ryan Hoover (PH founder) personally reaching out to publications on their behalf.

In that first weekend after their PH success and writeups in The Next Web, Mashable and Business Insider, Oneminte already had 7,000 highly-engaged users. Kwon said, “[Those users] were way more valuable than average uses you can just buy with advertising. So far, we haven’t spent a single dime on advertising.”

With engaged users who are excited about your product, word of mouth (and word of Tweet) can be just what you need to start off ahead of the game.

The Future of Oneminute

This weekend, Kwon will be at South by Southwest sharing Oneminute as part of the Startup Spotlight, and they plan to launch version 2.0 before that. He’s going to take his enthusiasm to the streets of Austin by dyeing his hair blue like the app’s logo and selecting people on the street to take over the admin duties for one day.

He said he’s done this before with influencers, letting them decide the time and message of the Oneminute notification for the day. “It’s as if they trigger the entire flow of the world in that instant,” he explained. “They can freeze time.”

While the app will no doubt pick up steam through their weekend at SXSW, Kwon isn’t thinking about monetizing right now as he’s still trying to get a grasp on Oneminute’s full potential. What does that potential hold in the way of new features? He only gave me one hint: local.

Stay tuned with Oneminute via Twitter and download the app for free on iOS or Android.

Images via Oneminute and TNW

Ready to start your project?

Learn how ThinkApps can get your product launched faster, better, and with more value than you knew was possible.