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This past October, it was announced by Twitter that it would be shutting down Vine’s mobile app some time in the coming months. The plug was not officially pulled until January when the Vine app was replaced in app stores on both iOS and Android with a very much pared-down Vine camera app.
In case you missed the craze, Vine, bought by Twitter in October 2012, was an app that allowed its users to create quick 6 second videos and post them on the app to be viewed by their followers. Twitter bought the company for a reported $30 million because they believed that the short-form video would match perfectly with their short-form text posts. The original creators intended Vine to simply be a way for its users to capture casual moments in their lives and share them with friends. However, almost immediately upon the release of the app, Vine became a world of its own as its users began experimenting with the constraints of what they could share in 6 seconds. Vine became its own world, complete with its own inside jokes and catchphrases.
Here is a taste of some of what you would have seen on the app (the website is still up for the time being):
I don’t know why I even tried to give a sample of Vines because there are so many different kinds that it would literally be impossible to get a taste for them after only a couple. You can go down the rabbit hole yourself.
But one of the most important aspects that arose shortly after the release of Vine was the concept of “Vine Stars” like Andrew Bachelor (KingBach), Lele Pons, and Logan Paul. Once they gained a large following, these Vine Stars could make up to $200,000 per post to market different products and brands. While I personally don’t really enjoy any of the huge Vine Stars, they were essential to the growth of the platform.
Vine was the first app of its kind to be released. It seemingly had every advantage and an unquestionable lead on its competitors. So why would an app with so much upside fail so miserably?
The story of the death of Vine can be a great lesson to any potential entrepreneur or startup with a big idea. Most people have attributed the fall of the app to lack of leadership and direction from the top.
While Vine hit its peak in August 2014 with 3.64% of all Android users using the app, former executives credit Instagram’s release of Instagram video in June 2013 as the beginning of the end. Vine finally had a direct competitor to its offering and Vine’s response?
Vine simply failed to differentiate quickly enough. Instagram began to offer longer videos, eventually allowing for 60-second videos, and attracted celebrities by offering them exposure on their “Explore” tab. Vine Stars began to feel that Vine was not supporting their efforts and brands began to believe that the app did not offer a sustainable advertising model. The Stars began demanding that the app compensate them for posting on their platform and when this didn’t happen, they left. And the advertising dollars went with them.
As Vine was feeling pressure from Instagram video, a small little app by the name of SnapChat was gaining major traction and becoming the “casual mass-market lifecasting app” that Vine’s founders had envisioned from the beginning. And still, Vine continued to do nothing…
During the same time frame in which Instagram video was released and SnapChat began exploding, major personnel changes were occurring within Vine. In 2014, two of the app’s three founders left the company to work on other projects. Jason Toff, the former Product Manager at Youtube, was chosen to take over the company following their departure. During Toff’s tenure, creative director and third co-founder Rus Yusupov was let go during massive layoffs that took place throughout 2015. Toff relinquished control in early 2016 and was replaced with Hannah Donovan who previously had only worked on several music startups. And this is only a short list of the personnel changes that took place over this time period. With not much stability at the top of the company, little vision or culture could be instilled within the workforce behind the app. As other apps began to see their number of users swell into millions, there were no new, innovative initiatives from Vine to keep users on their platform. And this was do, in part, to the lack of stability among leadership. Vine’s previous head of editorial Ankur Thakkar recently said, “A couple of things plagued Vine, and it all stems from the same thing, which is a lack of unity and leadership on a vision…Vine didn’t ship anything of consequence for a year.”
Once Donovan took control of the general manager role in May 2016, executives and workers alike began to lose confidence due to her lack of experience in the space. As a result, a majority of the top executives had left the company by early July. At this time, Twitter began searching for a buyer for Vine but none materialized. They ultimately came to the conclusion to shut down the app and focus primarily on their own core service instead.
Obviously it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much success Vine would’ve had given other circumstances, namely stable leadership to instill a vision and direction to the app’s initiatives (or lack thereof). But if nothing else, one thing can be learned from Vine’s decline. For startups, one of the most important aspects is leadership. Sure, a promising idea doesn’t hurt. But without a leader to provide direction and culture during the growth of that idea, it could just end up like Vine.