From Idea To Acquisition: The Story Of Fanbread & Rootstrap

Ben Lee

Ben Lee

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.

This has, by and large, been a big week of celebrations here at Neon Roots. Why? We just reached a major milestone, one we’ve been waiting for for a long time: for the first time, one of our Rootstrap clients has been acquired. Fanbread, the brainchild of now-CEO Karl House, came to us as an idea with a few concepts for functionality. When we first met Karl and got our heads wrapped around his concept, we knew he had something big – but we had a lot of work to do before we were ready to go to market.

Defining the Idea

Karl got the idea for Fanbread based on his experience working on the Kin Community, where he and his team helped to create the Smosh website, a popular channel that creates amusing videos aimed at high school and college-aged viewers. During his time there, Karl saw how powerful video content could be in aggregating and engaging a massive audience. With Fanbread, Karl wanted to create a scalable way to sustainably monetize this content. The question was what and how.

During Karl’s initial kickoff session, we talked in depth about his idea, who the users and customers were, highlighted the main benefits it would provide to different parties, and talked over some of the main features it might need. Through these discovery conversations, we clarified that the platform would serve influencers – preferably medium to high-level ones – that created and distributed content to audiences through social media channels. The platform would give these influencers a simple, low-touch way to monetize their audience without tarnishing their brand and authenticity. With these core concepts in place, we dove into the market research.

Narrowing the Scope

After our discovery session, our main question was which social media platforms to target. Should Fanbread attempt to be platform-neutral, serving influencers across all or most social media networks? Or would it be better to hone in on one specific channel and optimize for influencers in that space?

To answer the question, we scoured the internet for information on influencers, their audiences, and what platforms they used. Some of what we found was expected: Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter were the most popular social networks by far, and the most popular influencers had a presence on more social channels and updated their content more frequently than lesser-known influencers. Some data took us by surprise, though: we didn’t expect to see that “rising stars” were more likely to use a dedicated website to sell merchandise and that both Google Plus and DeviantArt were formidable players in the influencer space.

Another key takeaway from our research was the same thing that Matt Cutts has espoused for years now: through it all, the driving force was consistent, quality content.

Finding the Problem

Our research showed us a key insight into what it means to be a top influencer. First of all, we saw that quality content was the most important thing. We also noticed that the largest influencers created more content, updated their content more frequently, and did so across more social platforms than lower-tier influencers.

This presents a problem: as an influencer ascends to the highest tier, they’re pressured to create more frequent, higher quality content across more platforms. At the same time, they’re trying to create a sustainable business and monetize the audience they’ve aggregated. That means that they have two time-sucks increasing in parallel: the need to create more, better content and the need to create a business out of their influencer status. We saw that if we could automate these functions, we’d be providing huge value to these top influencers.

Fanbread-RootstrapDesigning the Solution

Based on this insight, we talked with Karl and helped him come up with a model to solve both of these problems. Fanbread would be a platform that let influencers manage their social media presences from one platform, allowing them to post content, engage with users, and create revenue streams easily and all in one place.

Seeing how difficult it was to maintain the harrowing content schedule that top influencers required, we also added another service: curated, customized content creation for influencers. Fanbread gave them everything: a way to create the quality content they needed, post it natively across different social networks, engage directly with their fan base, and monetize their audience through ads and merchandise sales.

With the concept and ideation phase completed, we moved into the more nitty-gritty details of design. We talked Karl to help him understand what was technically possible for the platform, and we drafted full-color wireframes to help him see the features he envisioned and pin down the aesthetic and functionality of what he was looking for. During wireframing, we streamlined the flow for the user and dialed in the functionality.

Building the Prototype & Priming for Development

After doing the discovery and wireframing work, we came to the final phase of Fanbread’s Rootstrap: the prototype and the backlog. Using the wireframes we had collaboratively created, we created a clickable, streamlined prototype with the functionality and branding elements that would be key to the Fanbread platform.

The prototype showed a user everything Fanbread would have to offer, giving them an intuitive understanding of the platform. The backlog gave us everything necessary to build the MVP as well as a more detailed, full launch, which would prove invaluable when Fanbread went into development.

After Rootstrap

After two weeks of intense ideation, research, discovery, and fine-tuning, Karl House had taken an idea for an influencer platform and turned it into a clickable, beautiful prototype and a detailed, well-thought out backlog. And how did he fare with his new Rootstrap materials?

Gloriously. We were delighted to watch Fanbread go on to raise almost $2.5 million from investors, giving him more than enough for the development phase – which, we’re pleased to note, they selected Neon Roots to complete – and grow their influencer base to reach a total of 150 million to 200 million people every week. After developing the full version of Fanbread, we still checked in with Karl to lend guidance on technical issues, updates, and strategy – but after Rootstrap, we knew Karl had the know-how and the tools to take Fanbread to the stratosphere.

Getting Acquired

Now, we’re extremely pleased to say that Fanbread has been acquired by RockYou, one of the largest video ad serving networks in the world. The match is perfect: RockYou, which traditionally operated in the gaming space, now has a new audience of influencers that they can serve ads for, and Fanbread has a new partner to scale their business and continue to monetize the audiences of their influencers.

So far, the acquisition is still for an undisclosed amount – but we’re willing to bet that Karl House saw a positive ROI on his Rootstrap workshop. And a pretty big one, at that.