Smule's customers are its marketing machines

Bambi Francisco Roizen · February 11, 2010 · Short URL:

CEO Jeff Smith at Vator Splash on why the product and the end users are the marketing

While social networks have built a stage for everyone to become a writer, or pundit, Smule - the maker of popular iPhone apps Ocarina, Leaf Trombone and I Am T-Pain - has created a stage to give everyone their 15 minutes of "musical" fame. 

With more than three million people around the globe - with and without musical talent - having downloaded one of Smule's applications on the iPhone, the question is: How is Smule getting its iPhone apps to consistently be one of the highest-grossing on the very crowded iPhone app store?

Is it the product or the marketing?

If there is one overriding lesson about viral marketing, it is that the product is itself the marketing. Without a great product, few would care to share with friends and thereby ignite the exponential growth in user adoption that most successful "social" media and network companies rely on.

Jeff Smith, CEO and co-founder of Smule, expressed this in spades during his keynote speech at Vator Splash event at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco recently.

"Marketing is all about our end users," said Jeff, to an audience of some 350 people. "That is the marketing machine."

“The marketing product is part of the product problem,” said Jeff. “We don’t build a product and throw it over the wall and say, 'Alright guys go out and sell it.' We think, 'What’s the use-case that’s going to drive this user to share this experience through word-of-mouth right out of the gate?'”

To illustrate what he meant, Jeff showcased a number of Smule users, such as Rhett & Link using the Leaf Trombone app and performing the theme song from "The Jeffersons" titled "Movin' on Up."

(Jeff also showcases a very colorful user-generated video at the very end of his speech - you'll have to skip all the way to after 20 minutes to see it!)

Indeed, the marketing through the product and end user has paid off. Though, not exactly the way it's paid off for Zynga. 

Jeff, whose speech was peppered with a dry sense of wit and one-lined zingers, said of Zynga (CEO Mark Pincus gave the other keynote speech that evening), that the social gaming giant will make as much revenue in one year that Smule would make in a week, or visa versa.

It was a comment referencing a time in Jeff's past when a skeptical venture capitalist said of Smule's dependence on the iPhone - "Nokia will sell more phones in a week than Apple will in a year."

Clearly, that VC had no vision. And, clearly, Jeff was kidding. 

Of course, that doesn't mean Smule hasn't had its own successes. 

The company has some of the highest-grossing iPhone apps, with I Am T-Pain having grossed $2.5 million in sales and 946,000 users. Additionally, the Ocraina has 1.84 million users. And, despite being the 19th virtual cigarette lighter launched on the iPhone, the Sonic Lighter (Smule's first product) has amassed 421,000 users. 

For more on Jeff's lessons, including the methodology of following these steps "postulate, test, measure and iterate," watch the video. You can also read VatorNews' Ronny Kerr's write up of Jeff's speech, "Everything we do is a test."


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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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Smule develops interactive sonic applications for the iPhone and other technology platforms.   Smule is developing the new sonic network, connecting users across the globe through expressive audio.  Smule's Ocarina, I Am T-Pain, and Leaf Trombone have set the standard for iPhone applications, combining innovative uses of the hardware with compelling social experiences. 


Jeffrey Smith

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