Rotor: The Story So Far

Two years ago, the three founders of Rotor sat in a basement office in Dublin, and began to sketch out our ideas for how a website would make music videos. We were feeling around in the dark, full of optimism, 100% committed, and excited about what we were doing. We had a little seed funding, and eagerly booked tickets to SXSW with the hope that we would have a beta version of Rotor ready to show. Three months later, we arrived at SXSW with little but a short animated video describing what we hoped Rotor would become. It was helpful, but far from the early beta version that we were so confident we would have.

A lot has happened in the past two years. We’ve had a little seed funding, but that money has almost entirely gone to keeping many humans fed and sheltered while they tap buttons on computers. So far, around 16 people have contributed to Rotor, all of which have been extremely talented, and generous with their skills and time, for what little money we were able to offer. We spent a small amount of it on some new hardware bits, and too much of it on that naive trip to SXSW at the beginning of our venture. We also wasted a few quid trying to shoot a rotor video for major label artists before Rotor had even been developed. Some of this footage actually came in useful for our home page video and stock clips, so it wasn’t a complete waste!

Top tip to start up newbies: Purchase a decent coffee machine.

For the co-founders, the money dried up 8 months in, and we’ve been living hand to mouth ever since, steadily building Rotor to get a release out, and lining up our next round of investment. We’ve been surviving on occasional small injections of cash, and it hasn’t been easy, but we did it with a couple of false starts along the way.

We held a launch event in late 2013, launching a super early version of Rotor with four “styles” of music video that barely did anything, and a launch video that made Rotor sound like it was way further along than it actually was. We even made t-shirts! However almost immediately after the “launch”, we took it offline. We just thought we could do better.

Rotor before
Earlier iteration of the Rotor app design

Months later, our styles were improving but we were still struggling with problems like a decent UX and UI, and the complex back end stuff you have to code to make a platform like Rotor actually take user input, and create video.

We lost a key member of our team because we had no money. We were back to three founders trying to form a decent team to make Rotor, and we came to the realisation that, as we were, we were not a software company, but we knew what the product needed to be.

So we started to work with Rumble Labs - an expert team of developers who were already forged as a unit, and were ready to attack our problems head on. We brought Rotor to them in a half formed state. The design was all over the place, the rendering system kept crashing, and the UI was far from perfect, but Rumble Labs got what we were trying to do, and were confident they could help us. They spent the next 8 months taking Rotor apart, and putting it back together again, and now it’s finally ready to be used by music artists - our intended audience.

We launched a couple of weeks ago, quietly - it’s a beta, and it is not ready to accept a huge amount of users just yet. We want to know how people will respond to it, what bugs they will encounter, what parts of the user experience work for them, what parts don’t, and most of all, if they like the videos that Rotor creates for them. So far, so good! We’ve had just the right amount of people using it, with some very positive reactions, and frankly, not a whole lot of negative reactions. We’re much happier with our offering now, and this is just the beginning.

Rotor after
How the Rotor app looks now

Around two years ago when we began creating Rotor, I met @janeruffino, tech journalist and all round startup oracle, for a little chat about what we were embarking on. Aside from her gracious support and enthusiasm for Rotor, and after I mentioned that we hoped it would be three months to beta, and we would be showing it off as SXSW, Jane wisely advised that it might be more like two years.

So, here we are two years later (you were, of course, right Jane!), and after a couple of false starts, we’ve just launched our public beta, the way we intended to back at SXSW 2013.

About the author

Eoghan

CCO at Rotor

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