Frontback interview: “We’re more than just a selfie app”

Frontback is the dual-perspective photo app getting a lot of buzz right now, letting you take a photo with your front and back cameras, and then combining them into one post.

We had the opportunity to chat with Frontback co-founder Frédéric della Faille about how the app started, why its popular, and what the future holds. Check out our interview to find out more about the photo app everyone’s talking about.

Softonic: How did you get the idea for the app, and did you expect it to be such a success? Can you summarize how it all began?

Frédéric della Faille: Frontback started as a side project of CheckThis, an online publishing platform accessible from a browser. A year and a half ago, we started working on CheckThis for iPhone, trying to restrict the platform to photo sharing. The app launched, but wasn’t as successful as expected. There was a small, super active community, but since then, we’ve removed it from the App Store.

Co-founder's first frontback

I was trying to explain why a user could benefit from sharing several photos rather than a single Instagram post. I created a post on CheckThis with the words Front and Back and 2 images taken with the front and back camera of my phone. I shared them on social networks and, because most of my friends are in Belgium, they could see […] my apartment for the first time. They all thought I looked really tired, but it generated a lot of engagement.

People no longer judged CheckThis as a product but instead, for its content.

The CheckThis community was inspired by this post. Friends who are total non-geeks used CheckThis just for that purpose. It got to a point where I said to myself:

This is much more powerful than what I was expecting.

I created the first mockups to turn it into a standalone app. Since we’d already raised funds, we couldn’t get into something new because of our investors.

The co-founder of Frontback [Melvyn Hills ] came from Belgium to Brooklyn for a month and I told him “Listen, Melvyn, it’s a secret, but the two of us are going to work on this together.” We developed the app in 4 weeks [and] Frontback was immediately successful.

In 12 hours, we had exceeded the number of downloads that we had from CheckThis, which had been in the App Store for I think 9 months.

Because of my previous experience in digital advertising, I attach great importance to brands and communication. What was traumatic about CheckThis was that we had done a lot of communication, but it didn’t work.

For Frontback, we did the opposite. We didn’t have video, we didn’t have any marketing […] we only had the product. Since we had around fifty beta testers, friends in the world of emerging technologies in New York and Brussels, and also friends in the music industry, the links began to spread. We were spotted by tech media before we even contacted them.

I decided to focus my marketing efforts on one tech outlet, who finally agreed to publish an article on the app.

S: What’s your explanation for the selfies trend? Do you think it’ll last?

F: The selfie is a self-portrait. We’ve just given it a name that’s a bit cooler. But it’s always existed. In any case, we’re not a selfie company,  that’s clear!

Birth frontback

S: So, if users don’t take selfies and shoot two different photos, you don’t mind?

F: The latest Staff Pick that we chose was of a child being born. That has nothing to do with the selfie. There’s a lot of emotion that comes out of this picture. People are really immersed in the hospital at the moment it’s happening. If they hid half of the screen, it wouldn’t have as much emotion.

In any case, we’re not a selfie app, that’s clear!

Of course, we still enjoy the selfies. Last summer, we felt that something new was about to pop up. Some rather sophisticated selfies were starting to pop up.

There are two Frontback user types: one who comes for the selfie and then makes a composition around it; and the ones who come for the opposite and use the selfie as the complimentary photo.

One day, an article was published by an influential blogger in Japan who had discovered that touch gestures allowed you to move from the back camera to the front camera. For him, doing this completely changed the perception of the app and its possibilities.

It’s funny because, in general, the Japanese user posts a dozen composition photos and then slowly starts to introduce themselves in the frame. That’s pretty much the opposite of the European user. Europeans usually start with a selfie, then get a bit tired of it and move on to compositions.

For the record, these gesture features came to me through talking to Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, who is also a friend of mine. He told me: “You should try to find a solution for us so that we can take two good quality pictures with the front camera”

Obviously, we were scared of breaking the momentum of the product. We launched these features without talking about them.

“You should try to find a solution for us so that we can take two good quality pictures with the front camera,” Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter

S: You’ve published a post on your blog about this since then…

F: We’re only now beginning to feel a little bit better prepared [to] transform the tool into a social network. We’re also able to explain what we can do with the camera a bit better. We certainly don’t want a user to have to go through 10 screens of explanations. It doesn’t matter if they discover [touch gestures] a bit later.

S: It’s also the creative side that users likes, the idea of having an app in your hands with which you can really express yourself.

F: When someone sees this little baby, if they don’t know about gestures yet, then we assume they’ll ask questions: “Did this person really take a Frontback, or is there something else that I don’t know about in this product?” Advanced users have the right to know stuff that the user in his first session can’t grasp yet.

S: Exactly. Would you say that these are the opportunities that differentiate you from other selfie apps?

F: A photo plus a photo doesn’t make 2 photos. It’s much more than 2 photos.

A selfie is quite limited by space. Your arm isn’t 2 meters long so the frame is still pretty tight.

S: Do you define yourselves as a social network, or would you prefer to rely on the spread of links on Facebook and Twitter to increase the number of users?

F: Clearly we’re a social network, and it’s not because everyone else is doing it that we’re doing it.

We don’t share our figures, but they are impressive. There are things happening with the app. Users are asking us to move towards social networking.

Stripes frontback

Clearly, we’re a social network, and it’s not because everyone else is doing it that we’re doing it.

For example, last week we got a nice surprise. A user in Chicago received a gift from one of our female users in Japan. They met through Frontback. Users inspire each other and get to know each other. There’s something incredibly fascinating about this, and users are pushing us to move towards more ways for contact one another.

S: Every picture posted on frontback also has a unique URL. I guess that helps you attract people to your app?

F: Yes, exactly. The idea is to create a platform and control the content viewing experience. Nowadays, it’s the cell phone that offers the best viewing experience.

S: Can you tell us about any new features you’d like to introduce in the future? For example, will it be possible to take 2 photos in one shot?

F: The hardware doesn’t allow this. If it were possible, perhaps we could try, but in any case, at the moment, neither the iPhone nor Android devices allow users to do it.

I know that Samsung has a Dual Shot function that lets you take pictures with the two sensors at the same time but […] I don’t think the Frontback user would be satisfied with this feature for taking 2 photos simultaneously. There’s this idea of composition: if the photo is going to be shared, we always want to look our best. The ability to combine 2 photos is super important to us.

S: Would importing photos from the photo gallery be conceivable?

F: No, that doesn’t fit with our philosophy, at least not yet. Uploading photos would distort Frontback. We’re in no hurry to consider that kind of functionality. We don’t have to reach a billion users, not yet anyway.

We’re really focusing on the existing community to try to understand the behavior of users, the ways they use the app, those kinds of things.

We don’t have to reach a billion users, not yet anyway.

We are extremely conscientious with regards to our roadmap. We don’t want to develop any additional functions as a knee-jerk reaction just to try things out.

S: Speaking of users, Frontback has a very international community.

F: It sure does. 60% of our users are outside the United States. As for the rest, you’ll find a lot in South America and Asia. A little less of Europe, but I know that since last Thursday [Editor’s note: since May 1], Apple has put us at the top on the AppStore in many countries in Europe. That should bring us more visibility there.

Everything is done organically. We haven’t developed any activity or marketing ideas yet. Growth is organic, since we haven’t really mastered the internalization of Frontback yet.

S: You’ve announced over a million downloads on the Apple AppStore. Do you have any other figures on the number of current users?

F: No, we don’t comment about them. Our figures are very good! From time to time, I tweet a number here and there. What really matters to us is commitment.

Pilot fighter frontback

It’s about knowing what a user does. Something happening with the app is what interests us the most, not just submitting incredible overall figures.

S: Finally, what are the most unusual photos you’ve seen on Frontback?

F: There are some every day. The Staff Pick is a feed that Elisa, the community manager, and I work on carefully. We see so many posts capturing so many different moments, that it becomes impossible to choose one.

A recent post that aroused a lot of emotion is the image of a fighter pilot. It’s a Frontback in full flight and that’s something really special. A Belgian firefighter has [also] posted during a mission.

Photos that create emotion are the ones that aren’t just simple Frontbacks.

Papua New Guinea frontbackA user from Paris posted from New Guinea recently. It’s completely amazing. She got 3500 likes in 2 days. That’s completely unexpected!

You have to consider that there’s no offline mode, nor any uploading of photos, so she is really there, and that’s what creates something special.

When people use the app where you’d never think of using it, that’s obviously emotional for the team. Photos that create emotion are the ones that aren’t simple Frontbacks.

Frédéric, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

You can find the whole Frontback community via the official app blog. If you need some inspiration, check out these 11 original ideas for creating a Frontback.

Frontback is available for both iPhone and Android.

Follow me on Twitter @bbrassart

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