- Mobelux co-founder and president Jeff Rock writes the sixth in a series about Mobelux's 10-Year entrepreneurial journey.
Sitting at the bar of The Jefferson Hotel during cocktail hour, Marc LaFountain was about to drop three bombshells on me. The first was that he was leaving Tumblr, where he had served as VP of Support for six years. The second, that he and his wife were uprooting from Richmond and moving to Switzerland. The third one was that he had an idea for a startup and he wanted to know what I thought about it.
“I want to build a platform that helps people find the best cocktail bar in any city, whether they're new in town or they've lived there for years. I have a great name. And I want Mobelux to make it.”
When Marc pitched his idea for Elixr I wasn't immediately sold. It seemed a bit niche. Yet, it was still interesting (and it was a superb name). I was always on the lookout for drink programs that were well-crafted. As anyone who has ordered an Old Fashioned and received a fizzy, cherry-topped abomination can attest, finding a good bar is tough. An enthusiast community where you could talk to people about the best bar or drink in a city? My interest was piqued. So, after a few more conversations (and another martini or two), it was settled. We turned the project on and got to work designing Elixr.
After nailing down the core product and breaking it into user stories the design team split into two parts: identity and interface. The design team worked through dozens of ideas, drawing particular inspiration from the slender forms and lengthened x-heights of Deco-era signage. After weeks of refinement they developed a full mark, palette and typeface that we felt represented the brand well.
While the identity was being nailed down we worked on the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). The interface design process at Mobelux is at the heart of what we do, and it began as it usually does: with a whiteboard. Even the most outlandish UI and UX concepts for Elixr were fair game. Over days the ideas refined and tempered until we felt like we had something that provided enough depth to accommodate the product.
As the days went on we honed every one of Elixr's views until they all exuded the same level of polish. We built spring dynamics into table headers to give Elixr more character and tuned the photo filters until they felt right. Finally, with an interface and identity we were proud of, core development began.
After five months of designing, developing and testing we released Elixr 1.0 on March 14, 2013. We were all glued to Barman (Elixr's admin console) with beers in hand as Elixr went live on the App Store. The first post came through. We toasted to Elixr and watched as a Budweiser at a TGIFridays in India became the first official check-in. Not exactly the post I would have chosen, but all the same, seeing people use Elixr for the first time was magical.
Over the next 24 hours we watched as our hometown of Richmond, Virginia was covered with check-in pins. Members from around the world commented, liked and followed one another. Venues with the best tap lists and bar programs around the US started popping up. We knew that we were onto something, even if we weren't sure where it would go.
2013 wasn't all about Elixr. Matt Alexander reached out after hearing about Mobelux on the Accidental Tech Podcast and asked if we could help him build a hybrid between a retail platform and a digital publication. The idea was intriguing, as was the idea of working with Matt. We knew of him from his blog, OneThirtySeven and as co-host of Bionic, a popular podcast about tech, Britishness, humor, and, well, just about anything.
The primary goal of Matt's new company was to help men stay fashionable without the burdensome experience of shopping. For most men, finding high quality products is an inconvenient and time consuming task. Matt wanted to curate a destination for fashionable, classic clothing, delivered monthly. His guidance was simple: great writing and stylish photography of stellar products in an editorial layout. A magazine that you could directly buy from.
We weren't tasked with the design of the Need company logo and identity. But since it hadn't started yet we asked Matt if he would like to see a concept. We worked up a few comps and presented him not only logo and icon ideas, but also how that style could reflect throughout the entire product.
The main challenge with Need's logo was that it had to fulfill a lot of criteria beyond being beautiful. It had to feel classic and exude a touch of Texas charm. It would also have to stand on its own while complimenting a wide mix of strong product brands.
To further extend the identity, Mobelux developed a suite of custom icons to reinforce Need's unique offering in the market. We designed them to represent each product category, whether that was "Shirts", "Timepieces", or "Trousers".
Work progressed, wireframes turned into interfaces and Need started to take shape. Through iteration we shipped feature after feature until the parts began to resemble the whole. That last month of development was a whirlwind, but we had to get Need in front of people in time for Black Friday. While Mobelux built the platform, Matt forged relationships with brands and readied the inaugural products for launch. Then, on November 5th, 2013, Vol. 1 of Need went live.
A Banner Year
Though both of these products are now defunct, they were important to our DNA. Elixr bolstered the team and gave us the confidence to build a social network from the ground-up. Need showed that we could build a modern ecommerce platform. Most important of all, we built relationships with partners that have grown into new opportunities. In fact, five years later, we're launching Matt Alexanders' next project: Neighborhood Goods (and once again, just in time for Black Friday).
Looking back, 2013 marks when Mobelux transitioned from a boutique app development house into a one-stop product team for hire. It came to define the way we look at designing and developing products for clients. Our process has changed (as has the team) but it reinforced the ideas that we formed in our earliest days. Experience matters. Good software is made when design and development work together. And perhaps most important of all, never, ever ship on a Friday.
Jeff Rock is the president and co-founder of Mobelux.