How We Built a Tech Startup Around Our Amazing Community

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How a Australia/UK/London based startup started

Over the last two years, Subly has become a go-to solution for multitudes of creators, a meeting point for thousands of businesses, startups and educational institutions– all through one pandemic, one rebrand and 3 major launches.

It's unbelievable to look back to our tech startup celebrating our first 3,500 users over a year ago when we were still working on Subly 1.0. It was around that time that an important team member joined us–the Subly Bot.

image of subly bot sending slack notifications

Subly Bot's job was to send Slack notifications every time somebody signed up to Subly. In the early startup days, he'd let us know of a new user sign up every couple of hours. Subly Bot motivated all of us to keep building. As we launched new features and our startup team expanded, Subly Bot started working a lot harder, too. And we admit, when he began messaging us every 10 minutes, we had to mute him.

Don't worry; he's still on our team, adamantly notifying all of us to keep going. Today, Subly Bot logs a new user around the world every couple of minutes.

What does Subly Bot have to do with Subly's birthday, though?

Subly Bot reminds us every day who we're building Subly for. It's you.

Our community loves Subly because we have been committed to being customer-obsessed from day 1. That's why Subly Bot is such an essential part of our team. (Even if he's not real.)

screenshot of subly translation customer feedback of software-positive

We built Subly out of a common pain point– complicated content workflows. And we simplified the process down to just 4 steps. To this day, we pride ourselves on making content as simple and global as possible. But, Subly hasn't always worked the way you use it today. It hasn't always looked the way you see it today. In fact, Subly wasn't even called Subly. While our evolution hasn't been noticeable week-by-week, we've made some pretty risque moves for a budding tech startup.

Wait, what do you mean Subly hasn’t always been Subly?

Once upon a time, circa July 2019, we were Take 1 Video. 

Take 1 Video was working on automatically transcribing and subtitling videos. It was a common problem in the online creator community, and Take 1 Video software existed to simplify it. We weren't sure what 'simple' looked like, though, so we sent off invitations to 30 hand-selected beta launch testers to find out. We sent them this:

screenshot of take 1 video user interface of the dashboard

And it did this: 

screenshot of take 1 video user interface of the editor

This is what the seeds of Subly looked like. Take 1 Video wasn't perfect, and we knew that. But we didn't want to assume what perfect would look like. After all, how could we know? That's why we sent it to beta testers. We wanted our users' feedback so we could build the software that was needed at that time.

So, what did you end up building?

Not Take 1 Video. We realised that Take 1 Video wasn't what creators needed. Creators needed more than video transcription; they also needed audio transcription. They needed more languages. They wanted more control. They wanted better online engagement. Something with a more global focus. So we scrapped the video. We ditched the idea of taking just one video. And we created Subly.

Subly is for video and audio content. And in the future, hopefully, different files, too. It's for automatic transcription, translation and subtitles. For individual creators all the way to startups and large enterprises. For those with and without editing skills. For everyone, not just English-speakers.

Subly has a focus on subtitles because language accessibility starts here; so does engagement and reach.

text image transcription and subtitling is complicated using subly isn't

What was actually different about Subly, though?

After that first round of beta testers, we decided to become Subly.

We changed our name to Subly.

We re-designed the logo.

We re-designed the user interface and even changed our brand colours. A lot of work, and worry, went into this move.

We were worried that the product, and our startup, would be unrecognisable. That our early adopters would disapprove. That it wouldn't look as simple or easy-to-use anymore.

But we trusted in the process and launched it anyway.

This is what Subly Free looked like in February 2020:

screenshot of first version of the subly free editor

And this is what automatic transcription and subtitling looked like back then:

screenshot of the first subly free dashboard

We added new elements that were missing before.

We made the dashboard different to the editor.

We added a pop of our new brand colour.

We added editing and styling features.

Overall, we tried to give our users more control in the SaaS platform. Like they had asked.

To our delight, our early adopters surprised us. They supported the MVP in February 2020. Our user sign ups rapidly began growing, which made things exciting for us (Subly Bot was particularly vocal about this).

This version of Subly supported video for transcription and subtitling in over 30 languages. In addition, Subly now had a focus on subtitles and engagement, and accessibility.

It looked more straightforward, the colours were more dynamic and carried more personality, and we were more inclusive.

Where did the rest of what I see today come from then?


After that first launch, our mission was to collect as much feedback as possible. So we listened to our users day in and day out. And we made changes to the software daily.

Our users said, headlines to grab attention, so we added a Headline tab.

Our users said, flexible margins, so we adjusted the Position tab.

We unlocked all of the other things we never realised you needed from subtitles as we listened more and more.

And Subly started looking a little more like this:

screenshot of later versions of subly free editor

screenshot of later versions of subly free editor

Again, these new updates all came from the community. Our users kept showing us new use cases for Subly and where we fit into their workflow.

So we added features to our platform like downloading subtitled videos or downloading transcripts only.

We also launched a special campaign, Founding Member campaign, to get direct feedback from real-time users as our startup grew.

Our Founding members were users who needed Subly. For a discount, they got to test the early versions of all our releases. This led to 5% of our users at the time subscribing and becoming Founding Members. They were instrumental in making Subly what the platform that it is today.

How did Subly Pro come about then?

Subly Pro, our first-ever paid subscription, launched in October 2020.

We decided to build a paid version of Subly because we needed to keep growing our team and our tech. A lot of users from all sorts of backgrounds began discovering Subly. And subsequently requesting new features from the platform.

Our startup wasn't just about subtitling anymore. It was about saving our user's time. Hundreds of hours a week.

There was a large part of our user base creating online content in batches for themselves and their businesses.

They repurposed their online content.

They produced for multiple channels at a time.

They made branded content for startups, small businesses and enterprise.

So Subly Pro technology was built with their needs in mind.

This is what Subly Pro for creators, agencies, small businesses and enterprise looked like:

screenshot of subly pro for creators editor

We tried to help our users save even more time. Now they could upload and transcribe their video and audio. And show off their brand with logos and brand colours and fonts. They could add headlines and even resize their online content for any platform. We also made it super simple to export TXT, SRT and VTT files to repurpose content for any platform.

While the editor looked similar, it was less complicated. We deleted unnecessary buttons, made important elements stand out with some fresh brand colours. To make room for what was to come.

How the community helped us build our tech startups biggest feature to date–Subly Premium

In February 2021, we launched Subly Premium. It was an important launch for us as we introduced a new major feature: translation. But to make it work, Subly needed to have some work done, too. (We loved it as it was, but a little new style never hurt anybody!)

We introduced collaboration features for online teams, which warranted a side menu! So we squeezed in a side menu, made it pop with a little more purple, and also created tabs for your Video and Audio!

While we tried not to change too many colours, we wanted the editor to look fresh; upgraded. So we updated our brand colours, again.

(You might think, weren't you always purple? Yes, but this purple is even more purple. It's got character, just like our community.)

screenshot of subly premium editor menu

And in the editor, we added a Translation tab.

screenshot of subly premium editor tab with automatic translations

What's next now that we've raised funding?

The good news is that we're just at the beginning of our startup journey and our technology is always developing. There's still so much to find out about our users' workflows about what businesses and larger teams need.

And, so much we still want to do to make Subly and content as simple as it can possibly be.

While all of these updates make the Subly Bot ecstatic, it can be challenging at times, especially knowing how many creators now rely on our small startup. But each new user notification reminds us why we do it.

It's still insane to see the users join in real-time and tag in the content they create online, thanks to Subly.

Subly has come a long way in the past two years and truly matured and evolved into a community and startup that we're proud to be a part of every day, both externally and internally.

Thank you so much for your support, and we're so glad you're on this journey with us.

Have something you're dreaming of seeing on the platform? Leave a suggestion on our roadmap page!

Head over to our YouTube channel, where we're celebrating everything we've learnt by baking a cake with our Founder!

Discover what you can achieve with Subly. Click the image below to get started.

text on image become a subtitling pro with subly pro

Holly Stephens
CEO & Founder

Holly founded Subly in 2019 with a vision to make subtitling videos a simple 4-step process.

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