FlipaClip: a story of perseverance and dedication
Most modern Westerners grew up on animation. Who doesn’t remember spending their youth watching iconic animated children’s movies like “Toy Story” or “Aladdin”? Millions of people obsessively watch animated cartoons like “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons,” and people of all ages find great joy in the world of Japanese-style Anime. And who among us didn’t sketch out random little cartoons as a child? Indeed, before the advent of our omnipresent pocket-sized digital companions, many creatively-minded kids spent their afternoons doodling animations into the margins of notebooks, flipping pages to watch their cartoon teacher get eaten by a shark or making stick men kick a football. Animation is magical, and brothers and entrepreneurs Jonathan and Marcos Meson are bringing the magic of simple, accessible animation back to life with FlipaClip.
Who are the Meson brothers? Jonathan (Jona) Meson is the CEO and founder of FlipaClip. He’s a visionary, always thinking about the company’s future, looking to the future, and dreaming. Jona is a thinker, an electrical engineer by training who always analyzes the product and the business for possible improvements. His counterpart at FlipaClip is his older brother Marcos. Marcos is the VP of marketing at FlipaClip, and is an experienced UX designer and a dedicated worker. Marcos drives FlipaClip’s marketing efforts and interacts with creators to learn more about what they need from the company.
Together, the Meson brothers have launched a delightful and engaging animation app that allows even the least savvy users to make basic animations on their mobile devices. The brothers have successfully brought the age-old art of animation to life for a whole new group of people who are unlocking their creative sides in exciting new ways. Millions of people have downloaded FlipaClip from Google Play and the App Store, with countless new creators joining every day.
What is FlipaClip?
FlipaClip is a mobile app that lets users create short animations in a simple, approachable way. New app users are greeted with a friendly video explaining the basics, then turned loose at the controls. The controls are highly intuitive: using the app feels a lot like doodling on a sketchpad. “You’re just literally drawing frame by frame or page by page. And then you hit play, and it’s like when you’re flipping pages, and you see that optical illusion of motion,” says Marcos.
The app has been lovingly constructed from the ground up. Jona dug deep into his engineering knowledge to build the codebase from scratch, creating a very stable engine that drives FlipaClip smoothly, even on older or less cutting-edge equipment. Unlike many competing animation apps, FlipaClip is also built specifically for mobile computing, which gives it a huge advantage over PC-based editing software that’s been ported to mobile. This attention to detail and simplicity is designed to provide a positive experience for the creators who use it.
Part of FlipaClip’s simplicity is that animators are (as of this writing) limited to ten layers. While this limits the app’s capabilities a little bit, Jona – an electrical engineer – made this decision deliberately. “The more layers you add, the more processing power that’s required,” he explains. It was important to the brothers that as many people as possible could use the app, and Jona engineered the product around that goal. “I made sure always to have the slowest possible device that I could find…that was my benchmark to make sure I was hitting the right levels,” he says.
Marcos and Jonathan’s entrepreneurial skills developed early in life. Their father was a businessman who believed in process and quality improvement and instilled good entrepreneurial sense into his children. After decades in the business world, he felt a deep calling to serve his community and decided to quit being a businessman and became a pastor. While pastoring was spiritually satisfying, it did bring a change in income to the Meson family. “We were pretty poor, but it never felt that way,” explains Marcos. “We never lacked in…love and encouragement.” The brothers were close as children and maintained a tight-knit relationship into adulthood. Today, their complementary skill sets help them keep FlipaClip moving in the right direction.
The road to FlipaClip
The road to FlipaClip began when Jona was working as an engineer for Motorola, back in the days before modern streaming services existed. The very first smartphones had just come to market, and Jona wondered if he could find a way to stream music using his phone. He began working on a streaming app and enlisted Marcos’ help. The brothers successfully built and launched their app, an early triumph at the dawn of the smartphone age. As the app grew and became more successful, Jona left his native Argentina and moved to Miami to launch his startup, Visual Blasters, the company behind FlipaClip. It was in Miami that the idea for FlipaClip was fleshed out.
At the time, Samsung had launched its first Note that incorporated a stylus. To generate buzz, Samsung offered a $100,000 prize to developers who could build the best app around the stylus. This inspired Jona to look back to an old idea for an animation app, and together with Tim and Marcos, he built the first iteration of FlipaClip.
Unfortunately for the brothers, FlipaClip did not win the contest. Regardless, they released it on the Google Play store to see where it would go. Before long, Jona noticed that the FlipaClip audience was growing and becoming more engaged. Users contacted him, made suggestions, and asked for improvements and additional features. Jona leaned into the attention. He created a forum and database for FlipaClip and began learning more about how the animation industry worked and what people wanted from an animation app. The app’s slow and steady pace of incremental improvements helped it build momentum. In 2018, FlipaClip was used by artists Zedd and Maren Morris to animate the music video to “Make You Say,” which catapulted the app to prominence among a whole new audience. Soon, the brothers felt ready to expand beyond Android and enter the world of iOS.
In 2017, Jona hired an iOS engineer to help him bring FlipaClip to Apple users. Things were looking good for FlipaClip, but with only two months remaining before the product launched to iOS, his iOS engineer abruptly quit. While he was highly frustrated by this development, Jona has never been a quitter. Determined to make his deadline, he put his head down and learned to develop for iOS. “I coded night and day for like 20 hours a day,” says Jona. “The app went out on the day it was supposed to.”
Passion and entrepreneurship
Coding for 20 hours straight, day in and day out, is an almost superhuman feat. To work that hard consistently, one must have a deep and resounding passion for one’s work. If Jona had not been passionate about FlipaClip, the app would not have enjoyed as successful integration with iOS. Can entrepreneurs be successful if they are not passionate about what they’re doing?
According to Marcos, passion is essential. “Passion is one element you need to have and believe in,” he says. Jona agrees, explaining that much of his passion is fueled by the desire to accomplish something, even if it doesn’t pan out in the long term. “You don’t care if you fail, but you want to accomplish [something] for yourself. You want to get to that end result of making something,” says Jona.
Apart from a desire to create, Jona’s passion is fueled by FlipaClip’s customers. An engaged and motivated customer base is a rare and beautiful thing, and the positive energy generated by the FlipaClip crowd helped Jona push through to make his goal. “When I look at these creators’ content, their comments, and what they’re saying about the app…it’s super fueling, like wow, they’re loving it,” says Jona.
The mindset that powers you through vast amounts of often tedious work for an abstract endgame is sometimes described as bordering on madness. That may or may not be true, but it’s definitely true that an almost fanatical devotion to one’s enterprise is an invaluable asset for any entrepreneur. Sir James Dyson, the founder of Dyson, famously built and tested more than 5,000 prototype vacuums before releasing his first product to the market in 1983. Dyson’s obsession with perfecting his product has made him one of the wealthiest men in the United Kingdom. A nearly obsessive approach to one’s craft can be a boon as long as it doesn’t become pathological.
Many entrepreneurs’ driven, hard-charging mindsets require great mental and emotional stamina. The culture of entrepreneurship involves hard work, endurance, and persistence. And while there is no question that hard work is essential to entrepreneurial success, it is possible to push yourself beyond your physical or psychological limits. Excessive stress can make you physically sick. The psychological exhaustion of overwork is real and pernicious. Left unchecked, physical and psychological stress can lead to burnout.
Burnout is a pervasive sense of physical and mental exhaustion. Physically, people suffering from burnout often feel extremely tired and low-energy. They may suffer gastrointestinal distress or a loss of appetite or turn to food as a coping mechanism. They generally feel negative about their business and often become quite cynical. Often, people who are burning out will distance themselves from their work and may begin to feel numb. This sense of despair can cross boundaries, meaning work-related burnout might cause trouble at home. And as if that wasn’t enough, burnout saps creative energy and annihilates concentration.
Marcos and Jona have both faced burnout. In 2017, Marcos worked full-time, renovating a building, working a side job designing user experiences, and working at FlipaClip–all while balancing his wife’s and family’s needs. Eventually, this situation became unsustainable. During one particularly terrible period, Marcos found himself working from an ER bed, physically sick from overwork, and at the end of his rope with a job that wasn’t delivering the things it promised.
Ultimately, this experience was a catalyst for Marcos. “I was working 80 hours a week…and Jona was like, bro, what’s happening?” The brothers talked and decided that it was time to take the risk. Marcos left his other jobs and joined Jona working full-time at Visual Blasters.
Jona is also no stranger to burnout. Over time, he has learned that the best way to tackle feelings of burnout is to address the root cause of the problem, which is generally overwork. When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, your body and mind are trying to tell you to take a break, and Jona says it’s a good idea to listen. “I turn off myself from work and everything and recharge and come back to myself,” he explains. “For me personally, it’s helped telling myself like, hey, you did this to yourself. Chill out.”
To prevent burnout, experts recommend that you commit to basic self-care. Something as simple as taking a break will help you feel refreshed and approach your work with renewed vigor. Other things to help you thrive include getting enough sleep, eating an appropriate diet, and exercising. Turns out that the same boring advice that we’ve all heard a million times is, in fact, pretty solid.
Additionally, entrepreneurs should strive to develop a basic sense of self-awareness. You must take the time to get in touch with who you are and what drives you. To be fair, this sounds like fluff or woo, but there is decent evidence that cultivating the ability to self-reflect and taking the time to assess your goals will help you succeed.
Spiritual skill set
Conventional advice aside, how have Marcos and Jona avoided burnout? “As an entrepreneur, there were burnouts [along] the path,” says Jona. “For me personally, exercise was really helpful. But for me, it was also trying to be mentally and spiritually in the right place.” Indeed, the brothers’ pastoral upbringing has helped them enjoy a well-nourished spiritual life, which has given Marcos and Jona a valuable lodestar to follow when things have been rough. “There are times where it seems difficult, but knowing that you can put it in God’s hands [helps],” says Marco. “There’s an element of spirituality that everything is purposeful. It has a purpose and a meaning.” Having a source of positive inspiration and a deep faith that everything will turn out okay is invaluable for anybody, but it’s especially valuable for people pursuing entrepreneurship. Whatever your beliefs, tapping into the spiritual side of the human experience will make you a healthier, better-rounded person.
It’s easy to minimize the impact of spirituality on success. Western culture tends to keep a firm barrier between the workplace and one’s spiritual life, but both are elements of who we are, and mixing the two is not necessarily bad. You don’t have to compartmentalize your spiritual and work self; if you do, maybe you should explore why that is. Regardless, the cognitive dissonance from engaging in work fundamentally incompatible with one’s spiritual beliefs will haunt you forever if you don’t align your values.
Faith, spirituality, and prayer are powerful tools for the Meson brothers. By working diligently, the brothers control what they can and put the rest in God’s hands. The ability to put things outside of your control into the hands of a higher power will help you offload your worries and develop a sense of optimism that things will work out. A missed opportunity today might turn into a golden one tomorrow. “If a door closes, it means it was meant to be closed. Being okay with that and having the peace…there’s an element of the spirituality that everything is purposeful, it has a purpose and a meaning,” Marcos says. Having a spiritual anchor helps the brothers understand that while the world might seem chaotic and full of uncertainty, there is a higher order and a greater purpose behind whatever happens, and while the great spiritual truths are unknowable to most humans, embracing your spiritual side will unlock a whole new set of cognitive and metaphysical tools to help you on your journey.
The company we keep
Apart from cultivating your spirituality, the brothers recommend that entrepreneurs pay close attention to their milieu. While the people around you do not necessarily define your success, you’re far more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who believe in you. This doesn’t mean finding yourself a convenient toady or lickspittle, but rather, finding people who genuinely believe in your capabilities and will engage with you in a meaningful way. In other words, you should evaluate your relationships in the context of your entrepreneurship.
Truly supportive relationships with friends and family will empower you. Marcos and Jona come from a supportive and loving family and have since created their own families, who have been endlessly patient and supportive while the brothers have launched their business. “Surrounding yourself with people that believe in you is okay. No matter what, your wife, your parents, or your friends, if they don’t believe or cheer you, that’s not the right people you need,” says Marcos.
That is a hard truth. It’s easy to enter relationships with people who don’t encourage your success. As inherently social organisms, we are programmed to associate social rejection with death and disaster. But it’s okay to let go of bad relationships and embrace good ones. Who you choose to surround yourself with does influence your success. If your social circle is a group of lovable slackers who do not appreciate hard work, they’re not likely to positively impact your entrepreneurial journey. If your family dynamics are toxic, they can torpedo your ability to succeed.
Fortunately, positive relationships can have just as powerful of an effect. If your family is supportive and loving and you’re making positive friends at the local business incubator, your milieu will help you thrive. To be clear, we’re not saying you should abandon your friends and family to focus on your enterprise–far from it! But it is important to think critically about who you spend time with and how that relationship affects your ability to live the life you want.
Crazy, but positive
No matter how many positive relationships you build, entrepreneurship is an enormous struggle. Launching and scaling a new enterprise requires vast amounts of work across dozens of disciplines: marketing, accounting, manufacturing, distributing, staying on the right side of the law, managing relationships, coping with setbacks…the list goes on. To endure the rigors of entrepreneurship, you must be straddling the line between sanity and madness. Many entrepreneurs are almost delusional about what they are doing.
This might sound dramatic, but it’s true, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the ideas that have shaped the world we live in seem delusional if you break them down. Take flying. If we weren’t accustomed to living in a world where flying is common, it would seem like nonsense. The idea that a giant metal machine could fly at all would seem preposterous if you didn’t already know it could happen.
The same can be said for computers. The idea that billions of tiny transistors flipping states millions of times per second on a fancy rock in your pocket would let you make animated drawings that you can share with your friends would seem absolutely bonkers if we didn’t already live in that world. Just because an idea seems improbable or delusional doesn’t mean it is.
Actualizing your improbable idea is largely a function of passion. Passion begets persistence. Entrepreneurs must persist in the face of enormous challenges and setbacks. Marcos and Jona Meson have spent years and years building and perfecting FlipaClip. Today, the app succeeds in making animation approachable, fun, and uplifting. Entrepreneurship is never easy, but the rewards of bringing your idea to life are well worth the sacrifice.
The Meson Brothers’ advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Write a mission statement that is meaningful to you
There is a reason that Business 101 classes talk about mission statements: when you know what you’re working on, you have a clarity of purpose that makes it easier to make decisions. “You know what our mission is? ‘To make animation approachable, fun, and uplifting.’ That is what drives us to have more focus,” says Marcos. Knowing why you do what you do helps you do it better.
Have a clear vision
A mission statement explains what you’re doing and why you’re doing it; a vision describes where you see your business going. In other words, a vision helps keep you future-oriented so you can align today’s actions with the desired outcomes of tomorrow.
Surround yourself with the right people
When he first started building FlipaClip, Jona was a tech expert but not as savvy about business. “I was lucky enough to have met an advisor that kept telling me to stop looking too much into the product and start looking out there. How can you grow it?… How can you make it a business rather than just a product?” As much as we like to be self-reliant, we all need help from others. Finding good advisors and good friends is invaluable.
It’s worth meeting other professionals, thinkers, and entrepreneurs and cultivating a friendly relationship. You never know who you’ll cross paths with, and having a large network of mutual acquaintances can connect you with people who can help you. Consider joining a local business incubator or other social groups to make connections.
Step back and look at what you’re doing
Entrepreneurship is exciting, but it’s essential to take the time to reflect on your work. Zoom out: is your business plan still aligned with reality? How is your business doing? What areas can be improved, and what lessons can be learned? Creating something amazing is great, but your creation won’t reach the market unless you tend to the business and operations side of things.
Be open-minded and humble
You’re human, and so are the people around you. We all have unique sets of skills and a variety of life experiences. Sometimes the most interesting lessons come from the unlikeliest sources. Be real.
Research and learn from your customers
Marketing is essential. Who are your customers? What do they want? What do they like and dislike about your product? How are they using it, and how can we help them use it better? Taking the time to get to know your market will help your business thrive.