HowDo offers intriguing take on instructional storyboards

Sometimes you come across a startup whose idea is simple, effective and not quite fully-formed: a concept that works as advertised, but that’s maddeningly close to being something else, something more useful – if only one could put one’s finger on it.

That’s how I feel about HowDo, which has just left private beta and announced some heavyweight backers along the way.

The company (Swedish for now, but in the process of moving to Berlin) has an iOS app that lets you create short instructional storyboards. Basically, you use your iPhone to shoot a series of stills, then record an eight-second voiceover for each picture. The result is playable through the app or online.

Here, for example, is co-founder Nils Westerlund explaining how to quickly dry a wet sock.

So what’s wrong with just shooting a video and sticking it on eHow?

“We think videos take too long to create and also to watch,” co-founder Emma Rose Metcalfe told me. “This is exciting as a way to share something.”

True. One of the key advantages of HowDo’s mechanism over video is its chapter-like experience, which lets the viewer skip through the boring bits. It also obviates the need for editing (and, for the HowDo team, it seriously cuts down on cloud storage requirements).

The app is, of course, very social. In fact, it doesn’t offer search or tagging, relying instead on the idea that you will figure out whose guides you find entertaining or useful, and just keep following what they produce.

I reckon search is a serious omission for a service like this, but it’s clearly not enough of a gap to deter investors. Along with the move into public beta, HowDo has just revealed a “significant seed round” (no numbers) that’s led by Wellington Partners and that also takes in serial angel Peter Read and Horizon Ventures, the investment vehicle of Hong Kong-based Hutchison-Whampoa magnate Li Ka-Shing.

“When the concept and prototype was shown to me, I wanted to be part of this project to make this a global platform,” Wellington partner Daniel Waterhouse said in a statement. “There isn’t really anything like this out there and I believe that HowDo, with its simplicity in design and easy-to-use functions, will become a reflex action when you want to share, discover or develop a new skill.”

It’s true that the user experience of HowDo is very, very smooth – as it should be, given the founders’ background in UX design. The service looks good, and it is certainly easy to create and consume HowDo storyboards.

But, as I suggested above, something about HowDo feels ‘not quite there yet’.

That may be down to the fact that eHow and YouTube already have the how-to instructional video down pat. Then again, with its decision to veer away from search in favour of social discovery, it feels like the HowDo founders are trying to achieve something different – something that may only make sense once the service becomes widely used.

What I do think is that the mechanics of HowDo hold great promise for other applications. A citizen journalism app, for example, could also utilize the picture-plus-soundbite framework.

There’s something in this thing. It may just take a while to surface.