Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Next Step

Exciting news! I'm leaving Google to start another company. My last day is tomorrow.

Google has been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot working on Android and Gmail in the last 2.5 years. My golden handcuffs aren’t off quite yet, but I’ve been longing to get back into startup mode and build a product from the ground up with a small team.

I haven't yet decided on an idea or team and will spend the next few weeks in exploration mode. I'll be spending the month of June in New York, and will be back in San Francisco in July where I’ll be working out of Founders Den in SOMA.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 3 R's that Matter in a Startup

Reach, Retention, Revenue

I loved Tom Tunguz's post on "Your Startup's Top 3 Priorities": Distribution, Engagement, Monetization. But Alan Wells of Zynga gave it the extra zing of alliteration in this follow-up post.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eight Experiences Every User Enjoys

Users primarily remember how products make them feel. As you're building your application, service, or website, try to evoke these emotions and users will be more likely to return.
  1. Immediacy - Speed is addictive because speed is power. Remember how powerful you felt when you first used Google in 2000? 
  2. Looking at Faces - Humans are highly evolved to analyze faces and like doing it.
  3. Learning - The feeling you get when you're watching a great TED talk. Easily digestible, well paced, clear insights. The majority of media and blogs cater to this emotion: Think about how coming back to TechCrunch each day makes you feel like you just got another piece of candy.
  4. Showing Off - The sense of pride you feel when you post your run to Nike+, get a "Player" badge on Foursquare, or post good looking party pictures to Facebook.
  5. Influence - You got retweeted, or your post gets reshared on Facebook. Your expertise was appreciated. Klout, your follower count, and Coderwall all cater to this.
  6. Simplicity, clarity, efficiency, safety - All of these are correlated sensations. Everyone loves a product with these properties. Yet this is pretty hard to hit, especially in older products that have gone through more development cycles and have become more complex.
  7. Controversy - Humans love drama. Think Huffington Post - huge headlines mixed with animosity attracts attention.
  8. Checking Items off a list - Few things are as stressful as an unread email counter or a todo list with unchecked items. Checking them gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Distribution First

I used to be in the "build a better mousetrap" camp. reMail's product was better email search for your iPhone. Very constrained. Most users found reMail through tech blogs or by word of mouth. It was a cool product, but growth was decidedly non-exponential.

When you look at the most successful startups of the last 5 years, one common property is that they built not just a polished product, but a great distribution strategy that was a natural fit. In some cases, it was a viral marketing scheme like Dropbox's - sign up your friend, get free storage. In others, it was that the creators had identified a segment of potential users that would immediately adopt the product - think about how Facebook forcibly created an account for all Harvard undergrads on day one. Gilt came to own New York by spamming women in their core age and income group.

In a way, coming up with distribution ideas is more fun than coming up with startup ideas, partially because it is more constrained: You have to invent a scheme that's not too expensive to operate, socially acceptable, and targeted to the demographic that would use your product. I encourage you to think distribution first.

Four Types of Mobile Apps

I like this blog post by Chris Dixon that talks about the four kinds of mobile apps: Time wasters, core utilities, episodic utilities, and notification-driven apps. I think these four relatively narrow definitions cover about close to 100% of what people actually do with their phones.

Phone makers often talk about how with today's technology, you have a supercomputer in your pocket. Yet no one wants a supercomputer in their pocket - none of the app categories require large-scale processing. The games that need fancy 3D graphics are often not that popular - they take too long to load and are too complex for the small screen.

It's the simple, vertical apps that solve well-defined immediate problems that work best.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Much more left to do

"Probably the biggest secret is [...] that there are many important secrets left. This used to be a convention forty or fifty years ago. Everyone believed that there was much more left to do. But generally speaking, we no longer believe that. It’s become a secret again."

-- Peter Thiel in Stanford's CS183

Monday, May 21, 2012

reMail now builds on iOS 5.x

I know some of you folks are still following this blog from the days of when reMail was open sourced.

While I haven't added a lot of features to reMail since then, I've been trying to keep it up-to-date and buildable. The changes that happened in iOS 5.0 and XCode 4.2 broke the build a while ago, and a variety of downloadable zip files sprung up with forks of reMail that build on iOS 5.x.

The good news is that I just pushed a patch that builds reMail on iOS 5.x flawlessly. Many thanks to Matt Ronge who put this patch together. He helped a lot with reMail even back in the day: reMail uses the MailCore framework he built.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Android Location Best Practices

Android location is complex: You have to register with different location providers, listen for their updates, derive the phone's location - all this while you're watching for battery consumption.

I've found myself pointing a lot of people to this excellent tutorial by Android's very own Reto Meier: Deep Dive into Location on the Android developers blog.