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Chris Cardell

Interview with Christopher Minson (iaza)

iaza is an easy to use online image conversion and manipulation application. It’s also available on the iPhone and Android as Ezimba.

I interviewed Christopher Minson, iaza founder to find out more. This interview is the nineteenth in a series of DoesWhat interviews. Big thank you to Christopher for the interview!

How would you describe iaza in under 50 words?

iaza allows you to do cool and creative image conversions online – simply and easily. Hundreds of options are available, ranging from the mundane to the insane.  And they are all easily accessible and simple to use.

Just upload, click and have fun.

What made you decide to start working on iaza?

A few years back I needed to do some image processing for a non-profit website that I was helping out. So I got Photoshop and fired it up.

Now Photoshop is a great product. Definitely the thing to use if you’re a pro. But it’s also complicated and intimidating. I swear, when I first launched it I thought I was looking at the wiring diagram of a hydrogen bomb. Where to begin? Cut the blue wire or the red?  I didn’t have a clue.

So I bought a tutorial book, complete with guided examples, exercises and tests. Upon getting to Chapter 18 I finally rebelled and tossed it. After all, I just wanted to do some neat things with a few pictures, not launch a Space Shuttle.

So I went online looking for alternatives. No lack of options there but I found that all of them were either limited, slow, buggy or just too stupid for words.

That seemed to point to an opportunity. That’s how iaza was born.

How did you come up with the name? Did you already own the domain name?

Once I drafted a spec I went looking for a domain. I wanted a name that was short and distinctive, reflecting the personality of the product I had in mind.

Unfortunately I’m not good with names and so for a long while nothing came up. But then one day –  as I laid rather inebriated on a local beach – the name “iaza” just sort of materialized. That name seemed as reasonable as any and so I ran with it.

Later on I came upon a much cooler name courtesy of my wife: ezimba. I liked it more and have used it for my follow-on iPhone and Android products.

Of course, that meant I was now pushing two names rather than one. Suboptimal from the branding perspective, as they might say at Harvard. So eventually I’ll probably coalesce around ezimba. However given iaza has really run away from me in terms of success, that’s not so easy to do. In short, in terms of brand focus the naming could be better.

What made you decide to charge for the iPhone version of your app, but provide the Android version free of charge?

I originally didn’t charge for my Android version because of the bugginess of the platform. In the early days Android had some “issues” and I didn’t want users to pay for my product and then watch it crash. People remember that sort of thing. Not the way to build brand loyalty.

Android is very stable now and I plan to start charging eventually. However I’ve been in no hurry, as I’ve been happy with my revenue stream elsewhere. Meanwhile the free android version helps me to gain mindshare, particularly in overseas markets.

What made you decide to start a blog in June?

I think of iaza like I think of my toaster: it does one thing and it does it really well. You pull a lever and good stuff happens. Does my toaster need a blog? Nope, and so neither should iaza. In short, I don’t approve of product blogs. Who really reads them?

But I recently relented and started a blog. I did that because that’s the “done thing” nowadays and many of my users claimed they wanted one. People kept asking: where’s the iaza blog? Everyone else has a blog and you don’t – what are you, a loser? It got to be annoying.

And so now iaza has a blog. No one can accuse me of not going with the flow.

Which technologies are powering iaza?

The iaza stack is LAMP.  The image-processing code itself is a hodge-podge of open-source stuff written in C, plus some proprietary C code, plus some shell scripts. The servers themselves are quite heavy-weight and reside in two physically distinct data-centers for redundancy.

How long did it take you to put together the first version of iaza and how long has it been open to the public?

For a long time iaza sat latent, as I was busy starting another company (Baynote – an enterprise SaaS firm).

Once I was finished with Baynote, alpha iaza took 6 months to create. And for a period it was kept locked for a small community until the right level of quality was reached.

Three years ago I announced public availability. From there it has grown organically and iteratively, based off user feedback.

Has iaza got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Growth has been explosive. I’m shocked by it, especially given iaza has never been promoted or marketed in any way – everything is viral, by word of mouth and personal recommendation. It fits a niche far better than I expected.

I’m particularly pleased with the feedback from the user community. iaza has some extremely dedicated users who are basically camped out there, and they don’t hold back on their commentary (both positive and negative). That has been invaluable.

Who do you see as your target audience?

The target audience is people like me: those who want to have fun with images and do creative complicated-looking things, but without having to think about it too hard. Basically those who are into immediate gratification, image-processing-wise. Lazy, in other words.

My users span all the demographics, from kids to grandmothers. However the center of gravity is definitely with the young wired set. The average age of a iaza user appears to be about 20.

iaza comes in 12 different languages. Outside theUSthere are particularly strong user communities inBrazilandIndia, withChinacoming up hard and fast.

Who is your biggest competitor?

Any other online image conversion service is at least a partial competitor. Hard to say which is the biggest – there are so many. Frankly I don’t pay attention anymore as I find looking at them them too painful. Just Google “online image conversion” or some such and you’ll get the latest list.

Photoshop of course isn’t a competitor, as it’s in a higher league of power and has a completely different orientation. It appeals to serious people doing serious work. If you’re working on the cover of National Geographic or enhancing photographs of a brain surgery operation, well, you need Photoshop. In contrast, if you’re just one of the proletariat that wants to have some good quick fun, you use iaza.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Keeping server capabilities a few steps ahead of growth. The key to a SaaS firm is to over-build and always keep several steps ahead in terms of load.

Of course, that’s often easier said than done.

Do you have any features in the pipeline?

New conversions are constantly being added of course. Beyond that I’m working to extend horizontal reach. An Arabic version will soon be available for instance, inshallah. Also, a version will be coming out for Microsoft phone.

Which conversion or effect is most popular with your users?

Interestingly, feature usage is very heterogeneous and distributed. There are many different iaza communities and each seems to have their favorite feature set. I’ve learned to not assume too much about what people really like.

Can you convince the reader to start using iaza in under 50 words?

Of course. The site will look very different from anything you’ve seen before – but you’ll immediately know how to use it. And in one minute you’ll be having loads of creative fun.

Finished reading? Check out iaza!

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 at 10:00 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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