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Chris Cardell

Interview with Jessica Scorpio (Getaround)

Getaround is a social car sharing service where you can either rent cars by the hour from people around you or earn by renting out your car.

I interviewed Jessica Scorpio, Getaround co-founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Jessica for the interview!

How would you describe Getaround in under 50 words?

Getaround is a peer-to-peer car rental marketplace that enables people to share personal cars.

What was your inspiration for founding Getaround?

In a 2009 group project at Singularity University’s 10-week summer program in Mountain View, Calif., the 40 students were split into four teams, which had three weeks to come up with a project that could impact a billion people over the next 10 years.

Getaround’s three co-founders (Sam Zaid, Elliot Kroo and myself) concept for an iPhone app that facilitates “peer-to-peer” car-sharing was awarded the “best money-making iPhone app” prize at a July 2009 iPhoneDevCamp event in Sunnyvale, Calif.

On the strength of the “best money-making iPhone app” award, we identified interested venture capitalists, and began Getaround officially in September 2009.

I hear you impressed former TechCrunch boss Michael Arrington so much that his CrunchFund was among the investors that contributed a total of $3.4m in seed funding. At 24 years of age, was this quite overwhelming?

It was exciting and a great vote of confidence in our team and idea. This investment came after about a year of working on our core technology and getting a law passed in California and Berkshire Hathaway to provide insurance for our company.

Have you always been interested in environmental issues?

We help people protect the environment by tackling what we call “car overpopulation” and enabling people to share resources, taking unneeded cars off the road and reducing traffic and auto emissions by changing consumer driving behavior.

What was the most challenging part of starting Getaround?

Getting insurance for a new and innovative business model. Any and all rental-related claims will be 100% handled by Berkshire Hathaway, Getaround’s A++ rated insurance carrier, so your personal insurance will never be affected.

Do you plan to go international?

Getaround plans to expand to the most receptive markets including international destinations.

Where do you see Getaround in ten years time?

– Expansion into the most receptive markets.
– Forging key partnerships to drive adoption.
– Continued development of new product features and technology.
– Additional mobile platforms beyond the iPhone.

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

Yes. We signed up 1,600 cars in one day and since have signed up cars all over the country almost totaling the amount of cars Zipcar has (8,000+).

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

We work to ensure that our members have a great experience every time. That means getting all the details right while growing the member base and expanding to new geographies.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Positively impacting peoples lives and making the world a more sustainable place! We just expanded to Portland, Oregon and will be launching more cities this year!

Can you convince the reader to start using Getaround in under 100 words?

– With the average car idle 92 percent of the time, Getaround enables cars (and people!) to get un-idled.
– Getaround allows owners to easily rent out their cars to trusted friends, co-workers, and neighbors, thereby offsetting the cost of vehicle ownership.
– People without cars are provided easy, affordable access to vehicles everywhere.
– Leveraging the media and public understanding of how Zipcar works, plus the popularity of other “collaborative consumption” businesses like Airbnb gives us the launching pad to explain how Getaround works, and why it is better.

Finished reading? Check out Getaround!

Interview with Adam Brimo (Mijura)

PriorityCentre is a web based task management system for small to medium sized businesses and teams.

I interviewed Adam Brimo, Mijura co-founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty seventh in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Adam for the interview!

How would you describe Mijura’s flagship product, PriorityCentre, in under 50 words?

PriorityCentre is the best way to know exactly what your team is doing. Easily manage all your tasks and meetings, share files and collaborate naturally. It’s simple to get started, more organised than your email and it grows with your team.

Where is Mijura based?

Mijura is based in Sydney Australia and Prashant is currently working out of Seattle Washington.

What made you decide to start working on PriorityCentre?

I previously worked on a project at a large investment bank and I found it increasingly difficult to know exactly what I was supposed to be working on at any given time. There were multiple managers, each with different ideas of what was important.

One day I came up with the idea or organise my work based on priority. Whereby each person would have a single list of all their tasks in the order they need to complete them, with the task at the top being the one they are currently working on. The idea stuck with me for a few months before I decided to leave my job, develop the software and start a company.

How did you come up with the name?

Names are always difficult to come up with and this one has a funny story. We were racking our brains for a few weeks to come up with a name that people could pronounce, that was spelled the way it sounded and had a domain name available.

Then I found a business name generator on Google and plugged in the structure of the name I wanted. After clicking generate for a couple hours we saw ‘Mijura’. The name stuck with us and we decided that if we couldn’t think of a better name in one week, we’d choose Mijura.

What technologies have you used to build PriorityCentre?

PriorityCentre is a multi-tenant cloud application written in Java using the Play Framework (like Ruby on Rails but in Java). We use MySQL for data storage and the application is hosted on virtual private servers in Australia (and soon the United States with Rackspace) while we store files with Amazon S3. The frontend of the website uses quite a bit of Javascript with the jQuery library.

How long did it take to put together PriorityCentre?

We started developing PriorityCentre in February 2011 and launched a public beta at the end of May/early June the same year. During the beta we acquired a number of early users and continuously improved the software. We ended the public beta in August and launched the current version in October.

Who do you see as your target audience?

We see PriorityCentre as work/task management for the other 90% of people. There is a great deal of project management software for technical projects but very little for professional services, consultants, accountants and general office staff. Those are the markets we are targeting although we’ve seen it used successfully for managing software projects. We use PriorityCentre to manage the development of PriorityCentre as well.

Do you have any new products in the pipeline? Where do you see Mijura in 5 years time?

We aren’t actively developing any other products as yet although we have some ideas. We’ve created Mijura out of a belief that so many jobs can be improved with the use of simple and quality software. PriorityCentre is a very general product and over the next few years we hope to see it used in many more large and small companies around the world.

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

Whenever you launch a product you hope that the whole world will use it overnight. That didn’t happen although we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the companies and places that PriorityCentre has been used. We’ve had mining companies in Canada, financial services firms in the United Kingdom, and a software company in Brazil.

The feedback for the public beta of PriorityCentre was fairly critical of the design and usability. Based on that feedback we redesigned the product and now we’re hearing that it’s really easy to use and navigate. Listening to our customers’ feedback really improved the product.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Notepad, MS Outlook and stickie notes are the main ways people are currently organising their tasks and meetings. Our challenge is to let those people know there is a better and easier way.

Congratulations on your 2011 Choice Magazine Consumer Activist of the Year Award! You are famed for your Consumer Activism at Vodafail.com. Tell us what impact your report had.

Thanks! Immediately before starting work on Mijura, I started a website to raise awareness about the network issues that Vodafone was having in Australia. The website ended up taking off and it resulted in a lot of media attention for the problem. I collected over 12,000 complaints through Vodafail and using textual analysis I was able to identify the main problems and locations where people were having trouble. In the report I delivered to Vodafone and the regulators, I explained the problems and how Vodafone could solve them. In February 2011, Vodafone announced a number of changes that were largely inline with my recommendations.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m always excited to wake up in the morning and improve PriorityCentre, help customers and promote our business. We’re going to start our first major marketing campaign in a few weeks so we are currently preparing for that.

What one piece of advice would you give to other young founders?

Now is the best time to start. Many people spend their life waiting for the right time or saving enough money but at the end of the day you just have to take a chance and do something. You could spend a few years working 9-5 for a large company, learning very little and looking forward to your annual holiday – or you could dedicate your time and energy to creating something new. Regardless of whether you succeed or not, you’ll learn and develop far more than you ever could have imagined.

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

Do you know what your team worked on 3 months ago? How about the minutes from your meeting 3 weeks ago? With PriorityCentre you’ll always be in the know and never lose track of your work, it’s easy to get started and comes with a 1 month free trial.

Finished reading? Check out Mijura!

Interview with Phil Libin (Evernote)

Evernote helps you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences and is synced between all the computers, phones and tablets you use.

I spoke with Phil Libin, Evernote CEO to find out more (download audio MP3 – 36:16). This interview is the sixty sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Phil!

To anyone who’s never come across Evernote, how would you describe it?

Evernote is your intellectual brain, it’s a service that lets you remember everything important that happens to you and use that information in a way to make yourself happier and more productive.

When you joined, it seems like you took some great projects and helped combine it all into a product and viable business. You joined a team with a largely scientific background, what were some of the difficulties you had at this time?

There was actually two teams that we brought together in 2007, a team of mostly scientists and researchers that had been working on image recognition and this concept of memory augmentation for a long time and I had a startup team mostly of engineers that were interested in making a product along the same lines. Making a product that would help people remember everything and combine those teams in the summer of 2007 and launched the first Evernote service in 2008.

I think starting with two teams presents slightly different challenges than a typical startup where you just go with a small number of people that are all together, but on balance it was definitely a very positive experience.

Could you tell me a bit about Evernote founder Stepan Pachikov and Dave Engberg CTO?

Well Dave and I have know each other for many years, he was the CTO of my last company CoreStreet, he was part of the original team that was with me at the beginning in 2007. Stepan started a different team of people in Russia in the late 80s, they developed a lot of the really cool technology for the Apple Newton, the very first tablet computer back in the late 80s early 90s and Apple actually brought them from Russia to California and then they sold their company to SGI. Stepan and his team have been working in this area for a while. So Stepan had one group of people and I have Dave, Andrew and a bunch of other people and we met up in 2007 and joined forces.

With around 20 million users you must receive a lot of feature requests and suggestions. How do you manage all of them?

I think we may have just passed 23 million. We get quite a bit and we really want to hear from users and see what they think. We’ve found that different types of user feedback is relevant in different ways. The least relevant is when you ask users what should we build, having users do product design or feature roadmap for you doesn’t really work. Users aren’t designers they don’t particularly know what they want so in terms of how we decide what to build. We are the target market, we are the users that we want to build for. We build software that we want to use and so anytime we get a recommendation or suggestion for something new, the filter we run it through is whether it’s something we want to use. That does happen sometimes and if not then we don’t build it.

What user feedback is extremely useful for, is feedback about particular things that we’ve done that aren’t working particularly well that people aren’t understanding or that they don’t like. The negative feedback and the feedback about how to improve specific features, that is the most audible feedback. Feeback about big ideas are just as vocal, but less ultimately valuable.

So have you had any feature ideas yourself which you’ve managed to push through?

Everything we make is basically made for me, it’s what I want to use. For me and for the rest of the team, we’re a bunch of fairly like minded people, it’s a diverse group in terms of backgrounds and tastes and ages and demographics, but we’re all nerds and passionate about the idea of remembering things. So we really build things for ourselves. I guess I am kind of king of the nerds, so a lot of the stuff I want gets built.

Who started the notion of Evernote as a 100 year company and how does this idea make itself apparent within the company culture?

Evernote is my third startup and a lot of the original team were with me or with Stepan for a couple of startups so it’s a pretty experienced team, almost everyone in the initial group had built 2 or 3 companies before. I think we had a common experience, theey were successful companies with good exits, but we were always building them for someone else. The products we built weren’t products for us, my first company built e-commerce software, so we sold to a lot of retailers. My second company built security systems for government and big banks. Those were all interesting, but we weren’t a government or a big bank, we weren’t a retailer. We never felt like we were building it for us. Ultimately we sold both of those companies, so it wasn’t even a company that we got to keep and when we were doing Evernote we thought, the first two companies we built for somebody else, the third one, lets build it for us, lets make a company we want to keep. I think from the very idea, this concept that this is the one we want and if you’re building something that you love and you’re building it for yourself you shouldn’t want to sell it, you should want to keep it.

I don’t think we thought about it as a 100 year company right away, but we knew we wanted to do something that was very long term, we weren’t interested in flipping it. We were interested in building something great. The 100 year stuff, probably most of it was influenced by Japan. We started traveling a lot to Japan, just because Evernote got very popular in Japan so we started doing a lot of work over there. We had a lot of partners and a lot of users and some of our partner companies were these Japanese companies that are more than a 100 years old and they’re still innovating and we felt really inspired by that. Let’s try to combine the best of both worlds. Let’s build a company that has the long term planning and thinking of some of these great Japanese companies, combined with the best of the Silicon Valley startup mentality. We don’t just want to build a 100 year company, we want to build a 100 year startup.

Am I correct in saying that roughly 5% of users upgrade to Evernote premium? What’s your philosophy on converting free members?

The overall percentage fluctuates quite a bit and isn’t particularly important because what happens is users convert as they use the service, the longer you’re using Evernote the more likely you are to convert. The conversion rates go up with the age of the user, so if you just want to take the overall conversion rate, you’re dividing the overall premium users by the total number of users, that’s primarily influenced by the ratio of new users to older users of the system. In a month when we grow really fast we get a whole bunch of new users, the overall conversion rate will be lower because more people haven’t been around for a few months, if we slow down growing then the overall conversion rate goes up because a larger percentage of users are older returning users.

The overall rate we frankly don’t pay attention to, but it’s probably somewhere around 4 or 5 percent range. What we pay a lot of attention to is what percentage convert in the first month, in the first year, in the first two years. Our oldest users, the ones who have been using Evernote for about 4 years, I think we first launched the service 4 years next month actually. Of the first few months worth of users, people who have been with us for about 4 years, around 25% of them are paying us right now, that ratio declines as you get new users.

We don’t care if you pay, we just want you to stay around and keep using it and get all your friends to use it. The longer you stay, the more likely that you’re going to fall in love with it and then pay.

In July 2011 you received $50 million in funding and have raised almost $100 million total. Do you think this kind of funding is necessary to create a world changing business/startup or do you have other motivations for raising such large amounts of capital?

We never needed all of this funding, we haven’t spent the majority of the money we’ve collected. We may very well take additional funding even though, we don’t need it for the cash. We really see funding as just another type of infrastructure we’re building, the goal is to build a 100 year company, when you start planning for a 100 year company you have to take that seriously and say well how do we structure everything for longevity. Part of that is how do we build out our data servers? How do we build out our architecture, how many people do we hire and how do we build out our management structure? A big part of it is investors and how do we put in the financial infrastructure that will last for 100 years. When we think about funding, we really think about in the context of wanting to isolate ourselves from having to make any short term decisions and being influenced by fluctuations in the market. We don’t want to have to time things. Is the IPO window closing, all that stuff, so we want to make sure we have investors who have the same time horizon. Investors who have this very long term vision and then whenever we can put together some financial infrastructure at good terms from the right investors, we’re always happy to take it because it’s just another tool to make sure we can achieve the company we want.

Where are you currently focusing your spending?

We spend money on the same things that we always do, it all goes to the product. The vast majority of the money we spend, the people we hire are building the product. So it’s developers, designers, QA, managers, testers, support people, operations people. We don’t have a sales culture, we don’t sell anything, we don’t have a sales team. Everyone is working on the product, we get more money as we increase spending, it all goes into the product account or the majority of it does.

How involved are you with fundraising?

We don’t do very much of it anymore, we haven’t needed to raise money in several years. The first few years of the company that was extremely involved, it was very time consuming, very difficult for us to get money the first couple of years. Really the whole team, but I suppose mostly me spent a lot of time and energy on it, now that it’s less important I don’t personally spend a whole lot of time on it myself.

We don’t go out and look for money, we get a ton of inbound requests on a daily basis from people who want to invest. Most of them we don’t talk to, it doesn’t take up much of my time these days. I spend most of my time on what I want to be doing, which is basically product design.

Back in 2007 everyone was pitching social startups. How did you convince investors that unsociable was right for Evernote?

We didn’t really convince them, we had almost no investment until 2009. 2007, 2008 we never had a few weeks of money in the bank, we were putting a lot of money in ourselves. I put money in, Stepan put money in, we were getting a lot of friends and family for funds. We were getting money from some of our more passionate users, from Russia, Japan, Canada, but we didn’t really have professional venture investors until 2009. Everyone was pitching websites and social, we were the opposite of both of those and we suffered because of it. We couldn’t actually get investors to pay attention until we had the data, it all flipped around in 2009 when we actually had a year or so of data and we could show the covert analysis and what was actually happening. Then it turned, almost overnight we went from having to constantly beg for money to having multiple term sheets.

So would that be your tip to someone looking for investment, create your product, make it successful to a certain level and then take it to investors?

I think the central insight is to match the investors that you’re talking to with the strengths that you currently have and the stage of the company that you’re currently in. There’s a type of plan that’s very common, which Evernote definitely falls into, it’s fundamentally not an investable concept. We couldn’t walk up to an investor and say here’s our plan, we’re going to make some software and it’s going to let you write stuff down and remember things and we’re going to give it away for free. We don’t have any experience in the consumer space either, please give us some money. That was the pitch. It doesn’t work.

The idea behind Evernote isn’t particularly novel, no ones going to hear, “we’re going to use computers to help people keep track of information” and be like “ok I’ll write you a cheque”. There are other ideas that are not on the face of it really brilliant ideas that you may be able to do this with, but certainly not 99% of what people pitch. For us it was about showing we had traction, we understood what our users were doing, we understood what they wanted. We could deliver a product, meet on time, deliver our plans and fundamentally we got the unit economics right. Every time we added a user, we made money. Once we showed that and we showed that in a very rigorous way, we’re fanatical about the data and how we present things. Then it became much more real, investors were much more willing to take a chance on us. It was still very high risk, everyone understood that it was still very unlikely, there was a very high degree of uncertainty, but we could show proof, that worked out well.

How did Max Levchin (PayPal founder) become involved with Evernote?

He was actually involved with Stepan. Max Levchin and Esther Dyson were actually both on the board of Stepan’s company before Stepan and I had even met. Max and Esther were probably the two people most instrumental in talking me into combining the two teams and making a unified Evernote.

Evernote has native apps for most operating systems, both desktop and mobile requiring varied skill sets and many teams. How many people are currently working at Evernote and how do you find talented people?

We have about 104 people right now worldwide, which has grown really quickly. We were only at about 40 or 45 people just last year, so we’ve basically tripled in size in a year and we might triple again this year, which is a little bit scary. We’re probably going to go from 40 to 130 to close to 300 maybe in a year. It’s difficult to get excellent people, it’s always the hardest thing. It hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought it’d be because so many people that come in looking for work at Evernote do it because they love Evernote. People will come to us and say I love Evernote, I love what you’re doing, I want to help build it. We draw in a lot of people who specifically are not just looking for work, they want to work with us, be part of the adventure. That really helps, that gives us a very big qualified group of people and of course we hire people everywhere in the world. We have people in California, Texas, Switzerland, Japan, China and all over the place. We tend to attract the best and the most passionate product people from many of the top countries in the world.

How involved are you with the hiring process?

Not just hiring, but building the team is a fundamentally important thing, it may be the most important thing. It’s what I tell all of the managers as well. The product we build is built for us. Evernote could only have been built by our team. A different team wouldn’t have built it, they would have built something different. We’re not working off abstract customer requirements. We are the customers. To guarantee the long term success of the company, the only way to do it is to make sure that the team continues to be the right kind of people. If we become the wrong kind of team we can’t build this product anymore. It’s pretty important and all of us are deeply involved in it, luckily I have various executives that have become excellent at keeping and recruiting people and evangelizing. It’s working relatively smoothly.

The HR job is almost the most important one at Evernote because the HR department is in charge of building the company that’s going to build the products. It’s what has to come first.

How quickly did you realise that native clients would be important to the success of Evernote?

Realize is maybe not the right word. We bet on it. Our intuition, we didn’t know if this was going to be correct, but our intuition right form the beginning was that people are going to want the best possible experience on their devices. So much of the growth of the mobile industry, of app stores, so much of that is generated by rapid improvement in the quality of the hardware and in the devices from generation to generation. The shiny new tablet that you buy now is a lot better than the shiny new tablet that you bough last year. We thought while this really rapid improvement in consumer devices is happening people are always going to want the best possible experience. Evernote has to work better on your brand new phone than it did on your crappy old phone. If it doesn’t give you a better experience then what was the point? The only way to do that is to write all the clients natively. To go down the bare essence of what the device can do and say, how do we make the best possible experience on this great new device? If you take the lowest common denominator approach using cross platform stuff, you by definition create something that’s average. You get an experience that’s the same on your shiny new phone as it was on last years phone. If it’s the same experience you’ve removed the motivation for the manufacturers and publishers to promote you. You’ve removed the excitement of people who get their new device.

That was the bet we took, at least for the next decade or two, consumer devices are going to be improving so rapidly that it’ll be important to take advantage of that. If that ever slows down, maybe we can go to some sort of lowest common denominator approach, but there’s certainly no evidence that the improvement in phones and tablets is slowing down anytime soon.

You gained your first half a million users in around just 10 months. How did you get off to such a quick start?

Our user growth has actually been really smooth from the very beginning. It’s actually quite surprising, I just dug up the original model we used when we closed our first Silicon Valley round with Morgan Capital in 2009. I found the original plan, we built this model for them that shows how we’re going to grow, both users and revenue. It was from 2009 and that plan went to the end of 2011. The end of 2011 back then was unimaginably far in the future for us. I just found it, I wanted to compare how we did against what we projected and we were within 5% on both users and revenue, that’s kind of amazing. The growth has followed this really smooth exponentially growing upward slope. It’s just driven by word of mouth. We don’t spend any money on user acquisition, we don’t do any SEO or SEM. There’s no tricks. We don’t pay money for users. We don’t pay for incentive downloads or any of the stuff you hear people talking about, we don’t do any of it.

It’s all just word of mouth and people finding Evernote because of friends who love it recommending it. We’ve probably added more than 2 million users in the past month and it just keeps increasing because of that.

What were some of the initial successes you had with gaining users, up to to get say the first 20,000 users?

We launched closed beta on TechCrunch, we were lucky enough that TechCrunch wrote about us right as we were starting the closed beta and we gave away 100 invites, that was the first spark. We had a couple thousand people within the first few days just because of that really early spark and it just grew from there.

What we did, is we really killed ourselves in the first couple of years to always be in all of the app store launches on day one. Whenever a new device or platform would come out, we would work days and nights for months before that to make sure Evernote was there and supporting the new device or operating system in the app store on the first day. So that it could be one of the showcase apps for all of these devices as they launch. We were mostly successful. When iPhone launched we were one of the very first iPhone apps, so we were promoted and had a lot of visibility. When iPad launched, we were there on day one, not just with a port of our iPhone client which a lot of other companies did. A completely new designed version for the iPad even though we’d never seen an iPad before we stood inline with everyone else. Same thing with Android devices and Kindle Fire.

In the early days the we put in a lot of hard work synchronizing so we could follow in the wake of all these massive new releases and benefit from those. Now that’s less important to us because the momentum is already so high, but in the early days that was fundamental.

So do you think the timing was perfect because that period was when apps as we know them now were taking off? You were there at the beginning of a big change in mobile.

We definitely were very lucky with the timing, absolutely. I think that’s mainly true of many successful companies, in hindsight you look back, it’s always easy to point to things where the timing worked out. We were very fortunate that the app stores were launching right as we were getting ready. If we were 6 months behind in our development, we would had missed all of it.

The logic works the other way as well, there’s many events where the timing was horrible. We ran out of money, we came within days of shutting down the company in October 2008, this was the worst time in the history of the universe to raise money. That was when Lehman collapsed and the markets were crashing. No one was giving any money. That’s bad luck, needing to raise money at the worst time for raising money is also not something we anticipated. In the long term you have to deal with both the good luck and bad luck that’s dealt to you and what you make of it is ultimately what determines the success of the company.

You had over 125,000 users before you came out of closed beta mid 2008. What was the main takeaway?

The main purpose of the closed beta was doing the user testing, making sure we understood what people actually wanted and that it worked. This was a new experience for most people. We had native apps that were synchronizing in real time, we had a new type of server architecture that we were tweaking, so a lot of it was really just for technical reasons. We couldn’t support a lot more people, but it also started as a good way to generate interest. The fact that you have to sign up and send around invites to get in actually generated some buzz. That was never our intention, we never thought of the closed beta as a marketing exercise. We were frankly terrified that everything would crash all the time. It actually turned out to be pretty good as well as just a way to generate interest. I wouldn’t recommend that any company starting up today go through anything like that purely for the sake of generating interest. I think users can smell that. They can smell marketing tricks and you tend not to respond to it very well. But for us it worked quite well.

We were almost forced out of beta by Apple. The iPhone app store launch in July 2008, Apple doesn’t allow betas, you can’t have a beta in the app store. We knew if we wanted to be there on day one, we had to be out of beta, so we worked 20 hour days 7 days a week for a few months before then to make sure that we could have something that was genuinely available and out of beta.

Everything about Evernote, from the product to the business model seems to be based around simplicity. How important is it for you to keep Evernote simple?

That’s a real balancing app, I think the core Evernote app is too complicated right now. I don’t think anyone understood design philosophy, especially mobile app design philosophy in the early days, we certainly didn’t. A lot of initial designs were very feature oriented. We had check lists of features we wanted to implement, we went through and put them in. What we’ve realized since then is that isn’t really how you should build software, you really need to be experience driven. Focus entirely on what is the experience of using that and then add the features almost as a secondary criterion. So I think a lot of our newer products are very straightforward and simple and a lot of initial products aren’t. But we are in the process of tweaking the designs, sometimes in major ways to simplify them. Of course you don’t want to lose any power from those apps while doing it, so it’s very difficult.

It turns out it’s much much harder to make something simple than complicated. Making something complicated is easy for developers, because it’s always easier to add things. Making something simple is very hard. We’re just starting to get good at it.

Do users tell you how they’re using Evernote? What are some of the surprising ways in which it’s being used?

I think it’s an early sign that you might have a successful product, when you see people using it in ways you totally didn’t anticipate. That started happening right away at Evernote. Use cases are very broad.

I was just in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago and went to get my haircut. The hair stylist was using Evernote to basically run the business. So she would take pictures of all of her clients and their hair styles every time they came in and take notes on them. She had Evernote on iPads and would flick through so whenever someone came in they could see what they’re hair styles looked like before and what some of the other people had gotten and choose what they wanted. All the notes, shampoos were in there, so she was using Evernote as a source of both inspiration and management for hair salon, which was certainly not something I ever dreamed of, but a really cool use case and there’s thousands more as well.

When you look at companies like Dropbox, do you think that’s the future now, as in flexibility and simplicity? Letting the user decide how they want to use the product.

I think Dropbox is doing something really great. They’re the ubiquitous hard drive in the sky. They made this industry and got a head start on everybody else, so now Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and everyone else, every cellphone carrier, they’re all trying to compete with Dropbox. Dropbox just did it really well and got a lot of love and deserves it. The primary use case is fairly simple, you shouldn’t have to think about the concept of computers and files. What we do at Evernote is philosophically pretty different. We’re not an infrastructure play, we’re really about how you experience your life. The experience of your memories, what they mean to you what can you use them for to make yourself more productive and happier. We really focus more on making a beautiful user experience, but I think the core philosophies are quite similar and I’m a big fan of Dropbox myself.

What do you wish you’d known when you became CEO?

We certainly made lots of mistakes. The fundamental thing that I wish I’d of known, is I underestimated the importance of simplicity and design. The first couple of years I really didn’t feel that, I didn’t have a good enough appreciation that the most important thing for consumer facing software was that it was beautiful, simple, people immediately and intuitively understood how to use it.

It really wasn’t about making it more powerful, it was about making it more natural. I think I’ve only internalized that in the past couple of years and it’ll take another lifetime to really master it.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Wow, I’m generally a very excitable person, I figure if I need a one word description for myself, if I need to put something on my tombstone. I just want it to say I’ve certainly been an enthusiast. I’m excited about just about everything, I think this is the best time in the history of the world to be starting a technology company and running a technology company.

We live in almost a geek meritocracy right now. Where all you have to do is make a great product and you can be successful. That was never true before, that wasn’t true for my first two companies. You could make a great product, but you still had to worry about everything else, all the channels and logistics, advertising and relationships. It was very tough. Right now, especially in the consumer space and because of things like app stores and tablets, if you’re a nerd and you focus passionately on making a great product you could be really successful and change the world and that’s a deeply exciting thing for me.

Finished reading? Check out Evernote!

Interview with Jeremy Bieger (UberTags)

UberTags is a tag management system that lets you install 3rd party code snippets while improving page load time. I interviewed Jeremy Bieger, UberTags founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty fifth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Jeremy for the interview!

How would you describe UberTags in under 50 words?

UberTags’ Tag Management System takes the pain out of managing 3rd party code snippets (aka tags) on websites while improving website load times.

What made you decide to develop UberTags?

UberTags was born out of tagging pain from running the Amex acquisition website. We had the trifecta of pain points–it took forever to launch tags because of release cycles, it was impossible to keep track of where tags were deployed where which led to all sorts of operational issues, and the tags killed page load times which impacted conversion rates and satisfaction. UberTags developed a product that is laser focused on solving that pain.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing UberTags?

One of our biggest challenges was designing the UI and underlying technology so that it’s dead simple and intuitive for clients to implement the basics (things like Google Analytics code and conversion tracking tags) while providing power and flexibility for advanced cases. One client describes the product as unlocking the flexibility as needed but otherwise keeping complexity out of the way.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Tag management clients are evolving. Even a year ago, most clients were early adopters that were experiencing significant tagging pain related to slow release cycles and slow page load times. This included a healthy dose of ecommerce sites, content sites, agencies, and enterprises.

Now that so many tag management success stories have come to light, companies are realizing that just about every type of site/app could benefit from using a tag management platform which is resulting in a more diverse set of clients. I predict that virtually all sites will use some type of tag management technology in the next five years.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

Five years ago, I would have been much more focused on looking at the competitive landscape to make decisions about UberTags. While I’m not so naive as to completely ignore competitors, I’ve learned that it’s customers that pay us and thus spend the vast majority of our effort focused on talking to and adding value to customers. I believe we’re a better company because of it.

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

You want to use UberTags! You know you want to!

Finished reading? Check out UberTags!

Interview with Flaviu Simihaian (eval.me)

eval.me partners with charities around the world to allow companies to donate $1 to charity for every customer that completes their survey.

I interviewed Flaviu Simihaian, eval.me founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty fourth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Flaviu for the interview!

How would you describe eval.me in under 50 words?

Web surveys with a heart. If you donate $1 to charity, your customers are twice as likely to complete your survey. And they get to choose the charity!

Why did you quit your job to build eval.me?

Because I want to change the world, one line of code at a time.

What technologies have you used to build eval.me?

Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, the usual suspects.

How long did it take to put together eval.me?

4 months.

You believe that to fail is to succeed. What failures have helped you succeed?

I played tennis for 14 years every day. After college, I played professional tennis tournaments in Europe for 5 months. I did not manage to get better than 1300 in the world, and squandered all of my money travelling.

However, I had to give it a shot (and find out I am not Roger Federer). Had I not tried, I would have lived wondering what if…

Where does your interest in charity work originate from?

I originally came to the United States with the help of Rotary International, one of the largest charity organizations in the world. Through the years, I became more involved in other charity projects, and a few years ago I joined a local Rotary Club, of which I am now the president. I’ve learned what an impact a few people working together can have and want to encourage everyone to volunteer as much as they can.

What advice would you give to someone in a job but wants to start their own business?

Quit. Work. Learn.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

That online poker is rigged.

Where do you see eval.me in 5 years time?

As a growing life-style business making a few thousand a month.

Has eval.me got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Somewhat. We’ve had 15 thousand hits in 8 hours, and a few hundred users. However, I am working on targeting relevant industries and more potential customers.

How much money has eval.me raised for charity so far?

$38 with a $250 coming in the next few weeks.

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

Selling. I am appreciating sales skills much more than I have before and getting better at it myself.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

iOS. I am working on an iPad app so keep an eye out for that!

Can you convince the reader to start using eval.me in under 50 words?

Have you sent out a survey that few (if anyone) completed? Have you received a survey that you instinctively threw in the trash? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can enjoy taking and sending surveys. Use eval.me.

Finished reading? Check out eval.me!

Interview with Michael Wolfe (Pipewise)

Pipewise is a user relationship management solution for cloud-based companies who acquire, convert, engage and support customers via the web and mobile.

I interviewed Michael Wolfe, Pipewise founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Michael for the interview!

How would you describe Pipewise in under 50 words?

Pipewise helps e-commerce businesses and consumer web services understand their user base, gain insight into what makes their users successful, and create and automate campaigns to turn users into loyal, paying customers. We drive engagement, reduce churn, and create new revenue.

You launched as ccLoop January 2010 and received $3.5 million in funding. When and why did you pivot? How much convincing did your investors need?

ccLoop pivoted about 9 months after we started, after going into public beta and disclosing the product at TechCrunch Disrupt in May 2011. We got some very positive product reviews and user feedback but realized that it was going to be hard to build a big business. But along the way we uncovered what we think is a much larger opportunity.

My last company sold products directly to corporate IT. We used Salesforce.com to drive our marketing and sales efforts and centralize our customer data. We ran our business off of it.

But ccLoop was a business selling directly to end consumers via a fremium SaaS model. We had a large number of users who tried the product and converted via self service. We knew little about them other than their email address, but we wanted to understand what it took to convert them to paying customers.

We compared notes with a bunch of other companies, and we found that most of them were building internal solutions to this problem. Since almost every new B2B market starts out with companies building their own solutions, we realized that this is a big opportunity, pivoted, and jumped on it.

As a triathlete and ultra runner, have you managed to compete since launching Pipewise?

Startups are tough, and we all work very hard. But my team is in this for the long haul, so we are try hard not to let our family lives, social lives, and hobbies go by the wayside.

I’ve kept up my training and racing, same as I have through all of my other startups. This is a Quora post I did on the topic, which I feel passionate about.

You have some impressive investors and advisors, including Ron Conway and Kevin Harvey. Are these relationships you’ve built over your past 4 startups?

All of my investors and advisors are folks I know well or know people in common with. My relationship with Benchmark and Kevin goes back three companies to 1997 when they funded Kana. I was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Benchmark in 2002, which led to Vontu, which I co-founded with Joseph Ansanelli, who is now on my board.

It helps that my previous companies were successful, but I also counsel anyone I talk to of the importance of building relationships and keeping a reputation for ethical behavior. Even though most startups don’t succeed, every company is an opportunity to expand your skillset, reputation, and network, and use them to launch your next project.

What technologies have you used to build Pipewise?

The Pipewise application requires us to store and process large amounts of data securely and serve up a great user experience to our users, who are mostly marketers. We use MongoDB, Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, Bootstrap, Foundation, and several other tools that let us build a secure and scalable application and iterate quickly.

What do you wish you’d known 2 years ago that you know now? Where do you see Pipewise in 2 years time?

Two years ago I wish I had a better understanding of this problem. I had just assumed that effective commercial solutions existed, and I had to learn first hand that they do not. In two years this will be an established category with lots of spending and multiple competitors, and naturally I think we’ll be the leader!

Who is your biggest competitor?

Homegrown solutions. Businesses have gotten resigned to needing to do this themselves, so we need to show that we can do it better and at a fraction of the cost of their devoting internal resources to it.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you are currently facing as CEO of Pipewise?

It is a new category in a new part of our economy, so it requires education and evangelizing, but that has not proven too difficult since the pain is well understood by anyone who has lived it.

Where have you had the most traction? Web applications, mobile or enterprise?

For us it is really anyone who is managing a large user base, which means e-commerce and consumer web services. We literally have a waiting list of people who want us to solve this problem for them.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

This is a company where I’m not only excited about our technology and our team, but I also love our customers. They are a bunch of fun companies who are all setting out to do something new, break new ground, and build huge businesses. We like to think of ourselves as a disruptive business selling to other disruptive businesses!

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

We can give you actionable insights into your user base that will help you increase engagement, decrease churn, and drive more revenue. If you have users, you need us.

Finished reading? Check out Pipewise!

Interview with Benjamin Trotter (Storefront Social)

Storefront Social is an online service enabling quick creation of a Facebook shop.

I interviewed Benjamin Trotter, Storefront Social founder to find out more. This interview is the sixty second in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Benjamin for the interview!

How would you describe Storefront Social in under 50 words?

Storefront Social is a leading custom storefront marketing platform that imports existing ecommerce website products into a beautiful storefront on Facebook. Users can easily bring their products into Facebook to create better engagement with their fan pages while subtly marketing their products for the word-of-mouth marketing that Facebook creates.

What made you decide to start working on Storefront Social?

As a director of eCommerce for a clothing company based in San Francisco, I was tasked with driving more traffic to our store online. One of the channels I focused on was Social Media, since we already had a page that had > 1000 fans. We came up with the idea to show our newest items on our page through a storefront tab, and thus was born Storefront Social. When we saw how well it enabled us to engage with our fans and promote sharing of products, I branded it and put it out to the masses.

What planning did you do before you started up?

Since Storefront Social was born from a side project, there was really no planning involved. The planning more came from after it was providing service to eCommerce customers that were ready to get their stores into Facebook. My side project quickly needed an engineer, so after identifying a partner to create this for customer processing, that’s where the fun began.

How did you come up with the name?

The name is self-explanatory, thinking on an SEO front, as well as describing what we do, I felt a new wave of companies focusing on Social Integration would help Storefront Social be recognized in this industry.

What were you doing before starting up Storefront Social?

Where I learned a lot about ecommerce, web-marketing, and the tricks of the trade was at my position at Inflection. A dot com silicon valley startup, I was employee #7 and watched our team create, grow, and succeed — and I knew I wanted a project for myself that I could cultivate into a business and manage from the top, rather than being managed as a company grew. I have a lot of ideas, and being able to execute on them is where I enjoy work.

How have you promoted Storefront Social?

Luckily, the beauty of Facebook applications is the ability to create a footprint that grows due to exposure to fans. A lot of our traffic comes from existing storefronts that shows our brand. Our blog provides tips and news in the Social Commerce world, and I actively contribute interviews where we can. Google Adwords proved unsuccessful due to the nature of our customer however, so mostly we are all organically grown.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Storefront Social?

Facebook’s ever changing platform. They would make changes without notification and cause interruptions to our service. Amazon’s web service has also not been the most reliable host, but over the last year it has been quite stable. And as always, finding gifted developers is a struggle, but our team is very strong right now.

How long did it take to put together Storefront Social?

The proof of concept was created in a couple of months, and our full version that accepted credit card payments was rolled out in about 3 months. Continued development on our framework has enabled us to be agile and create quite a robust application for our customers.

What appealed most about running your own startup?

The pride of working on a project that was created by me. I’ve always enjoyed creating, designing, developing, and this project was going to allow me to continue moving forward with a viable product that served a market need. That was extremely exciting. And the fact that I can work as much as I want, but at varied times throughout the day. Give me a schedule that is more relaxed and flexible than the pressure of facetime at an office, that’s never as productive as I can be alone with no blockades.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Yes, we recently just launched Real Estate Social, the first application of its kind for DIY real estate showcases on Facebook. We partnered with the global leader in Real Estate auctions online, and are very excited to be working together in creating the best Facebook real estate listings showcase possible.

Has Storefront Social got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Feedback has always been difficult to solicit. We provide easy ways to contact us, and we answer emails back typically within the hour. However, when someone is staying on as a customer, they rarely will actively tell us why, and when a customer is canceling, they rarely tell us why. The few that have given feedback are usually quite positive and put the onus on themselves as to not being organized enough to create the storefront, but will return in a couple of months.

Any retailer success stories you care to share?

We have had great companies use Storefront Social — currently Zumba Fitness and LiveScribe have great stores that have gained them press and recognition for having such great Facebook page presences. We also had Borders before they went out of business, and were happy to see how often they had their page updated and visited by fans.

Where do you see Storefront Social in 5 years time?

Storefront Social has the ability to penetrate more verticals with the robustness of our framework. We have proven success in Social Commerce and our lean team enables us to be agile enough to quickly react to market changes. The introduction of Google Plus has made us very excited to begin offering Storefront Social on Google Plus as well.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitors know who we are, so no need to provide extra SEO here by giving their names :) However, we do know that this market is only the beginning, and there’s plenty of room for friendly competition because we will all be able to win as Social Commerce continues to grow worldwide.

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

The biggest hurdle is finding talented developers who have the drive and desire to see the success of ‘your baby’ as much as you do. Often times, new opportunities arise and it’s difficult to bounce back into agility with new teams.

What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?

My advice is before starting any business, identify a team early on that you can depend on. No matter how friendly, spell everything out in written terms and agreements, and while it’s extremely difficult to do at the beginning, there have to be terms of all the what-if scenarios that can happen with the business. Discussing this openly and fairly to all will ensure that everyone’s on the same page and when anyone chooses to leave, there are no surprises as to what was agreed upon.

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

Own an ecommerce website? If so, make sure your products are seen by as many people as possible with Storefront Social. Quickly and easily import your products into our beautiful storefronts and syndicate your storefront to your business page. Sign up for a free 7 day trial today!

Finished reading? Check out Storefront Social!

Interview with Jason Cohen (WP Engine)

WP Engine provides premium WordPress hosting for clients of any size.

I interviewed Jason Cohen, WP Engine co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the sixty first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Jason for the interview!

How would you describe WP Engine in under 50 words?

WP Engine is the premiere managed WordPress hosting platform. Our sites are speedy, even under massive traffic loads, and guaranteed secure. And our support staff is knowledgeable about WordPress.

You host over 30,000 websites, when did WP Engine begin to gain traction?

I had three dozen customers before I had a product, a team, a website, or even a company name, so in that sense “traction” came before the product. We’ve grown every month since inception, and the growth *rate* has also grown every month, so there wasn’t a specific point where we suddenly had traction.

As a premium host, you use top of the line hardware and provide expert support. What else differentiates you from other web hosting companies?

(1) We’re the fastest, as measured by Pingdom, a 3rd-party service.
(2) We have larger sites than anyone except WordPress VIP, which means we know how to scale better than almost anyone.
(3) We guarantee security, in the sense that if you’re ever hacked, we’ll un-hack you for free.
(4) We have more WordPress-knowledgeable tech support staffers per 1000 customers than anyone, which means we have the time to solve your special problems.
(5) We’re the only hosting company who lets you try us for 15 days, free.
(6) We’re the only hosting company with an investment from Automattic, which doesn’t automatically mean we’re better, and doesn’t mean we’re “favored” — Automattic is great about NOT favoring any one vendor — but it does mean we have the support and assistance of all the smart folks there to help us make the best service we can.
(7) We give you a staging area where you can test changes to your site before making them live.

You didn’t start WP Engine until you had 30 people saying they WILL give you $49/month. What are some of the other ways you can validate a business model before starting up?

Personally that’s the only method I like.

If you can’t find people who are willing to part with money, you don’t have a business, you have an idea that might be cool and might someday become a business. But that’s not validation! That’s a stab.

Even if you want to do the freemium model, it’s not a business unless some of them convert to paying customers, so you need to validate that *those* people exist.

You closed $1.2 million in funding November 2011. Why did you decide to fund WP Engine after bootstrapping previous startups?

WP Engine started self-funded (really a small set of folks who knew each other — not at all a formal “round”) and we got profitable in 7 months. We hired two people and got profitable again in another 6 months.

At that point we could have just grown at a certain rate and been profitable, or we could have double-downed and see whether we can grow much faster, but with the cash resources to do that with a better and better service and more offerings. We decided that would be interesting, fun, and warranted.

Either path would be a rational choice.

What do you make of startups like CloudFlare which are improving performance and security on low cost shared hosting for free?

I love CloudFlare and similar companies. The more options people have for more fast, scalable, and secure sites, the better.

Fortunately we’re partners, not competitors, with those companies. In fact we push people to use CloudFlare all the time.

The reason is that these things — speed and security — are a never-ending battle where every piece along the stack matters. Having a CDN matters, but CloudFlare only puts about 50% of your static content on their CDN, so having our CDN makes a big difference. And CloudFlare doesn’t cache HTML, whereas we deliver it on average in 70ms, so that’s a big difference in page-load time. But CloudFlare has some cool tools for on-page optimizations that we don’t provide, and that helps too.

Same with security. CloudFlare blocks a bunch of stuff — that’s awesome, why not use it? But what if other people on your shared hosting environment get hacked, and the hacker gets into YOUR site? Happens all the time. So you need security from your hosting provider too.

So again, it’s not that any of these services are “bad,” it’s just that none of us — including WP Engine — is complete, and the more stuff you have the better (to some limit).

What are some of the challenges you face as CEO on a day to day basis?

Currently it’s getting myself unbound from daily operations. I built the original architecture so I’m still involved in that, for example, but I shouldn’t be still logging into boxes to download a log file.

We’re growing fast — adding several new employees a month — so my challenge is to stay ahead of that, help train everyone, and get away from being required for any one task.

Of course the goal isn’t to become idle! But rather, to have the freedom to work on whatever project is most valuable, or even jump in on an emergency, rather than already being bound to lots of tasks.

Does WP Engine have any big features in the pipeline?

Tons! Part of the rapid staff-up is to get the mental bandwidth to do strategic work.

We already have portal.wpengine.com where WordPress consultants can manage multiple blogs, but it’s just an MVP right now and needs lots of features.

We’ve built a self-serve snapshot/rollback mechanism which is awesome, but next we’re going to connect that with Github so you actually have “Heroku for WordPress.”

There’s a bunch of other things too!

You’ve started four companies, all profitable. Your last exit was Smart Bear, which you bootstrapped to millions of dollars in profit and sold in 2007. Are your exit days over or are you working towards an acquisition with WP Engine?

I don’t believe it’s healthy to “work towards an acquisition” even if you want one.

In my experience the best way to get a valuable exit is to build a solid company that’s growing fast, with an undeniably awesome product (the market says so) and team (obvious from cursory interactions), and with good profit margins. Bonus is the growth rate appears independent from any external factors (e.g. remains a smooth curve even with economic issues, competitors appearing, employees leaving, etc).

Of course that’s because that’s a healthy company! Which you don’t even have to sell. And which is awesome to work for. Which is why it’s the most valuable.

One of your investors is founder and CEO of DreamHost, Josh Jones. How did Josh get involved? Is there any conflict of interest?

He got involved because we hired away one of his top WordPress support guys! :-)

Josh is awesome and has already been very helpful. Although it may appear that we’re competitors, in fact the segment of the market where we overlap is small, and even then our two value propositions are quite different.

What failures have you had as a startup founder?

This is a loaded question, but I’m asked it during almost every interview.

On the one hand of course I fail all the time. Constantly. At everything from handling personal situations to marketing campaigns to dealing with a customer to engineering choices. You name it.

On the other hand, all my companies have been successful, so it’s disingenuous for me to really talk about failures because the reader has to think “yeah but it can’t have been that bad.”

The key is to make your experiments, your tests, such that it’s not too expensive to run and you’re keeping your *honest* eyes open to whether it’s working. Then you can correct failures before they’re fatal.

For example I had a “great” company idea (before WP Engine) which I did customer development on for two months and finally decided it was not great. Being honest about the fact that my baby was in fact ugly kept me from wasting more than two months on it.

Your blog has over 30,000 subscribers, do you have any examples of opportunities that have been created from A Smart Bear?

People think a blog gets you customers — it doesn’t.

It does get you influence and connections, which means for example when I raised money I built a dream-team of investors.

It also gets you credibility, which I use for hiring. Working for WP Engine means working with me, and if (that’s a big if!) you read the blog and LIKE what you see and want to pick up this stuff by osmoses, then this is a great opportunity, and we can pick up talent who of course has many other options.

It also gives you an overinflated ego, if you can’t already tell, which I have to work at not clouding my life.

Can you convince the reader to move their WordPress site to WP Engine in under 50 words?

For $29/mo, why wouldn’t you get access to awesome tech support, a super-fast site (so people don’t bounce off and SERPs go up) and don’t worry about your site going down when you get great press? Since you can try free for 15 days, see for yourself.

Finished reading? Check out WP Engine!

Interview with Nick Light (Booly)

Booly is a free browser add-on that transforms your search engine into a shopping tool. It adds price comparisons, money saving deals and recent coupon codes to search results.

I interviewed Nick Light, Booly founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the sixtieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Nick for the interview!

How would you describe Booly in under 50 words?

Booly is a smart shopping tool that brings real-time product price comparisons, coupon codes and offers to your favorite merchants’ websites and search engine. While you’re looking at a console game, DVD or flat-screen TV you’re interested in, Booly can let you know where to find the best deals.

What made you decide to start Booly?

Everyone knows that to find the best price you often have to look online, where stores can exist without the overhead costs of a physical shop front; but shopping around at multiple websites and then combing that information with any coupons or current offers you can find for the merchants concerned can prove time consuming, complicated and often unreliable.

I felt the best way to tackle this problem was to develop a smart tool that could gather all the up to date information needed to make an online purchase directly, in a convenient and easy to understand interface.

Booly currently covers the UK and the USA. Any plans to expand?

Absolutely, we have plans to add support for France, Germany, Spain and Australia next.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We have a new release going live this February and many more exciting features in the works that will make online shopping with Booly a more personalised and rewarding experience. Watch this space.

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

Being a bootstrapped startup, the biggest hurdle we have faced so far has been building out our feature set quickly with a small team. It has meant a lot of extra man hours every week but we are proud of the product we have created and in the growth of our valued user-base.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Our target audience would be anyone who prefers to find a good deal online and enjoys saving money.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

There is a real trend at the moment in product discovery which, when combined with the exciting and extensive interactive possibilities achievable within a browser addon, opens up some very interesting in-page opportunities for us.

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

If you want to find the best deal whenever you shop online without having to change your browsing habits, then install Booly and let the latest coupon codes and special offers come to you!

Finished reading? Check out Booly!

Interview with Nils von Heijne (uTales)

uTales makes digital picture books for kids that are available online and on tablets.

I interviewed Nils von Heijne, uTales founder to find out more. This interview is the fifty ninth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Nils for the interview!

How would you describe uTales in under 50 words?

uTales is a new world of fun and educational ebooks for kids, driven by a worldwide community of authors, illustrators and teachers. Our community create digital picture books for kids to enjoy online or in our apps for iPad and iPhone.

What made you decide to start working on uTales?

I have had a love for picture books since I was little but what drove me to start uTales was the fact that picture books have not really been developed that much in the last 100 years. I saw benefits of digitizing content and offering subscriptions to give more kids access to great books at an early age, but also to lower the thresholds for talented storytellers and illustrators to share their books with the world.

Also, the strong current app trend in picture books risks moving the entire business away from “books” and more into games, which I fear is not a great development. There are so many values in picture books that easily get lost when you add too many “fireworks” to a digital book just because you can. I wanted uTales to both explore digital opportunities, while making sure the books are still books.

How did you come up with the name?

We wanted a name that focused on how our platform offers books that have been developed with you in mind. We want our books to benefit both parents and kids, but also allow you to create books as an author, teacher or someone with a story to tell and inspire kids with. Thus, we combined the “u” with “Tales” and our name was born.

How many ebooks are currently available on uTales?

Since our launch in November 2011 we have now grown to almost 200 published books in English, and soon we’ll be launching our second language, Swedish.

Tell us about your partnership with Pencils of Promise.

From the start, we knew that we wanted to connect uTales to social good to help kids in more ways. Pencils of Promise (PoP) is a fantastic non-profit (or “for-purpose” as they call themselves) that build preschools in developing countries, such as Laos and Guatemala. They are a perfect fit for us so we decided to let our creators (uTalers) have the choice to give part of their earnings to this great cause if they like. We are also creating certain books for which 100% of the earnings will go to PoP.

How long did it take to put together uTales?

I first had the idea in the summer of 2009, but I did not put together a team until the spring of 2010. We spent about a year building the platform and then a few months inviting beta users to start creating books.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We sure do, but for now our main focus is actually to learn more about how kids interact and learn from ebooks as compared to printed books. We have started working with a few scientist to evaluate the positive and negative effects the digital format have on kids learning and development, and that will steer our future features.

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

We honestly did not know what to expect when launching uTales, but the reactions have been overwhelming. It seems people really enjoy the books and how the platform for creating books work. Naturally, nothing is ever perfect and we will have to continue to develop the platform and listen closely to what our readers think.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

We don’t like to look at other similar companies as competitors, but rather fellow-evangelists in the digital children’s book space. There are few players doing interesting things in this space at the moment – Apple, Amazon, Barnes&Nobles, PlayBooks (former TouchyBooks) to name a few – but we see most of them choosing somewhat different paths than we do, which is good since it makes the ebook business for kids more diverse and inspiring.

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

Being a startup, you must expect facing many hurdles but that is an important part of the journey. It simply teaches us so much. Right now the main hurdle is probably how little we and everyone else actually know about how ebooks will affect kids growing up today. What will growing up with ebooks and iPads teach new generations that we never got to learn, and how do we make sure uTales is adapted to be the very best for kids around the world. That’s a challenge we gladly take on everyday!

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Many things. I’m excited about being a part of building the new world that is children’s e-reading but also about our amazing community of uTalers. Having people from all over the world join our cause and add their respective creativity and competence to it is simply amazing.

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

Give uTales a try by setting up a free account on uTales.com. The free trial will introduce you to our growing library of fun and educational ebooks for kids. We hope it will introduce your kid to great all kinds of storytelling, always accessible wherever you are.

Finished reading? Check out uTales!

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