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Chris Cardell

Interview with Joe Hill (Aeir Talk)

Aeir Talk enables children to practice language skills using flash card like pictures.

I interviewed Joe Hill, Aeir Talk founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Joe for the interview!

For those who have never heard of it, how would you describe Aeir Talk in under 50 words?

Aeir Talk is a custom flash card system that allows parents to add their voices to pictures they take. Flash cards are in two rows “Nouns” and “Verbs” and kids can create sentences with new words and hear their parents voice which accelerates the learning of language.

Your story is a pretty heartwarming one. Tell us what made you decide to start working on Aeir Talk.

Thank You! I have two boys who have been diagnosed with Autism. My first child, Deacon was first diagnosed about 2 years ago, and I began to look for apps that would help him learn to communicate. What I found was many speech pathology apps or special education apps were extremely expensive (some as high as $300) and the machines that were dedicated to speech pathology alone cost between $5K and $10K.

So I said “That all sucks, and I can do better.” So I came up with Aeir Talk. I dropped my job as a financial planner, took two jobs scrubbing floors at a warehouse in the morning, and at night I would carry luggage at a hotel. In between I would go and talk to whoever would listen about my idea and I eventually struck an equity deal with my partners/developers at We Are Titans here in Norfolk, VA.

Who else was involved in the development of the app?

We Are Titans were involved. They (Brennan Dunn, Principle and Zack Miller Project Manager) served (and still serve) as my mentors, developers, business partners and cheerleaders.

I met them through a networking event, and at the time it looked like I was receiving funding through another source (it eventually fell through) and I wanted them to develop it. We just clicked, and I was very green in starting my own tech company. They took me under their wing and taught me a lot.

How did you come up with the name?

I’m a history buff, and I really love Norse Mythology and its mysteries. “Eir” is the Norse Goddess of Medicine, so I figured that throwing an “A” in the front of it couldn’t hurt too much. So we just pronounce it “Air.”

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Aeir Talk?

We really wanted it in landscape mode for the iPad, but that proved challenging. We will probably incorporate that in a later version as it allows the user to see more of the cards at once. I kind of like it in the “Picture” mode that it is in now as I have gotten more used to it.

I originally wanted the user to be able to drag the pictures to the bottom of the screen to form sentences themselves. But that proved challenging as well. The way we came out was the cards travelled by themselves when they were touched. It actually works better that way though. The user can push the cards multiple times in a quicker succession. My kids love this. They can hear the same word over and over, and it actually help them learn the words more quickly.

Any plans for iPhone and Android?

Definitely on the iPhone. Its just the trick of getting our interface to work well on the smaller screen. We’re working on that.

We aren’t ruling Android out for the moment, but we haven’t started development on anything for that yet. The Autism/Special Needs community loves Android, I get questions about it quite a bit because the equipment is less compared to the iPad. But with all of the screen sizes and resolutions and versions, it gets tough to justify the cost when you are just starting out. Like I said, we haven’t ruled it out, but it won’t be for some time.

How long did it take to put together Aeir Talk?

We started development around March of 2011, and we launched on the iTunes store on November 30, 2011. I scrubbed a lot of floors between those two times. :)

What would you say is the best feature of the app?

The voice recording feature. It is so much fun to see a childs face light up because their parents voice is coming out of the iPad. It makes them more curious to touch more cards just to see what comes out next. It really bridges gaps for children with special needs as well. A lot of apps have a computerized voice, but when their parent’s or teacher’s voice is heard by them, they typically stop what they are doing and concentrate a bit more. My lead programmer, Andrew, tested Aeir Talk on his son (who is not special needs) and his son selected “Mommy.” When he heard his dad say “Mommy” on the iPad, he stopped and said, “Mom! Daddy said Mommy! Daddy said Mommy! It blew him away that he could hear his dad. I get a kick out of that.

BestAppsforKids.org states Aeir Talk ‘is truly a gift!’ What kind of feedback from users have you had?

I get a lot of “Thank You” emails and comments, especially on our Facebook and Twitter (@vintagejoehill and @aeir_talk) pages. It means a lot. One lady that I met after speaking about my app just gave me a big hug and thanked me for it.

Others have said that it makes their lives easier, and that makes me very happy because that is exactly what I was aiming for.

One dad of a child with Autism almost fell backward as I described my app to him. He just said simply “I’ve been wanting something like this for a long time. Thank You” Others give me comments that they wished the iPad was around for their children, who are now grown. A lot of different reactions but all humbling.

You have to understand, for years the Special Needs community has put up with really complicated and expensive tech. What Aeir Talk does is simplify the colossal task of communication between them and their children in a big way. And it makes it fun, and for a price everyone can afford. It’s extremely humbling to hear that it is a “Gift” and I truly want to keep making it better for these folks so that they can have an enjoyable time teaching their children.

Where do you see Aeir Talk in 5 years time?

I want Aeir Talk to be a community app. I want people to be able to purchase it and come to the Aeirtalk.com site and share stories, and new words their kids are saying and pictures they are using as well.

I try to put up random pictures on the Facebook page from time to time so that it will facilitate creativity in the existing user base. I want to teach my son “Lightsaber” so I put a picture of one on the Facebook page for others to see and use. So it’s a start for photo sharing, but it can also grow to a post on there like “My son is working on these words, any thoughts on photo’s?”

I want it to be a place where people can encourage one another. Aeir Talk is an extremely positive app with a positive message. I has no limits, it bridges language barriers, and it went international very quickly. So hopefully Aeirtalk.com can be a place for those individuals who are very burdened with their personal lives to talk, grow, and be encouraged by success stories from the app.

So in 5 years I see it being much bigger, perhaps a pro version with the ability to store multiple clients, and some text to speech incorporated for teachers as well.

Has Aeir Talk got the growth you expected since launch?

Oh yeah! We started getting international buys almost immediately which was really exciting. Aeir Talk is not a special needs app exclusively, but it can be used in that capacity. Well, a lot of special needs apps are only in english, and non-english speaking countries are left out in the cold. Because of the ability to record the users voice however, it quickly bridges language gaps, and many are using it to help their children around the world.

Could things be better? Absolutely. We need reviews and those are tough to come by. And we want to get into more general education as well. So I am looking at avenues like posting videos of kids using the app, medical board certification, funny video promo’s, Blogging, Vlogging, paid advertising and the like to drive traffic. I’m working hard to make that happen, the same as any other Founder I suppose.

Is there anything else like this on the market?

Custom flash cards yes, but to take your voice and put it on a custom flash card to form sentences, not really. You can record your voice on Proloquo 2 ($189.99) and form more complex sentences, but you can’t use your own images, and it is very complicated to use.

Aeir Talk is a take on the PECs learning system (there are some apps for this) where parents would take pictures, laminate them, put velcro on them, and stick them to a felt board in their home to work on words. I get exhausted thinking about all of that work though. Aeir Talk cuts down on a lot of that time and expense as well.

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

Breaking into the general education app market and time. Aeir Talk is really a bootstrapped app, built on donated time for equity. I myself am working another job as its founder and would love to be running it full time, but that’s not in the cards at this time I suppose.

Aeir Talk can be used by any family with children. It is an easy way to teach words, objects, names of relatives and pets, and even other languages. Distinguishing yourself in the education app market is tough, but I think that the UI Aeir Talk has at its price point with our story behind it, it has legs.

Writing poignant blog posts every day is tough! But it is a privilege to be part of Aeir Talk. It is a ton of fun to overcome these hurdles because we are helping people everyday to teach speech around the world.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m excited to be part of the app wave that is growing in the education/special education market. A lot of good stuff is being built that is competing with and will eventually overtake established technology that is refusing to iterate and is a pain to use. iPads are becoming more available to families with Special Needs kids, and they in turn are not only learning but have a fun toy to watch shows and movies on. Tech is actually helping people, and it ranges from games to drawing apps. I am excited to see that and I am excited to see where it going to go.

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

If you are looking for a proven app to help your child learn new words in any language, you should get Aeir Talk. Take pictures, type a caption, and speak into it, and hand it to your child. Watch what happens, and your world will change.

Finished reading? Check out Aeir Talk!

Interview with Kiran Bellubbi (955 Dreams)

955 Dreams is a new age publishing company creating experiences for mobile devices.

I interviewed Kiran Bellubbi, 955 Dreams founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty second in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Kiran for the interview!

How would you describe 955 Dreams in under 50 words?

955 Dreams is a new media publishing company that is focused on building magical mobile experiences that will delight its users.

What was your inspiration for starting work on 955 Dreams?

I had built a smaller mobile app development shop called High Five Labs, which released some great products into the iOS AppStore in 2009-10, but I wanted to try something bigger with a larger team to explore, in a more real way, the possibilities of mobile publishing. I met TJ Zark, my co-founder, and Kyle Oba (who was involved initially) at an event, and we immediately started talking about the possibility of building a company that would put the user first and build experiences that would wow our users. 955 Dreams was born the day we decided to build The History of Jazz as our first foray into mobile publishing.

Tell us about your products.

We build the best mobile apps in the world. Each one of them is lovingly crafted in-house by a team of fanatics that actually care about the end product. No compromises are made in the user experience and philosophically we are all aligned with the user. We only build products we would like to use ourselves and each of us at 955 Dreams now is responsible for the quality of the products we release into production.

Last year we released: The History of Jazz (an interactive timeline), On the way to Woodstock and Band of the Day for the iPhone (the iPad universal binary was released early this year).

Go ahead and use any of them. We hope you enjoy using them as much as we enjoyed building them. Band of the Day is free, the others are paid.

All your apps have been featured as an Apple app of the week, four are Apple Hall of Fame apps, and Band of the Day was the runner-up in Apple’s iPhone app of the year. What is 955 Dream’s USP?

Well, we’ve built a publishing platform on top of which all of our apps are built. These apps are quite unlike anything else on the iOS AppStore. We believe in the power of building unique experiences around content to ensure that the user experience makes sense for that piece of content and is not forced in any way. We’re thinking less about how to quickly source content from a variety of sources, and slamming it into one way of accessing it. Instead, we’re constantly asking the question: does this make sense for this piece of content or media?

We also have a very strict and rigorous set of design and product philosophies which we do not bend when things get tough.

In its essence it comes down to this: caring – a lot- about the products that you build. I hear people say this in the same breath as MVP – that is a f**king joke.

How do you promote 955 Dreams?

We have not done much by way of promoting our products through any channel outside the AppStore itself. I’m not saying this as a badge of honour, we’re really quite embarrassed by this fact and have devoted time and energy to think about how to organically and socially expand our user base. With Band of the Day we have had over 600K users in 4 months that have adopted our product, and we’ve added some new members to the team specifically around marketing our products.

How did you come up with the name?

Our first offices were a shared space on 955 Benecia Ave in Sunnyvale. We really liked the space and it was a great place to get started – in the shadows of Palm Inc. – a company that I cared deeply about from the days of Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky. We promptly moved to a much larger space in Mountain View when HP bought them :)

What technologies have you used to build 955 Dreams?

We have a back end stack that is mostly Ruby and Clojure. We have a ton of proprietary code around core features in iOS that make our app special – in Objective C – and we’re experimenting with things like Lua on the mobile stack.

We have a ton of concepts which never see the light of day in production, but, they might some day.

Who is the team at 955 Dream?

TJ Zark is the co-founder and Chief Design Officer. Chris Stevenson is our CTO. Dan Craft is the Lead Engineer/Mobile Systems Architect. We have an editorial team that builds out the content in all our apps and our dev and design team is filled with really motivated and forward thinking individuals that are making incredible things every day. I’m the Founder, CEO and Product Guy on the team.

955 Dreams has grown to 12 people this year and we’re building out our core back-end platform team as well.

If you want to build great products that millions of people use, and literally change the mobile landscape, you should apply and come work with us.

How do you find talented employees?

We’ve had friends join us in the beginning: TJ’s ex-colleagues and mine are part of the core team. We’ve worked together for years so it’s slightly saner in terms of growing the team from the core crew. Our lead engineer and mobile architect Dan Craft is just stellar and so is the rest of the iOS team – they’ve all now, shipped award winning apps with us and this has given the entire team more confidence.

As we interview people they immediately see the talent in the room and some understand that they can learn from this team about the fundamentals of mobile software development and design and some just want to be part of the madness that is building a company from the ground up.

Philosophically, we’re very different from most companies in the valley – we build for the user first and not to some ridiculous buzz word driven valley mantra like Minimum Viable Product. We work smart and fast till we get it right. There are a ton of high-caliber people that are looking to work in an environment where cutting corners is NOT the norm. We’re that place and we attract those people.

What does your typical day look like?

Typically, I wake up around 7am and read the morning news on my iPad and iPhone. I then answer some emails and try and exercise a little bit before spending some time with my child, who is 14 months old, and my wife. I walk my dog while I walk to work, around 9:30am, and start my day on my desk at around 9:45am.

I’m walking around constantly between the various nooks and corners in the office either jumping into product or design sessions or attending standups with the tech team or in a company-wide standup in the mornings.

I do like to speak to people that we are doing business with on the phone and I sometimes find it strange that few people like to talk on the phone. I’m on calls for at least 2 hours a day with potential hires, investors, partners and sometimes labels and artists.

We have lunch together everyday at our offices. This is a time to unwind and catch up informally with everyone at 955 Dreams. Sometimes we talk about product – those days we eat less :)

I try to keep meetings to a minimum and then work through ~6:30pm when I head home to family. I used to work late into the night when I would code more and now I see myself reading and writing more post-dinner and trying to constantly think through a product thread – either with notes or scribbles.

I sleep by around 11pm-12am and the next day rinse-repeat.

How were you able to keep the app under 20 MB (so users can download it over 3G)? Was this technically the most challenging part of developing 955 Dreams?

That was challenging and it was one of our core product principles so we couldn’t compromise on it. The first release I remember quite clearly the team submitting a binary ~18.6mb to the AppStore and when it actually hit the store it was 20.7mb – this was a shock to everyone on the team. We had worked so hard to keep the binary size under 20mb and the AppStore release process adds an extra 1.5~2mb to the binary to secure the binary.

That was for an iPhone version only – our latest update is ~14mb and is a universal binary. We’ve learnt from some of our early mistakes.

The challenge isn’t so much getting a smaller binary size for the app but preserving the user experience at a lower binary size.

How long did it take to put together 955 Dreams?

It’s been a long road and I don’t think I can compute how long it has taken to put it together. As the Founder and CEO I think of 955 Dreams as a product and it is very much in its infancy. Hopefully, we’ve built something that has added a new perspective to the mobile eco-system and as we continue to grow the team we will be introducing new things which will redefine 955 Dreams again and again…

Do you have any new products in the pipeline?

I don’t like talking about products that are not live. There’s so much to experience in the products that we have pushed live that I could talk about them for days on end.

Any plans for Android?

The Android device count currently in the office is 7, i.e. 7 experimental devices where we’re looking to see how 955 Dreams can make a meaningful impact. Unfortunately, most of those devices do not support Ice Cream Sandwich – Google, you need to fix this.

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

Building anything of value takes perseverance and an iron will. Build with integrity and dedication to the user and you will at some point succeed.

Where do you see 955 Dreams in 5 years time?

In 5 years, 955 Dreams will be known as the company that redefined daily publishing on a massive scale on mobile devices. As a company that truly cared about the intersection of type and media and defined what users should expect from a daily mobile publication. If we deliver on the vision and promise of 955 Dreams as we understand it today we would become a really influential company in mobile computing.

Has 955 Dreams got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Honestly speaking I would say we’ve done OK. The growth we’ve seen has been good but our team can do a LOT better.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

We’re in the same space as Flipboard, Pulse, Zinio, Pressly and a host of other smaller startups. We’re not, however, an aggregator like a lot of these startups and we have differentiators that become evident when you pick up our latest app, Band of the Day, and compare us to any of these neat startups.

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

I would say it has to be around growing our team in a methodical manner. We have a lot of interest from candidates looking to work at 955 Dreams and we want to grow the team, but at the same time stay lean and nimble for a little while longer. Saying no to top talent is tough and adds a level of complexity that we are now adjusting to. Also, finding younger talent directly from universities is close to impossible because of the Facebook’s and Google’s of the world being able to engage students throughout the calendar year with large hiring budgets.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Band of the Day! It is the fastest growing music app out there today. We’ve added 600K+ users in 4 months and it is such a wonderful way to find artists and learn about them, their motivations for creating their art and really get to dig into music again. It works both on your iPhone and iPad seamlessly and is designed beautifully. We feature one artist a day and you can listen to full play songs and read reviews and bios which have been written by our editorial team, you can also participate in a social dialogue with the artists directly from within the app. It’s just an amazing product and we’re improving it everyday!

Can you convince the reader to start using 955 Dreams products in under 50 words?

We build with you in mind, first and foremost. Each product is built with great care and attention to detail and we’ve enjoyed building these products and we hope you enjoy using them everyday.

Finished reading? Check out 955 Dreams!

Interview with Philippe Laval (Kwaga)

Kwaga was founded in 2009 to help email users benefit from business data that is nested in the messages they receive. I interviewed Philippe Laval, Kwaga founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Philippe for the interview!

How would you describe Kwaga in under 50 words?

Imagine – emails that recognize they’ve been forgotten, are urgent, or appear before you jump on the plane! Kwaga has created the technology and product hooks to deliver smarter emails at the right time and in the right place, whether at your desk or running around in the field.

How did you come up with the name?

I wanted to have a small word and something similar to zebra – something that blends into the background. For me it communicates our goal of combining advanced machine intelligence with a beautiful customer experience in order to deliver you smarter emails without even having to think about it.

Tell us about some of your products.

Since our launch in 2009, we have released four products. Each product was related to helping our users make emails more efficient, and each was a step forward in creating a tool that was simpler and more transparent. Our goal is to create a product in which you can simply subscribe to and that’s it. It can do its job in the background with little interference from you.

WriteThat.name was the original idea you had when you created Kwaga but it took 2 years and development of 4 other products before it finally came to fruition. Why was this?

Excellent question – creating a startup and working on the next big thing is an interesting process. A great challenge I faced was trying not to lose focus, listening to the advice of other people. WriteThat.name was the original idea I had when I first created Kwaga. But it took two years and four other products to be developed before I finally go to it, mainly because those people didn’t believe that it would be the killer product that it is! Honestly, though, it is the journey that makes you stronger.

What technologies do you mainly use to develop your products?

Leveraging our unique 100+ combined years of experience in applied computational linguistics, the Kwaga team’s knowledge flow has led to proprietary semantic technology that understands Email text based on linguistic analysis and artificial intelligence technologies.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing WriteThat.Name?

Addressing the needs of our customers worldwide and identifying the differences between countries that have nothing to do with linguistics nor semantics, i.e. internationalized telephone numbers. We learned that our customers from the USA did not like that we internationalized their phone numbers and preferred to keep the 10-digit telephone number they are accustomed to. We reformatted the numbers based on these preferences per country.

Do you have any new products in the pipeline?

Our strategy for now is to focus primarily on WriteThat.name and further develop it in two directions:

1) B2B – integrate further into enterprise applications, CRMs, etc.
2) Consumers – we are about to launch a new feature called Dashboard, stay tuned…

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

I would have loved to know about the “lean startup” method and Steve Blank’s customer development methodology. This would probably have saved us a year!

Where do you see Kwaga in 5 years time?

We want to be your email guardian angel, unobtrusive but there anytime you need it.

Focusing on WriteThat.Name, has it got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

I am so grateful for our users, there are so many people that are spreading the word and advocating for Kwaga. But as an entrepreneur, it is never enough.

Any big clients on your list?

Absolutely! However, our dedication to their privacy (and yours) keeps us from name-dropping. But we are proud of our recent enterprise clients such as Euromaster, l’IAE of Aix en Provence, Case Western Reserve University, and Admeld.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

The closest thing we have to a competitor would have to be Plaxo Personal Assistant. Our service is different (and better) because you actually get information that your interlocutors want you to have, not crowdsourced contact information.

This means that you get always up-to-date info, private contact info only sent to you and contact info from the people you are actually interacting with. In the words of Jason Calacanis “If you haven’t tried WriteThat.name for GMAIL it’s awesome… basically a better version of Plaxo”!

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

I would have to say it is staying high energy and being able to continually share that with my team.

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

Just keep pushing forward and believe in your product.

How many emails do you send a day?

It’s not how many I send, but how many I receive – and out of those how many actually deserve my attention right now, or can wait, or even need to wait for someone else’s input. It’s more about how to best decipher how much attention and time one gives to each email.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Kite surfing! This summer I am taking my kids near to Grenoble, France to teach them how to do it, as well.

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

Make email work for you! WriteThat.Name keeps your address book up-to-date automagically! We recognize the signatures of emails you receive and either create the contact when it isn’t in your address book or update the existing one – with a new mobile number, for instance.

Finished reading? Check out Kwaga!

Interview with Richard Uren (Handset Detection)

Handset Detection is a tool used for mobile website redirection, mobile browser detection and device identification.

I interviewed Richard Uren, Handset Detection Director at Teleport Corp Pty Ltd to find out more. This interview is the eightieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Richard!

How would you describe Handset Detection in under 50 words?

We help web designers and developers work with mobile devices. Usually that’s handset, tablet & game console, detection and redirection. In some cases its content optimization as well. Futureproof device detection for all. :)

How does Handset Detection work?

It’s a real time device detection service. It works like this : You plug us into your website via API Kit or Javascript, then whenever a new visitor hits your site we’ll tell you what the device is. If its a mobile device then we’ll give you lots of info about that device too (screen size, vendor name, model name etc…). That way your site can decide what to do with the visitor – like optimize content, redirect off to a mobile site, not show the flash video etc…

What made you decide to develop Handset Detection?

In a previous life (circa 2006/2008) I had a mobile agency building mobile apps and mobile websites. To deliver apps and experiences that worked great on different handsets we kept building this device detection building block over and over again. Then new handsets would come out and we would be updating dozens of builds all around the place – Gah !

Having that device detection build block managed by a central service scratched that itch for us so it seemed a great candidate for a web service.

What technologies have been used to build Handset Detection?

Its developed in PHP using CakePHP with MySQL and MongoDB as the databases. We leverage 3rd party services for specialist tasks as well, Recurly for billing, Postmark for email delivery, Zendesk for Helpdesk, Pingdom for monitoring, DnsMadeEasy for GeoDNS and Amazon S3 for storage.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Handset Detection?

As a bootstrapped startup our biggest challenge in the early days was scaling out. Taking our architecture from a few servers in one location to lots of servers spread around the world meant re-architecting and re-building most of how Handset Detection worked.

Our most persistent challenge is keeping up with the new devices. We pick up about 300 new devices (handsets & tablets) each month. Thats increasing each month too, mostly thanks to Android.

You’re putting the finishing touches on HD3, your new detection system. What new features will this have?

Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. There is a revamped schema, about a 100x speedup in device detection (no database, fully in memory) and a local detection option : where you can download our database, detection rules and use an api kit to perform detections locally, plus a swag (technical term) of stats updates going live in April/May.

What’s your background? Where are you based?

Handset Detection is my 7th startup so I guess I’ve got the startup bug :) – By default I’m into the tech side of things (design, development, network ops). I also enjoy learning new things from a wide range of sources, I just did a pasta making course last weekend, and have a strange addiction to non fiction and business books.

I live in Melbourne/Australia and work with a small team spread out around the world. Assembla, Zendesk & Skype help co-ordinate everything.

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

Big question. That I should buy Apple shares ? ;-) Hahaha. The mobile landscape was so different back then. iPhones were about to be released, Blackberrys were king and Nokia ruled the roost everywhere else. Nowdays the ecosystem is dominated by two companies that didn’t even have a product back then.

I think my big takeaway from the last 5 years is don’t rush the process due to perceived time pressure. Start small, ship it and iterate. That’s one of the luxuries you have building a web service.

The Handset Detection pricing model is scalable to suit the specific needs of users. What’s your philosophy on converting free members?

Help people, be useful, honest and excellent. Its a pretty simple philosophy.

I figure if people like the cut of our jib then they’ll hang about. Over time, as peoples needs grow, they they’ll grow into paid plans. I like the idea of having a generous free usage tier, with extras for people that refer friends.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Handset Detection’s biggest competitor is regular expressions. Weird, but true.

Most platforms that offer some sort of built in device detection have a static database of user-agents or a hideous 3 line regular expression of string fragments to try and pick up if the visitor is a mobile or not. I guess they’re somewhat effective, depending on the audience, and the target use case. Keeping them up to date usually requires regular module/framework updates and in many cases they can’t differentiate between handsets and tablets.

Our challenge is to let folks know there’s a far better, rock solid option.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The explosion of internet enabled devices is pretty exciting for Handset Detection. We’ll be adding more classes of devices in the near future.

Looking more broadly the scope and number of API based web services are amazing. Check out thesmallbusinessweb.com, you can pretty much find a web service for anything.

On a development front D3.js has my eye at the moment, its a work of beauty.

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

Rock solid device detection that you install once and never worry about ever again. Get some today – it’s Free!

Finished reading? Check out Handset Detection!

Interview with David Hagege (Myndpage)

Myndpage is a social network that connects people who think the same way.

I interviewed David Hagege, Myndpage founder to find out more. This interview is the seventy ninth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to David for the interview!

How would you describe Myndpage in under 50 words?

Myndpage is a social network of brains. Put your brain on the Internet, compare yours to others, rediscover your friends, find people thinking about the world as you do.

Why is Myndpage so different?

Myndpage is different from other social networks in multiple ways. I’m not trying to reproduce the experience you have on Facebook or Twitter. You’re not looking at your friends’ pictures at their last party, or seeing what they’re doing right now. You are showing to others what you are “thinking” right now. This is something far more personal. You are building your myndpage, the page that defines yourself, it’s your brain on the Internet. And you can’t imagine how much you can learn from that. Twitter is something ephemeral. A tweet is not something that stay for long. Your Myndpage is here to stay.

But that’s not all. Myndpage uses machines for real. We are computing a similarity ratio between our users so that you can find people thinking like you. Even on specific themes. This is nothing like the “You should follow” feature of Twitter. We are linking users only by their mynd. Not by their current connections. Compare yourself to celebrities, friends, colleagues, your significant other, discover new people thinking like you, access everyone’s mind for the first time.

How does it work?

On Myndpage, the user creates an interactive representation of his mind by “mynding” words. We ask our users what are the 4 tags they associate with any given word. They’re then free to explore their friends’ or even strangers’ minds. For each set of two users, we compute a similarity ratio called the Myndness. It’s a fun way for our users to compare themselves to friends or meet people who think like them.

What made you decide to start working on Myndpage?

I always wanted to start my own company. I didn’t want to be an employee anymore, it depresses me. To me, Myndpage had a lot of potential, so I jumped into it.

How did you come up with the name?

My father did. Myndpage is the contraction of My mind’s page. It was easy to remember, domains were available, seemed perfect to me.

Do people who aren’t used to writing with tags need persuasion to use Myndpage?

The concept and the use of Myndpage is not easy to explain to everyone. This is a really new way to use tags. In people’s mind, tags are usually used to define something in order to find it later easily. On Myndpage they are just used to define words. Which seems to be pretty disturbing to some people. It can be even more disturbing when they realize that they are in fact tagging their tags with other tags! But I’m persuaded it’ll not be a big problem for too long. Twitter isn’t any less complicated but they are still successful.

What technologies have you used to build Myndpage?

Ruby on Rails on the frontend. Mostly ruby and erlang on the backend. A Membase NoSQL solution, and RabbitMQ (especially for the timeline).

You say Myndpage aims to change everyone’s life. How?

Everyone has a different meaning for each word. Myndpage helps us to find people with the same meanings on the words as ourselves. So that when you talk with them the conversation is really fluid. Like C.S Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!'”. Is this important? Yes. I think it can change everything.

Most of people don’t have best friends. There are altercations all the time, especially because of the different meanings they are putting on the words they use. Myndpage fixes that. Now you’ll be able to understand your enemies better, your actual friends, your family. You’ll discover a ton of new things on their view of the world. It’s a door to a better future where people would be actually capable to understand the others.

How long did it take to put together Myndpage?

Around 5 months for the first beta in July 2011. But the current version is much better!

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

I have a ton of cool things which are coming. In fact, this is just the beginning of my project. When people will have their brain on the Internet, we can do a ton of great things to make your everyday life better. Machines will be able to use your brain to adapt the user experience. But that’s a second part of the project, I still want to keep that as a surprise, it’s too vast.

In the near future I want to develop a mobile app, to be able to tag words everywhere easily (we already have a mobile version of the website, but that’s not sufficient to me!). I also want to develop browser extensions, where users would be able to tag words on web-pages they visit. And soon a javascript plugin you can add to your written content (e.g on your blog posts), to dynamically show how you mynded the words present in your text. So you are not just showing one text, but in fact one text + the profound meaning for you behind it! It has never been done before.

What’s your background? Have you always been interested in software development?

I’ve always been interested in technology and computing. When I was 11 I got my first IBM computer. Software development was just a dream for me at that time. I just tried to understand the internals as most as I could. I started to use linux around 14. And did some basic programming at around 16. But I really jumped into programming at University.

Everyone should learn to program. This is going to be an indispensable skill in the future. And basically, it gives you the power of God. You can make absolutely anything with some code, you are talking to the machine, she does the hard stuff for you. Imagination is your sole limit. And it costs nothing. That’s the beauty of it.

You say you’re always working in a “Worse is Better” state of mind. Tell us what you mean by this.

“Worse is better” is a concept part of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). It simply means that you mustn’t over-engineer what you do.
You must keep things as simple as you can. If it’s sufficiently simple you can change it easily. The technical debt is at its lowest level. You don’t need something too smart. You need tiny things doing the job well. Your watch doesn’t have a calendar? Maybe it’s better that way. Simpler, easier configuration. You have a ton of other ways to get a better calendar elsewhere.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Somewhere between Twitter and Pinterest. Why Twitter? Because the way you use their system is similar to mine. When people are tweeting something, all their followers receive the tweet and know what you are doing right now. On Myndpage, when you mynd a word, all you followers receive your mynd, and they know how you are thinking right now. The more people use Twitter, the less they are using Myndpage to me. Because twitter is a time-eater. And like I said before, tweets are ephemeral, they give some information, right now, but that’s all. Nothing really quantifiable is done with it.

Why Pinterest? A pinterest page is a way to understand what the user is interested in. It’s not their mind, but it gives some clues. Myndpage in that way is much better. You can post pics/videos too, but the 4 tags you add are invaluable. With these words, you can make the computation of the Myndness, the similarity ratio between the users. Pinterest is a good way to find a present for someone. Myndpage is a good way to understand and discover new things in the mind of others. Myndpage is also a wonderful way to find people like you, which is impossible with Pinterest.

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

The chicken vs egg problem. It’s pretty prevalent in these social networks, but it’s even more of a problem with Myndpage. To find people like you there needs to be a fair amount of users tagging words.

We need the growth of a Twitter. This is not easy, especially when it’s your first startup, but it’s getting better everyday.

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

Put your brain on the Internet, for you and others. Find people like you, your perfect match, someone you can talk to easily, someone who sees and imagines the world as you do. Imagine a world where all your friends are your best friends. Welcome to my brain myndpage.com/david.

Finished reading? Check out Myndpage!

Interview with Dominic St-Pierre (Bunker App)

Bunker App is a simple project tracker and invoice generator for freelancers.

I interviewed Dominic St-Pierre, Bunker App founder to find out more. This interview is the seventy eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Dominic!

You are the founder of Focus Centric Inc. which is the developer of Bunker App. What’s your background? How did you get to where you are today?


Before starting Focus Centric I was a 9-5 developer working mostly in the commercial credit industry. Having a growing entrepreneurial mindset, I decided to start my company and build software from my home office. Since October 2007, I tried to build countless products in the hope to stop contracting and work entirely on the product. One of the most successful one was twollow.com. In 2009 I became a member of Micropreneur Academy run by Rob Walling. That help me a lot in sharpening my non-existent marketing skills. I’m still learning and trying to get better at marketing every day.

What made you decide to start working on Bunker App?

Every one was telling me to pick a niche product. “Pick a niche based on your hobbies or domain knowledge”. For me, it was simply not working. I have a strong credit analysis background, and I even build my own software for collection agencies. That market is unsuitable for a company of my size. I had the idea of building a tool like Bunker from a very long time. One day I just decided to do it, that’s what I like, I knew I could do it and most importantly I can speak to and understand my potential customers, so why not.

What technologies have you used to build Bunker App?

If I had more experience with RoR (Ruby on Rails), I would have loved to build Bunker App with that stack. I preferred to choose technologies I have mastered. Microsoft .NET, ASP.NET MVC, C#, JavaScript and SQL Server. It’s deployed via AppHarbor as the PaaS (Platform as a Service). Being a huge fan of Git, AppHarbor seems the right fit. It’s heavily using Amazon Web Services as well for storage, emails and background processes.

How much do you charge? How did you decide this?

I’m really proud of our pricing plans. The main target being freelancers and small businesses, $5/month (freelancer), $12/month (small team of three users) and $20/month (unlimited users) are our plans. I remember when I started as a freelancer, there were weeks even month where I was not having a single contract. After that I could have four projects at the same time, you know when you cannot say no to a contract ;). I would have loved to have prices like that. I seriously think that $60/year is a fair price for a single freelancer, especially for a starting one.

You recently announced the early preview of Bunker’s proposal module. Tell us more.

From the beginning, I was heading toward being more than a project management and invoicing software. Letting customers build proposals is one way to enlarge Bunker’s horizon. The module at this stage is fairly basic. More features are actually in development. At the same time, a simple client access area was also released. This allows clients to collaborate on their projects and view their invoices.

Do you have any other new features in the pipeline?

At this time of writing, all efforts are currently invested in improving the usability of the product. We also release a desktop time tracker today! There are lots of ongoing developments, being a developer, I would say that I tend to put more time into developing the product than marketing it. It is something I have to fight every day! In the mid-terms, investigating basic CRM functionalities is on the table.

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

If you are to start a business, a product, etc., do what you really want to try. Do not fear failure. There is too much competition in that market, so what? There is full of restaurants in your area, yet you pick the one you love. There is no magical niche where it will be easy to start a business or product. So just do what you like and what gives you energy when doing it. If I had thought like this in the past, I would have done so many things differently.

Where do you see Bunker App in 5 years time?

Nothing less than a serious contender to already established products. Currently, I have a 24 months plan regarding development and marketing. After that I must say it’s all speculations, but we will do anything we can to get as much traction as we can.

Has Bunker App got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Yes and no. We’ve got really good feedback from customers. The fact that we release update every week is something exciting for everyone. On the other hand, we should have invested more hours into usability tests and making sure the app was clear enough to everyone. Six months after launch we realize we have lost a good number of opportunities. We are working on that as we speak though, so hopefully the growth will get back on track.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

That would be easy to say the following, Freshbooks. However, I’m not convinced that would be accurate. I have lots of respect for them, and I have been a customer for a long time. Their pricing point is so high, that I cannot believe a solo freelancer would pay that much each month. I will be totally honest; I’m not sure which product is a direct competitor, and I don’t care. I did not do any market research. I simply wanted to build my own tool to help me accomplish project management and billing. I would say that Solo and GetFlow are probably competitors since they are also targeting freelancers.

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

Mobile development. I would love to offer a native mobile experience since everyone (except me) owns a mobile phone. It’s just so hard to accomplish with all the other things to do. However, we will get there eventually. In the meantime, we have a mobile web app.

Finished reading? Check out Bunker App!

Interview with Ian Siegel (ZipRecruiter)

ZipRecruiter enables companies to easily post job listings to 25+ free job boards plus vet all applicants through simple online interviews.

I interviewed Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the seventy seventh in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ian!

How would you describe ZipRecruiter in under 50 words?

Post to 25+ job boards with one submission and review applicants from all sources in one simple list online.

What was the motivation behind starting up ZipRecruiter? Do you have a background in recruitment?

Neither myself nor my co-founders had any experience in recruiting beyond the fact that we’ve all had to do a fair amount of hiring over our careers. ZipRecruiter was one of those “let’s build something we would use” products that it turns out a lot of other people liked as well.

Who are the other three founders of ZipRecruiter and how did you all meet?

Everyone always says “wow it must be tough to have four co-founders”, but honestly nothing has been further from the truth. The four of us have worked together in various combinations across 5 different companies. We have complimentary skill sets and maybe more importantly, we all genuinely like each other.

How did you come up with the name?

We wanted something that conveyed “Fill your job postings fast!” We were shocked to find ZipRecruiter wasn’t already owned or squatted. I think we paid $9 for it.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

A total lack of artificial urgency.

Has your initial vision changed since launch?

I personally believe that no matter how many features a website has, every business only sells “one thing.” Many companies only manage to clarify that “one thing” when they start writing Google ads.

We started by thinking our “one thing” was letting employers add online interviews to the application process. Having every applicant answer questions online seemed like a better way to vet who you wanted to bring in for an interview.

Post launch, the first feature request was for the ability to distribute a job without including an interview. Building the interview feature was the single largest part of initial site development. The irony was thick.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing ZipRecruiter?

It took us only a few months to put ZipRecruiter together, but we are at two years (and counting) in on the fight against scammers.

There are a shocking number of individuals or businesses seeking to profit off of job seekers. We have had to develop sophisticated algorithms for identifying suspect job ads along with methodologies for authenticating the legitimacy of a business.

How long did it take to put together ZipRecruiter?

We built the first version of the site (working on it only part time) in about four months, but honestly that was the easy part. The REAL work was the next six months trying different business models, identifying traffic sources, and optimizing the user experience. Those months were more difficult than the pre-launch period and far more meaningful as it relates to what we are today. All in — I’d say it was a solid year before we firmly had our feet beneath us and were confidently saying “this is how we do business.”

How do you promote ZipRecruiter?

Unfortunately our success has lead to knockoff competitors so we try not to spill the beans on why we grow faster than they do. :)

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Now that we get more than 1.5 million job seekers per month coming through our site, we’ve been working on some creative ways to help them get hired faster. Stay tuned…

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

I wish I’d known how much fun running my own startup would be. I would have taken the leap sooner. If you make it over the initial hump every day is a good day.

Where do you see ZipRecruiter in 5 years time?

At the rate we’re growing I would guess ZipRecruiter will be the preferred job posting method for hundreds of thousands of businesses across the US and Canada. 28% of new customers come from word of mouth right now, and the only reason it isn’t a larger percentage is because of the rapid pace with which we increase our marketing spend.

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

Make the first version of your product as simple as possible, but whatever scaled down feature set you decide — make sure it’s flawless. People are willing to grow with you if you give them a strong first impression.

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

Hiring right now? Post to 25+ job boards and all your social networks with 1 submission. Every new signup gets a free trial — be sure you’re pulling candidates before you pay!

Finished reading? Check out ZipRecruiter!

Interview with Matthew O’Riordan (easyBacklog)

easyBacklog is a time saving backlog management tool for Agile practitioners working in or with agencies.

I interviewed Matthew O’Riordan, easyBacklog founder to find out more. This interview is the seventy sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Matthew!

How would you describe easyBacklog in under 50 words?

easyBacklog is an easy to use Agile and Scrum backlog management tool designed for agencies and agile teams working with “fixed cost Agile”. It has unparalleled abilities to help version and report on change throughout the delivery process.

What made you decide to start working on easyBacklog?

I am also the co-founder of an agency called Aqueduct, and we have been using agile and scrum for 5 years now to deliver projects for clients. We found that whilst there are plenty of agile tools on the market, none of them were very good at helping out during the initial scoping and estimation phase because they were slow to use and didn’t produce cost or time estimates, so we ended up reverting to Excel. Also, in a commercial environment, whilst we have managed to get our clients to buy into agile processes, they still fundamentally wanted us to agree to contracts to deliver a certain amount of work in an agreed time frame within an agreed budget. So once again, no other agile or scrum tool out there helped manage this.

At Aqueduct we have been delivering fixed cost agile for years, and now with the help of easyBacklog’s snapshot and versioning features, we can work with clients throughout the project encouraging them to change the scope as they go along, yet allowing them to manage costs and timings transparently at the same time. You have to try the snapshot feature to see to what a difference this has made to our agency and the customers who now use easyBacklog.

How did you come up with the name?

Well that was easy ;) Honestly, we had a few beliefs when we set out to build easyBacklog, it should be simple enough for anyone in the industry to use without any training, and it must not have feature bloat (most products try and do everything for everyone), and it should be opinionated (we follow best practice, lets help people do that too). So our ultimate goal is to design a simple easy to use system for our users, and that’s how we came up with the obvious name easyBacklog.

What is easyBacklog’s USP?

Building your initial backlog so that you can start estimating the project scope, timings, and costs (if you track that), is quicker than anything out there, including Excel. It’s fast, you can do everything using just the keyboard, and there’s no faffing with dialog boxes or formulas.

And snapshots is our point of difference. Assuming you meet with a client, your boss, or the product owner on a particular day and agree what should be in your backlog, you take a snapshot of the backlog on that day for reference. 3 weeks on when you are 3 sprints in, the backlog has naturally changed significantly and as a result your burn down chart indicates you will now complete the project 2 weeks later than anticipated. With snapshots, you can easily compare the current snapshot with a previous version, work out where scope has increased and trim the backlog as necessary. No other tool provides side by side comparisons of the old backlog versus the new in the same way, and this is invaluable if you have any commercial grounding. See this simple example.

What technologies have you used to build easyBacklog?

Rails 3.1 for the back end, Cloudfront for asset caching, Backbone.js for front end views and logic, some CoffeeScript interspersed where we can use it, Node.js for the realtime elements of the site, SASS and HAML, and Heroku and dotCloud for hosting platforms.

Has your initial vision changed since launch?

Of course, we had a very clear idea of where we wanted to be when we launched into beta back in November. We had a very purist view on how people should work using agile and scrum, and we wanted to have a positive effect on the industry.

Unfortunately, what we’ve realised is that not everyone can work in a purist fashion, and sometimes people need to develop processes outside of utopian agile and scrum methodologies, and often they have very good reasons to do so. Take the issue of digital scrum boards. We chose not to include digital scrum boards in our product as easyBacklog is a backlog management tool, not a team collaboration tool. We did provide story card printing facilities to help reduce time wasted writing up story cards to put onto the scrum board. Agile works best when teams use physical boards, have real world interactions, and have stand ups and meetings to discuss things. Digital scrum boards we felt hinder this and the agile manifesto “people over processes”. However, some of our users have said that their teams do not respond as well to physical boards, or they are physically separated and therefore physical boards are not practical. As such, we’re introducing digital scrum boards for those who cannot use physical boards.

So our vision is moving, however the underlying principle is the same. We want to provide an easy to use simple backlog management tool to teams who work in an agile environment.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing easyBacklog?

One always gets surprises when users request new features. We launched without the option for users to turn off cost and time estimations for their backlogs. We soon discovered however that cost and time estimations simply don’t apply to everyone, so we needed to make this an option. Technically this had an impact on virtually every part of the system and took forever to implement robustly. What we have learnt is that technically change is the hardest thing to element, but fortunately because we have such amazing code coverage and integration tests, we can do this without breaking anything.

How long did it take to put together easyBacklog?

We started in January 2011, and launched into beta in Sep-Oct 2011. We’re still in beta however, and we plan to go live in April time when the digital scrum boards are complete and we are happy with them.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Yup, loads, the ones on the near horizon are:

  • Digital scrum boards including tasks for stories
  • Opening up the API and documenting it
  • Import tools
  • Support for non-functional items other than stories such as defects, chore

Could you introduce the team behind easyBacklog.

I am the founder of easyBacklog, and the primary developer as well. Whilst I have been building businesses since I left school, ultimately I love coding and getting my hands dirty in easyBacklog has been immensely fun and rewarding. My background has largely been in the agency world, although I co-founded Econsultancy and took on the CTO role there 11 years ago, so I have a lot of client-side experience too.

The other 2 key people at easyBacklog are:

John Bown, Project Director at Aqueduct. John helps with product development as he is managing agile teams daily and very involved in the agile community.

Guillaume Baut-Menard, CTO at Aqueduct. Guillaume is also very involved in the agile and tech communities in London, and is helping with the publicity and direction of easyBacklog.

You are also co-founder of Econsultancy, a partner in Aqueduct (an agency that implements agile development effectively), and a partner in United Studios (a digital product agency). What is your secret to successfully balancing all of these responsibilities?

Working hard! No, to be honest whilst I am able to juggle a number of things at the same time, the reality is you need to have your focus set firmly on one target. Right now for me that is easyBacklog. I am now a non-exec Director of Econsultancy, Aqueduct and United Studios meaning I am involved at a board level, but am not involved in day to day operations. I really don’t think it’s feasible to be focussed on more than one business at a time.

easyBacklog is currently free. When will the service start making money, and how?

We want to get the big features out the way first, and then launch in hopefully April-May time with a paid service option. The point of our beta was to widen the audience of users and get real feedback before we start charging people. Nearing a 1,000 users now, we’ve certainly benefited from user feedback, and we’ve been careful to listen to all of our users even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything they ask for.

We’re planning to introduce a freemium model so that low usage users can continue to use easyBacklog for free, whilst bigger companies who rely on easyBacklog and can afford to use it should start paying. We will be offering a tiered subscription model.

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

Building a product and talking to your customers directly is amazingly rewarding. Whilst at Econsultancy I have had that experience, my co-founder Ashley and the team were more directly involved in dealing with customers whilst I was buried away focusing on product development. And in agency life, the tech teams almost never interact directly with their customer’s customers.

With easyBacklog this has all changed. I am at the coal face in every aspect, I code, I market, I publicise, and importantly I talk with customers daily. Talking with customers is what makes the difference. No longer do I sit in a silo dreaming up ideas that are not practical or simply not right. One thing I have learnt is that it’s important for everyone in the business to meet clients, talk to them about their experiences, and understand where they are coming from. Only then do you get the reward of seeing the fruits of your work, but also you think clearly about where to focus your time and energy as you know what your customers need.

Where do you see easyBacklog in 5 years time?

easyBacklog will never have the scale of a product like Basecamp because it’s built for a niche group of people who follow agile and scrum methodologies for project delivery. So what I aim for is that in 5 years time easyBacklog has a loyal growing customer base who use easyBacklog daily, like they do now, but just more of them. Having a smaller group of people to work with is a benefit in many ways, we can talk to them, we have less customer support needs, and we don’t need to try and build the tool out to do everything.

Has easyBacklog got the feedback and growth you expected during beta?

It’s been brilliant. I speak with customers daily, and the team here discuss the ideas, feedback and suggestions to see how we can potentially incorporate them so long as they fit into our vision for easyBacklog. The beta has been brilliant, but I think it’s time to move into full release soon as the beta has proven that the product is stable, does 90% of what it should be doing, and we have a lot of very happy customers.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Primarily product owners, scrum masters, project managers and their clients / budget holders. However, we have found that a lot of agile team members also use easyBacklog, and as a result we are building out the functionality to enable team members to use easyBacklog.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

PivotalLabs, VersionOne, TFS and Atlassian.

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

I think we’re actually in a very competitive space. There are lots of companies providing agile tools out there, so we need to clearly communicate where we have strengths. I think the primary difference between easyBacklog and most other products is that the other products are just not focussed on the commercial aspects of project deliver. easyBacklog allows you to quickly estimate a project cost, and manage cost and scope changes throughout. Other products are focussed entirely on delivery, and that is our point of difference. I think our biggest hurdle is finding customers who need to focus on the commercial aspects of a project and communicating our point of difference to them.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We can’t wait to go live and introduce our subscription model. I think the proof is in the pudding, if customers stay and sign up to our subscriptions then we have a product that’s truly making a difference to our users. If not, it’s back to the drawing board to see what we’ve missed and work out what we need to do to make easyBacklog valuable enough for customers to want to pay to use it. We’re confident we’re going to have a very high conversion rate to paying customers based on our feedback and the regularity of usage by our users.

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

Anyone who is implementing agile and understands that resources or budgets are not unlimited and delivery of value is important will understand why easyBacklog is a game changer. Cost and time estimations are simplified, and managing change and costs throughout a project are a breeze.

Finished reading? Check out easyBacklog!

Interview with Kevin Davis (Rawporter)

Rawporter is helping anyone earn from being in the right place at the right time.

Rawporter was founded by Rob Gaige, Michael Robinson and Kevin Davis. I interviewed Kevin Davis to find out more. This interview is the seventy fifth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Kevin for the interview!

How would you describe Rawporter in under 50 words?

Rawporter is an army of cameras on-location and on-demand. If a media outlet, local blogger, or production house needs videos or photos, they can send an assignment to our worldwide army of Rawporters telling them how much they’ll pay for the footage.

What made you decide to start working on Rawporter?

We’ve experienced it ourselves. While at happy hour, we saw a car crash into the restaurant next door. The police shut down the street, and the only ones there to capture the event were everyday people like us. We used our iPhones to record the event, but had no way to get it to the media. We figured there had to be a better way to connect everyday people with media outlets.

What planning did you do before you started up?

We did a lot of research searching for companies that did this sort of thing, but didn’t find anyone we thought was approaching it the right way. It seemed like everyone wanted to compete with the media or create their own media company. We wanted to help the media. The business of journalism is REALLY hard, and we wanted to leave it to the professionals. We just wanted to make their job a little easier.

How did you come up with the name?

We see our footage as “raw” and unedited. It’s in-the-moment videos and photos of the actual event, which gives the audience a unique, 1st-person perspective. So, our users were reporting raw footage…Raw + reporter = Rawporter.

How much can people ‘in the right place at the right time’ earn?

It can vary widely, but typical assignments pay $5-$20. Of course if you capture the next “Miracle on the Hudson” moment, you’ll earn a lot more.

What technologies have you used to build Rawporter?

Rawporter is built on a LAMP stack, with Ruby, jQuery and utilizing Amazon’s web services to store, push and index our user’s requests and submissions efficiently.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Rawporter?

We’re attempting to make the process easy so that anyone can participate. That means we’re doing a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make the process intuitive as possible. The biggest challenge has been keeping up with, or staying ahead of, the changes that our social media partners like Facebook and Twitter make. We want our Rawporters to be able to continue sharing through social media so getting that functionality to work right, consistently, takes a lot of work.

How do you promote Rawporter?

We’re still in our very early beta, so right now, we haven’t done any marketing. We’ve recruited beta testers through social media and word of mouth. One person tries it, likes it, and then tells someone else. Because we’ve been so focused on the blogger community, we get a lot of attention from their fans, and that’s really helped our growth.

Who is the team at Rawporter?

Kevin’s our CEO and sales expert. He’s got a background in business development, product development, and journalism. Rob’s our marketing guy with time at AOL, J&J, Nestle, and Bank of America. And Michael’s our tech expert. He’s done a variety of startup projects and consulting in data compression, indexing, and design. We also have some very talented developers who’ve been going above and beyond to help us until we can scale.

How long did it take to put together Rawporter?

It took over a year to get our business plan and baseline beta technology in place. We launched our minimum viable product publicly in November to start collecting actual user feedback so we could begin fine-tuning as fast possible. We’ve learned a ton that we will apply to future iOS iterations and should be launching our 1st Android app very soon!

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Yes, our newest free iOS app is now available in iTunes. Besides correcting some of the bugs from our early Beta, it will add some great features like full assignment interactivity, the ability to record several videos in quick succession and upload later, and the ability to import files from your native camera.

Do you have any plans to develop the app for Android?

Yes! We’re almost ready to release an Android App…

Do you see citizen journalism as a growing phenomenon?

Absolutely, and what’s really exciting is that it’s starting to become more and more accepted by the mainstream media. The gap has always been verification. How can the media trust what they’re seeing? With Rawporter, we automatically time, date, and location stamp the videos and photos so you know they’re valid. Combine that with the explosive growth in blogging, and we’re starting to see that ANYONE can share his or her unique take on the world.

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

We never realized how vibrant and welcoming the entrepreneur community is. The support has been amazing, and had we known that, we would have made the leap much sooner.

Has Rawporter got the feedback and growth you expected during Beta?

The growth has been much faster than we anticipated. I think we really underestimated the passion for a product like this. The feedback was about what we expected. Other startups told us that if you aren’t embarrassed by your first launch then you didn’t do it right. Trust us, there are definitely some embarrassments out there! But the good thing is that the users have been sincerely trying to help us improve, and without that feedback, we wouldn’t have made the strides we have.

Where do you see Rawporter in 5 years time?

We want to be a go-to resource for bloggers and mainstream media alike. When people need video or photo content, we’d like people to turn to us first—both here and abroad.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

You can’t talk about citizen journalism without mentioning CNN’s iReport. They’ve done a brilliant job of getting people engaged in the news, which is wonderful. We’re just trying to democratize that process a bit, allowing anyone, anywhere to request the videos or photos they need.

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

This is brand new technology, and these are pretty big files we’re moving. Having that work while still keeping the App lightweight and easy to use is always going to be a challenge. But it’s a fun one to tackle.

What advice would you give to startup founders?

Reach out to others. We’re always amazed at the number of people who want to see us succeed. And if you aren’t throwing yourself headfirst into social media—not to promote yourself, but really participate in the dialogue—then you’re missing out on the people most passionate about what you do.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The iOS update is going to be huge for us. With that in place and the Android to follow soon after, we can really crank up the volume on our assignments.

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

Well the app is free and can help you earn money for the videos and photos you are already capturing and sharing with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Now you can even respond to assignments and put your smartphone to work today!

Finished reading? Check out Rawporter!

Interview with Matthew Murphy (Lemon)

Lemon is a tool for collecting all your receipts in one place.

I interviewed Wences Casares and Matthew Murphy, Lemon co-founders to find out more. This interview is the seventy fourth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Wences and Matthew for the interview!


Describe Lemon in under 50 words?

Lemon shows you where your money really goes. With Lemon, you can collect and store your paper and email receipts in one place, so you can see exactly how much money you spend and what you spend it on.

What was your inspiration for founding Lemon?

We’re in the 21st Century, but our receipts are stuck in the 20th Century. It’s amazing that paper receipts are the same today as they were over 100 years ago. They are awkward and an inconvenience, but there’s a ton of value within them. The team at Lemon loves to build innovative technology that delivers a better solution to age-old problems. And so we took on the challenge of innovating receipts.

How did you come up with the name?

Wences’ (pictured right) first mentor was a farmer in Northern Argentina who built the world’s largest Lemon farm and became the key supplier to Coca-Cola for Lemons. As a thank you for all of the advice that Wences received from his mentor, he decided to name his first company: Lemon Bank, which was the largest bank for the un-bankable in Brazil. Wences bought the url lemon.com in the late 90s and has been holding onto it ever since. When we came up with this company idea – we chose to use lemon.com as the company’s domain for the following reasons:

1.) We like brand names that do not mean anything relative to the business, so that they can become empty containers to be filled with content, personality and character.
2.) It was important for us to have a short domain that’s easy to remember.
3.) The name has to be memorable!

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Lemon?

Building the proprietary technology to capture all of the valuable information from the paper receipts has been the most challenging part of developing Lemon. Turning an image into data is not an easy task and requires multiple complex technologies to be bridged together to capture, analyze and present the information.

How long did it take to put together Lemon?

We came up with the idea for Lemon in May of 2011 and delivered our first product to the market in July of 2011. This was a minimum viable product, which followed the Lean Start-up Methodology. We then found product market fit and continued to build out the technology and add additional features. We then came out of beta on 10/13/11.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

We are always adding new features to the product and one of the upcoming features that we are excited about is the Business Plan. We all hate expense reports and think they are an incredible time suck. So, the Lemon Business Plan does away with expense reports and creates them in real time without the hassle. All a Lemon user has to do is take a picture of their receipt, select if its reimbursable or not, and then the receipt is captured, digitized and sent straight to the company’s accounting team for reimbursement. This product will go live in early March.

Has Lemon uncovered any bad spending habits in your family?

Well, I have to be careful how I answer this question, so my family does not get mad at me. I built the Lemon Family Plan to help families like mine get a better perspective at where their hard earned money goes each month. The Lemon Family Plan let’s you link up to 10 accounts together and see all of your combined spending broken out into standard categories (Food & Dining, Health & Fitness, Travel, Personal Care, Housing, Auto & Transportation, etc…). Our view is that when you can see where your money is being spent – then you can start to spend it smarter.

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

How much social media has impacted the way people communicate. 5 years ago, social media sites were more of a game where you could poke people or comment on their walls, and now Social Media is ingrained into our culture as the dominate vehicle of communication.

Where do you see Lemon in 5 years time?

We believe that the traditional wallet you keep in your back pocket or purse will be re-imagined and technology will drive a lot of this innovation. Today, the wallet is a staple that you always have with you. You use it to hold your cash, credit cards, loyalty cards, identification and more. The wallet has been this way for a long time and is need of some technological innovation to make it better and fun. Lemon wants to lead this innovation and is working on some exciting new products to re-imagine your wallet.

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

We have been pleasantly surprised at the quick growth Lemon has experienced since our public launch in October. We recently passed the 1MM user mark and have been growing very fast.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

The Wallet in your back pocket.

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

Broadening the appeal of our product so that it expands beyond the early adopters and creates value for the majority of consumers around the world.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m really excited about the next generation of our product and some of the exciting technology innovations that our team is working on!

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

Whether you’re looking to save money or just trying to figure out exactly where your money goes each month, Lemon makes it incredibly easy to get a handle on your overall financial situation.

Finished reading? Check out Lemon!

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