Sonal Mane, a Startup Technologist working for Microsoft in Chicago, walks you through steps to make the Windows 8 app development process easier.
Here's her first post in a series.
Welcome to the 'Windows 8 design principles simplified' series. One of the key reasons for apps being rejected or sent back for fixes is Design.
Today's topic will be Do More with Less. It should give you a firm background on what reviewers look for in the app review process, and it will give you a premise with which you can begin your designing.
Designing for touch requires a few prerequisites that you would need to think through. Without these basics, you are not going to get too far.
1. Avoid distractions - The key idea is to trust you users and enable them to focus on where they are. Not where they need to go. As you approach design, focus on utilizing the real estate and what the app is great at. Clear the clutter and strip away everything that takes away from the app and your best-at statement.
2. Clearly define your best-at statement - To aid the decision-making around design, identify the single most important functionality that your app is best at. This means understanding your value prop and scope clearly and crystallizing it to a single statement. As you iterate on your app and add future versions, you can evolve and update your best-at statement. For your first iteration, keeping a narrow focus will help resolve several design decisions and issues.
3. Content over Chrome - Content is your best friend and the easiest way to get users excited about your app. High quality content also means you can draw attention without bells and whistles and attract users to your app. This means leaving only the most relevant user experience elements on the screen. This also means letting users immerse themselves in what they love and explore the rest. The thing to keep in mind is to flip the design mindset, think about solving to avoid distractions and not discoverability.
4. Clear out the Chrome - Chrome means navigation, layout, commanding and interaction. For example,
* Chrome comes from navigation, tabs and other navigational tools as they are used to help a user finding their way around an app.
* Chrome can come from layout that include boxes, rules and other content that is placed on the canvas to help organize content.
* Chrome comes from interaction and commands placed on the canvas to help users complete scenarios and features.
Simple rule to follow here is that if you see any user experience that helps with user navigation, layout and commands - Clear it out! Windows 8 has built-in design to help you work these elements into your app.
Here's a screenshot that focuses on the music video content and albums without cluttering the user experience with navigation, commands and layout.
5. Navigation, Layout and Commands Navigation - Pixels are precious so don't waste them on navigation. Sounds counter-intuitive when you focus on discoverability. Shift that focus on your content and think about where you are at and your content, not about the places where your user could go. When designing Windows Store apps, you can actually make the content itself navigable and remove this navigational chrome. Where does this navigation chrome go? It goes to the navigation bar from the top edge. Layout - Create visual clarity with crisp graphical elements. Remove lines and boxes to group and organize content. Give content breathing room through intentional use of space. This means that there is no need to draw lines around your groups. No need to draw arrows and create outlines on your user experience. Think space and not, boundaries. Commands - Integrate commands into the content. Leverage the edge. Provide commands contextually. Commands go in the app bar that shows up from the bottom edge. The content itself is interactive so your images headlines, titles and content can be tapped on to navigate to something. Search, Share, Settings and Devices go in the Charms that show up from the right edge. Login goes into right edge on the right sidebar.
How do users see these hidden navigation and app bars and charms ? The app should pop the relevant user experience based on context. For e.g. when a user selects multiple images, that is an indication to pop the command bar. Guess what, the user is about to perform an action on these images.
Here's a screenshot of what the navigation and app bar look like.
Want to dive deeper into this topic? Check out the video on Do more with less for more details.
Today we bring you a story about the flaw inherent to traditional economic theory, and an inherent human attitude about scarcity that gives the lie to this thinking. We asked Gamification expert and occasional Stanford University lecturer Yu-kai Chou to write a blog post about how scarcity can drive demand. You may remember our conversation with Yu-kai during The BizSpark Show (see video embedded below this post).
About the Author: Yu-kai Chou is an Entrepreneur, a Partner at the Enterprise Gamification Consultancy(EGC) and a Gamification Pioneer who has been working in gamification since 2003. Yu-kai is the original creator of the Gamification Framework Octalysis, and is a regular speaker/lecturer at organizations like Stanford University and Google Inc.
When I was studying economics in school, the one fundamental lesson that the professors always talked about was the supply and demand curve. It basically says that if the price of an item drops, the demand will increase (moving forward on the demand curve).
If the item becomes completely free, the curve will indicate the maximum number of buyers that will acquire it. But if you have studied behavioral psychology, gamification, and/or human focused design, you will find that there's another side to the story. It turns out, being one of the 8 Core Drives of Gamification, Scarcityis another beast that drives consumer behavior. Scarcity is the limitation of something (an item, a resource, a service) towards meeting the corresponding demand. In economics theory, scarcity is well understood, but only in the sense of objective limits matched against the consumer's utility derived from a purchase. The issue here is that, almost all economics theory starts off with two key assumptions:
But in the real world, these two assumptions almost never hold true - people are often irrational and never really have perfect information. Often they react to pricing in another, more surprising way: the more expensive something is, the higher the value (utility) is placed on it. This leads to increased demand. As a result, sales may actually increase with pricing. Normally, if an item were free (the extreme right of the demand curve), everyone who would want this product would obtain it. Say hypothetically, 100 people would do this. But sometimes, if the product is unusually expensive, people who previously didn't care might suddenly want it. Now sales may exceed 150 items! Because of this scarcity effect, a real demand curve in some products might produce a C-Shape instead of a diagonal line moving down to the right. Scarcity works because people perceive that something is more valuable if it is more expensive or less attainable. Because people don't have "perfect information," they generally do not know the utility of a certain good. Therefore, they rely on cues - such as how expensive or limited something is - to determine how valuable something is. If everyone wants it, it must be good!
I've personally seen numerous examples, both first and second hand, where increasing the price actually allowed people to sell more. Not too long ago, one of my clients was trying to choose between two service providers, one who charged $8,000/mo and the other $10,000/mo. I informed him that I thought the $8,000/mo provider would deliver better services. However, my client remained doubtful, feeling that the $10,000/mo provider must be better because of the pricing. I told him that just because one service charges more doesn't mean it is compellingly better. Ultimately my client decided to use both of the services for a period of three months. After this period was up, we saw that the $8,000/mo provider was exceptional, while the $10,000 was very disappointing. In this case, if the lesser service provider would charge $6000 instead of $10,000, he might not even get a chance to try for 3 months (of course, focusing on creating value is the most important so you don't lose your job after 3 months). On another occasion I had a client that needed a CPC campaign audit. I contacted a friend who was the best in the industry from Eastern Europe. Since I had done some favors for him in the past, I was able to persuade him to help my client with a free audit, which he would have charged thousands otherwise. Though my client was excited about the arrangement, he hesitated and moved very slowly. I pressed my client on this and he said, "What worries me is the free price … is he really as good as you say he is?" He had perceived that my friend’s service was not really valuable because it was offered for free. That's why it might have been more advantageous to charge a smaller fee such as $500 for the audit instead of giving it out for free.
This situation doesn't just happen in high end services. In the book Influence: Science and Practice, author Robert B. Cialdini describes a story of a friend he had who ran an Indian Jewelry Store in Arizona. The owner was trying to sell some high quality turquoise pieces during the peak tourist season. Despite her constant efforts to promote and emphasize these pieces to the shop visitors, no one bought them. Finally, the night prior to an out-of-town buying trip, the owner concluded that she needed to lower the prices and make the pieces more attractive to her customers. As a result, she left a note for her head salesperson with instructions to reduce the prices by half. However, the salesperson misunderstood the note, and mistakenly doubled the price on all the pieces. Upon returning a few days later, the owner was pleasantly surprised to learn that all the pieces had been sold. Doubling the price on each item had actually allowed her to sell more because the perceived value of each had increased. In his other book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Cialdini describes situations where inconveniencing people can result in them valuing something more. The book notes that, for infomercials, calls will increase substantially when the message is changed from, "Operators are waiting" to "If operators are busy, please call again later."Why would this be? In the first case viewers can imagine operators waiting to answer calls and take orders for products that may be of marginal value. In the second case viewers will more likely perceive that the operators will be struggling to answer a flood of calls and keeping up with the demand on orders. The perception will be that the product value is extremely high, and that the viewer better call in and order while they can. This type of perceived social proof works great in sales.
The most obvious application for start-ups is to launch with a confident pricing strategy. Instead of just offering everything for free or easily available for everyone, a more premium pricing model or exclusivity might also increase the confidence of users/buyers with a result in increased conversion rates. Another excellent example is how Facebook utilized “scarcity” in the form of exclusivity. Initially Facebook was exclusive - being only for Harvard students. Then it opened up to the Ivy League schools, and eventually to all colleges and high schools. Finally, everyone was allowed to join. Because people early on couldn't get it, they were “crazy” about it. The sense of scarcity and exclusivity created more demand than if Facebook had been “open to all” from day one. Zynga's Farmville also manufactures scarcity to make their product more addicting. Instead of farming for as long as you want to play (the basis for most games), you are often forced to stop and wait for 8 hours before you can continue to play the game. This causes people to think about the game ALL THE TIME. They may log in after 3 hours, 4 hours, or 6 hours, just to check and see if they can reap their crops, even though they know as a fact that 8 hours have not transpired. If Farmville simply allowed people to farm to their hearts' content, people would eventually stop, and not think about it all the time. In the game Geomon (recently shutdown due to a business transaction with a major tech company), gamers try to capture all the monsters in order to fight against each other. The game is similar to Pokemon, but influenced by the environment where the gamers are physically based. In Geomon, there are certain scarce monsters that can only be found in very limited or special situations, such as in proximity to a company, or on days where the temperature is over 110 degrees. Because some of these monsters are extremely rare, people are willing to spend real money in order to obtain them. One such example is the Mozzy, which can only be caught next to a Mozilla Office. In this image, notice how people seem to be desperate to get a Mozzy: Another example is the Laurelix, which at one point was owned by only 3 players in the game. The company actually received a call from the mother of a player, saying, "My son has been sick for a week, and he said only a Laruelix can cheer him up. I don't know what it is, but he said you have it. I'm willing to pay $20 for a Laurelix. Can you give that to my son?" Interestingly, these monsters are not necessarily more powerful than regular monsters, but because they are so hard to get, the perceived value increases immensely, helping the entrepreneurs to better monetize their game. Wootis another company that uses scarcity to drive sales. The enticing thing about Woot is that you never know what product will be promoted. The site also sets a limit on the number of people that can claim the deal. Many who check Woot at 4 PM will see an amazing deal, but typically find that the item is sold out. As a result their eagerness to get the next product will increase, motivating them to constantly return to the website. Eventually a great amount of buyers wait on the site at 11:59 PM each day, just to see the next product as soon as it becomes available. Once it does appear, they are ready to quickly snatch it up.
Another good example is the "Fail Whale" in early years of Twitter. The Twitter site was often down in 2006 and prior. Even though this frustrated many users, they waited more eagerly for the service to return (and talked about when it will return on Facebook). I've seen cases where people were planning to retire from playing a game , but then encountered issues due to massive servers problems, and instead of quitting, checking the app every day to see if they "can" play it or not. Even though they planned to quit, they needed to quit on their own terms. When they were prevented from playing because they "couldn't," their desire to play actually increased. What made the situation worse is that "sometimes" they would be able to play the game, only to experience another crash. If it was just indefinitely down, people would lose interest, but the "sometimes working" game would take on an addictive appeal. This behavior is much like how people pull on a slot machine, hoping for but not necessarily expecting good results. The same effect happend with Twitter, where users became obsessed with checking the service each minute to see if the service had been re-established, eventually increasing traction.
Viewing exclusivity as a form of scarcity is illustrated in the South Park episode "Cartman joins NAMBLA."Here, Cartman constantly brags about his new group of "mature grown-up friends" to his rival Kyle. After several exchanges of Kyle saying, "I don't WANT to join your group" and Cartman rebutting with, "No, you CAN'T join my group", Kyle finally feels compelled to learn how to join the group. The desire to become a member of Cartman’s group is now present in Kyle, where there was none before.
Of course, this doesn't mean start-ups should pull down their servers on purpose. Besides pricing your service/product with confidence, you may want to create a sense of exclusivity for each step during the Discovery and Onboarding stages, where the service makes them feel that it's uniquely for them; that they uniquely qualify for the access (Email notification that is only sent to VIP members). They now have exclusivity as the "Harvard students", the "Apple Fans", or even more broadly as "people who signed up the newsletter." For actions that lead to rewards and investments, instead of allowing unlimited actions (such as “liking” as many times as you want), consider more restrictive options. Often, placing a cap on how many actions a person can take (or investments that they can make) will cause them to desire it more. Some entrepreneurs may have experienced this in the case where fundraising for their venture becomes smoother once they inform investors that the round is closing and that their money is no longer essential (Or that there is space for only half the amount that investors want to put in). By using scarcity and exclusivity, businesses can influence consumer perception of their products and services. By increasing perceived value, customers and users are more likely to stay engaged and take greater interest in your venture, while making sure you don't give out all your hard earned world-changing work for close to nothing. Of course, if you price an item outside what is affordable to your target market, then this could backfire. But more often than not, when customers don't buy your product, it's not because they can't afford it. It's because the perceived value they have for your product is not worth the cost (and sometimes that cost is in the simple form of time investment or "talking to my boss about it."). Learning Gamification and Human-Focused Design is a great way to craft customer perception and get them to see your service as valuable beyond anything else that exists in the market.
Booklikes Country: Poland www.booklikes.com
BookLikes is a global blogging platform designed for book lovers that lets its users create a personal webpage with a blog, virtual bookshelf and reading timeline. It’s a mix of a Tumblr-like blog platform, book cataloguing site and social network. BookLikes is a service designed particularly for people interested in books with functions dedicated to book readers.
Book lovers can share book reviews and other book-related content, follow interesting blogs, read reviews and texts by other popular users or simply collect and organize books on virtual bookshelf. BookLikes is available in three language versions and gives insight into 12 book databases from 30 international booksellers.
Country: Greece www.bugsense.com
BugSense is on a mission to set the quality standard for mobile apps. Analyzing 5 billion metrics each month across various platforms, BugSense provides more than 20,000 developers globally - including Fortune 500 companies - with app performance reports that help developers identify issues and create better mobile app experiences.
BugSense solution has the largest distribution in the industry (3rd most used SDK after Google Analytics and Flurry).
Based on research in sports science and space medicine, Omegawave provides leading methods for monitoring an athlete’s functional condition. Omegawave delivers instantly relevant advice on the optimum amount of intensity and volumes of training. By identifying an athlete’s physiologically limiting factors and providing guidelines to eliminate them, Omegawave helps to improve performance, prevent overtraining, decrease injuries and improve fitness and overall health.
Omegawave technology has been used by multiple Olympic Federations, premier soccer teams such as FC Barcelona, teams from the NFL, MLS, and NHL, and various other leading sports organizations. The company’s global headquarters are in Espoo, Finland.
Country: Germany www.rapidape.com
Tracking of TV ads is mostly guessing. Existing tracking tools are barely able to deliver accurate performance measurement promptly.
RapidApe is the first BI tool combining TV tracking and monitoring in one solution, giving clients full insights in the performance of their TV campaigns.
RapidApe generates data for the performance of a TV ad regarding the campaign's goals and connects TV tracking with data that makes sense.
Schutzklick (Simple Insurance)
Country: Germany www.schutzklick.de
simplesurance GmbH, operating under the name Schutzklick, is a provider of sales channels in eCommerce Shops for insurance products. The company offers various technical integration types to automate the closing and administration of insurance products. The insurance product portfolio covers all eCommerce relevant insurance product types.
Country: Israel www.screemo.com
SCREEMO enables creation of real life interactive experiences between smartphones and digital screens.
SCREEMO is the world’s first cloud based SaaS platform allowing the fast, simple, and low cost creation and measurement of interactive experiences and abilities never available before to the mass market.
SCREEMO's patent pending solutions are up and running almost immediately at any location which is pre-deployed with digital screens, with no integration needed.
ScreenHits is a B2B and B2C online marketplace for the buying and selling of television and film content. It replaces the existing model of TV channels sending their teams to trade shows around the world to acquire content for their network. This new model aggregates content from the leading producers and distributors worldwide and filters it based on the needs of its buyers. ScreenHits provides instant viewing access of all the shows, which allows buyers to make quicker and more cost effective purchasing choices in a reasonable timeframe. In addition, with its highly intelligent search engine, buyers can search for content based on price, available territories, genre, rights, etc. It also provides helpful insight by engaging the viewing public to vote on the shows they want to see on TV.
With 8 years of existence in mobile app development, Snapp’ provides packaged m-Commerce and m-Loyalty solutions to key accounts retailers, chains and small businesses. Snapp’ develops FidMe (www.fidme.com), the European leading loyalty wallet mobile application with more than 2.2 million users accounts, and 4000+ loyalty programs. FidMe is available on every smartphone and uses the latest features offered by mobile devices.
Spreaker is a platform for creating and sharing audio, both live and pre recorded. It allows people to capture live audio streams (interviews, music, comedy shows), edit them in real time by adding music and sound effects and share them everywhere.
Stonewash create magazine frameworks for smartphones and tablets. This enables magazine and catalogue publishers to turn offline content into visually compelling online content quickly on multiple platforms, enabling new revenue sources without disrupting their existing workflow. They also collate vast amounts of data on reading habits through reader profiles and subscriptions, which they provide to the publisher. Stonewash is the first app to provide detailed in-app analytics, and was the first app approved by Microsoft for Windows 8.
Wantr is a shopping tool that lets you collect all your favourite online stores in a single place, and updates you on their latest arrivals and sales. With an increasing need for a better overview in the online shopping space, Wantr provides a solution for people who want to stay updated on the latest styles and products in a fun and interesting way - without the hassle of checking multiple websites.
W.S.C Sports Technologies helps broadcasters and media rights owners to exploit and monetize their digital sports rights with an automatic video generation platform that creates customized and personalized videos according to fans' preferences and editorial content. Using the platform, broadcasters and media rights owners generate new revenue streams from their video assets with increased inventory, number of video views and fan engagement.
This map comes from Microsoft Technical Evangelist Vitor Ciaramella. Feel free to share.
Here are today's #BZPitch pitches. When you sign up to Microsoft BizSpark, you are introduced to literally hundreds of thousands of people working on over 50,000 startups.
To take advantage of this, sign up. When your application is approved, dive in on Facebook, Twitter, and in LinkedIn.
On June 21, the Windows Azure Accelerator powered by TechStars will showcase a number of startups for its Seattle Demo Day. we will be there. To prepare you all for it, we are going to be showing off some of the startups ahead of time.
Here's one of them, a startup called OFunnel, which hopes to fully automate the lead generation and sales process, putting to bed forever the arduous task of developing sales from the cold call process.
We asked founder Kushal Shah a few questions about his experience.
How did you know you were ready to join the Microsoft Accelerator?
Kushal Shah: We had an idea and demonstrated the ability to execute. So we knew that with the right mentorship and guidance we could take our startup through its next stage of validation and growth. The Microsoft Accelerator provided us that opportunity with its awesome program. As we further talked to accelerator alumni and their experience, we knew this is the exact kind of expertise and help we need at our startup.
What do you hope to give your customers in three months?
Kushal Shah: We want to automate the lead generation process for B2B sales. From identifying the customers to talk to and get them plugged in right conversations and introductions, we want to ensure that our customers are not making cold calls anymore. In this 3 months, we are specifically focused on Marketing Technology Services.
Stay tuned for more information about the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure Demo Day on June 21. You can follow us at Microsoft Bizspark on Facebook. Or, you can join the Microsoft Accelerator Facebook page for details.
Today, Windows Azure announced enhancements and changes in the Windows Azure Offer available to BizSpark members through their MSDN subscriptions. For a comprehensive review of the changes, you should read Scott Guthrie's two blog posts about the matter:
Windows Azure: Announcing New Dev/Test Offering, BizTalk Services, SSL Support with Web Sites, AD Improvements, Per Minute Billing
Windows Azure: Announcing Major Improvements for Dev/Test in the Cloud
Here are a few highlights that we think BizSpark members might find particularly interesting:
We are excited about today’s announcements, especially the increased flexibility, discounts and per-minute billing that can help BizSpark startups save money as they build in the cloud.
For additional questions on your BizSpark Windows Azure benefits, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2011, BetaWorks CEO John Borthwick and his management team gave back $27 million "and then some" to investors, according to a recent TechCrunch Disrupt interview (see below), and then they topped up the tank for another few millions in investment to keep building what is emerging as a suite of media products that sew together the social web. According to Borthwick "What we have now is a collection of things," that Betaworks is using to build that many might call the social web version of cable tv. In several interviews on the web, Borthwick surfaces this idea that many people turn to the social web in a very human way to use media platforms as a social "nexus."
They communicate ideas, they set aside time to comment on articles, and they create a searchable social web that produces information about people to connect to, and problems to solve, to name a few pieces of the social web puzzle. While most attention has been focused on Borthwick's purchase of Digg, and Instapaper, and the "growth" story around his investments, little attention is paid to what he is actually doing.
Is he creating a more engaged social web? Is he sewing together dozens of media properties to create a more seamless information and engagement experience in the web? Is he making our modern century's New York Times, which is actually more of a series of conversation feeds, rather than a single media property run by a publisher's bias or business interests? It's fascinating to watch, and we have many questions for him.
Douglas Crets will talk about this with John Borthwick this Thursday at 3pm Pacific, during another live conversation hosted by the folks at Microsoft BizSpark.
You can watch the Borthwick interview with Alexia Tsotsis here.
If anyone knows the story of Cable Cowboy, John Malone, they might remember that Malone built his cable empire by literally going around the country and using cable to link up disparate terrestrial tv affiliates into one massive tv offering. There were brutal battles. Much of what Borthwick says in interviews focuses on this type of story. He tells Tsotsis in his interview that "the market is characterized by big companies, and this incredible startup system... but I think if you look at the products out there, I think of them more like an ecosytem or a cluster of things."
He says that they are focused on "the whole platform" and "the entire puzzle," rather than the single most profit-optimizing piece of the puzzle.
The fact that BetaWorks was able to return $27 million, "and then some" to investors should tell you that building something holistic for the web can be profitable.
The continually morphing Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 ecosystem added another feature this weekend as one of our Microsoft BizSpark members, Ilija Injac, delivered to the Windows Azure market a new app for Windows developers. Introducing TapMap, a heatmap extension for Windows developers.
TapMap helps developers track real usage data on their apps as they develop for Windows 8 devices and Windows Phone 8. Here is a video that demonstrates some of the features. If you want to get a direct link to the app, you can contact Ilija here.
Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership announced today that they will join together to create UP Global, a new organization supporting the creation of vibrant entrepreneurial communities around the world. With generous support from The Kauffman Foundation, the Case Foundation, Omidyar Network, Google for Entrepreneurs, Microsoft and The Coca-Cola Company, UP Global will combine the impact and reach of Startup Weekend’s action-based programs with Startup America Partnership’s deep expertise in building strong regional eco-systems. UP Global will leverage the strengths of both organizations to build a more comprehensive offering that bolsters entrepreneurial communities across the globe.
“We initially launched the Startup America Partnership as a three-year project focused on jumpstarting the entrepreneurial economy, but as we watched the tremendous momentum that was built through the launch of more than 30 regional ecosystems, we knew there was a need to continue a broader effort to help maximize the success of American startups,” says Steve Case, chairman of the Startup America Partnership, who will also join UP Global as chairman of the board. “Partnering with Startup Weekend, which has played a critical role in inspiring and preparing tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, was the perfect solution to continue our mission..”
As part of UP Global, the Startup America Partnership will strengthen and expand the first truly national entrepreneurial ecosystem with deep local roots. UP Global will then expand and utilize best practices internationally with the vision of being the single most effective organization supporting entrepreneurial communities across the globe. Both Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership will retain their brand names and missions, joining with Startup Digest, Next and NYSE Corporate Connections, all closely collaborating and powered by UP Global.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen an incredible groundswell in grassroots entrepreneurial activity on across the nation and around the world. There is a huge need to drive consolidation and added collaboration among community leaders in order to create more clarity for entrepreneurs so they can easily find the local resources they need to get up and going, when they need them. Seeing two organizations that we support come together is a win for all entrepreneurs,” says Tom McDonnell, CEO of The Kauffman Foundation.
UP Global will become the first full-spectrum support structure for entrepreneurs, focusing on every aspect of the entrepreneurial journey, from pre-idea through high growth stages. The organization will be grounded in two key pillars: empowering startup champions to deliver action-based learning programs for entrepreneurs, and building local, regional, and national networks between startup champions in order to drive collaboration, sharing of best practices, and celebration of the entrepreneurs at the heart of the movement.
“Startup communities are truly driven by their leaders, and we’ve shown that we can provide useful tools and frameworks for those leaders to foster sustainable early stage ecosystems, ultimately leading to the creation of more meaningful and persistent firms,” says Marc Nager, CEO of UP Global.
For more information on UP Global, please visit www.UP.co.
Meet the founders of Pre-Apps -one of the newest partners joining the BizSpark community . With over 30,000 new apps introduced each month, PreApps is a marketplace to discover, rate, and download the best mobile apps coming soon. They also have an exclusive offer for BizSpark members - you will receive free PreApps featured services ($24.99 Value) using the promo code: BizSpark.
Simply create an account, submit your app and enter the promo code upon check it out.
This interview was conducted by Neha Bhaskar, SR CHANNEL & ECOSYSTEM Marketing Manager at Microsoft, in NYC.
The PreApps Team. You can watch a video demo here
Here is an interview we did with the CEO of the company, Sean Casto.
Tell us a bit about your app and company
PreApps is the exclusive place to preview new and exciting apps coming soon. Our vision for PreApps is to forever enhance the relationship between mobile app developers and mobile app users, which will in turn create better quality, more successful apps. By implementing user feedback in the development process, apps have a greater chance of success, and for users a more enjoyable experience. PreApps provides developers with the tools, knowledge, and resources to increase their app’s chance of success. Our collaborative process has proven to increase an app’s downloads, ranking, and overall quality.
What came first for you-the team or the idea?
The vision for PreApps came first. The idea was first conceived 3 years ago. We began development over a year ago and have been growing our team ever since.
What inspired you to work on this idea and how do you see yourselves evolving?
Our team consists of app developers and we understand first hand the struggles app developers face. PreApps was built to provide developers the tools, knowledge, and resources to over come these struggles. The mobile ecosystem is constantly changing and PreApps will evolve with it. We will continue to improve our services and further provide significant value to the developer community.
What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?
As a startup, our biggest challenge has been building our brand informing developers of the advantages PreApps provides to the development community.
How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
App developers know when they are failing in development when users encounter issues in quality, functionality, and design. Generating quality user feed back prior to an apps release is critical as it eliminates the potential negative reviews posted once the app is released, which will indefinitely ruin an apps status.
Who would you like to be your mentor, and what would you ask him or her?
I believe Mark Pincus (CEO of Zynga) would be a great mentor for PreApps. Mark Pincus has an extensive understanding of the mobile app ecosystem and particularly social games. He could provide invaluable insight into how our organization could further provide value to both the app user and developer community.
Who is your mentor, and what was the last great thing he or she told you and your team?
Chuck Goldman (Founder of Apperian) is one of our great mentors. The last great thing he told our team was to continue to innovate and expand our services for developers.
Who inspired you the most this week, and why?
Richard Branson inspired me the most this week. His recent article “Convincing Investors to Fund Your Tech Startup” provide me with the insight to better position our company to be more appealing to outside investors.
When was the last time you fell in love with a product?
The last time I fell in love with a product was 2 months ago when I downloaded an app titled Analytics Tiles. Analytics Tiles allows me to instantly and conveniently view our PreApps.com analytics in real time.
Is the lean startup process a type of marketing, or is marketing different from customer and product development? How does your company utilize next generation marketing techniques?
PreApps provides developers with the tools, knowledge, and resources to increase their chance of success. Our marketing techniques and quality user feedback results in an increase in app downloads, ranking, and overall quality. PreApps utilizes next generation marketing techniques through social media integration and a user reward system. Our user reward system can be viewed as a next generation marketing technique as users are rewarded for previewing, sharing, rating, apps coming soon.
We hear you have an exciting offer for BizSpark members. Could you tell us more about it ?
We are very excited to announce that all BizSpark members will receive FREE PreApps featured services ($24.99 Value) using the promo code: BizSpark. Simply create an account, submit your app and enter the promo code upon check out! It’s takes less than 2 minutes to post your app and gain expose
We don't know what the future will bring. Within reason. I do know that in three days I will interview Denis Crowley. So, that has me thinking a lot about the future of online / offline / web / mobile retail.
This post was written by Douglas Crets, Social Media Strategist of Microsoft BizSpark, which gives free software and support to any startup in the world that is making less than one million in revenue and less than five years old. He also hosts a weekly talk show on Livestream called Startuplandia. It airs every Thursday at 3pm Pacific.
I think that Foursquare holds one of the better positions for exploiting what Dave Holmes at Pando Daily refers to as daily deals sites bleeding each other dry. The daily deals market serves a need, but the problem with the need it serves is that the daily deal itself is not the proper medium for satisfying it.
Consumers are loyal to one thing, above all else -- their own needs and behavior. They will choose the thing that services that. A daily deal will only be able to cover the occasional need, at best. At the least, it may lead someone to become interested in a thing, a shop, or an offer. The problem with daily deals is that they are basically digital offers that cannot create habits for any one shop or retailer that seeks to gain customers from them.
This is something that Foursquare can do, because Foursquare is a layer. As I say in this post, I think in the space of opportunity, Foursquare has a very big edge in being a consumer’s weapon of choice in finding daily deals. It can’t be that daily deals find success in being just the offer. The shopping process is exactly that, a process. That requires an app that has a base, and an operation. At the end of the day, daily deals are just coupons. Nobody is loyal to coupons.
When you take an app like Foursquare, with its massive amounts of consumer purchasing data, as well as its business partnerships with commerce businesses like AMEX, and then mix that with a digital interface that is environmental, as well as mobile, you have suddenly a very new kind of retail experience.
I was talking with Justin Williams the other day. He's one half of a startup in the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure, powered by TechStars. We were talking about the future of pop-up retail, and it looks like this: augmented reality; location awareness; habit tracking; and crowd sourcing preferences and tastes.
Or, some dude with an AR kit on his eyes.
Digital storefronts that are hooked to facial recognition software, or mobile location apps like Foursquare. The town square can monitor and aggregate the data cloud of what is happening to whom in the square and then configure its store offerings in the environment to the populace that passes through. Foursquare is actually totally on top of this, if you think about it. With so much data, and a realtime awareness system, we realize that everything -- stores and their shoppers; cities and their citizens -- are all momentary pieces of an ever changing data landscape.
Heraclitus never completed his original thought. It's not that you never step into the same river twice. It's that you never step in the same river once. The future is a definition of the past, and the trouble with that is that the future has no business being a reflection of the past. it's murky with the present, which is a reaction to the past. I think with apps like Foursquare, used in configuration with new ways to present data and read crowds, we have a bright future for retail that may completely alter what we know about what we want, when we want it, and how we want it served.
Goodbye Daily Deals. Daily deals were a momentary exercise that showed us that nobody will stick to one category. We will always shift our attention to the next bright and shiny thing. But something like Foursquare will track that change, and make sure we stay consistent in our habits. Retailers will use something like Foursquare to keep up, to make sure retailers develop their own habits in line with ours.
Robert Oschler, a Microsoft BizSpark member, picked up on this, and we had a brief conversation about this, which I will include here:
@douglascrets - Intriguing prediction and very interesting to mix-in Google Glass into your vision.
@douglascrets @foursquare - Excellent point, especially due to FourSquare's style of interaction with the user.
— Robert Oschler (@roschler) May 6, 2013
@douglascrets - Intriguing prediction and very interesting to mix-in Google Glass into your vision.
@douglascrets @foursquare - Excellent point, especially due to FourSquare's style of interaction with the user.
— Robert Oschler (@roschler) May 6, 2013
@douglascrets @foursquare - Excellent point, especially due to FourSquare's style of interaction with the user.
These guys won the best Windows 8 Hack award at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013: Pasha and Pelle. They built “Big Picture,” which aids developers in keeping track of the state of the design of their front end. You can watch their demo here. “
We interviewed them to get an idea of what inspired this success.
This interview was conducted by Neha Bhaskar, SR CHANNEL & ECOSYSTEM Marketing Manager at Microsoft, in NYC.
Tell us a bit about the app you built at the TechCrunch hackathon.
We wanted to make a tool that would aid developers in keeping track of the state of the design of their front end. Requirements usually change so fast when mocking up pages, that it is almost impossible to keep track of the overall progress. There is also no current tool (to our knowledge) that provides such an overview based on in-progress code, and makes it easy for non-developers to inspect the state of the project. The Big Picture tackles both.
What came first for you-the team or the idea?
We initially started working on different projects. Pasha was working on The Big Picture, and Pelle was trying to control the AR Drone with Leap Motion. Toward the middle of the hackathon we joined forces in order to polish the project and to make it into a Windows 8 App.
What inspired you to work on this idea and how do you see it evolving?
The idea came directly from dealing with the pains and quirks of developing web software. We think that if it catches the eye of some good open-source contributors, it could become an awesome designer/developer tool.
Outside of TchCrunch, what are you working on?
Pasha has a startup called Trait, that is attempting to put the power of biometrics (such as facial, fingerprint, and voice recognition) into the hands of every developer. Trait (currently in closed beta) is a biometrics as a service platform that bridges the gap between technology vendors and developers by providing developers with an easy to use API, while taking care of the necessary back-end infrastructure for storage and processing of biometric functions.
Pelle has a startup called circles.io, which is a real time backend as a service. Circles.io makes it easier for developers either on apps or websites can setup there product in no time with a team of people worring about the servers, databases, scaliblity, API, user management , realtime communications for them so they don’t have to hire staff or manage it themselves. They only need to focus on the frontend development, leaving the mundane tasks to us.
Pelle: We are in the process of raising money, building the product , in addition to servicing clients and trying to bring new ones on it takes a lot of juggling. Having a small team is nice but it seems about the time to grow to give more time to each process.
Its all about time estimation. If you aren’t meeting your milestones and ship dates, you need to take a step back and decide on whether it is because you underestimated the task or because there is a flaw in your development process. Then you improve one of the two. Consulting your team often confuses the two causes.
Pasha: Elon Musk, I would ask him how one would attract the right people in order to quickly revolutionize an industry that before seemed insurmountable.
Pelle: Mark Cuban, I would ask he through his process of building his companies, who or what gave him the biggest push to get to the next level.
What advice do you want to give for any founder who wants to build a startup in rapid time?
If you think that you’re on to a good idea and you found a market where your product is needed, draw up an executable 6-8 week development plan for your MVP, and put your heads down to build it. Also don't try and do everything yourself as a startup you have limited manpower take advantage of resources others have built!
While web-based video streaming and digital audio has become increasingly sophisticated, the quality of photograph images viewed online has lagged behind. At the moment, if someone was to try to upload a high quality image for viewing on a PC, tablet or smartphone, the size of the image would compromise the delivery speed. So, what usually has to happen is that the quality and size of the image is reduced, to make it easier to view. However, this ‘trade off’ means that at the moment, many electronically-displayed images are disappointing compared to the original.
However, that is about to change, thanks to a breakthrough from BizSpark One company Prodibi, which has achieved the best of both worlds. Based in Geneva, Prodibi’s innovative technology enables native-resolution images to be easily viewed on PCs, tablets and mobile devices, without compromising either image quality or delivery.
The primary target audience is the business-to-business (B2B)market, including professional photographers, artists, galleries, museums and brand owners for whom high quality online images is important. Says Olivier Hamel, co-founder of Prodibi: “Here in Geneva we have a lot of luxury brands, such as watches and jewellery makers. For companies like these, the quality of photography is very important.”
The inspiration for Prodibi came from Olivier’s co-founder and brother, Frederic Hamel, who as well as being a professional software developer, is also a keen and talented photographer in his own right. Says Frederic: “The camera market is huge – not just at the professional end of the market, but with the growth of camera phones too – yet there was no way of displaying them properly on the Web. Now, with our solution, an image’s important details, size and resolution can be maintained, while at the same time still making it viewable on all kinds of devices.”
Olivier could see the huge potential of Frederic’s idea, so the two brothers decided to pool their experiences and Prodibi was formed in early 2011. Olivier has a strong marketing background and is still employed as an analyst by Nielsen, the market research giant. Although Fred and Olivier have to date mainly focused on perfecting a stable platform, Prodibi already has around 60 active accounts, mainly in France and Switzerland, including www.studio-contraste.ch , olivierchapelle.com and alexandredeschaumes.prodibi.com.
Prodibi is 100 per cent based on the Microsoft technology stack, including the Windows Azure cloud platform to enable the image-viewing service to be offered to any customer worldwide. Says Frederic, “We are using almost all the features within Azure and with great success. It gives us a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that means we can deploy images and top-speed, by bringing content geographically closer to the end-user. The speed of the platform is really impressive. With Azure, we can provide top-grade enterprise services that are highly available, scalable and secure.
While there is some competition, Prodibi’s approach is unique. Says Fred: “We are the only ones using HTML5 and are optimised for smartphones. All the other competitors are dependent on Flash. Also, we are the only company bringing this to the mass-market, rather than restricting ourselves to offering a tailored solution to individual customers. With our secure and robust service, high-quality viewing of photographic images online is available to anyone.”
we are looking for a strong development in Europe with very quickly a multi-language support vs. the more North-American focus of our competitors". Initially, Prodibi is offering its picture-viewing service to professional photographers, artists, art galleries. Likely future markets are fashion and luxury goods brands. We will have different pricing and licence options available to suit different customers, as well as a choice of add-ons, social network support and an e-shop.
Prodibi co-founder Olivier Hamel
Both Fred and Olivier cite Microsoft’s support as integral to the company’s early success. Says Olivier: “Without Microsoft, I don’t think we’d be where we are today. BizSpark has been amazing for us and the team here in Switzerland has been so supportive, helping us with any queries and inviting us to useful events. Being accepted for BizSpark Plus means that we can scale our cloud-based service from 60 to over a 1000 accounts straight away, without any additional investment. Becoming BizSpark One has taken us up to another level, giving us great technical support, networking and marketing opportunities.”
Buzz around this start-up is growing fast and it was also a finalist in the Microsoft Swiss Technology Award in 2012. With its existing customer base, Prodibi is already generating revenue and unlike many start-ups, is therefore not too worried about external investment. “When we need to expand globally, then that may be the time to think about investors, but at the moment that is not a concern for us,” says Olivier. “While we are still a young company, we are very confident that we are going to have a very successful 2013.”
Israeli Windows Azure Demo Day comes has come and gone twice, and this time there is evidence of strong growth in the class members. Last year's class received on average $900,000 in venture funding per startup. This year, the group doing a tour of investment circles and having meetings with companies to sell their solutions is coming up with an equally impressive group of statistics. Ten out of 13 startups in this class have secured some form of funding.
The Accelerator, based in Tel Aviv, and currently opening up applications for its third class, works in partnerships with two universities, one in Israel and the other, Georgia Tech. The startup culture in Israel is pretty intense. Close relationships and an innovation-focused society has driven many to pay attention to the new Accelerator.
As Deborah Gage points out in her write up this morning:
Israel lately has been a startup machine, with Israeli army veterans using the technical skills they’ve learned in the military to launch companies alongside their friends, and admission to the accelerator is getting more competitive–the company reports 300 applicants for 13 places this time, compared to 100 applicants for 11 places last year.
Here is a brief overview of some of the companies that presented.
Started with a little music.
WSC -- This is kind of MySpace for sports but the bands in this case are sports teams. The web app helps people manage the sports they love and is an answer to a fragmenting media landscape facing big media brands and the athletic teams that are trying to manage their broadcasting rights. Fans can look for any content for any of their favorite players and curate in a video-centric player. They can also vote and share with other fans. Fans can add their favorite moments into a fan board and share it via a kind of shop window. It’s called the Play Maker. According to Gage's reporting, WSC has raised $1 million in funding.
Then there was Askem, which “enables you to question everything,” according to founder Itai Herman, who was decked out on stage during the afternoon pitch. The app works like a super rich media bulletin board. Take Instagram and then attach the ability to put together instant polls and then tag the photo with potential answers. The team plans on making money by partnering with brands, helping them understand exactly what consumer think, from the looks of the pitch. The rationale: Brands are so big that the crowds they attract are huge, so who is being heard i the dense thicket of smartphone voices?
“My lost voice becomes a significant vote,” said Herman. The method of creating a question out of a moment turns any moment into opinion measuring that is statistically significant. "We suggest leaving marketing tools to marketing people. Most of us want to create freely and creatively. We don’t want yes or no, hot or not questions. These things need to change. Questions are part of who we are.”
From questions, we dove into other questions and smartphones, this time with the huge opportunity for brands at athletic events. Screemo is something like a smartphone interaction with digital signage for fans at games. The app creates real life interactive experience between smart phones and digital screens during athletic events to drive engagement with the brand but also increase sales and revenue for athletic events through brands sponsorship. When they recently did a beta with Tel Aviv Maccabees, the popular Israeli basketball team, the brand achieved 25% engagement during the game and was able to double the revenue from the digital ad space. Another 84% of those engaged on the phone turned to the team's Facebook page, where they continued to interact.
While I entirely agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” approach, I do believe that her methodology misses a critical component necessary in order for women to reach their goals, especially when it comes to building and scaling start ups. And I say all of this as a female executive founding my own company.
Lou Donnelly-Davy, founder of Scrattch and Noted.women is a member of Microsoft BizSpark.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Ms Sandberg genuinely has the best interests of women at heart. I also believe that most of what she talks about is completely valid.
I do however think that she is oblivious to a number of important issues when it comes to women founded companies. I am all for women taking charge of their own lives, their own destinies and ultimately their own careers, but I am not sure all we need to do is stay engaged, find perfect partners and toss out the idea of having it all. To be fair Ms Sandberg has done an exceptional job of putting a stake in the ground and inciting discussion and debate around what the best course of action for this problem is. Sure, we may not agree with all of her approaches, nor may we agree that she is in the same position, as many families who have mortgages, laundry and a less than average pay cheque, as she herself points out. But I will agree that she has opened up a dialogue and listed a number of initial proactive first steps we can all adopt in some fashion to begin to make things better. She does not have all the answers, nor should she be expected to. It is now up to us to chip in and take the next step.
I will say that her list of “to do’s” is a little too simplistic for female founders. Like it or not, we sit within an historical context of inequality. It is impossible to change the ratio when we are expecting the majority of that change to come from within. One could argue the onus of responsibility should sit squarely on the shoulders of those who wish to incite disruption but as we know, no lasting and meaningful change can happen without discomfort and without challenging the status quo. It is vital that we empower not only those enmeshed in this problem but also those on the periphery to stand up and get actively involved.
Women raise 70% less money than men do because of their lack of access to capital, only 4% of all funded tech start ups are founded by women and only 12% of (US) Angel Investors are women. Leaning in is certainly desirable. In fact, it is imperative that women continue to stay connected to their goals in all areas of their lives. But in addition to leaning in I propose that we need to adopt a lean on approach to ensure that we see a radical shift to these numbers and a measurable and substantial change to female founders’ abilities to access both money and resources.
I am not talking about support groups. Nor forums. Nor mentoring. Nor holding hands and dancing around a campfire hoping and wishing the world would change so we could all be equal and live happily ever after.
I am talking of real, meaningful and deliberate collaboration and connection building in order for women to gain access to industry specific highly relevant individuals, capital and resources.
Like it or not, the kind of connections built in the higher echelons of business are easier to come by for our male friends than ourselves. It is not a gripe, nor a whinge, nor even an argument. It is a fact. By the very (historical) nature of what the status quo represents it is by default easier for men to build meaningful and relevant connections that ultimately lead to 1. an easier path to the top/ access to resources and capital and 2. maintaining the status quo.
We need to change how these connections are established by radically altering the way in which we approach the traditional view of networking and ultimately sponsorship. I’m not talking about seeking out the top women executives and asking them to be mentors. I am talking about shaking up how the referral process operates. Introducing a new paradigm and significantly reducing the need to be connected in some way to the old school boys network.
I am currently working on a project with some inspiring and talented women in DC and New York that will seek to disrupt the way women gain access to connections, capital and ultimately career and business success. We are not ready to give away much but you can find out more by joining our community.
We are building up our Microsoft BizSpark Startuplandia Interviews schedule and it's getting really good. Almost all of May is booked with special guests, and here they are. We're still waiting to hear back from a very special guest from the Bay Area for May 30. We will update you as soon as we know.
May 9, 3pm Pacific -- Maren Kate Donovan, CEO, Zirtual and Rebekah Iliff, Director of Product, AirPR
May 16, 3pm Pacific -- Paul Berry, CEO, Rebel Mouse and Partner at Lerer Ventures in Manhattan
May 23, 3pm Pacific -- Denis Crowley, CEO, Foursquare and two special guests to finish out the hour
May 30, 3pm Pacific -- Derek Andersen, CEO, Startup Grind
June 6, 3pm Pacific -- John Borthwick, CEO, BetaWorks and Erin Mester, co-founder, DreamItAlive.com
June 13, 3pm Pacific -- Sandra Persing, CEO, Blueprint Fit
June 20, 3pm Pacific -- David Weekly, Developer Advocate, Facebook
June 27, 3pm Pacific -- Denise Terry, CEO, PregnancyCompanion
Stay tuned for more dates, including an hour long livestream interactive class on social media marketing and digital storytelling led by Community Manager Douglas Crets. The class covers the basics of good storytelling structure and interactive narrative. Douglas will show off great storytelling and digital marketing led by Microsoft BizSpark startups. If you have any questions about this, please leave comments below.
We are also booking John Borthwick, CEO of BetaWorks, for July.
So what’s it like to launch an app, if your company is from completely outside the tech business? This was the situation facing Spanish start-up Practice Your Music, as CEO and founder Unai Goikolea explains.
“We are from the music industry: we own a recording studio and run a music academy, so we aren’t the usual kind of software company. But we had the inspiration for an app that allows musicians to practice together, without physically having to be in the same room, so we decided to build it ourselves.”
So what’s the big idea?
“It can be tough practicing on your own, especially if you are in an orchestra or a band. You go to music lessons or rehearsals, but then in between those, you are on your own. We thought how great it would be to connect musicians using technology. We record the songs ourselves – there are around 2000 available right now - and we are adding to that library all the time.”
Practice Your Music is a good example of how simple ideas are often the best. By the end of March 2013, it already had 5,000 downloads worldwide, even though it is still at an early stage. The judges at the inaugural EU AppCup, held in Brussels during March 2013, were also impressed by Practice Your Music. Following the start-up’s on-stage presentation, Practice Your Music was voted runner-up in the business category.
What’s the story behind turning the idea into a prize-winning app?
“We first had the idea three years ago and at first it took some time to work out what we wanted to do, but working with Microsoft really helped. We took our prototype to the Microsoft team in Madrid last year and they could see its potential, so they helped us develop it in time for the launch of Windows 8. They have also given us support and market visibility, including participation in events such as AppCup. As we are part of BizSpark, we get access to free technology, which is a big help for a self-funded start-up like ours.”
What’s next for Practice Your Music?
“At the moment the app is free, but as it evolves and we add more songs and add-on features, we will start charging users. We have also had some investment from a local government fund, but we are interested to hear from other investors too.
“Becoming involved in the software business has been an interesting journey for us, but it is one that we have found very exciting and we have high hopes for Practice Your Music’s success on a global scale.”
A good, problem-solving approach to investment and company formation. That's Paul Berry, former CTO of The Huffington Post, and current CEO of RebelMouse, a social curation tool / platform that makes your social media doings so much more cohesive and manageable.
Microsoft BizSpark, the free software and support program for startups, will be holding a live interview with Paul Berry at 3pm May 16. Tune in.
Here's a little info on Paul so that you can brush up for your questions.
Paul Berry, CEO, RebelMouse
Paul Berry is Founder and CEO of RebelMouse, a social curation tool that solves your social identity fragmentation issues by putting your social media into one cohesive platform. Kind of like Mighty Mouse, but for media. Paul is also a partner at Lerer Ventures and serves on the Digital Advisory Board of American Express. Previously, he was CTO of HuffingtonPost and before that, Vice President at Related Capital. He is married with 3 kids and lives in Tribeca, Manhattan. You can find him on Twitter @teamreboot or at rebelmouse.com/paul.
We are honored that Denis Crowley, Founder of awesome check-in and recommendations app Foursquare, will be sitting down for a live chat with Douglas Crets on May 23.
Biography from his LinkedIn Profile:
Dennis Crowley is the co-founder of foursquare, a service that combines social networks, location awareness and game mechanics to encourage people explore the world around them. Previously, Dennis founded dodgeball.com, one of the first mobile social services in the US, which was acquired by Google in 2005. He has been named one of Fortune's "40 Under 40" (2010, 2011), a member of Vanity Fair's "New Establishment" (2011, 2012) and has won the "Fast Money" bonus round on the TV game show Family Feud (2009). He is currently an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). Dennis holds a Master's degree from New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and a Bachelor's degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
This is part two in a series of blog posts and interviews about Microsoft BizSpark companies that will be presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. Here is an interview with John Bracken, CEO and Co-Founder of Speek, one of the easiest teleconferencing apps you will ever use.
Tell us a bit about your app and company?
Speek plans to permanently rid the world of PINs and elevator music. Since its beta launch last year, Speek has experienced rapid growth and we quickly saw the need to reach business users who were on-the-go, whether taking a meeting while stuck in traffic or on vacation.
The Speek Windows 8 mobile app allows users to choose an easy-to-remember username, instead of fumbling around for a traditional phone number and PIN. Participants talk instantly with one-click calls and no elevator music. Speek also makes it easy to add the contacts already in your phone to the call via text, email or a calendar invitation. Once on the call, users can see who’s joined, who’s talking, share images from their phone, as well as mute and remove participants.
What came first for you-the team or the idea?
A little bit of both! Speek.com started as a way to permanently rid the world of PINs and elevator music. As corporate employees, my co-founder Danny Boice and I were fed up with how stale business communication was, and set out to re-think an industry that hasn't seen innovation in over 20 years.
The process of starting a business from scratch is both challenging and fun. The opportunity to build something that can change the lives of millions of people for the better is very motivating.
Speek is being built for massive scale. We fully expect Speek to be used regularly by 10s of millions of users and for it to reach hundreds of millions of participants on calls. Virtually all business professionals use a phone number and pin for conference calls and only a small slice of this market will get us to those growth numbers.
Not a problem, but more of a challenge for us. We have dramatically improved the conference calling experience by removing the phone number and pin but many people are used to the old way of doing things. Once on a call, users often have that “a-ha” moment but moving people from the old way to the new way can be an adjustment and a product marketing challenge.
The wonderful aspect of having a web based product is that there are excellent set of tools and services available to see how your product is performing for your customers. We also give our customers easy ways to engage with our product and support teams to get real-time feedback and we really like to engage with customers on issues they are encountering. Decisions are almost always based on data, customer feedack, and discussion with team members.
Very cliché, but, Steve Jobs has always been a great influence on me. His ability to connect with people, his amazing product sense and ability to provide products that are simple and innovative have always been an inspiration. Beyond these qualities, I most admire his ability to walk his own path and let fears and the world around you define who you are and what you do with your life. At times I have lost this mindset and have regretted it. You need to walk your own path and trust that the journey will lead you to a much better place.
I have become a big fan of my Nike+ Fuelband. I purchased it last November and have used it everyday for the last 5 months. It is super simple to use, the user experience is outstanding, it provides motivation via competition (with myself and others), and it doesn’t try to do too much. It has one core value proposition which is to help me stay active or burn more Nike “Fuel Points” each day. It works, I love it, I talk about it and have bought a few for my friends.
I often tell other startup founders that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards. The point is that many startups need to measure their progress in various ways from month to month to make sure their company is on a trajectory to succeed. Metrics to monitor include the pace of product development, new customers/revenue gained, partners and investors signed, and adding the right talent to the team which impacts all the above. Startups need to understand which metrics are most important for their business now and dedicate resources towards those goals. Many startups don’t progress fast enough or focus on elements of their business that may not be important (e.g. selling a bad product or not selling a good product) which unfortunately leads to a slow death.
Some of you have probably seen our growing interview series, Startuplandia, where we interview founders, VC investors, and developers in Silicon Valley and the world. We focus on the decisions and the thinking that goes into building up killer products and services that people want to use. And then we also look at the types of investments that people are making in the tech startups space.
On May 9, we will turn our attention to two women in Silicon Valley who are launching.
Maren Kate Donovan, CEO, Zirtual, will talk about the on ramp to success and the decisions she made that led to her getting funding for Zirtual from Tony Hsieh, founder of the Las Vegas Project, and the founder of customer-focused shoe company Zappos.
We'll also talk to Director of Product for AirPr Rebekah Iliff, who is making a machine language public relations machine that feeds on the growing automated and content-rich media ecosystem of the social web.
Here's the livestream link and their biographies.
Rebekah Iliff is the Director of Product for AirPR, a technology platform to increase PR performance. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the US. As co-founder of talkTECH, she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies, which led to top tier client coverage in outlets such as Forbes, CNN, The Today Show, USA Today, WIRED, Inc, FastCompany, TechCrunch, Mashable, and VentureBeat.Rebekahʼs valuable depth of experience launching companies, re-engineering corporate infrastructures, and executing PR and marketing plans in order to facilitate growth, build brand equity, and drive business goals have made her a trusted consultant to hundreds of entrepreneurs, innovators, and brands in the startup and enterprise space over the past decade.She is currently a technology blogger for The Huffington Post focusing on trends related to startup culture and job creation and a featured columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine's "Young Entrepreneur". She has authored articles in technology publications such as Mashable and VentureBeat, and PR industry focused blogs such as PR Daily and PR Sunrise. Rebekah is a mentor for Startup Weekend Bay Area, an instructor for General Assembly San Francisco, and an advisor for startups at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and StartX. Rebekah holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in Organizational Management and Applied Community Psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).
Growing up in Las Vegas, Maren gained a passion for customer service and the world of high-end personal assistance from an early age. She started Zirtual in late 2011 to save people's time so they could focus on what's important and to provide purposeful employment to smart people who enjoy the freedom of working remotely. Maren has a background that includes biker bars, Chaucer, and has a penchant for science fiction—she's also never met a cat she doesn't like.
If you have not seen the work done by the folks at NodeXL, you need to check out how they piece together the fragmented ongoing conversations on the social web and put together very strong graphical images of those conversations. Like this one here.
We believe in keeping the conversation going. We've found that for a big brand, it's not useful to just tell people what to think. It's useful to listen to what othe rpeople think. That helps us help others to grow in their entrepreneurial efforts.
You can follow the folks at @NodeXL on Twitter. You can also connect with one of their founders, who sent us this graph on Twitter. Thanks, @marc_smith
Great interview with John Borthwick of Betaworks, who describes the "unusual" structure of Betaworks and where the idea came from.
It's an evolutionary idea of capital and economies. Essentially, Betaworks is an all-in-one, in-house assembly line for new capital, new economies. Economies at scale can scale.
Prateek Gupta went out with his TechCrunch Disrupt team to Times Square and found an unsuspecting vendor to try their BitCoin app on.
Here is the resulting video of Pay With Bits, which got them named in a TechCrunch article last night. Having been a denizen of NYC for five years, Douglas Crets, our community manager, was pleased to see that the disbelieving and incredulous looks of street vendors have never gone away. He's looking at the Pay With Bits demonstrator, like, "Really, okay, well, let's see how this goes."