Category Archives: Software Development

Goodbye Pandora

Apple launched an amazing suite of products this week. I’m excited to install iOS 7 and I’m looking forward to buying Mac Pro for my video editing lab.

I’ve been an Apple fan ever since the introduction of the Macintosh back in the early days. As a startup guy, I’ve always cheered for the underdog; which used to be Apple as they faced competition against IBM, Microsoft, Gateway, and Dell. Now it seems as Apple is the 800lb gorilla. They’ve become “the man”, the very thing Steve Jobs taught us to hate back in the 80s.

Consider these companies that Apple squeezed out of the market:

Blackberry – I used to love my “Crackberry”. I became lightening fast at the small keyboard. I still think a real keyboard works better than the iPhone. However, everything else about the Blackberry was terrible. The Apps sucked, the browser was poor, and the phone part was bad too. Apple destroyed Blackberry with the iPhone. As a result, thousands of jobs were also destroyed.

Dell – I know you remember the days when Dell laptops were everywhere. Businessmen, Students, and Moms all wanted a Dell laptop. Looking around your local coffee shop today and the Dell has been replaced by the glow of the Apple logo.

Napster and MP3.com – Both of these platforms changed the way we consume music. They were here first, way before iTunes. Apple found a way to sell music digitally and the world was better off because of it. But in no way did Apple pioneer digital downloads, they just made it better and “legalized” it.

Nokia – Before smart phones, everyone carried a Nokia. I’m sure you too have owned at least one. They were the top selling mobile phone for several years. Now they are fighting for their last breath.

Palm, Handspring – Handheld computing used to be lead by these companies. Since the iPhone, neither can stay afloat. No matter how good any of their products are, we will never know because of how huge Apple’s presence is in mobile computing.

Roku – Streaming TV was launched before Apple TV. Roku has some amazing hardware which you’ve probably never heard about. Apple beat this company with their digital catalog of music and movies, even though Roku’s hardware is superior to Apple.

Pandora – On Monday, Apple announced its new radio offering. Now Pandora has nothing to offer above what Apple is going to provide for millions of iPhone users. I predict the company will be out of business within 3 years. It’s sad, I love Pandora, but Apple makes it too hard to use another service over their own.

As a CEO, I never like to see people lose their jobs. Global competition is the American Way. But ask yourself, is Apple now “the man”? If so, who’s the underdog that we should be rooting for this time?

Jason

It Just Works – The Importance of Product Usability

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Usability is always a top consideration in product design, and it’s key to emphasize that incorporating user-centered design principles can lead to an overall better product.  If a product is “usable”, people are more inclined to use it and to recommend it to others.

As discussed in the documentary, Objectified, it’s the features you don’t recognize that make a product useable. A good design tends to get out of your way and seems natural.

ObjectifiedWatch Objectified on Netflix here. 

In just a few short years, the technologies found in today’s mobile and computer devices such as touch screens, the cloud, and voice-control software, have radically transformed usability expectations of consumers. It’s no secret that Apple played a leading role in shifting these expectations. While design is a critical component of every product that Apple makes, if it is not easy to use, it is considered worthless to the consumer. Essentially, all of the products that Apple creates are fabricated with the goal of being intuitive and easy to understand and learn.

Given the touch-centric digital era that we live in, it became apparent to Microsoft that PC users would eventually evolve away from the traditional point-and-click functionality of the Windows desktop. With the recent launch of Windows 8, Microsoft has radically transformed its user interface strategy. Windows 8 is a significant change from Microsoft and Windows 7; turning the Start menu into an interactive screen that’s well suited for touch devices like tablets. While the product has received mixed reviews, in a nutshell, the new interface is powerful, fast and convenient for users.

Windows 8 includes a brilliant feature called picture passwords that allows you to login to your account by using gestures on an image with your finger or your mouse. This facet is especially useful for tablets where you want to avoid typing if you can. Instead of typing in a password, you simply select a picture from your gallery, and then create three gestures on the image to act as your password. When you create the picture password you can use gestures that consist of taps, circles, or lines to set-up a secure login. Once the picture password is created, you can then login to your Windows accounts by executing the gestures in the same direction as when you created them. This method allows for variation in possible passwords on a given picture and allows you to avoid having to use a virtual keyboard.

You can see the technology in action here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBmtde_XNBs&feature=youtu.be

As many users prefer very simple passwords or abandon them altogether, Windows 8 offers a next generation graphical login providing users with a sign-in method that is fast, fluid, and personal.

While Windows 8 offers notable and convenient features, Microsoft risks trying to be all things to all people. In contrast, Apple’s approach reserves the iOS software, for mobile form factors, leaving its OS X desktop software optimized for the traditional keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 is a powerful operating system, but it’s also confusing to old PC users.  Could Windows 8’s modern UI completely replace the storied desktop one day? Perhaps. Microsoft may be heading in the right direction, but Windows 8 is only the first step in a much longer interface design journey.

A lot has been said about how Windows 8 is a bold step, but really, it’s just opening the door to the next Windows 9 interface.

Usability will continue to be a key role in the adoption of new products. The launch of companies like Square (https://squareup.com) prove that there is room for plenty of additional ways to disrupt traditional markets, such as payment processing.

There are several resources available to help your product become more usable. Perhaps the biggest consulting firm on usability is Human Factors International (http://www.humanfactors.com). If you don’t have the resources to hire a consulting firm you should at minimum read, “Don’t Make Me Think” and “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug. Both books are exceptional for helping you on usability and user testing.

Which products do you feel are most usable? Any additional resources I should share?

-Jason

7 Must Read Books Before Starting Your Company

No book can replace the real experience of managing your own company; however there are several lessons that are worth learning ahead of time. I often joke with my colleagues that I earned my “street MBA” via the business book section of Amazon.com. You can learn a tremendous amount simply by studying the leaders in your industry that have succeeded before you. The following book recommendations offer a starting point to help guide you through your entrepreneurial journey.

Becoming a Category of One
By Joe Calloway

BecomingoneBecoming a Category of One reveals how extraordinary companies succeed, and offers you the tools and ideas to help your business emulate their success. Packed with real case studies and personal reflections from successful business leaders, it helps you apply the best practices of the best companies to set yourself apart from your competitors and turn your business into a market leader.

Jason says: This book was instrumental in helping me identify new markets for Shoutlet. While every one of our competitors began to offer the same functions, we chose a different path. This book is uplifting and insightful. Use it for when you need to find your competitive edge.

It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book
By Paul Arden

Itsnothowgoodyouare It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be is a handbook to make the unthinkable thinkable, and the impossible possible. The world’s top advertising guru, Paul Arden, offers up his wisdom on issues as diverse as problem solving, responding to a brief, communicating, playing your cards right, making mistakes and creativity, all notions that can be applied to aspects of modern life. This book provides a unique insight into the world of advertising into easy-to-digest, bite-sized spreads.

Jason says: I’ve made this book a required read for many new employees. My favorite takeaway is that most people don’t realize that the current job they are in could be the one that makes them famous. It teaches you to master your current role through a series of inspirational stories from the late Paul Arden, former Creative Director of one of the world’s leading advertising agencies. Use this book if you are searching for meaning in your current job.

Think and Grow Rich
By Napoleon Hill

ThinkThink and Grow Rich is a must for anyone wanting to improve their lives and their positive thinking. There have been more millionaires and indeed, billionaires, who have made their fortunes as a result of reading this success classic than any other book every printed. This is a true masterpiece with the fundamentals of the Success philosophy.

Jason says: I tell the “three feet from gold” story in this book all of the time to friends, employees, and other entrepreneurs. In this book you’ll discover that many people give up on their dreams due to a what is often a short-term setback. The stories in this book will give you confidence enough to stick with it as you’re probably only “three feet from gold.”

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition
By W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

BlueWritten by the business world’s new gurus, Blue Ocean Strategy continues to challenge everything you thought you knew about competing in today’s crowded market place. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne argue that lasting success comes from creating ‘blue oceans’: untapped new market spaces ripe from growth. And the business world has caught on – companies around the world are skipping the bloody red oceans of rivals and creating their very own blue oceans.

Jason says: This book is a much more scientific take on the above Becoming a Category of One. It’s written by a couple Harvard professors, and I found it to be a dry read; but it is also very effective in helping to define your competitive differentiators. Often the answers are right in front of you, and this book will help you find them.

Rework
By Jason Fried

Rwork

Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you’ll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses. What you really need to do is stop talking and start working. This book shows you the way. You’ll learn how to be more productive, how to get exposure without breaking the bank, and tons more counterintuitive ideas that will inspire and provoke you.

Jason says: This book proves that you can create a successful company without an endless supply of resources. I used this book with my product development team to help them continue to think like a startup as we grew. Read this before you go out to get a big round of funding, and it will humble you.

The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything
By Guy Kawasaki

Art

A new product, a new service, a new company, a new division, a new organization, a new anything—where there’s a will, here’s the way. It begins with a dream that just won’t quit, the once-in-a-lifetime thunderbolt of pure inspiration, the obsession, the world-beater, the killer app, the next big thing. Everyone who wants to make the world a better place becomes possessed by a grand idea. But what does it take to turn your idea into action? Whether you are an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or not-for-profit crusader, there’s no shortage of advice available on issues such as writing a business plan, recruiting, raising capital, and branding. In fact, there are so many books, articles, and Web sites that many startups get bogged down to the point of paralysis. Or else they focus on the wrong priorities and go broke before they discover their mistakes.

Jason says: This book taught me how to create a cadence to get our company marching to the same beat. I learned about mantras and the importance of communication in a fast growing company. Use this book to help create meaning for your company.

 

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
By Daniel H. Pink

DriveMost people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others). In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose-and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

Jason says: This book changed the way I manage employees. A mid-level manager I was used to doing the tasks for my employees. As I became a CEO that strategy was no longer an option. Use this book to teach you how to empower your employees to become the extraordinary thought leaders that they are capable of becoming. Most people thrive on solving challenges. This book will show you how to lead your employees to greatness.

What is the best startup related book that you would recommend?

– Jason

New Year, New Blog!

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” – George Elliot

When I first began Shoutlet, I had very little understanding of how to build a business, and little appreciation for how hard it is to become a successful entrepreneur. No coursework or published book could have adequately prepared me for what I ultimately learned through running a technology company in Madison, Wisconsin.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with people that I admire. I’ve learned more through the people that have been running companies themselves than I could have ever learned in a college lecture hall.

One lesson that I learned early on is the importance of recognizing what you’re good at, and having the insight to know when to ask for help. I’ve found my expertise to be focused on product innovation, fundraising, and startup businesses. Therefore, these will be the key topics that I focus on here.

Now that Shoutlet has become an international social media marketing company, I’ve had several others ask me for help with their ideas and companies. I believe that if you make it in business, you have a responsibility to “send the elevator back down.” Today, I receive many requests for advice, and thus, I find myself turning my lessons into a blog. I hope my posts help with your journey.

-Jason