Look and Feel

Recently, the gameification of software has been a hot topic. Finding the balance between the goal of the software and it’s amusement value  was the holy grail of the next generation software. Having a background of card games and boardgames, I couldn’t help but design HowAbout with that element that has given me a homey board- and card game feeling for all those years. You may have noticed this from the mobile app design, but the Web-version emphasises this even more :

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Howabout is really easy to use.  It’s mostly clicking and dragging, very clear and intuitive, and most of all very useful. For people like me who never got to really incorporating the use of a calendar in their lives, this is as close as it is going to get to achieving that.

But what about the business use of such a design?

We think your business is a serious matter, but so is the psychology of the people who work in it. Where Apple has done groundbreaking work in simplifying the use of software, and optimising it’s efficiency, we believe we are moving beyond the minimalist view that has carried them through the past 20 years. Offering the same efficiency and easy of use, we choose for a more playful design that speaks for itself. When Apple recently flattened out the look of their icons, I believe that with it, they removed the character of the design. We want to bring it back with a blast.

So the question remains, will businesses implement this kind of design in their corporate software, or do they prefer a static, ‘professional’, boring look. Feel free to leave your thoughts in a reply.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

yellowbrick    HowAbout has been a work in progress since May 2014. Although it has developed, the basic concept is still prominently there. Some parts got to play a more important role, some got a more intuitive approach, or have been given a better, more interesting functionality, like the interactive calendar and the Powwow function, which takes the possibilities of what is known as ‘a doodle’ way across its current limitations. The application has also been broken up into segments. We are now releasing MVP, with new functions to be added in the coming years, and we hope to arrive at the original full blown concept by 2020. After that; more new additions are already being investigated.

Fact is that nobody ever asks about the money. It is assumed that someone takes care of it. The shareholders, the investors, or of course the designer of the whole thing. Now frankly, it is a fact that the founders of HowAbout never really worried about money, and we honestly still don’t. The product will likely launch in November with all bills paid and as only debtor one of the founders, and we can continue this path for at least another year.

In the same context, the attentive follower of our project will have noticed that we are not following what we call the ‘Yellow Brick Road’. We have not been talking early to market representatives or investors about our project, neither have we been telling the press what we are building and how it will work, nor did we join any incubator or other start-up program. Everything has been relatively confined. Only the last couple of months, we have been quietly lifting the curtain a little on our Facebook page and now in this blog. One reason is that we are using a new intuitive interface that we don’t want other companies to introduce before we do. That by itself should be enough reason. But also, we have long time been unsure about the final design and functionalities of HowAbout, and only with the start of the programming phase itself, we were reassured that it will look great, and overall work out as planned.

At this moment we can not tell if this will end up as a problem. We sure have the experts against us, who say you can’t talk early enough about your project : awareness is key. The good side is that our open beta test phase may go relatively unnoticed, which would give us an advantage because possible competition will need some time to catch up with us. Also, HowAbout’s consumer version is free of charge, so there is a very low step-in barrier. That means a good press release could already create a large user-base if the product is good enough, so we have work to do.

On the other hand without any sizeable exposure, we are unlikely to gain explosive growth and will need a great marketing effort and convention presence to get an amount of attention worth the while. We are running the risk that by the time we are getting somewhere, a big player could release a similar product to ours with a lot more marketing, and dilute our chances of becoming a sizable market player. Fortunately however, HowAbout is not a simple concept -even though it may look like one. I guess it will depend if they estimate our product as a threat or an opportunity. If neither of them, we will stand a good chance. If any of them, in best case we get bought, in worst case our product will remain on the sidelines. Still, most importantly, nobody can stop us from making HowAbout.

Bottom line is, that we know what we are doing, and why we are doing it. We believe HowAbout is a great product that will spread by word of mouth, because it is quite unique, well designed and totally useful for everyone, with a very intuitive interface. That should be a good enough explanation for any potential investor to gain confidence, no matter we follow the Yellow Brick Road or not. Sometimes it is wiser not to follow the money in the beginning. Which application has made money the first year of its launch anyway?

Does that mean there will be ways to monetise HowAbout? Sure there are. We will tell you more when version 2.0 releases. Unless you want to become an investor of course.

 

 

 

 

On the divination of the pitch

images A few days ago, I was listening to a lecture on pitching by Guy Kawasaki for The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, which he did two years ago. Besides the fact that it is incredibly funny, there is plenty to learn from it for the average beginning entrepreneur. Since I have been reading on this matter for a long time, there was a lot I already knew. However, there was one important statement that made me hold my breath: a demo is the best pitch. It may sound very obvious, but how often do you get the chance to do a demo? Most of the time, you have to go through a whole process of administration and elevator pitching before you get the chance to do one.

A few days later I stumbled across Web Summit, and decided to apply for a booth promoting my product at its startup event ‘Web Summit Alpha’ in Lissabon. I was surprised to see that the Web Summit Alpha application form did not offer a chance to upload a two minute video about your product. Just a seven word description and a reference to your company website was enough. That made me believe there wouldn’t be much of a selection aside from the approximately 1500£ participation fee. After filling in a secure web application, I got an email that I was to make an appointment for a 15 minute conversation. So I made an appointment for 9.30pm the next day, at which time the phone rang and a guy introduced himself. He spoke English with a strong Scottish accent, on an inferior international telephone connection with time lag, talking very fast and asking me questions I didn’t quite understand given those circumstances. I had expected a conversation about the event and some practical information on taking a booth there, but I caught a few words like ‘Uber’ and ‘Investor’. I kinda guessed he asked me what I would expect from an investor in my company, so I answered just that, ending with ‘did that answer your question?’

Clearly not. He wanted me to pitch my product at the phone, just there.

Can you imagine any worse situation than where you have to pitch your product totally off-guard, to a guy of whom you know has no money to invest in your product, whom you hardly understand, on a poor international telephone line? No rapport, no fundamental curiosity from the person you’re talking to because he’s just doing his job and has to listen to 20 more pitches that day to get his wages. Well, I was not ready for this, and surely I blew it. After 5 minutes in the conversation he suddenly got very hasty and didn’t even let me explain the third function of my product. I could hear from his voice that I performed pathetically and that he wanted to end the pain as soon as possible. When I mentioned I would actually launch my product at the event, the response was no more than another attempt to escape the horrid experience of yet another newbie who likely can not even spell the word pitch. Or is it ‘pich’? The announced 15 minute conversation lasted 7’32”. Thanks for the opportunity.

Most professionals will tell me I should be ready to pitch at any time in any circumstances. Well I have to disagree. I will pitch like a shark to people I can get money from, because the tension drives me to do so. However I can’t do this with similar passion to some irrelevant guy who likely doesn’t understand the product anyway because it is new, and he doesn’t get to see it. I tried pitching without a demo before and it usually sucks. People start making senseless comparisons based on their poor imagination of a new concept because they have nothing to go from, thus making a pitch largely impossible. It is like Steve Jobs once said : ‘A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.’ And I need to show it to them.

So now I guess you are wondering what do I say to the consumer to ‘sell’ my product? For starters, I treat them as people, not as consumers. They deserve this basic respect. They will use my product because it means something to them, so they might as well mean more to me than just a puppet dangling on my commercial string. Then I take my phone and demo the alpha I have running on it. That actually does the trick in most cases. Only Facebook power-users seem to build resistance, since Howabout is basically an ‘Organisor With Event Based Photo Sharing’, and they already organise their lives around all of Facebook’s features. I can imagine stepping down from it and moving to a new platform is a challenge, even if it would be more easy and intuitive. And more to the point.

So what about divine pitching then?

The problem is that there is a consensus on what works best for startup funders. People have to perform the perfect pitch, have the perfect team, and a valid product. If you fail any of those, you fail all. I think Guy Kawasaki made a good point saying the You Tube founders’ fundamental approach was ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could offer stolen video’s for free online?’. It really sums it up. The founders can have a wicked team and a crooked mentality, as long as the idea ‘rocks’. They were no geniuses but a bunch of college guys, they were no ‘perfect team’ as it is idealised these days. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were not a perfect team. I can understand that investors want to see a great pitch, but I doubt if they will judge you at the phone, on a poor connection, without fundamental interest in investing, all spoken with an awkward Scottish accent. Step off it people! If you want to make money on entrepreneurs, at least give them a proper chance when testing their metal. That goes for organisers of startup events as much as incubators and the like. The bottom line is : if the product speaks for itself, the pitch won’t matter, so give the product the chance to do just that. Good sales people can be hired. Good ideas can’t.

From the above experience, it is obvious that Web Summit Alpha has grown out of its proportions as it introduced telephone workers for selecting entrepreneurs for their event, who  don’t get the proper information and training to prepare for the conversation, neither do they properly inform the entrepreneurs to prepare themselves. I can imagine the quality of Web Summit Alpha declining in the coming years unless they do something about it. #websummitalpha #guykawasaki #pitch #startup #incubator

 

Contacts apps are hopeless

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I have to admit that I didn’t do thorough research recently, but I did before. What gave rise to my search for a satisfying ‘phonebook’ for my cellphone, was that Skype – and others – decided to add all their contacts unasked to my ‘contacts’ app. Now I love to chat with people, but most of those people I don’t meet and never call, except for the occasional free Skype call. So it is pretty obvious that I don’t like to see my phonebook polluted with people that are supposed to have their own place somewhere in a separate communication app like Skype. What makes things worse in contact apps, is that the contact information is not merged with the other means of reaching these people – if available, or the merge doesn’t work properly. The contact app then just makes a new page for the same person in a different colour. I don’t know who comes up with this stuff, but there seriously is only one word for this : Hopeless. Because the technology is there.

Obviously, Skype forces their crap into our throats because they want the world to kick out their operators and replace them by their services – which surely is not happening at all – and they don’t give a damn about user friendliness. Sign of the times.

So why do I write this now? Because I just bought a new phone and nothing changed compared to two years ago. It is pretty clear that software companies are putting people under pressure to discard their phone functions in favour of VOIP solutions of which the quality often is inferior to phone quality (see my previous article), especially in developing countries.

Now Skype has more bad habits. The last couple of upgrades were genuinely terrible, mostly as far as the Skype contact list concerns. It becomes increasingly difficult to find people in the list and find the folks that sent messages, since they don’t appear on top any more. A truly pathetic failed attempt to once more adapt the desktop interface to the mobile interface. As if the public were asking for that.

I suppose there is a decent phonebook out there that just offers phone numbers, but let’s face it, shouldn’t that be the standard? Surely an email address should find it’s place in the contact page, but nowadays, there is this intatiable thirst for integration, and the people driving this thirst don’t seem to consider the practicality. Bottom line is : only a satisfying product will make the consumer happy. All the rest is a waste of time and effort, and the creation of needless frustration of the user.

note: So I switched off automatic updates from Skype and deleted Skype contacts before adding my contacts to my phone book.

 

Allo, allo

Google recently (or should we say finally) released ‘allo’ and ‘duo’, an answer to facebook’s messenger, snapchat, wechat, whatsapp and all the others. In this article our view on ‘allo’, the chat engine.

Having taken notice of it’s features, ‘allo’ seems rather clearly focussed on interactions of the casual user. It offers some really cool features, one of which kinda reminds me of the comic books, in which important words are featured in bold or in a bigger font. More of a teenager thing, I guess, but that’s good enough.

As to be expected, it bears ‘Google intelligence’ as they call it, here used to learn to anticipate your answers in certain situations. Not sure yet what awkward conversations this might lead to, but I guess instagram will be full of screenshots in no time. More interesting is that you can search ‘on the go’ during a conversation. You can ask voiced questions to Google during your chat, and the answers will appear on the screen. Hold your breath.

As for security, like most recent apps, you can have secret conversations that are erased automatically, and for other conversations, there is encryption – if you don’t forget to turn it on. Obviously you have to understand that Google will analyse all your conversations before they delete them. No problem, right?

Allo only works on your mobile, so no desktop to mobile communication possible, something I consider a weakness.

Bottom line, it clearly is not business-oriented, it is not really completely safe to contemporary standards. and integrates a bunch of functions that can lead to embarassment. The whole thing makes me wonder who Google has spent all this money developing it for. The government?

Allo

Streetlife

If socialism has any future at all, I honestly believe it is in this app. Why? Because there are no politics involved. It is really all just about doing things for the people in your neighborhood, and who on earth can be worried about that? Well, except the government who might miss some tax collecting, but that is not what life is all about, is it? Seriously!

Streetlife is a local social network that connects you to people in your neighborhood. Anyone who needs help, or offers some solution, needs to put out a warning, briefly anything that may find a resolution within your neighborhood can be posted here.

The nice thing about it is that you get to know your neighbors, and this automatically increases social control, the lack of which has become an increasingly big problem in modern communities. If you don’t know your neighbors, you don’t care, and thus open the door for more wrongdoing. When people know each other more, you get an entirely different picture.

The app was launched in the UK and up to to day, over 4000 communities have it running. I honestly believe that there is a huge potential for this kind of apps. So far internet has largely become a pallet for the big companies to grab consumers attention. Local businesses have little of a foot to stand on to grab the audience that matters for them. This application can offer just that local platform the small retailer is looking for.

Streetlife has strong funding, but the problem is, that spreading takes a lot of time and effort. Maybe a really big economical crisis like the one that is brewing can help them cross international borders.

Sources :

https://www.streetlife.com/

http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/30/streetlife/

The Internet of Things : Fad or Future?

So how many people do you know use a pre-programmed coffee machine to have a cup of hot coffee ready when they wake up? How many of them have a remote to operate curtains, light, heating, or can do it from their phones? How may have other features in their environment that work pre-programmed or operated from mobile device?

I have plenty of friends that I visited at their homes, people with decent jobs that I know for many years. Well, one of them has a coffee machine with a timer that he uses, and another friend is quite engaged in the remote features that Apple offers with their range.

That’s it. No more.

So where are the avid TIoT Users? Why don’t I hear people brag about it, let alone talk about it? The question here is whether it really is such a big deal to have your curtains close automatically before you come home, have your bed warmed up, your hot bath running and so on. And you know why? Because we are not robots. A charcteristic of freedom is being able to take the time to do things by yourself. So is being free to do the unexpected, divert from daily habits. And surely making coffee is not for everybody a drag. For some it is part of the morning ritual. Getting between the cold sheets with your partner can make you feel so alive and makes you cuddle up with each other, and even choosing the temperature of your bath tub can be a moment thing, waiting for it to fill can heighten the experience when you step in.

That may explain why so many people like the idea, imagine their homes that way, but so few take the step to buy and install it. Some of the products are not quite cheap or require a pricy installation. For people with a moderate budget, the question may rise ‘Is it worth it? Or is it like the expensive bubble bath that you end up using twice a year?’

But it’s not all about price, because some stuff really is within reach of most people with a regular income. Then the question rises if you want to take the charm of ‘coming home’ away? Lastly, there is the barrier of the ‘hassle’ of programming, the risk of forgetting and of course the fear of something going wrong.

From what I can see, too many hurdles. And that makes The Internet of Things a giant leap… in Gadget Land.

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