The untold story of Posterous

Sachin Agarwal on left

There are a lot of blogging sites out there – WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and then there’s Posterous.  Sachin Agarwal, founder of Posterous, told a story which seemed to be a collection of happenstances.  At a talk last Friday, Agrawal talked publicly for the first time since Posterous spaces launched.  He started by saying that he will be talking about things that he hadn’t shared before.

Agarwal describes himself as a backend engineer guy with no frontend and web programming experience and not a product guy.  So how does a former Apple Final Cut Pro developer start a blogging website?  Now comes the problem and the solution.

He wanted to easily upload photos to his blog via email.  So he developed the function just for him to use.  Eventually, his friends and family liked the function and it caught on.  This led to him getting into Y Combinator and then launching at TechCrunch.

People were calling Posterous blogging by email or easy blogging.

The 3 main innovations that made Posterous unique:

  1. The ability to email one email address to post to your Posterous site.  This came about because he didn’t know how to set up an email server.  Unlike other blogging sites, you did not have to send emails to an obscure email address like 123abc@WordPress.com.
  2. It’s very easy to set up a new Posterous account.   He didn’t want (or maybe didn’t know how) to create a registration page.  If a sender email address is not recognizable by Posterous, then it will assume it’s a new account and create a new Posterous account.
  3. When you post to Posterous, it’s easy to post to other social accounts.  No story here.

Posterous had two main products – sites and groups.  It started to confuse people especially new users.  Also, over time, Posterous team started to notice a lot of people creating private blogs and add contributors.  The idea for spaces came from this.  It is a way to simulate how people share privately through email, but with Posterous hosting the site and archiving the data.  Unlike Google+ and Facebook, Posterous sharing is symmetrical, everyone in the posterous space can share with one another equally not just sharing by fanning out to contacts (asymmetric).  Tip: Monitor how your users interact with your product.  There may be an opportunity to capitalize on unforeseen patterns.

Posterous had a lot of design debt and they were faced with keep the old or go with the new.  For every new feature, a button would appear.  Existing customers were happy with this approach, but new users didn’t feel the same way.  Tip: Top talent do not want to work with outdated technologies (e.g., older versions because of technical debt) and confusing code.  Tip: Technical debt will make your website slow “like Friendster”.

In a bold move, Posterous decided to scrap everything and start from scratch.  This decision was mainly driven by the technical debt that they had accumulated over time.  For 6-8 months, they  spent time building a new Posterous focused on mobile, email, and controlled sharing.  Nothing was sacred, any feature can go if it didn’t make sense.  The entire company can participate in the redesign.  Tip: The whole company / team must be onboard for such a dramatic change to be successful.

The strategy was to redesign the mobile site first.  The goal was to complete one screen a day for 30 days (total 30 screens).  Someone would make the screen and send out for immediate feedback.  At Posterous, the mobile and web developers are on separate teams.  It just so happened that while the mobile team redesigned the mobile site, the web team built the backend APIs.  Agrawal said it was an accident in terms of efficient resource allocations.  After the APIs were completed, then the web team worked on the website leveraging much of the mobile redesign work.  Agrawal believes that the mobile and web sites should look and act the same.  Tip: Consider developing the mobile site first before the website so that you focus on simplicity and performance.

During the process, Posterous spent a bit of time getting user feedback.  To get users, they posted ads in Craigslist, vetted out candidates using Wufoo forms, and compensated them afterwards.  Twenty-four hours after a user session, they would whiteboard a new design and get a working prototype 3 days later.  They saw trends pretty quickly with just 3 users.  One thing that Agrawal wished that they had done was bring in more existing users for feedback.  Tip: Don’t alienate your existing user base who made your company.  Well the only exception to the rule is if you are going after a bigger, different market and abandoning the existing user base.

When they finally rolled out the new “spaces” Posterous site, it had already been running internally and for select users publicly.  It was just a matter of turning on the switch for everyone.  Tip: Many companies do the best practice of testing company-wide internally before launching publicly.  Employees get the benefit of learning the new product and the company gets user testing by different types of users.

I admired Agrawal for being candid about the things that led up to Posterous and then to spaces.  I got the feeling that they were unsure about many of their decisions, but took the risk to see where it would take them.  Good job!

Other tidbits:

  • Agrawal said that “Y combinator is awesome”, it’s good for people who don’t know the business side of starting a business.
  • VCs/Angels want to either see you get a certain number of users by a certain time or a particular revenue number by a certain time.  It’s not always about the money, it can be about user growth too.
  • Posterous uses Mixpanel and Rackspace.

From ZURBsoapbox website:

A Bit About Posterous
The concept of Posterous was decidedly simple: email is the gateway for sharing any content online (be it text, photos, or videos). Instead of logging into Facebook or WordPress to post photos, videos or writing your thoughts down you simply email post@posterous.com and Posterous figures out the best format for the content and publishes a blog post for you automatically with the content you emailed.

In the summer of 2008 Sachin Agarwal received $15,000 from YCombinator and launched the first version on TechCrunch shortly after.
Posterous has taken off since then. The service currently has 35M+ pageviews a month from 15M+ unique visitors to the site. They have a consistent traffic growth of 20%-30% every month. They have also raised a $4.4M round from Trinity, Redpoint Ventures as well as one of our upcoming speakers Ron Conway.

Posterous has yet to turn a profit. The revenue idea which Sachin has talked about is a premium plan they can sell to big businesses using the service. Posterous has also been facing tough competition from Tumblr a very similar service.

A Bit About Sachin
Sachin has been named by Inc magazine as 30 under 30. He has worked on designing Final Cut Pro at Apple for 6 years before getting an idea for a service to make it easier to share pictures, videos and stories with others. Since then he has grown Posterous to 35M+ pageviews a month.

Networking is not just for computers

Why Network with People?

People underestimate the power of networking within your workplace and out and about.  At the workplace, people like to work for/with others who they respect and like (note: I used both respect and like, like alone is not enough).  This is the same outside the workplace.  You don’t lose anything by networking (well maybe time), you only gain by expanding your networking.

A Story about Networking

I’ll give you an example of when I unknowingly networked with someone.  This incident sparked a 10+ year mentoring relationship with me as the mentee.  When I first moved up here, I didn’t know very many people.  I had a friend who lived in the east bay.  One day she invited me over to her mom’s for a family BBQ.  I met her cousins and her mom’s cousins.  I mostly spoke with my friend’s mom’s cousin’s wife (did you get all of that?).

After the BBQ, I went home, thought nothing of it.  Two weeks later, I ran into my friend’s mom’s cousin (the husband) at a local restaurant.  Apparently, the family lived in the same city as I did.  We recognized each other and exchanged business cards.  I saw that he worked in tech, so I asked if we could meet up so I can learn more about what he does at “ABC Co”.  He was happy to meet and talk about his career.

Today, I still meet with this person.   He has since worked with many companies, been acquired, and continues to work on great technology.  I find it so invaluable to hear his war stories of being an executive at all of these tech companies.

After that networking incident 10 years ago, I became a firm believer in (purposely) networking.  You should too!

Tips for Networking

  • don’t know where to find events to attend, find events via Eventbrite and Meetups
  • you can network at any event, don’t assume that networking is off limits at any event, if you don’t know everyone, it’s your chance to network
  • go with a goal, is it to meet as many people as possible?  to meet new friends?  to find some job leads?
  • figure out your 1-2 line answer to “what do you do?”, everyone always asks, so might as well prepare
    • bonus: try different (truthful) answers to see which answer peaks the most interest with folks
  • for several reasons, invite a friend to go with you to an event:
    • you can meet people together
    • you can split up and meet more people by introducing one another to new people
    • worse case if event is a thud, you can hang out with your friend
  • can’t find people to talk with, it’s as simple as saying “hi” when you walk up to a group
  • listen more than talk, learn from others, be genuine
  • it’s ok to cut the conversation short so that you can meet other people
  • give out business cards and be sure to get business cards from others
  • smile! smile! smile!
  • limit the eating and drinking because it’s hard to talk, for sure limit the drinking, slurring and spitting while talking is not likeable
  • a firm handshake says a lot, a wimpy handshake does also
  • if you’re not up to the latest news, before you go, read a couple of articles on CNN.com, you can participate in the current event discussions or be the one in the know about “XYZ”
  • maximize your nametag signage, put your twitter handle and blog URL on there
  • being fashionably early is IN, less people means less noise to chat it up, as people trickle in, they will want to join a group which hopefully you are already apart of
  • welcome new people into your chatty group and introduce yourself
  • no snubbing! treat everyone as you would want to be treated, you never know if your newly found contact has more in common with you than you think
  • if you can’t get yourself out of a group, say that you need to go to the bathroom, some people are good are breaking away, some aren’t, use the bathroom excuse
  • if you know there’s a panel or speaker ahead of time, prepare 1-2 questions to ask during Q&A or 1-on-1 after the talk is done
    • if you ask during Q&A, others may like your question and come up to you to say so, might as well let others do the networking work for you :)
  • after meeting someone, jot down some notes on the back of his business card to help you remember the conversation
  • that night or the day after, send a “nice to meet you” note, some will respond back, some won’t (it’s their loss!)

Alright, all of my secrets are out.  Get out there and network!!!

90+ pitches at SF AT&T Park

Through one of my SF New Tech emails, I found out about Pitch San Francisco ’11.  I snagged a ticket and checked it out out of pure curiosity and because it was at AT&T Park.  Who doesn’t love the Giants?  Dodger fans, please do not respond.

When I first got there, I was overwhelmed with all the startup pedestals, over 90 in attendance.

Here are the ones that I visited and my two cents:

  • JustShareIt – peer-to-peer vehicle / motorcycle rental website, like a GetAround competitor (who recently closed a round of funding), I heard that they do not have insurance in the mix which is a bad business decision, it’s an accident waiting to happen (no pun intended).
  • BackBlaze – Mozi backup competitor but charges by the month ($5/mth) for unlimited data backup, Mozi charges by the GB now, I asked the founder why I hadn’t heard of them, he told me they do zero advertising and rely on word of mouth, I should have asked how many TB of data they back up.
  • HeyStaks – community-based internet search, you can pick an interest community to be apart of, then when you do searches, then it shows the popular search results of that community for the same keywords, not sure if this is good or not, you need a lot of people in a community doing a lot of searches for it to be a really good search, I also wonder if people want to share their search results, today Google gives you different results for different people, how does that gets normalized w/ HayStaks usage?
  • TauMobility – has many products but showcased telemedical diagnosis system, basically a doctor in another location can see a patient and see her medical data (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, etc), they have medical devices that collect the data and upload it to servers to be shared instantly (real-time?) with doctors, I learned that the medical devices like a stethoscope with a USB connection needs to have FDA approval because it’s medical-related, they are trying to get into hospitals, so far one in New Jersey and maybe another one.  I heard getting the medical industry to go electronic all the way is hard.
  • MomoLocal – I didn’t get a chance to talk to these guys, but from afar, it reminded by of Zaarly, they tout themselves as a “community marketplace for anything by anyone”, I’m a bit Zaarly-biased because I met some of the guys at Where 2.0 conference.
  • Schwinkers – drinking made social, if you’re lonely and need a drinking buddy, use it to find drinking partners, they are doing a big push in the Mission District in SF, so if you live there, check it out.  I was drawn to the pedestal because I liked the big mustache logo and wooden background, I am very scientific.  It would be interesting to see a Groupon-like approach to buying drinks incorporated into the service.
  • Short Enuf – temporary URL shortening service, think Bit.ly but with a time limit, the founder told me that you can share long URLs easily using the service especially on a mobile device where you don’t want to type in the whole URL.  If there is real value in this, I don’t see why Bit.ly wouldn’t just add time limits.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to all the pedestals.  There were some pedestals that had a lot of people, HipMunk being one of them.  It would have been great I was surprised that there wasn’t a lot of schwag being given out.  I got a bunch stickers though.  :)

You can find out more at the official event website.

The bible of business model generation

I have a friend who’s writing a book on online film distribution.  Every once in awhile we chat about startup topics.  As a thank you to me for giving her awesome advice, she sent me a surprise book in the mail, “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yes Pigneur.  I didn’t think too much of it, but I felt obligated to read the book in its entirety because it was a gift after all.  Within the first few pages, I was hooked.  This book is like a bible for evaluating or coming up with a business model.  If you do a quick google search on “business model generation canvas”, you will find many websites citing this very book.  It’s that good.

So let’s pretend for a second that you don’t want to buy or read the book, I think that I can help.

For those who don’t want to buy, but want to read some of it.  Go to the Business Model Generation website for the first 72 pages of the book for FREE!!!  This will teach you the basics of the business model generation canvas.

For those of you who are thirsty for some quick startup knowledge without doing all the reading, I can do a brief 101.  First and foremost, the business model generation canvas is the basis of what you need to know.  There are 9 building blocks of the business model canvas – value proposition, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, revenue, costs, key partners, key activities, and key resources.  All of these are interrelated.

When you are thinking about the building blocks for your business model, think about these questions:

  • Value proposition: What value do we deliver to the customer?
  • Customer segment: Who are the most important customers?
  • Customer relationship: What type of relationship does each customer segment expect us to maintain with them?
  • Channels: Through which channels do our customer segments want to be reached?
  • Cost: What are the most important costs that is key to our business model?
  • Revenue: What are customers willing to pay?
  • Key Partners: Who are our key partners/suppliers?
  • Key Activities: What key activities does our value proposition require?
  • Key Resources: What key resources does our value proposition require?

There are many techniques to design a business model.  My favorite design techniques in the book are doing customer insights and prototyping exercises.

For customer insight, there is something called an Empathy Map where you identify a customer segment and do a profiling exercise.  Ask the following questions to get a better understanding of your customer’s point of view:

  • What does she think and feel? – what really counts, major preoccupations, worries & aspirations
  • What does she see? – environment, friends, what market offers
  • What does she hear? – what friends say, what boss says, what influencers say
  • What does she say and do? – attitude in public, appearance, behavior, towards others
  • What are her pains? – fears, frustrations, obstacles
  • What are her gains? – wants/needs, measures of success

For prototyping, as the word entails, you come up with as many business models as possible no matter how ridiculous it sounds.  A tip is to start with a different building block for different ideas.  Then you discuss all the possible business models to get to the one that you like.

Lastly, the book touches upon business model strategy where you should consider outside forces that could impact your business model – key trends, market forces, industry forces, and macro-economic forces.

You should read Steve Blank’s blog about teaching Lean LaunchPad to Stanford students.  He uses the “Business Model Generation” book for the 8-week class.  It’s fun to read the students pivoting their business model along the way, much like a real startup!

If you have an itch to learn more about the book, do a google search and you will find many articles written about it.  Happy readings!

How 99Designs.com came to be

I love hearing stories of entrepreneurs, it keeps me motivated and there are always great lessons to be learned.  Today, I went to an event in the city of Campbell to hear Matt Mickiewicz, Founder of SitePoint, Flippa, and 99Designs, talk about how he got started.  At first glance, Mickiewicz is a very happy-g0-lucky type of guy, but don’t be fooled because he is a serious entrepreneur.

Back in late 1990s, there wasn’t a lot of of information on how to build websites, so Mickiewicz decided to pull all that information together on one website called WebmasterResources.com.  Hahaha, I laugh because later in his talk he mentions another website with a long name.  Alright back to the talk.  He coded WR using MS FrontPage which he jokingly said he pirated.  Did I mention that he was only 15 years old when WebmasterResources.com was started?  During lunch at school, he would have sales calls with customers and say that he had a hard stop at 1pm.  Unfortunately his customers didn’t know that his hard stop was really his social studies class.

Later, Michiewicz partnered up with someone much older (not 15) who had the business know-how to take WebmasterResources to the next level.  WebmasterResources then got rebranded to be SitePoint.  SP had a lot of tutorials that were downloaded a lot.  All of them for free.  He figured out quickly that there was a demand for printed tutorials.  For $35, people can get a printed copy of a tutorial so that they can use while creating a website.  He said they found some sh*ty online print on demand service who could take credit cards and went from there.  Today, SitePoint gets 2.5M visitors per month and has 1.5M email subscribers.  They were able to outgrow a competitor who had $3M in funding when SitePoint only had $300K in funding.

It is often asked how entrepreneurs come up with their ideas and then how do they validate and build the business.  For Mickiewicz, he was keen on monitoring the conversations on the vBulletin forum on WR.  Organically, graphic design competitions were happening with no money involved.  Then people started offering money to have directed contests.  Mickiewicz saw this and decided to build a MVP product within SitePoint.  He also implemented a $10-$20 listing fee for the contests.  Soon people from coffeeshops and non-tech businesses were finding their way to his SitePoint site and posting design contests.  The design contests were buried in the forums so Mickiewicz knew that he was onto something.  Later, 99Designs was spun off and the rest is history.

Another website, Flippa, is a website auction site which started in the forums on SP too.  To this day they have auctioned off $55m worth of websites with 55% of website sales ending above it’s initial sales price.  A notable site is FaceSmash which sold for $30k the week the movie Social Network came out.  Even Perez Hilton blogged about Flippa because of its relationship to FaceSmash and Social Network.

One idea that never took off was NameMyThingey.com where you can crowdsource business names.  People would get 50-100 name recommendations and be indecisive and not choose a name after all.  The name brainstormers got pissed because of this.  Oh well, you can’t win it all.

I really enjoyed hearing Matt Mickiewicz talk about all of his business ideas.  I had no idea that 99Designs was just one of many companies that he started.  I wish him luck with Flippa and a new eLearning video website that he’s working on.

Tips from Matt Mickiewicz:

  • To keep costs low try swapping services for other services. He would trade ad space on WebmasterResources for free hosting services.
  • If you are deciding to get an MBA, maybe try finding someone really smart in the Valley and volunteer to work for them for 2 years.  I guess this makes sense.  If you are going to forgo salary for 2 years why not do an apprenticeship.
  • Track your competitors, look for their sales process, what’s going on on their front page, and their conversion rates.  Since 99Designs has started, a bunch of other graphic design contest websites have popped up.  He said CrowdSpring actually did a contest on 99Designs for its logo.  Funny!
  • Pick up a book on sales and negotiating
  • Don’ts: 1) Don’t hide from customers, his personal cell phone was on SP website 2) Don’t trust  vendors and prepay for things.  Some vendors go bankrupt.
  • Consider using Amazon EC2, 99Designs uses it, they get 5.25TB of images uploaded frequently, EC2 helped them scale with customer demand
  • Initial team members of founding team should be 4-5 people – 2 developers, 1 designer, 1 product manager, and maybe 1 marketing person.  This is probably one of the first times that I’ve heard product manager and marketing person at the very beginning.  I agree.
  • If there isn’t positive feedback early even when it’s a less than perfect product, then you should abandon it.  He said loyal customers will stick it through and give you feedback to make it better.
  • It’s possible to outgrow other competitors who have a lot more funding than you.  The main difference is that they were able to leverage their distribution channel.  He mentioned that an idea is worth nothing and often times fails because lack of distribution channel.
  • Consider partnering up with forums and pay forums who send customers your way.  He told me that one dating website had over millions of users and he asked them how they did it.  The dating website basically partnered up with forums overseas and acquired customers that way.  Since this was in other countries, their customer acquisition costs were much cheaper than the US.  After establishing a foreign user base, the the dating website came to the US.  I have never thought about launching in other countries especially since it’s cheaper to acquire customers.  I’m going to have to try this one day.
  • You can get more sign-ups using viral techniques.  The dating website mentioned above leveraged user’s imported email contacts to get more sign-ups, for every 100 email contacts imported, they got 10 new users (10% conversion rate).  I think this method has worked well for Facebook.  I know that I went through my gmail contact list to see who I can “friend” on FB.
  • If a product is not part of your core business, consider spinning it off / rebranding it.  This is interesting because I personally wonder why Amazon keeps Mechanical Turk and EC2 under the Amazon brand.

ZURB.com’s blurb on Matt Mickiewicz:

It’s not often that you hear of a 15 year old who was closing $10,000 advertising deals for his newly launched site in between classes at school, earning enough to buy himself a new BMW with cash by the time he was just 16.

That’s the story of Matt Mickiewicz the founder of Sitepoint, a site which, back in 1999, was the first online forum for web designers and developers. It has matured to be a massive web community and tutorial/resource archive for web developers and designers now. Matt has spun off three other businesses based on observing how his 1+ million users use Sitepoint.

PicPredict app in AppStore now!

A labor of love has finally come to fruition! From start to end, I developed PicPredict, your photo fortune teller. It’s an iPhone app where you can select a photo on your phone, add your own fortunes, then shake for your magical psychic answer. Voila!

I had this idea of creating a fortune teller app with a cartoon character and funny fortune sayings. I did some customer validation and soon realized that what I thought was funny, may not be funny to someone else. One friend suggested that I make the app fully customizable which I thought was a great idea. I guess you can call it a pivot (aka Silicon Valley buzz word du jour) for my app.  Additional feedback showed that people loved sharing their photos with their custom fortunes.

Two to three months later (after I had already developed the original, scrapped app), I completed PicPredict. People often ask where I find time to develop apps. I tell them that some people like to knit. I like to develop apps. You find time to do things that you enjoy.

During the app development process, I learned how to use Gimp and InkScape to create my graphics. Thank you Google for helping me find all sorts of tutorials. If you don’t want to create your own icons, check out Glyphish.com. For $20, you get the pro package of iPhone icons. Not bad.

Like at most hackathons (iOSDevCamp is great!) and Startup Weekends, a good UI person is a must-have on your team, but often hard to find. Become friends with one now so you can get good feedback when needed. UI people are great.  Also, don’t forget to leverage friends and family for UI feedback.  Using the iPhone simulator on my MacBook, I created a demo video using Jing and Screencast then shared the link via email to everyone who would listen and watch.  Videos make it easy to understand what the app is doing without having the user install the app.  It’s like a pseudo test run.  Actually, people recommend having a demo video on your post-launch page too.

For those of you who do not have Apple Developers license yet ($99), I suggest that you first develop your app then maybe 1-2 months before it’s ready to be submitted, apply.  You can download XCode and develop your app without the license.  The only catch is that you can’t test your app on devices until you have your license.  It takes about 2 weeks (my experience) to get accepted into the developers program.  Then it’s a yearly fee of $99.  So better off delaying the cost if you can.

After I submitted PicPredict, it took about 3 weeks to get approved (1 week in “Waiting for Review” state, 1 week in “In Review” state, then a bump in the road and re-submission needed for another week of review).  I’m happy that I completed PicPredict in a reasonable amount of time.  I hope that everyone enjoys it!

As a thank you to my readers, I am giving away promo codes to random people who tweet, “Check out PicPredict app in the AppStore today! http://PicPredict.com by @sounalath”. Don’t miss your opportunity to try out PicPredict for free!

Click to tweet!

Some PicPredict app decisions/challenges along the way:

  • buttons with text or icons – text on buttons were ugly, icons looked more clean, but took more work to create
  • app name – Apple didn’t like my original name, so I had to change logo and views with the new name, it took about a week to settle on a new name, should the name explain what the app does or should it be some obscure name, Domain.r is great to come up with a non-dot com URL
  • flow of screens – mockups, mockups, mockups help so much, check out MockUp apps b/c all you need to now is PowerPoint
  • sharing options – email, facebook, twitter – this round email only for simplicity
  • color scheme – kept black and white as it was related to original app name
  • price point – anything over $0 is challenging but I opted out of advertising revenues, there’s one blog posting about an Android developer making money from ad revenues, it’s a good read
  • promotion methods – to be determined, lots of articles out there (e.g., can try app review sites, twitter, facebook, your own blog, local newspaper, all networks that you’re involved with), trying word of mouth first, wish me luck! read one guy’s journey for his game app
  • an email from Apple saying additional review time needed – most likely means your app is about to get rejected although few say they have gotten approvals, google for more stories
  • Tip: If you have a crucial update to an existing app, you can use the “expedited app review process” form to push your update through the review process

If you are wondering about how long it takes for your app to get approved once submitted to Apple, here is a hilarious answer (from StackOverflow.com) that I can’t stop laughing about:

After your app is submitted to the App Store for review, a robed monk is there to recieve it when it arrives. The monk ushers your app to the Shrine of Acceptance, where it will begin its journey.

Each journey is unique and special, just like your app, and while the journey has been rumoured to include attacks of security ninjas, IP-samurai, and even a final battle with Steve himself, no-one’s quite sure what happens. The best you can do is sit back and wait.

Press release for PicPredict app:

KSG Ventures is introducing PicPredict iPhone app, a unique, entertaining way to use iPhone photos as a personalized fortune teller.

With PicPredict, creating a personalized fortune teller is as easy as 1-2-3.  Users pick a photo on their iPhone, add custom fortunes, then shake the iPhone for their magical answers to appear. The fun part is the ability to share the PicPredict photo with friends and family with a click of a button.   This is no ordinary fortune teller app.  It is a fortune teller app that you personalize from scratch.  Imagine the creative and humorous possibilities.

PicPredict is available in the iTunes AppStore at http://itunes.com/apps/picpredict.
Link to website: http://www.picpredict.com
Founder’s Twitter ID: @sounalath

About KSG Ventures
KSG Ventures is a mobile development company located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Its mission is to create fun and innovative apps for the person on the go whether it’s the busy mom or working professional. For more information, email info@ksgventures.com.

Related, I got my start in iOS development from my experience at Startup Weekend at PayPal in 2009.  I pitched the idea of Eventabulous and recruited a team of 8 to join me that weekend.  After the weekend ended, the momentum slowed down, but I wanted to keep the idea alive.  So I bought a MacBook Pro and checked out “iPhone Development for Dummies” from my local library (I still recommend to new developers that they should check out books from the library to get started).  In about 4-6 months time, I developed an app using JSON, Twitter APIGoogle Maps API, and a third party event database source.  I also learned how to file an LLC.  Thanks to Startup Weekend for giving me the push into mobile development and entrepreneurship.

First (and not last) time at iOSDevCamp 2011

iOSDevCamp group photo
iOSDevCamp group photo

A fellow iOS developer buddy of mine told me about iOSDevCamp.  It wasn’t on my radar, so I decided to register and check it out.  What can I lose?  It was $50 which included meals for the whole weekend.  I also convinced my friend to register, she is an iOS developer too. The hackathon follows a similar format of a Startup Weekend, Friday night – networking, idea pitches, some teams form, Saturday – teams done forming, hack hack hack, and Sunday – hack, submit, present your hack.  The big difference between iOSDevCamp and Startup Weekend is that iOSDevCamp focuses on progressing the iOS development community with no big focus on generating business revenue models, just great and fun apps.

Before the weekend, all the attendees can create profiles on CrowdVine.com, a social network for events.  I posted my profile and exchanged messages with several folks.  It helped me figure out who had what skills and what ideas, but generally it was nice to meet people too.  To event organizers, make it easy for attendees to meet before the event, it makes the actual event more productive!

This year, iOSDevCamp was held at PayPal in San Jose.  This was my second time hacking at PayPal, different event though.  It’s great how they support the local development community.  I hope that they continue contributing their space for great hacking events in the future.  I <3 PayPal!  Alright back to dev camp.

I arrived Friday night looking for a promising idea and team.  I met a guy during dinner who was big on Ruby and JavaScript, but also does some iOS coding.  His friend and him had an idea to figure out what friend and what friend of friend lives in the city that you are visiting.  It wasn’t a bad idea, but I kept my options open.  At around 8:30pm, “pitchers” went one by one pitching their app idea.  One that caught my eye was a lost and found app.  I saw the potential in helping other people and a possible business model.

On Saturday, we ended up with 5 iOS developers (3 guys, 2 girls) with varying iOS skills, most of us had apps in the AppStore.  One iOS developer had UI/graphic skills too.  Score on my part because he was my recruit.  We started off the morning brainstorming use case scenarios with a girl who is a PayPal UX designer.  Once that was done, we got GitHub set up and divvied up the tasks.  We ran into a bunch of problems getting source control to work for whatever reason, the combination of XCode and GitHub was barfing.  I got the task of doing the “search” view which is basically a UITableView with a UISearchBar on top.  The team lead did some work already on the backend so I just had to call an API and parse the JSON file.  At the end of the day, we had semi things working, but still lots of stuff.  Three developers continued late, two of which continued almost through the whole night.  Because of the Women 2.0 contest for free AppNation passes, on this day I ran into a girl hacker whom I met at that mobile app conference.  She also develops a Facebook app that does in-store coupons for businesses.  Small world!

On Sunday, we finished what we could.  After lunch, all attendees were in a big group photo.  I’m now known as the person who brought the youngest hacker to dev camp (hint on age: he can’t talk and walk yet, see front row).  Then the demos started.  We ended up going in the third batch of presenters.  We did good.  Our demoed app allowed you to report a lost or found item, do a live search, and pay a reward using PayPal.  I’m sure that there is some video of all the presentations, so look for us!

This year’s iOSDevCamp had an impressive 475 attendees working on 78 apps.  I will definitely be attending again.  Thanks to the organizers for thinking of women because there were stylish iOSDevCamp womens t-shirts that I would wear again.  Follow tweets here.

Some highlights:

  • Two 14 year old girls participated and created an iPhone app with no prior experience, they won best new iOS developers award
  • A team created a native Turntable.FM iPad app, if you don’t know Turntable.FM, check it out, it’s a social DJing website with super cute avatars
  • A satellite team from Europe created a JawBreaker app.  You and your opponent take a photo of your own faces.  Then you hold  your iPhone in a fist and pretend to punch the other person (hand air gestures).  When you look at your own photo, you will see bruises on your face.  Awesome!
  • A whole lotta iPad2s were given out as prizes unfortunately I was not a receiver, next year!
  • One sponsor Betable says they’ve legalized gambling and you can use their APIs (read fine print, not really true for U.S.)
  • Tip: bring large monitors for coding plus it tells everyone else that you’re a serious coder
  • A team created an app where you can control a robot with hand air gestures and tweets
  • A team created a running app that modifies the songs that you listen to by the rate of your running
  • I recommended another friend to attend dev camp and he ended up winning the accessibility app category, BeeLine Reader, where’s my cut?
  • A team of two girl hackers created TickerBuddies where you can hold up a marquee sign that scrolls across multiple iPads

ZURBsoapbox is a hidden gem event

Not sure how I’ve come to know about ZURBsoapbox events, but I decided to go to my first one a few weeks ago.  Why you might ask (or not).  Well, 1) it’s located in Campbell which is 15 minutes away from me, 2) the speaker was Kevin Hartz, CEO of Eventbrite (Eventbrite is an online ticketing service that I buy a lot of local event tickets from), and 3) FREE LUNCH!  The ZURB office is quite small which lends for some intimate discussions.  I will be returning to more ZURBsoapbox events.

I arrived a bit late, but got a chance to grab some lunch and meet one person, an IT guy at a startup which got gobbled up by an online videoconferencing company (hint: rhymes with ripe).  Soon after, Kevin Hartz started his talk.  The funny part is that I didn’t realize Eventbrite had male cofounders since Women 2.0 always spotlighted Julie Hartz, cofounder and wife of Kevin.

Kevin touched upon his earlier days and how he got involved with PayPal and YouTube.  I liked hearing the who’s who of Silicon Valley in his stories, but more importantly he had really good take aways.  If someone came to me saying that they wanted to do online ticketing, I probably wouldn’t think it would fly because of Ticketmaster, but now we have Eventbrite.  Eventbrite is very well known in the Silicon Valley and continues to grow.  I expect to see many great things from this company.  Keep a watch out!

Notes:

  • Friends with Peter thiel, most of PayPal mafia are conservative, says he’s the token liberal friend
  • ConnectGroup – developed relationship with a Hilton general mgr in the south bay, then he became an advisor for Connect, got them into a few other hotels
  • Basis of PayPal, people will pay a premium for moving money fast, logo started showing up on eBay auctions
  • Started Xoom, competes with western union, send money online and disperse cash via local international banks
  • Tip: Netflix is extremely well run company, very quantitative using metrics, disciplined in how much they spend
  • Xoom and Eventbrite are extremely repetitive like/aka subscriptions
  • Slew of Eventbrite-like companies , focused on making it easy for anyone to start selling tickets and organizing events, addressing longtail, 25% of business outside the US
  • Tip: don’t lose sight of core business
  • Xoom is a classic TAM, investors like Sequoia like to see these, Western Union has 20% of TAM
  • For Eventbrite, addressing longtail market was a leap of faith
  • Tip: If you want to go into a market where you are unsure, bootstrap to get a sense of whether there’s a massive opportunity
  • Invested in YouTube, it launched as a dating website, seeded craigslist ads for women to post videos
  • Eventbrite doesn’t do reserve searing but rolling it out, business translates really well in the international space
  • Tip: follow path of least resistant
  • They are ideal for festivals, sold 62% more than Ticketmaster for warp tour festivals
  • Creeping up to tackle ticketmaster but it won’t be overnight, want to built great technology and relationships not with backroom deals
  • Tip: Lock in enterprise customers incrementally, if you stretch too far then you just pull back, when you start doing custom work or bend from your core values, that’s your litmus test
  • Went to friends who held events and had them try it out
  • Tip: get alpha and beta customers then find out how customers find out about you organically
  • Saw up surge of traffic from Facebook, built tools to make it easier to share, now it’s #1 source of traffic
  • Eventbrite’s event discovery is broken, get a lot of comments on how to improve this like a friend or Netflix recommendation, they really need to build this out, primarily focused on event organizers now addressing users more
  • Tip: Feels companies should go Public earlier than later, quarter after quarter companies are transparent and accountable
  • Could go IPO next year, wants to be around 30 yrs, being public helps
  • Eventbrite is hiring, contact Kevin@Eventbrite.com

Kevin’s bio on EventBrite.com:

Kevin Hartz is Co-Founder & CEO of Eventbrite, a company changing the way events come together online, and happen offline. Kevin was previously Co-Founder and CEO of Xoom Corporation, an international money transfer company, servicing more than 40 countries worldwide. Xoom is backed by Sequoia CapitalNEAFidelity Ventures, Stanford University, and Peter Thiel.

Kevin began his career as a product manager and later co-founded ConnectGroup, a start-up providing high-speed Internet access to the hotel industry. ConnectGroup was acquired by Lodgenet (NASDAQ: LNET).

Kevin holds a BA and BS from Stanford University, as well as an MA from Oxford University (University College).

He has been an active early stage investor and advisor to start-ups including PayPalGeniFriendsterTripItFlixsterAdnectarYammer,TokBoxiControlBokuLookoutAnonymizerPalantir and Trulia, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Xoom, Lookout,TownHog, and TokBox (observer). You can view his full portfolio here. In his spare time, Kevin advises university students on entrepreneurship through Youniversity Ventures. Kevin lives in San Francisco with his wife, Julia, and young daughter.

APPNATION SF 2011 was fun


As of late last week, I didn’t plan on doing anything this week.  I saw a posting on the Women 2.0 website asking for women mobile developers to apply to win 1 of 5 free conference passes and a demo pedestal for APPNATION SF.  I couldn’t resist, so I put my name in the hat.  Viola!  I had won.  On top of that, because I was an APPNATION conference attendee, I got to enter my Eventabulous iPhone app into the AppCircus app pitch competition, a partnered event with APPNATION.  Unfortunately, I was not selected as one of the top 10 contestants, but last minute (day before) they had an opening and guess who took it?  Moi!

On the first day of APPNATION SF, I skipped out on the keynotes and anxiously prepared my demo pedestal.  Tent card?  Check!  Macbook with demo video?  Check!  Candy?  Check!  iPad with app?  Check!  Business cards and flyers?  Check!  Check!  I was ready to rock and roll.  During the day, the foot traffic was okay, not too busy, but not dead.  I made a conscious decision to hang out at my pedestal for the rest of the day instead of attending any sessions.  I met some interesting people and did a full demo to over 10 people.  I estimate about 200-300 people attended the conference in total.  Later that night, I did my pitch to an audience of about 50-75.  My 3 minutes of fame on stage was up so fast, but I loved the opportunity.  It was great!  The judges were from ReadWriteWeb, Mashery, Churn Labs, Samsung Developers, Wireless Industry Partnership, Pockergamer.biz, and Mobile Monday London.  The winner of AppCircus was Geoloqi, a secure, real-time mobile and web platform for location sharing.  I chatted with them shortly before the pitching started and found out that they are from Portland, Oregon, yay, my home state!  Congratulations to them.

On the second day of APPNATION SF, I took it more easy and attended 3 sessions – 1) Intel AppUp Application Development Lab, 2) Monetization Strategies, and 3) Free, Freemium, or Paid?  Intel had a big presence at APPNATION with a huge expo area giving out free pop (soda for the clueless), popcorn, and t-shirts.  At their 2-hr  lab session, you learn about how to develop for MeeGo and Windows OS using their SDK and IDE and how to get the apps into their AppUp app store.  Most importantly, at the end of the session, you get a MeeGo OS tablet (exopc slate) for free.  Well, you get it to use it for 3 years and may have to return it at the end.  The panels on Monetization Strategies and Free, Freemium, or Paid? were good.  I’m glad that I attended some sessions on day 2.

All in all, I enjoyed attending APPNATION SF.  I got a free pass, a demo pedestal, and a chance to pitch on stage.  What more can a girl ask for?  Also, my Eventabulous app got more downloads.  Thanks to Women 2.0 for hooking me up!

My notes from APPNATION:

  • App users are more likely than pc users to pay for apps
  • Almost every app category has a dominate app – social fb, weather weather.com, etc
  • Word of mouth is a big influence for app discovery
  • You might have 1000 play your game, 50 of them pay, and 1 of them give you half your revenue
  • Mistake of not putting ads on the homepage, did one day and made an extra 1k a day
  • Mistake of not testing out other a  networks, started with admob and didn’t change it
  • On startup – celebs leave voicemails for all fans to get text and dial in and listen to, hard to convert to ticket sales bc most didn’t have credit cards/money to pay even though they call 1-10 times a day
  • Apple users have the most wallet and are willing to pay 1-3 dollars for apps
  • You can start pricing high then lower the price the longer that the app is out
  • Free apps and inapp purchases have been very powerful going forward
  • Freemium works very well for games
  • Removal of ads has not been a good reason to upgrade to paid apps
  • One recipe app passed location to ad networks and saw more effective ad rev, but users were pissed as to why location was needed to search recipes.
  • Logo and icon are very important, don’t skimp on these (Sophia’s comment: makes me think of shape of perfume bottles, big diff)
  • Ipad users willing to pay 5-10 per app
  • Urbanspoon traffic doubled year to year, 7 figure a year revenue, 3 ppl built the company
  • Zynga poker model – money going in and no money going out, reduces liability
  • 75k apps on ipad, price of ipad apps going up
  • A lot of women are spending more time on mobile, looking for restaurants, where to shop
  • DirectTV went to urbanspoon to help ppl find sports bars with premium DirectTV sports channels near you
  • 80-90% are free apps in app stores
  • Old navy encouraged shoppers to use Shazam app to figure out what songs were being played in the stores
  • Urbanspoon closed the loop by now having a reservation system for restaurants

Some people whom I met:

  • Android game developers
  • prior Startup Weekend attendees
  • Mobile payment company
  • Ringtone company
  • Mobile incubator lab
  • Sales from a major tech blog
  • Startup bank
  • Software strategist
  • Big book retailer
  • Mobile ad network
  • Online store coupons

Making money with the $2.1T Mommy market

A few months ago, I attended this mommy-targeted shopping event in San Francisco with someone.  I was expecting a lot of clothing and baby equipment boutiques which there were, but I didn’t expect any startups pitching their services.  Two of which were TaskRabbit.com and SkinnyScoop.com.  I talked with both of the booth reps to learn more.

TaskRabbit positions itself as a safe online website where you can find people to do little tasks for you.  The marketing person (I’m assuming b/c she was not the founder) said I could use their service to pick up kids, do grocery shopping, etc.  Yes, I could, but do I want to?  I had a friend recently use it to find someone to pick-up a whole pie from a bakery and deliver to her for about $12 plus cost of pie.  OK, maybe it’s useful to those quick dessert fixes hahaha.  Now, I don’t know about the “safe” statement.  I would not want to take on the liability of ensuring that all “task runners” are safe even with clean background checks performed.  With some people, you just don’t know.  I’ll be curious to see how they do.  They have a business model (take a cut of transactions) and I’m assuming some traction.

The next startup at this mommy event was Skinny Scoop.  It’s just a polling survey service for mommies, think Yahoo! Answers w/o the text answers since you must choose a, b, c, d, etc.  To be honest, I do like to poll others on different topics and I can see this as being useful, but I would have never thought that a website could be dedicated to just polling surveys.  I asked them how they plan to make money and I didn’t get a good answer.  In fact, I don’t even remember what they said hahaha.

Related, there was a blog posting about the founder of Circle of Moms that I found most intriguing.  He was just a regular engineer looking to do a startup of his own.  Started something called Circle of Friends as a Facebook app.  He started noticing that there were a lot of “Circle of Friends” solely focused on moms.  One thing led to another and he decided to focus on the mommy market to make “Circle of Moms” as its own dedicated website.  This is a good example of bumping into a business idea w/o even trying.  Awesome!

Mommy market figures from BabyCenter.com:

Market Size by Age of Child

  • US moms with kids under 6: 23.4 MM
  • US moms with kids under 3: 14.2 MM

Spending Power

  • Total US Mom spending: $2.1 trillion

The Many Faces of Mom

  • Beauty Mom: 68% of women re-evaluate their beauty routine
  • Dr. Mom: 82% rethink their approach to health and wellness
  • Gadget Mom: 93% of moms own a digital camera; 1 in 3 never leave home without it
  • Green Mom: Saving the planet starts at home: 92% of moms think family first, planet second
  • Mealtime Mom: 59% of moms rely on prepackaged or prepared foods to get dinner on the table
  • Social Mom: Social media use among moms has increased 591% in the past four years