Instagram’s Missed Opportunity

Instagram showcased it’s colorful (& humorously criticized) new logo, along with some sleek UX/UI changes yesterday.  Instead of adding to the millions of meme’s already out there (which I admit would be a TON of fun), I’d like to highlight what I consider to be a bigger issue with their move:  It was a huge missed opportunity.

Let’s think for a moment about some of the top social media apps thriving in the habitat of everyone’s phone:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

How many of them have drastically changed their icon in the way that Instagram just did?  With these apps living on millions of peoples phone’s, any drastic change is the equivalent of waking up with a new piece of furniture in your room, or a different car in your driveway.  The point is that the icon drew SO much attention, and unfortunately that is all it did.

Since they are essentially the only app that has made a drastic change to their icon, they could have maximized all this attention to drive something more, like a new bold product feature.

I do agree that Instagram as a product was overdue for some sort of refresh.  I loved when they introduced the “Explore” page and thought it was a brilliant product feature add.  If they had coupled all this noise (& essentially re-branding) with a bold new product feature, the conversation would shift from “Hey did you see Instagrams new dishwasher icon?” to “Do you agree with Instagram’s new direction & product feature(s)?”  

Instagram could have in turn collected a TON of valuable information on any new bold directions, feedback, and could have garnered deep consumer insights of their product itself.

Instead – what they’ve done is called designers (as well as trolls) out of the woods to criticize what is clearly a subjective topic.  Regardless of users opinions, Instagram’s functionality largely remains the same.

Instagram also stated the reason for the UX/UI change was driven by the desire to draw more attention to the user generated content.  While I agree that the focus should, and always be on the user generated content, their statement implies that their current theme was somehow distracting to the experience of photos and videos.   I’ve been using Instagram for a while, but I’ve never thought to myself, “Man, this blue theme is really throwing off the RBG values of this photo I’m looking at!”

All this talk is pretty much useless without some sort of revised proposition.  Without it, I would just sound like a grumpy 80 year old complaining about how nobody uses VHS anymore 🙂

What I would have loved to see with this update:

  • Instagram creates a feature that allows users to digest content in a different way (or maybe a cool addition to the Explore page)
  • Using their new logo and UX/UI layout to get people talking about their product features.
  • Positioning it as a product rebranding and/or refresh, instead of an aesthetic change.

Instagram is still doing insanely well as a business, and is projected to significantly increase revenue in 2016-17, so in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think this isn’t that huge of a deal.  While I commend them for the bold icon change, I would have loved to see them equally make a bold product feature change to maximize the attention they’re getting 🙂

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Should I build my idea while taking a course, or after?

I’ve been hearing this question a lot lately, as it’s been posed many times in the Devslopes community, as well as in everyday conversations about building mobile apps.

I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject in the hopes that people can easier navigate the  0-60 learning curve.

First off, this post starts with a few assumptions:

  • You’re brand new to coding – Aside from writing a few cool formulas in excel, the general thought of brackets & exclamation points out of context look pretty scary.
  • You’re taking a Devslopes course – or something comparable.  The course I chose to learn develoment was Mark Price’s Beginner to Paid Professional.  I highly recommend it to anyone that’s new to development, and wants to dive right into learning to code mobile apps 🙂

 

Step 1: Wireframe your idea

This part doesn’t require any code, but it will help you begin to think like a programmer 🙂

The more time and thought that goes into the wireframes the better.  You should know exactly what every button and action should do, how it’s supposed to look, and what’s supposed to happen afterwards.  Many people stay shallow when going through this process, and it’s imperative you dig as deep as you can.

Bad example:

Action: When the user taps the “Follow” button, that user begins following that user and is now able to see their posts.

OK – Cool! But in terms of building out an actual application, you’ll begin to ask yourself the following:

  1. What does the button look like in the “Followed” state?
  2. Where are the followers saved?
    1. Should the end user be able to see their followers?
    2. Should I be able to see who I’m following
  3. What benefits do users get from following?

Good Example:

Action: When a user taps the “Follow” button:

  1. The button changes from “Follow,” to “Following” and changes color from blue to green
  2. If the user taps it again, they can unfollow the user
  3. User follower count is displayed and updates accordingly
  4. Users now can see all posts from the users they are following
  5. Followers are saved in a contacts section that can be accessed from the main menu

Some bonus questions:

  1. Should you be able to follow yourself?
  2. If the user is already followed, how does the user unfollow that user?
    1. What is the process to unfollow?  Is there an alert box with a confirmation, or does it happen immediately after clicking the button?
  3. Should a push notification be sent to that user?

Step 2: Go through the course in its entirety 

Let’s face it, software development is a never ending sea of puzzle pieces, and nobody has a clue what the final picture is supposed to look like.  The Devslopes beginner courses do an AMAZING job and taking the essential puzzle pieces, putting them in their own boxes, and then showing you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like.

I often use the analogy that learning software is like wanting to write a best selling novel, and not having a clue what the alphabet is.  Although its important to have a well written novel, deep plots and interesting dynamic characters, great marketing & an awesome launch campaign, the first step is learning the alphabet & having an understanding of basic sentence structure.

Going through the course will help you understand the basics, and as you add more concepts to your “toolbox” of knowledge, you’ll begin to put the pieces together & know where to look when you start building out your own idea 🙂

Step 3: Take notes!

As I went through the course, I took a ton of notes.  It’s really hard to absorb & memorize everything from the beginning.  I think our school system does a really good job at placing importance on the ability to regurgitate information from memory, and because of that our brains are wired to think that’s what we need to do in order “move on to the next step.”  In this part of the learning phase, I think it’s just important to understand what’s going on and how everything is connected.  You’ll reference your notes later, and the concepts will really be engraved in memory when you start to implement them out of context (aka: building your own app)

I also took notes on concepts I knew I could use in certain functions & features of my app (Good thing you wireframed out your app already! :))  For example, when introduced to tableviews and custom cells, I took notes on how I would implement that into my own app.

Step 4: Dive in head first

You now have the tools to begin! You have your awesome wireframes, & notes on how they can be implemented.  You have your new set of tools & concepts you just learned, and now it’s a matter of building it out.

It’s also important to note that building software is iterative.  You will at some point end up re-writing code in your app, so don’t worry about making it super perfect on the first shot.  Once things get up and running, you’ll be able to revisit and refine!

As with anything new, it will be a bumpy ride at first.  I was continually on stack overflow and googling questions, but now you know *the right questions to ask*.  The sky’s the limit now 🙂

 


From No Coding Experience, to Having an App in the App Store in 3 Months

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  “This isn’t going to be a very pleasant call,” our developers said on our conference call.

I was nearing the end of my 6 hour drive to the Bay Area from Los Angeles.  I had been driving all day, mapping out our next steps to take our product to market, again.  We were in the middle of re-designing our app after some initial user feedback.

“We’ve given it some thought, and we don’t think we can continue working on this with you guys.”

Wow. what a fucking cooler.

TL;DR4 months ago I could barely print Hello World, and thanks to a ton of coffee, and some great Udemy courses (Mark Price’s – iOS 9 and Swift 2: From Beginner to Paid Professional in particular), I was able to build our MVP, and take it to the app store in just under 4 months.  We have a lot of features in the pipeline that we’re really excited about.  Check the app out here!

The call consisted of our team.  My roommate at the time, who was head of marketing and business development, myself (UX/UI & Operations), and our two developers.

By the time the call ended I had pulled into my driveway.  I felt defeated, and went through all the scenarios in my head over and over again trying to parse through why and how everything fell apart.  I was sitting in my driveway broke, unemployed, and now with half of a team, no product, and a quarter tank of gas.

Bummer.

I let myself be mad for about 5 minutes.  I might have yelled in my car.  I’m not sure.  I do remember hitting my steering wheel really hard.  Then instantly regretting it thinking God forbid if I break anything I have no money to fix it. Ha!

It was October 20th, 2015.

On the 22nd of October,  I flew out to Seattle with my girlfriend Vicki for an anniversary trip we had planned a few months prior.  It was refreshing to get away for a little bit, but my personality lends me to sink my teeth into problems until I find a solution.  Our biggest problem was that we didn’t have a product, and it was eating me up inside.

I called my Co-Founder on one of our last nights in Seattle and told him I was going to build our MVP, or minimum viable product.  We needed to manifest our vision for the app in some way, so that we could recruit some talent and really take this to the next level.  I hung up and realized I had no idea how I was going to do it.  I had no idea where to begin, or even what languages were available, let alone the pros and cons of each.

When I got back to California, I started doing some research.  It literally felt like I ripped off the top of a fire hydrant, and I was just getting blasted with information, swimming in a sea of data and opinions.  I finally found a few Udemy courses on swift and figured I’d give it a shot.

The first course I took felt like I was learning how to drive an 18 wheeler by playing Mario Kart.  It was a great way to be introduced to the language, but once I stepped away from the course, I was lost.  Truthfully most of it was syntax.  Many courses breeze through some fundamental syntax, which is great if you have some previous programming experience, but for people like me, it was like trying to write the next Harry Potter book while not knowing where to put periods and commas, let alone spell words correctly!

I finally found a course that really helped me understand the basics, and helped fill in a lot of the “why” to the “what.” It’s an all around, well thought out course.  I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone interested in learning swift.  The course is Mark Price’s – iOS 9 and Swift 2: From Beginner to Paid Professional

I finished the course in around 3 weeks, and felt it was time to start building our MVP.  As many developers will attest to, you really learn when you start building your own projects.  It took me a hilarious 16 hours to build the basis of my home screen, but I learned so much, and that was just the beginning.

Marks course not only taught the fundamentals of swift, but he arms you with the knowledge to ask the right questions.  There is SO much information floating around online, that once I knew generally what I had to accomplish, it was just a matter of googling, stack overflowing, and immense trial and error.

November – mid January was a bit of a blur.  I worked, learned, tested, and developed for 6-10 hours a day for 70-80 days.  And when I wasn’t doing that I was thinking and dreaming of code.  Brainstorming solutions in the shower, quickly taking notes during dinner so I wouldn’t forget when I got back to my computer, staying up late googling problems etc.  It was an all consuming, all in, caffeine filled process.

After being rejected from the app store the first time around, it was finally admitted on January 29th.  The same day one year ago our build was admitted by our other developers.  Funny coincidence.

We have a lot of updates down the pipeline, so stay tuned!

Download Fount Here


3 Month Update – Funemployment & a New love for UX/UI

So it’s been 3 months since I took the leap from my 9-5, and so far everything is going alright.  Not stellar, not down – Just alright.  I’ve dedicated the last 3 months to diving into UX/UI and fell in love with it.  I’ve obsessed over mobile app products, user flow and design, and functionality.  There is something in beating yourself up over every feature / function that I became completely addicted to.  I’m convinced that maybe it’s the artist in me trying to perfect an experience, the way I’d want someone to experience a song.  We’ll see where it takes us, but I’m confident now our product is going to be MUCH more refined.

There is something awesome about waking up every morning (broke as fuck) but putting your mind to working on 1 thing that day, and just going for it.  I don’t think I realized how much energy, creativity, and life was sucked out of me during my day job (even on the down days).

What drives me crazy however, is the time in which we are going to relaunch.  We are planning to re-launch in December, and although we still have a ton of work to do, I can’t help but be antsy.  This is magnified by the fact all my Co-Founders work day jobs as well.  I go stir crazy because it’s all I have to think about.

I’m also starting to find joy in other little things.  I think with any other job (that you would prefer to not be doing), the rest of your time is spent rushing trying to accomplish tasks because

a.  You want to work on items you DO care about

b. You’re just out of fucking time

Now that I pour all of my energy into tasks I care about during my 9-5, my downtime is spent taking on DIY projects, following my curiosity, and even making music again.

I wholeheartedly believe that humans were made to follow their curiosity with fervor, and find self fulfillment along the way.  Some days I think I might be losing my mind becoming a modern day hippie.  The fucking thoughts on life that roam my head get pretty crazy, but I see the vision.  I’ve stopped caring about what a lot of people think.  I’ve had problems with this in the past, and being unemployed has really allowed me to stand on my own two feet (even more than I thought I could).

A lot of people ask me what I’ve been doing, and my general reaction is to fabricate some socially acceptable “plan” that borders between what I truly want, and what I think they want to hear.  It took me a week or so to realize this is completely useless.  I started being straight up to the point it might have been alarming to some, but it felt fucking great.

It literally feels like it took me 26 years to finally create something that is coming straight from the heart without compromising with anyone else’s outside opinions.  It feels fucking awesome.


The Night Before

I am leaving my job tomorrow.  It’s an eerie feeling as I’ve given the past three years of my life to this company.  Half of the time spent was great, the other half not so much.  For the purpose of this post, we’ll call the company “Backwards Inc.”

I’m writing this because it is the first time in a long time I am going with my instincts.  Most people would consider this move impractical and reckless, but I’m doing it any ways.  I have nothing else lined up, and gambling the entire next 2-3 months on finding another job, and fount.  If I come out on top I’ll be ecstatic, if I don’t I’ll gladly take the line up of “I told you so’s.”  I’m too stubborn not to learn from my own mistakes.

Through the entire retrospective exercise leading up to this decision, I’ve learned a few key things.  I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but here they are the main takeaways from this experience:

1.  Some people just want to be heard – Not so much for me anymore, but many people I work with have no outlet for which they can vent.  Yes, I think venting is healthy, but it really goes no where.  You’re venting because you haven’t crossed the threshold of taking action.  Many people at Backwards Inc just want to be heard.  Don’t worry – most of them aren’t going to quit on you, but embracing their pains instead of showing them why yours are bigger is far more effective.

2.  Listen & Understand – I feel that great managers/leaders turn bad situations into wins for their team the best they can.  One way to do this is listen and understand what your employees are going through.  Find ways to turn their bad situations into wins.  This can be setting small milestones up for them and recognizing their achievements as they knock them down.  Many managers turn to a “rally the troops” method, which is essentially an extended version of a monologue nobody wants to hear.  Find some wins to put on the board, big or small.

3.  Be Direct – Backwards Inc reeks of passive aggressiveness.  The office is like a game of telephone played by the same high school students.  You’ll hear about your performance indirectly.  This skews expectations, and depending on the employee, damaging to their output.  I’ve seen a careless remark go along way.

4.  Let your employees be themselves – I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk, and have heard that he doesn’t care too much about personality quirks, but he expects a lot out of his employees.  I think most, if not all organizations should adopt this method.  Keep your people challenged, but let them do it in their own way.  Give them a chance to shine with their own brilliance, and reward them for it.

My last point is be cognizant of your mental health.  Some places such as Backwards Inc will wear you down to the point you’ve become a different person.  Do not let yourself slip away.  Many people at Backwards Inc became entirely different people due to the environment it had created.  If you feel yourself slipping more and more each day, jump.  Nothing else is worth more than keeping yourself sane.  I like to consider myself a pretty optimistic person, and lately I’ve been extremely negative.  I easily sink to finding the worst in every situation, and instead of fighting for progress, I have been fighting for complacency from the fortress of my own cubicle.  I hate to admit it, but the more things fired at me by people who didn’t know what they were doing, the more I just wanted to be alone and unbothered.  It was a defense mechanism, and it’s not who I am.

Maybe I’ll look back at this in a year and be broke & unemployed.  That might call for a fun edit to this blog.  Fuck it – I’ll take my chances.

-e


The Importance of Co-Founders

I’ve always worked better alone.  Maybe it’s because I’m pretty stubborn, and its in my nature to inadvertently play devils advocate with every opinion I encounter.  But today was different.  Today was a great example of why Co-Founders add so much value to a venture, and with starting Assist, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Vince and I pitched to a group of founders in a local incubator a few days ago, and got completely ripped apart.  Completely might even be an understatement.  One person in particular kept drilling us on how we are different than what’s already out there, and we thought our answer was good enough to settle the crowd, but it didn’t.  They started listing out alternatives for each case use of Assist.  Yes – they were valid, and it really got me thinking.

I’m a pretty reactive person by nature.  When an issue comes up, my mind gridlocks itself until it’s resolved.  I really need to exercise the phrase “sleep on it,” but its pretty fucking difficult.

So my initial reaction was to REALLY differentiate ourselves, so much that my mind was starting to go into what I believe is almost “desperate pivot ideas.”  I rationalized what’s not working with our platform and used it as evidence for a hard pivot.

Vince wasn’t really sold on the pivot idea, but we had a lot of good back and forth.  The issue with talking strategic direction is that a lot of it hypothetical, especially in the early stages.  You need to back up your direction with evidence, which you don’t have yet, and any amount of evidence you do have can easily be mitigated with early stage issues (bugs, difficulty of creating a marketplace etc).

At the end of the next day, I was pretty sold on making the pivot.  Vince convinced me to wait on it, and we headed to a meeting with a potential advisor / mentor.

This guy we met with was crazy excited about Assist and loved the platform.  He basically gave us a complete 180 from what we got ripped apart for earlier this week.  His thinking was along the same line as Vince’s rationale to not pivot / react, but was articulated differently.  Vince knew by instinct what he thought needed to be done, but this guy really hammered it out for the both of us.

He told us:

“There’s plenty of space in the marketplace.  It doesn’t matter if your excruciatingly different.  If you do something thats out there, just do it better than anyone else.”

Between hashing things out with Vince, and talking to this guy, I realized I may have been looking at things all wrong.  I used our target market as an anchor point, and looked to change our platform based on our perceived target market.  In reality, this guy was stoked for us because he would use it in a totally different way.  I needed to step back and assess our target market.  Who would benefit the most from what we’ve just built?  Do we have enough evidence to support an answer to that question?

No.

I don’t know what the future holds, or if I might look at this post a year from now and completely disagree with myself.  But I know that if I was doing this alone, I would have been too reactive without knowing enough about the decision I was making, and I probably would have stopped myself from being open to the new ideas presented in the meeting that forced me to take one more step back and re-assess.

Most of all – Today was a great example of why having Co-Founder(s) is so important.  I feel like we are back on track, and maybe more on track than two days ago, which is more than what you can ask for after being derailed in a room full of start-up founders.

Until next time,

-e

PS – I apologize for the super unorganized thoughts.  Just opened up my laptop and spilled words on to the page.  Hopefully most of it makes sense 🙂


Shipping Fast

In the startup world, everyone swears by shipping fast & shipping often.  I always knew this in principle, but never fully felt like I grasped & understood it to the full extent.

When you are faced with “Shipping Fast,” it usually comes with a trade off.  This could be additional features you wanted to add, or refinement of your current ones.  Either way, it forces you to really prioritize what you want to showcase, and why.

Vince and I had so many features that we wanted to roll out.  Our idea in full would have realistically taken a year to create, perfect, and bring to market.  We knew we needed to make a minimum viable product, and slowly test the market / add features, but its a totally different feeling when your going through the motions.  Talking about it with a beer over dinner is so much easier.

We are 1 month in of launch, and at times felt like we shipped way too early.  We forced Ricardo & Rommel (Our Dev Team) to slap things together at the last minute due to the pressing deadlines & urgency we gave them.  The feedback you always receive is expected.  “This doesn’t work, the app doesn’t flow, this doesn’t make sense etc,”  Once you really get past all the whimsical UI / technicalities, you’ll be able to hear the true voices of your market.  They’ll tell you a ton of things, but it’s up to you to not only sift out what’s important, but what they’re really trying to say.

I don’t mean they’re lying to you, or intending to beat around the bush.  A ton of the user feedback we encounter starts with the problem -> how they would specifically handle it.  I’ll give you an example (specifically on our platform):

“I don’t know if I can trust this person” (turns in to) “You should create a 5 star rating system.”

Although it may be a good idea, you don’t want to jump into creating the next yelp just yet.  It look a little practice but once I dove into the depths of the “why,” the solution became apparent.  This led us to be able to come up with one solution for what we thought was many problems, through many user suggestions.  Hopefully were right.

The bottom line is: We would have never been able to understand immediately what was important to our market.  If we had waited until everything was perfect, we would have just had an extremely refined & useless application – a year later.