Achieving Massive Growth (Qloud story 11 of 14)

This is post #11 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about the launch of Qloud.  You can read that here

Once we launched, we grew extremely fast. I have to say that being part of a company that is blowing up is really really fun. Everyone is constantly happy. As a product person, this is what you work for and when it happens, it feels great.

We did some things that were shady and other things were legit and very smart. Some things we did:

  1. We wouldn’t let you use the application unless you invited 25 friends. We had a nice UI that let you quickly select 25 faces and then it would open. While extremely annoying, it worked really well.
  2. We integrated deeply into the new feed. We knew all of our users play history, including from iTunes and we’d launch really interesting news feed items to friends that read, “Of all the songs played last week by your friends, here are the 3 not in your library. Click here to play.” This is great music discovery, right in your news feed.
  3. We started understanding and using the link sharing networks. Lots of other apps were selling the ability to recommend users download other apps. You could buy space there and buy installs. We experimented a lot with all of them.  Some were pretty cheap and effective.  Interestingly, Steve Case really dug into this too. For someone with his success, we was not afraid to get into the weeds. I also give a lot of credit to our lawyer and BD guy here, Jim Delorenzo (now head of Sports at Amazon), for this success as he really figured it out.

I give Noah R-S (now Chief Product Officer at DailyMail) a lot of credit for hacking Facebook. He understood it at a level that probably only a few dozen in the world did.

We also started exploring a business model by selling links to ringtones.

Our growth was so fast that we’d get lots of calls from record labels and lawyers asking to shut us down. They saw the streams happening on Qloud and wanted it to stop. It took them a while to realize that we had co-opted YouTube for the streams.

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The next post is about how we sold to Buzznet. Read it here.

Qloud and Facebook’s Platform (9 of 14)

This is post #9 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about how we used YouTube as a music engine. Read that post here

The year is 2007 and we’re building as fast as we can our new music service.  It’s going to be a full-powered music streaming service on top of a collaborative music search engine and it’s going to be sweet.

Before we launched I went out to lunch with Sean Parker (known by many of you as Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network).  At the time he had left Facebook and was about a year into his new VC gig at Founders Fund.  We sat down to lunch and the subject immediately turned to our upcoming launch. He asked, “Hey, do you know about Facebook’s platform?”  I didn’t and he went to explain it to me.  Basically FB needed a way to expand and what better way than have companies build their product in to Facebook.  While the 3rd party companies would provide the development, Facebook would allow you to message and add their users as your users.  It sounded cool.

I went back to the team and explained this upcoming launch.  I got in touch with Dave Morin (yep, the Path founder used to be head of Facebook platform) and he gave us access to the platform.  Our plan was to build a subset of our service on Facebook and gain some early users.  Then, when we launched our new website we could make a claim that says, “We already have 10,000 users on Facebook.”

It did not go that way at all.

Launching on Facebook right when the Platform was launching was probably one of the best things we did. Because it was new, it had a bunch of early adopters.  It also had a bunch of loopholes that allowed us to market and message millions of users.  If you remember getting a ton of requests to join some stupid game, that was the platform.  We used to do things like “You can’t install our app unless you invite 30 friends.” and people did it.

Of course Facebook wasn’t happy about this, but we weren’t going to stop.  Kudos goes to our colleague Noah who really figured out how to growth hack the crap out of it.

Lessons learned: at both Kapost and Qloud, we grew because we attached ourselves to a tidal wave in the industry. In Qloud it was the Facebook platform and Kapost it was Content Marketing.  Facebook eventually would shut down the platform but not until much later.  Heck, even Zynga used it to become a billion dollar company leveraging Facebook’s platform. Sometimes the bright and shiny new thing in the industry is worth going after.


The next post is about the actual launch. Check that out here.

Please Put Your Dock on the Side

One of my little pet peeves is how people use their dock on their Mac. 

Here’s my logic. What do you do most on your computer?  You read web pages from top to bottom.  Because of this, your page is maximized from top to bottom and you spend most of your time scrolling.  There is usually extra space to the sides of the page. 

Why then, do you take up extra space on the bottom of the page with a dock?  You are constrained vertically but have surplus horizontally.  It makes so much sense for you to have your dock on the left or the right. 

If you have it on the bottom and set to hide that solves most of the problem, but because you scroll so much up and down, you can hit your dock by accident a bit.  But it works.   

My rant for the day. 

So Long, AOL

Verizon is buying AOL for 4.4B.  It could be about ad-tech. It could be about mobile. It could be about content.  I’m not sure why it’s happening and i’m pretty sure that it’s not going to work out well for Verizon. But, more than anything to me, the sale feels like an epilogue to part of internet history.

AOL is specail to me.  It was my first job out of college. I had a great boss and I learned a ton. I met some amazing people, many of them have become good friends that i still talk with today. I also learned all the reasons why working at a big company sucks and it drove me to want to work at smaller, more nimble companies.
I also think that the AOL / Time Warner merger is a misunderstood story.  Let me defend it for a second.

Continue reading “So Long, AOL”

Marketplaces have the best business model

I’ve been hearing frequently that the best business model you can have is to be a marketplace.  I heard it on this podcast from a16z “The Marketplace Rules” and again today when i read the HBS article called “What Airbnb, Uber, and Alibaba Have in Common

The article states that there are 4 types of businesses in the world: 

  • Asset Builders: These companies build, develop, and lease physical assets to make, market, distribute, and sell physical things. Examples include Ford, Wal-Mart, and FedEx.
  • Service Providers: These companies hire employees who provide services to customers or produce billable hours for which they charge. Examples include United Healthcare, Accenture, and JP Morgan.
  • Technology Creators: These companies develop and sell intellectual property such as software, analytics, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. Examples include Microsoft, Oracle, and Amgen.
  • Network Orchestrators. These companies create a network of peers in which the participants interact and share in the value creation. They may sell products or services, build relationships, share advice, give reviews, collaborate, co-create and more. Examples include eBay, Red Hat, and Visa, Uber, Tripadvisor, and Alibaba.

And of those four, the Network Orchestrators are rewarded the most in the market: 

Because they actually generate better business numbers:

 

It makes sense as these businesses can scale faster and more efficiently than any traditional business.  I’m always a bit amazed that eBay isn’t more recognized as the leader and pioneer in this category.  What they did 15 years ago is what many of the marketplaces are trying to replicate today.  Kudos to them. 

That’s it.  Just wanted to share the article…

Bezos Interview: Publishing and Fire Phone

I recently read this interview of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos.  It’s pretty interesting.  Some thoughts:

eBooks / Publishing

I had always assumed that the print/book industry was really struggling – similar to the music industry.  However, Bezos’s quote of, “…the facts are wrong. Publishers are having unparalleled profitability, and the book industry is in better shape than it ever has been, and it’s because of e-books” is interesting.  

It’s also interesting that they take such a long-term view for the Kindle.  As Bezos states, “The vision for Kindle is every book, every imprint, in any language, all available in 60 seconds.”  That’s quite a mission.  They are definitely doing really well so far. 

The Amazon Phone

He admits that it’s a flop but contends that it’s just the start of them being in that business.  He states, “The Kindle is now on its seventh generation. The Kindle Voyage, the new premium product, is just completely killer. Fire TV, Fire TV Stick — we’re having trouble building enough. Amazon Echo, which we just launched. So there’s a lot of activity going on in our device business. With the phone, I just ask you to stay tuned.”

I wonder how many times they plan on iterating on the phone.  He talks about bold bets with things like Kindle, AWS and third-party resellers, but building a phone and competing against Apple, Android (they aren’t using core Android), Samsung and others is entirely different.  While audacious, i’m not sure I see how they can differentiate. 

Drones

He did an interview with “60 Minutes” and showcased their drone delivery system.  It was awesome.  He was asked about it here.  As you’d expect, he thinks the main thing holding it back is the regulatory issues, saying, “The most interesting part of this is the autopilot and the guidance and control and the machine vision systems that make it all work. As for when, though, that is very difficult to predict. I’d bet you the ratio of lawyers to engineers on the primary team is probably the highest at Amazon.

I think it’s the same for self-driving cars (I have a bet they’ll be here by 2023).  It totally works right now but the world is just not ready for it.  There are so many unanswered questions, such as: if someone gets killed or severely injured by a self-driving car, who’s liable?  Is it the person who bought the car, the company that built the car? Is there some level of insurance that you can get?  

Anyway, some good thoughts in there.  It’s worth a read.

 

 

Thoughts on Apple’s iPhone 6 & ApplePay

I listened to the announcement last week and have a lot of thoughts on the upcoming iPhone. 

Apple’s launch event came, and delivered (mostly) what had been leaked and/or expected: a larger iPhone & a phablet, payments and a smart watch. The phones are mostly predictable: the customer is always right, and the customer has decided to optimise for pocket size and experience over thumb size (the changes in iOS7 & iOS8 have made it possible to do this, incidentally).

Why did they make it bigger?

Basically, Apple dominates the high end of the phone market.  They like it that way.  To date, there has been a few high-end Android phones eating away at their sales (mostly Samsung phones).  There are currently six reason people buy these phones (taken from Benedicts’s Blog): 

  1. Their operator subsidies an Android but not an iPhone – this has now ended, with Apple adding distribution with all the last significant hold-outs (Sprint, DoCoMo, China Mobile)
  2. They don’t particularly care what phone they get and the salesman was on more commission to sell Androids or, more probably, Samsungs that day (and iPhones the next, of course)
  3. They have a dislike of Apple per se – this is hard to quantify but probably pretty small, and balanced by people with a dislike of Google
  4. They are heavily bought into the Google ecosystem
  5. They like the customizations that are possible with Android and that have not been possible with iOS until (to a much increased extent) iOS8 (more broadly, once could characterize this as ‘personal taste’)
  6. They want a larger screen. 

The first has largely gone, the second is of little value to an ecosystem player and nets out at zero (i.e. Apple gains as many indifferent users as it loses) and the third is small. Apple has now addressed the fifth and sixth.  That is, with the iPhone 6 and iOS8, Apple has done its best to close off all the reasons to buy high-end Android beyond simple personal preference.  As Benedict Evans states, “You can get a bigger screen, you can change the keyboard, you can put widgets on the notification panel (if you insist) and so on. Pretty much all the external reasons to choose Android are addressed – what remains is personal taste.”

What’s the deal with ApplePay?

A lot of people are saying “they are going to make a ton of money with ApplePay!” and “They are going to crush PayPal!” – both are not even close to true.  If you look at what they are actually doing here, it’s not to take on banks, credit cards or any actual payment system.  They are taking on the wallet.  If you look at what they did with music – they didn’t put Universal Music out of business, they didn’t come up with a better way to be a label, they just crushed the music store (like Tower Records).  It’s the same here.  You still need a credit card.  You still need a bank to issue thecard.  You just don’t have to pull it out or even have it when buying something.  

 

I just pre-ordered my new iPhone 6 (not the Plus) to get it on Friday.  What about you?  You buying one?

 

The Secret Behind Snapchat’s Popularity

I was chatting the other day about why Snapchat is so popular.  Most people think it’s because of sexting and the fact that the photos disappear, but i think it’s more than that.  I recently came across a speech by the Snapchat founder (Evan Spiegel) and thought it was pretty enlightening as to how he sees usage occur.

He talks about how people today don’t want to fully recreate their offline experience online. They want to be online but understand that their online profile isn’t the sum of them.  It’s a pretty different view.  A highlight of the speech:

Traditional social media required that we live experiences in the offline world, record those experiences, and then post them online to recreate the experience and talk about it. For example, I go on vacation, take a bunch of pictures, come back home, pick the good ones, post them online, and talk about them with my friends.

This traditional social media view of identity is actually quite radical: you are the sum of your published experience. Otherwise known as: pics or it didn’t happen.

Or in the case of Instagram: beautiful pics or it didn’t happen AND you’re not cool.

This notion of a profile made a lot of sense in the binary experience of online and offline. It was designed to recreate who I am online so that people could interact with me even if I wasn’t logged on at that particular moment.

Snapchat relies on Internet Everywhere to provide a totally different experience. Snapchat says that we are not the sum of everything we have said or done or experienced or published – we are the result. We are who we are today, right now.

He then also talks about how when you take the photo away, it’s more about the feeling and not the photo.  It’s subtle but powerful difference.  He says: 

Snapchat discards content to focus on the feeling that content brings to you, not the way that content looks. This is a conservative idea, the natural response to radical transparency that restores integrity and context to conversation.

Snapchat sets expectations around conversation that mirror the expectations we have when we’re talking in-person.

That’s what Snapchat is all about. Talking through content not around it. With friends, not strangers. Identity tied to now, today. Room for growth, emotional risk, expression, mistakes, room for YOU.

I like that concept.  And with that it’s clear why people, especially teenagers, would want a more forgiving medium. 

Note: blogged about Snapchat almost a year ago and the massive growth they are having: http://loo.me/2013/06/lets-talk-about-snapchat/

Foursquare Swarming and the death of the Mayorship

I’m a big FourSquare user and i have been since they launched. I think I was one of the original 10k users to sign up for the service. Looking at my profile, i can see that i’ve done over 5700 checkin and am the mayor of over 20 venues.  I’m all over it. 

I learned a few weeks ago that 4S was going to change up their business.  They discovered that there are two distinct personas that use their app:  (1) the user who checks in a lot and views where their friends are; (2) the user who uses the app to find places to go and search for tips. They found that they were constantly limiting each personas experience so they could wedge both into the service. They also recognized the rise of “App Constellations” where multiple services such as Facebook, Dropbox and others are producing multiple apps that deep link to each other (read this good Fred Wilson blog post about it). So, they announced that they are splitting their business into two apps: one for the checkin user (like me) called Swarm and another for the venue researcher called Foursquare (which will compete directly with Yelp).

Swarm screenshots

I like this change.  Since it happened, i found myself using Swarm a lot and because it didn’t have the other stuff in there, it’s more streamlined and easier to use.  They also were able to add a few extra features like “Where are you going to be?” because they have the room.  In short, I love the new strategy and like the new app.  

Also, the mayor is being killed off. From the foursquare blog

Mayors 2.0. We wanted to get back to a fun way to compete with your friends instead of all 50,000,000 people who are on Foursquare. With these new mayorships, if you and a couple friends have been checking in to a place, the person who has been there the most lately gets a crown sticker. So you and your friends can compete for the mayorship of your favorite bar, without having to worry about the guy who is there every. single. day. Mayors 2.0 means that places can have many different mayors, one for each circle of friends, instead of just a single mayor at each place.

I am mayor at 20+ places and found daily enjoyment in that fact. This change is a bummer. I guess it reflects society’s need for everybody to be a winner, which is also stupid. But I understand why they’re doing it, but i also hate it.  It’d be nice to have a global mayor. 

As a side note: I’ve currently checked in to Illegal Pete’s for 79 consecutive weeks.  I feel like that’s some sort of record. 

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The craftsmanship between a great idea and great product

Saw this from Dixon’s blog over the weekend. It’s a good clip from Steve Jobs in 1995 where he talks about how building great products and thought it was worth a repost.

As the head of Product at Kapost, it really resonates to me as we often start off with a product idea and through months of discussion and design, come out at a different place – one that is always better than where we began.  I also like the talk of keeping things out of product.  In my opinion, that’s one of the hardest part of design product – trying to intentionally remove or not include parts that customers claim they want.  

The Jobs quote:

 

There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

That’s one thing I love about product.  You need to understand design, your business, competitive landscape, your customers, technology and how to get things done.  It’s one of the more interdisciplinary roles a company has.