12.08.2014

The Golden Era of Podcasting?


You've probably heard by now of Serial, the wildly popular podcast from the creators of This American Life.  Serial has quickly built an audience of 2.2 million weekly listeners, far surpassing This American Life as the most popular podcast ever [Note: TAL has more listeners overall including terrestrial radio]. Its popularity has caused a lot of people to say that podcasts may finally be ready to break through in popular culture. 

Whether Serial's runaway success is an exception to the rule or not, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about podcasting right now.  More talented people are getting involved.  Podcast companies are starting to raise VC money.  New podcast technology is being created.  But the most important thing is, there is more and more great content.  It's gotten so I'm always looking for a new reason to walk somewhere, just so I can have the time to listen.

Here are the shows I'm listening to currently:
  • StartUp -- Alex Blumberg, producer of This American Life, left to build a podcast company.  This is his firsthand account of starting his own business, including direct recordings of conversations he's had with VC's and others.  It's an amazing inside look at the startup world.  I hear it's Serial for geeks.
  • The Vergecast -- A weekly talk show where the editors of The Verge discuss the week in tech news.  The Vergecast used to be my favorite podcast before it took an extended hiatus and The Verge founder Josh Topolsky left for Bloomerg.  Now it's back and better than ever.  The new cast is really funny.
  • A16Z -- A frequent interview podcast featuring the team at powerhouse VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.  Part of what makes A16Z so great is the guests that join on a weekly basis, such as VC's Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel, analyst Benedict Evans, or entrepreneurs like Marc Benioff.
  • Product Hunt -- A weekly discussion lead by Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover about the many interesting new products and companies making their way to the homepage of Product Hunt, in itself a wildly popular new site for tech and startup enthusiasts.  
  • Clockwise -- A weekly roundtable variety tech talk lead by Jason Snell, the former lead editor of Macworld.  Four participants propose one topic apiece, which gets discussed for 5 minutes each.  Snell has other interesting sounding podcasts as well.
  • Foundation -- A sporadic interview series from charismatic serial entrepreneur and VC Kevin Rose.  It doesn't happen very often, but Rose gets lengthy interviews with elite founders like Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, and Elon Musk.
A few more podcasts I haven't started yet but plan on listening to:
  • How to Start a Startup -- A recording of the entrepreneurialism business class startup accelerator Y Combinator teaches at Standford
  • Exponent -- A weekly show about technology and society lead by James Allworth of Harvard Business Review and Ben Thompson.
And in case I have some extra time to kill, I listen to few ESPN podcasts, Bill Simmons and Mike & Mike, for good measure.`

Last, what powers all this new listening.  I'm using Overcast, the incredibly user friendly new iPhone podcast listening application from Marco Arment of Instapaper and Tumblr fame.  I've paid to unlock all of the premium features like cellular download and smart speed, but also to support developers investing time in podcasting, and independent app development in general.

What podcasts are you listening to?

Blog post photo borrowed from iMore.

11.30.2014

The Genius ISMs: 17 Principals on Life and Work


Below is a revised version of the 17 basic principals that guide the work, culture, ethics, and interactions of employees at Genius.com.  For broader application to other people and companies I’ve generalized and reduced each principal to the key points.  For authenticity, wherever possible I’ve maintained the same language from the original description.  In addition to reading this list (or the original), I recommend listening to the A16Z podcast where the founders of Genius are interviewed about the thoughts that went into many of the principals.

It’s Not Not Your Job
Whatever it says on your business card, your real job is to make the company a success.  You can never say “it’s ok that we failed, at least I did my job well”.  You need to take ownership.

The Chaos will Not be Minimized
Building anything great is messy.  Pursue a results-maximizing strategy, not a chaos-minimization or comfort-maximization strategy.

It Should Be Fun
We won't succeed unless we all do great work, and it’s impossible to do great work unless you’re feeling inspired and enjoying yourself.

Only Hire A Players
Skills can be learned. Is the person smart? Do you get excited just talking to them? Would the person be effective in our environment? Is the person HUNGRY? Would we be devastated if they quit? Anything less is communication overhead.

Don't Fill Up on Bread
Choosing how to spend your time is one of your most important and difficult jobs. Always be asking yourself: “What am I working on? Is it the most important thing I could be doing?". Email is rarely, if ever, it.

Worse is Better
We have nothing to lose. If we fail it will be because we didn’t seize the opportunity, not because we made too many mistakes.

Run Into The Spike
Life is a battle against the evil voices inside that tell us to give in and take the easy way out. Whenever you’re deciding what to do next, pick the thing you least want to do. Chances are it’s the hardest and most important thing on your plate.

Take the Roast out of the Oven
An “almost done” project is just as valuable as a project you haven’t started. the worst thing you can do is get a project to “almost done” and quit. it’s far more valuable to ship one project than it is to get two projects to  “almost done”.

Being Busy ≠ Making Progress
Just because you’re not on Facebook and are feeling busy and  stretched thin and tired doesn’t mean you’re making progress. And 5 people meeting for an hour is like 1 person meeting for 5 hours, i.e., killing their day.

“What is Right?”, not “Who is Right?”
Very rarely should you do something because someone else wants it. Your job is not to figure out what the boss wants and make it happen. Your job is to figure out what you think is right and push for it.

Feel it to my Face
It’s especially important to be honest about the quality of someone's work. Is someone’s work output bad, good, great? Let them know. Be critical, but try to help. Feedback is a gift.  Err on the side of transparency.

“What do you Propose?”
Instead of just noting there’s a problem, push yourself to come up with a suggestion for how to improve things.  And “we should do X” isn't a proposal, you need to clarify who, and how.

Be Skeptical of Experts
An “expert”’s advantages in experience and knowledge is dwarfed by the advantage you have in knowing the full context and history of your problem. they also probably care much less about the problem than you do.

Pitch Like You Mean It
The most important aspect to being a good public speaker is being excited about the idea you’re sharing and being excited to be “on stage” / presenting it to your audience.

Write Like a Human
Whenever you write something read it aloud and ask yourself “is this what I would say if I were just explaining this to someone in person?” If the answer is “no” then make it more human and less “professional”.

Go to a Gym-esque Place
The healthier you are you are, mentally and physically, the happier and more productive you will be. Make time in which to step away from that glowing rectangle and take care of your mind and your body.

We’ll Figure it Out
Stay cool. It’s not as bad as it seems. In 6 months no one will care.  You get ZERO credit for being right that things were fucked, and a TON of credit for turning a crisis into an opportunity. Stay positive and look for one!

The original long description, with annotations, on Genius.com:

A great interview with the Genius founders on their principals:

11.11.2014

How extensions in iOS 8 change iPhone apps forever

App extensions in iOS are probably not used, understood, or even known about as much as they should be. They're probably exciting the tech geek crowd more than anyone else, especially the Android-to-iOS audience that missed the powerful things they could do before trading their Nexus in for an iPhone. But app extensions have fundamentally changed the way apps work and the way they can deliver value to iPhone users. Here's why.

Prior to iOS 8, 3rd party applications were almost entirely self contained experiences. With the exception of a few tricks that paired partnered apps together (and most often apps in the same developer ecosystem, e.g., Google), the only way you used an application was opening it directly, using it  for its purpose, and closing it. With iOS 8 apps have a newfound ability to contribute to the iOS operating system. Apps can now provide features and functionalities for the rest of your apps to use indiscriminately. And many of these functions mean you never have to open certain apps again, while benefiting massively from what they have to offer.


Take the new ability to include  lock screen widgets with 3rd party applications.  These widgets can be so robust that many times the full function of the application can be moved out of the app. For example, I installed Yahoo! Weather because the lock screen widget provides and instantly glanceable, beautiful,  informative view of the weather. Now that I have the Yahoo! Weather lock screen widget I will probably never open the actual application again.


Or the ability for applications to be included in iOS 8's new universal share sheet. The obvious use here is to simply add a share button like "share to Tumblr", which was always limited to platforms Apple chose. But app developers are finding innovative ways to leverage this placement for unique functionalities. For example, if you install the popular Fantastical calendar app on your iPhone you can take advantage of its magical natural language meeting compose feature regardless of whether Fantastical is your calendar app of choice. I prefer to use Sunrise Calendar for its design and social integrations, but Fantastical's compose meetings is the best out there. Now I can chose one without losing the best of the other, or have my cake and eat it too.


It doesn't stop there. Apps can add camera functions and keyboards too. I rarely used Camera+ because I often take pictures with Instagram or VSCO Cam like most people, but now I can easily edit photos in my iPhone camera role with Camera+'s functions when I want to. And finally I can use Swype's unique one finger keyboard, the former Android exclusive pride and joy, to write emails. After installing the Swype app to get the keyboard there is definitively into reason to open the app again.

With all of these new capabilities, what it means to be an iPhone application is being completely rethought and reimagined. I'm excited to see the things developers create with this powerful new opportunity in iOS.

10.11.2014

10 Lessons on design and making things I learned at Brooklyn Beta 2014


The 10 most important lessons I learned at this year’s Brooklyn Beta conference about design, business, and technology when it comes to making stuff:
  1. Giving people just what they need, when they need it, and not more, is fundamental to the user experience. Tavi Gevinson publishes only three new stories per day on Rookie magazine, timed to ‘After School’, ‘Dinner Time’, and ‘Sweet Dreams’. Her teen readers know new content will appear just when they need it, and in manageable doses.
  2. Creators innovate on ways to provide value, as well as how to make money from their ideas. Over time Tavi has grown Rookie into a triple thread with an annual published book for sale, as well as an physical event series. They all work together to deliver Rookie’s promise.
  3. If you can’t win the game, change the game you’re playing. When David Hieatt realized his small town denim factory couldn’t win in the market for denim jeans competing for the best price, he started over as a brand focused on quality and innovation at a premium.
  4. Purpose makes your company stronger, makes people believe in you, and want to support you. People believe in Hiut Denim Co. because Hiut’s mission is to bring jobs back its town and enable its craftsman community to put their wealth of skill and knowledge to work.
  5. Be an ideas company that applies ideas to a your business platform of choice. Hiut is an ideas company that makes denim jeans. They constantly innovate on the product, the experience, and the story of their denim jeans. Ideas are what can have a multiplier effect.
  6. Limitations can give your product direction and distinction. While a majority of the jean market is for pre-washed jeans, Hiut couldn’t offer this because of the impact on the town’s water supply. Instead, Hiutcreated the “no-wash jeans” club and embraced the uniqueness of jeans that have creases from the wearer’s life instead of a machine.
  7. Consider the impact your decisions will have on our culture for the long term. Getting wrapped up in the Internet party and not thinking about the clean up after is destroying our heritage. Jason Scott said 40% of URLs they index at Internet Archive are gone. Everything important about us is on the shakiest foundation since the dawn of time.
  8. Be honest with yourself about whether you’re achieving your goals. Brooklyn Beta co-founder Cameron Koczon rated their conference a C+ despite a 5 year run and thousands of passionate happy attendees because he felt it became too design focused and didn’t help bridge the gap between design and development + business they intended.
  9. You can choreograph empathy and creativity by paying close attention to the details. Brooklyn Beta succeeded as an un-conference because the organizers perfectly choreographed the experience. Things like no announced schedules, no Internet, DIY creator stations, ample conversation breaks, and unlimited coffee + beer set the pace.
  10. Do the stuff that matters to you the most. Have big, audacious, scary dreams. It’s not the job of dreams to be realistic, it’s the job of dreams to be damn near impossible. If you work hard enough, you might achieve a jean company that employs a town, a magazine for a new generation, or a conference that inspires and changes people’s lives.
Note: This post was originally written on Medium

9.12.2014

With Apple Watch, Don’t Be Afraid To Dream Big


On Tuesday Apple finally unveiled the Apple Watch, ending years of rumors and seemingly insurmountable hype. The reviews have been mixed, at best. There are critiques about the design, critiques about the interface, critiques about the feature set. But mostly people are just saying “why would I ever need a watch when I already have a phone? What could it possibly do better?”

The ‘Why’ is what’s important.

The challenge of new technology is to overcome the obvious and enable the unprecedented. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a device has failed just because it can’t do what we already do, any better than we already do it. It’s much harder to think about what a new device, especially one with such unique features as the Apple Watch, is capable of enabling in our lives.

This is precisely the same question we’re pursuing with Google Glass.

If you put on Google Glass and simply take a picture, do a search, or even play a game, you might feel like you are wearing an overpriced Halloween costume. When it comes to reproducing existing behaviors Google Glass often feels inferior, clunky, even infuriating. For that reason, over two years after Google Glass was first announced, it’s considered by many to be a dud.

But when you begin to think about what it could mean to augment people’s vision with the information they need, without taking up any additional human faculties, you look at Glass a little differently.

Recently SS+K partnered with Mark Morris Dance Group to build an application for Google Glass specifically tailored to augment the lives of people living with Parkinson’s disease. Taking advantage of Glass’s heads-up display, bone-inductive audio, and verbal and gestural navigation, we’ve discovered new tools that will give people living with Parkinson’s greater control and freedom in their lives. In a way that only Google Glass, and nothing before it, could make possible.

This is equally true of other Glass-based projects now underway. Remedy is a medical technology company building Glass software that enables physicians to lend their eyes to specialists for remote consultations. Quest Visual is making international travel easier than ever before with their application Word Lens that magically replaces the foreign language words you’re looking at with the proper translation, right before your eyes.

So when I look at the Apple Watch I’m not thinking about text messaging, Google searches, Facebook, or phone calls. I’m thinking about how the Apple Watch could be more consistently and more prominently connected to us than any mobile technology before it. How the underside of the watch face has a heart rate sensor. And how the watch body can generate varying degrees of haptic feedback to the wearer. I’m trying to think about the things that have never been before.

Writing off Apple Watch based on how it performs against today’s tasks is a fool’s errand. Instead, we need to look at Apple Watch as a new opportunity that we have the capability to make wonders with.

What’s possible is only limited by our imagination.

Note: This post was originally written on Medium

6.28.2014

Holding onto what you love

The “should the founder sell” dilema

Today I read that that Svpply, a much loved product curation community that sold to Ebay less than two years ago, is shutting down. Shortly after the announcement, the founder launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a new site independent of Ebay, very similar to Svpply, that he says will focus purely on the community, and never sell again. He’s turning to Kickstarter to fund the community so he’s not beholden to venture funding demands this time around.

If you think the story sounds familiar, it’s because the the the founder of Upcoming, a once popular event sharing community that sold to Yahoo! and saw his brainchild dissapear, just recently announced a Kickstarter to relaunch Upcoming campaign with the same promise. And before that, similar stories have played out with StumbleUpon [once sold to Ebay], Foursquare [an outgrowth of Dodgeball, which Google bought], AboutMe [once sold to AOL], and others.

When Svpply was acquired by Ebay a blog post that went up said “we couldn’t be happier to announce that we’ve been acquired by eBay Inc. One thing we do want to make clear: Svpply is not going away.” When Upcoming was acquired by Yahoo! a blog post that went up said “I’m unbelievably proud to announce that Upcoming.org is now a member of the Yahoo! family. I’ve always had a warm and fuzzy feeling about Yahoo.” History has rewritten both.

I’m thinking about these stories because I’m currently building something I’m really excited about, that we’re about to show the world soon. If all goes well and we’re lucky enough for it to be successful, I know we’ll eventually have to make a decision to fight the good fight ourselves, or find a home for it. And I know when the time comes, finding a home for it will seem like the right decision. But I wonder how many people who sell their baby regret when they do. I wonder how often that is the wrong decision.

Even though venture funding and attractive acquisition offers are necessity for spurring innovation, and many of the great things we enjoy today are a result of that pattern, I’m curious how much we’ve also lost because the people who are passionate about their ideas lose control of them. I hope we can avoid that fate.

Note: This post was originally written on Medium

5.24.2014

It's an amazing new world


This morning I was set to leave for a trip to Florida with my family.  This is how the morning went.

My wife and I closed the door to our apartment, opened Uber on our phone, and ordered a cab within minutes right to our door. I could track the cab as it drove the six blocks to meet us, and the cab knew exactly where and which side of the street I was standing on. Magic moment #1.

Once we were in the cab and on the way to the airport I opened Google Now which told me our flight was on time, what gate it was at, and the weather at both my departing airport and in the city we are landing in. It also had a record of the flight reservation and hotel reservation. All of this information was provided proactively by extracting details from my email over the last few months. Magic moment #2.

Then when we arrived at the airport both my wife and I looked at our phones to see our boarding passes already available on our lock screens, courtesy of Apple Passbook. These instantly displayed because we were at the location and time our boarding passes were relevant. Magic moment #3.

All of these things were not possible, not even imaginable, just a few years ago. Every single part of my travel experience has gotten easier because of intelligent mobile technologies. It really is an amazing new world.

3.17.2014

Amazon Prime's price hike: when companies don't have your best interests at heart


Amazon announced this week that Amazon Prime would be seeing a price increase for the first time since its launch 9 years ago, from $79 to $99.

If the rising cost of shipping, and improved abilities to deliver next-day or even day-of are at the heart of that price increase, then it seems completely fair and customers will understand. But the question on the table is: how much is expenses related to Amazon Prime's core value proposition affecting the price increase, or instead is it the side ventures that Amazon is bundling in as "value-ad": Amazon Prime Instant Video and Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

In particular, Prime Instant Video, Amazon's Netflix and Hulu+ competitor, must be a significant cost for Amazon to continue to building out. Licensing content, especially platform exclusives, is an increasingly costly venture as bidding wars for the best content heat up. Additionally, Amazon is investing in Original Series of its own that it provides for free to Prime customers, which ads to the ledger.

Prime Instant Video, Lending Library and Original Series are all great value-ads, but I don't know many people who use any of the services regularly, and I haven't heard of anyone upset that they can't pay for them individually, instead of one of the competitors.  So if it turns out the expense of providing all of these "value ad" features to Prime customers, without giving them a chance to opt out and only receive free two day shopping, is driving the membership increase-- then how does it feel?

At some point, Amazon customers won't want to subsidize Amazon's efforts to enter new markets-- at least not without choice.

Marco Arment has an excellent blog post "Worse" about how Amazon and its tech peers are increasingly making decisions based on monopolistic interests, instead of customer interests:
This isn’t just an Amazon problem. In the last few years, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all made huge attempts to move into major parts of each others’ businesses, usually at the detriment of their customers or users. (How sad is it that Microsoft isn’t even in this list? They invented this move.)
These decisions are ones we all deal with as customers because we value the primary service enough, but we wish we didn't have to.  And it forces us to always be on the lookout for alternatives-- new products, new companies, that don't force us to accept those terms.  Think about the negative karma that companies have generated by forcing us to use Google+ instead of Google Reader, Apple Maps instead of Google Maps, Twitter photos instead of Instagram, etc.

I strongly believe sacrificing customer satisfaction to pursue monopolistic tendencies isn't a good long term strategy.  Especially if the product companies provide us as a replacement for their competitors is inferior.