Since both 39 and Fifth Layer (the company behind SyncPad) are completely distributed, I’ve been dealing with remote collaboration for the past few years. Heck, SyncPad itself was born out of the need of a better tool to visually collaborate remotely. Here’s a list of some of the tools I found helpful when dealing with remote teams:
SyncPad (link →)
I know, I know, it’s a shameless plug but I do use it almost every day when collaborating with the rest of the team. Sure, it will never truly reproduce the experience of a real meeting room whiteboard, but at the same time it has some features that its real life equivalent doesn’t have. For those who don’t know SyncPad, it’s a whiteboard application that allows you to share and collaborate with drawings, images and PDFs and works on iOS, Android and browsers.
HipChat (link →)
We tried several group chats in the past few years, including 37 Signals’ Campfire, but HipChat ended up being the winner. They just released a native app for Mac OS to replace the old Air application. Big win. Their mobile clients still suck but we hope Atlassian–they recently acquired HipChat–will make some improvements on that front as well.
Skype (link →)
I don’t think I need to introduce Skype to anyone. It’s still the quickest way to get a call started from my Mac. It has plenty of bugs I could complain about (like switching the audio input every time I plug my headphones) but it’s still better than any other alternative. HipChat has a video conference feature but it feels buggy and everyone already has Skype installed anyway.
Asana (link →)
While we tried for a while both Pivotal Tracker and Trello, we settled on Asana because of its flexibility. It won’t give you the classic kanban view, but it suited better our way to work and it’s a better choice when it comes to use it for regular tasks. You really need to feel comfortable with the tool you use to manage your tasks, since this will be most likely the center of your operations.
Idonethis (link →)
One thing I often do when I connect in the morning is to check with everyone all the progresses made the day before. It’s very hard to keep the pulse on what everyone is working on, especially when working at very different hours through out the day. Idonethis is a very simple tool that allow everyone to email every evening a list of all the accomplishments of the day and you’ll get a digest that shows you the team’s accomplishments from the day before.
Dropbox (link →)
Simply the best way to share files within the team. We just have a common folder where we save files and assets we need to share.
GitHub (link →)
If you have anything to do with software development and don’t know about Github, shame on you. GitHub is a web-based hosting service for projects that use the Git revision control system. Lately I’ve been using Bitbucket as well for some other projects, definitely a solid alternative (it’s also cheaper).
Hackpad (link →)
While we often still use Google Docs, I’d like to give this spot to Hackpad. I personally like it better, also because it allows to easily connect other documents and mentions (a-la Twitter) other users. I’m also getting tired of Google everything, so alternatives are always welcome.
Here’s a collection of videos that inspire and motivate me. Living the “startup life” isn’t easy, so sometime a little bit of motivational help doesn’t hurt.
How bad do you want it
A pep talk from kid President to you
Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
The Art of selling by Alec Baldwin
Boiler Room – Group Interview
There are two categories of people looking to start a business: those who have an idea and want to build it, and those who want to build something but haven’t found the right idea yet.
Each category has different challenges, but in this post I will focus on the latter. Where can you find a good idea? From my personal experience, good ideas are the result of good observation. We are often too busy working or doing something else to take a step back and look at how we execute the things that we do. If you take the time to try to observe yourself from the outside, you will probably find many inefficiencies in your execution. You will also notice that most of those inefficiencies come from the tools that you use.
Offline shopping, for instance, is very inefficient. You have to drive to a store, walk through the isles, choose from a limited-by-space amount of products, stand in line at the cashier and then drive back home. Looking at shopping from an efficiency point of view, it’s easy to see how Amazon (like other e-commerce sites) are a great idea.
SyncPad itself was born this way. Since expressing design changes over the phone or Skype was challenging, and emailing drafts and changes back and forth was a waste of time, I came up with a tool that could solve these inefficiencies. With SyncPad, I can now quickly share a sketch or an image while I’m on the phone, and the other person can work on it in real-time.
Of course isolating an inefficiency is only the beginning. Once you focus on a problem, the second factor you need to analyze is its potential market and value. Is this a problem that only you and a few others have, or is it common to billions of people? Dropbox is a great example of a product that solves a very common inefficiency: the need to easily access your data and documents from different places. Your need for a better tool to catalog your collection of Coke cans may not be as common. The size of the market itself is meaningless if it’s not associated with the value of your solution. If you can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for your product, it’s ok if your market size is in the four digit range.
So start looking around for inefficiencies. Once you find one, try to understand how big the possible market would be for a solution to that inefficiency. Lastly, start talking to your potential customers to get an idea of the value of that solution.
The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!Randy Pausch
One thing I’ve noticed from talking with people entering the mobile application market is that many of them start with unrealistic expectations.
We are bombarded every day by overnight success stories. We read about them in the newspapers. We hear about them on TV. What we often don’t hear is the years of trials, failings and pivots behind those stories. When the media celebrates the “overnight” success of Angry Birds, they don’t tell you that Rovio, the company behind the popular game, was founded in 2003 and released 51 games before their big hit in 2009. And that by then they were on the verge of bankruptcy. That’s a 6-years-long overnight success.
I’m not saying that you will have to wait that long before you’ll be successful with your idea, but that things aren’t as easy as they look. While you may think you have the greatest idea on the planet, there are plenty of things that could make your application not as successful as you are expecting. Including the possibility that it’s not that great of an idea. I’m sure some of the 51 games made by Rovio were awesome and some were awful, but I’m also sure they learned something from each of them.
One thing I often tell 39’s clients is that they most likely won’t recover their investment. It’s part of the game. Just like an investor, it would be pretentious to expect 100% success rate on your investments. It’s part of the game. Of course, there are many things that can be done to increase your chance of success and decrease the possible loss, such as talking to your future clients and focusing on a few core features.
That’s why it is very important to set the right expectations when entering the app business. That doesn’t mean starting with a negative mentality, but knowing that there’s a lot of work ahead in order to make it into a success. It’s also important to define the concept of success for your application. For some applications success will be having millions of downloads and generating 0 revenue, while for others success will be selling a few copies but generating tens of thousands of dollars each month or it may even be enough to simply generate enough to pay a few bills.
Working with clear expectations will help you make better decisions, focus on the important stuff and ultimately increase your chances of success.
Almost every potential client who contacts me asks me to sign an NDA before disclosing their idea or project. Let me tell you what I think about it: it’s bullshit.
I do respect their wishes, and I sign them reluctantly. But when it comes to my own ideas, I’m the biggest mouth on earth. Seriously, I can’t stop talking about my ideas to other people. I’m eager to get their feedback.
No one is going to steal my ideas, because my ideas are worth nothing. You could have an amazing idea, but if you don’t execute it, it will always be worth zero. Nada. Niente. People are too busy with their own things to stop what they are doing to execute your idea, and if they have the time to do it, believe me, they won’t do it.
Even if they want to steal your idea, there are many things they won’t be able to steal. They can’t steal your passion, your domain expertise, or the time you’ve spent thinking about it at all day and night. And those are the things that, coupled with a great execution, generate a successful business.
On the other hand, if you share your idea, you may receive unexpected feedback, ideas, and insights. While having company advisors may cost you money or equity, you can have most of the same benefit for free simply by sharing your ideas. And remember, you can always share your ideas without necessarily spilling your secret sauce.
I was fortunate enough to be featured in the small business section of Florida Trend Magazine’s February issue. In the article titled ”What were these small businesses thinking?” Mike Vogel showcases the story of six entrepreneurs.
Needless to say, I’m only one person in a group of extremely talented people working with me at both Fifth Layer and 39.
You can read the article here.