Thinking about TV’s

The TV ecosystem really is a mess. What I am talking about is the way consumers can easily consume OTT content on their TV set.

I myself use Apple TV and I mostly love it. I can throw anything from my iOS device onto it, I can buy things from iTunes, and I can use some of the apps on it to watch things but I must say I don’t use it that way much. I have played with Google Chromecast and it works well. If only Google would open it up like Apple TV to developers to cast to it. It is funny to me that in this regard Apple is currently more OPEN than Google.

I was reading Benedict’s latest Mobile newsletter for this nugget:

YouTube ‘Pair’ – turn the YouTube app on your smart TV into a mirror to whatever you do on your smartphone. This approach seems to me to make the most sense – use the sophisticated touch screen in your hand to control what appears on the TV and make the TV itself ‘dumb glass’ – whether it’s via Airplay, Chromecast, YouTube or something else, either embedded or via a cheap HDMI widget.

What I love is the dumb glass comment. This is really what we all want. The ability to easily throw on to the glass whatever we are doing on our mobile phone, computer, tablet, or device connected to the TV. What we don’t want is to click a button, with this shitty remote, to bring up a plethora of things we don’t want, and an app store that is hard to search saddled with the performance of a 1990’s computer. Looking at you all the Smart TV platforms in the world.

Sure – maybe someone wants this but I think it is mostly just the TV manufacturers wishing for an app store economy like what Apple and Google have but they can keep dreaming because they will never have it. And FYI – the economics they demand from the developers are worse usually than what Apple and Google offer. So the pitch is not very good. For example – asking for a cut of payments when they don’t even offer the payment engine.

So where do we go from here? I expect the TV guys to keep pushing since they seem to claiming successes like this:

However I am guessing we will see more of Apple TV and Google chromecast, Roku and everything else trying to cut out the TV for something easier to use. Of course Roku is trying to land inside the TV but the end result is the same. Problem with all this stuff is there is no real cross platform standard to adhere to. Google does it one way, Apple another, Samsung another and of course Roku uses their own stack through and through. I won’t even get into what each TV stack has – every set is like a totally different platform. HTML 5 is the tool but requires a lot of cross platform troubleshooting.

Users want to walk up to their screen and just watch shit. Purpose built boxes help make this easier and Google with Android TV is making this a very possible reality. Apple needs to open up Apple TV to apps and speed up their position in the home cause Google is moving faster than Apple right now when it comes to the home. Looks no further than the Nest acquisition as an example of that. My guts says the Apple users will have an Apple home and the Google users will have a Google home. Of course Microsoft could disrupt this with X Box but it is not really open enough in my opinion.

Users want to stream on their TV – right now this is a mess.

Let’s see what happens next.

Is Path slowly diminishing in global relevance?

I will admit to being a fan of Path but I used to use it more than I do now. I have no specific reason for it but I tend to open it less and less. However when this latest issue happened, – one of the first things my Mom said when I was complaining about Bakrie was that my Dad would be bummed if I started to use Path less. My Dad uses it to keep tabs on all of us and to see pics of his grandkids. Basically this is the only reason I use Path. My Dad is not on Facebook and Facebook is so complicated these days that a product like Path serves a very real purpose.

Problem is Path has become a social mobile network with privacy being less important than it was originally was. Usually now when I look at Path I just see a mini version of what people are doing on Facebook. I have taken to removing anyone that I don’t want to share moments with and I probably need to prune it down even more.

Now add the Bakrie thing into the mix and I feel less enthusiastic about Path. Long story short is Path raised another round and part of the money came from the well known corrupt Bakrie family. To me this means one of two things. Path is not doing well and they knew Bakrie was a mess but they just want the money. I tend to think this is the reason. The other reason could be Path and it’s execs were not aware that the Bakrie family has a bad reputation and just didn’t realize the ramifications. I find this hard to believe since a simple google search will quickly show you what the world and Indonesians think of the Bakrie family. Not well regarded.

My take is Path is blowing through tons of money on advertising and on growing. However I think they are growing in pockets or specific regions and the global appeal of the product is waning. Taking money from Indonesian investors and focusing on Indonesia only further cements that view in my mind since if Path was growing well globally they would not need an Indonesia specific focus. My point is Path shot for global dominance and didn’t make it. So now they are retrenching some to grow where they are strong but if that country is Indonesia it would mean that Path is stepping down a bit cause Indonesia for a company that was on a global path is not the great prize – it is just another large country to add to the list. Meaning the monetization is low and the bigger they get in specific countries, like Indonesia, further diminishes the global appeal because a product becomes too focused on a country versus the globe.

I could be all wrong on this but I feel Path is struggling to find a global footprint so they are beginning to focus more on where they are having success. That to me is not what Path set out to do. Now add in the Bakrie thing and it all looks a little desperate.

Or perhaps it is just all about greed. Which leads me to think that Path and Bakrie make good bedfellows.

In the meantime I moved Path off of my home screen.

Tim Bray’s 2014 outlook

For the techies out there – this is a fantastic read.

Couple of things to note.

He seems to be endorsing Go – he does not love it but plans on using it more. I need to check it out:

Go has made a deep impression on me, even though it doesn’t make me smile, the way C and Java and Ruby and Clojure did successively over the years. My intuition is that its types offer enough object-flavored utility to get by. And my strong intuition is that Goroutines and typed pipes hit a huge 80/20 point, ushering developers smoothly into writing functional code just because it’s easy and straightforward and readable. The next substantial server-side piece of software I build will be in Go.

He is not giving Node a ringing endorsement but does not seem to be shutting it down either:

NodeJS isn’t really functional, but if everything’s a callback and you’re single threaded, who cares? Anyhow, my biggest gripe with Node is the JS part at the end; more on that later.

He really gets into how the client side stuff is a mess – I don’t disagree but at the same time I am not sure why everyone thinks it should be easy or a cross platform solution is what is needed. Platforms exist and user’s benefit from their offerings. So yes – keeping up with this is hard but such is life:

The client-side mess · Things are bad. You have to build everything three times: Web, iOS, Android. We’re talent-starved, this is egregious waste, and it’s really hurting us.

I love that he said this – because it is so true:

Browsers suck too · This is an unfashionable opinion, but I can’t see why it’s controversial.

He ends it all with this:

What’s next? · On the server side, no drama I think; everything gets smoother and better. These are the good old days.

On the client, I just totally don’t know. Historical periods featuring rococo engineering outbursts of colorful duplicative complexity usually end up converging on something simpler that hits the right 80/20 points. But if that’s what’s coming, it’s not coming from any direction I’m looking, so color me baffled. Maybe we’re stuck with clients-in-triplicate for the long haul.

I tend to agree. For some of us doing major multi-platform work it is even more intensive since we have to support the three (web, iOS, and android) plus TV’s (STB, consoles) and probably even Windows Phone. A super big chunk of work. If you are good some of this can all be built on the same back end and some of it, using HTML 5 and responsive web, can also share client code.

Is this how the future will look – I think so. Cause the platform folks want the lock in and the users want great experiences that for the time being only happen when the code is mostly native. Maybe this will change someday but not anytime soon is my guess.

And of course – it is just a guess.

Read the whole post though – it is very well thought out take on the current state of development.

Video: 3 Growth “Hacks”: The Secrets to Driving Massive User Growth

This is an awesome video:

It’s obvious Josh has a wealth of experience and was able to hone is craft at the beginning of some amazing companies. I bet sitting across from him at a pitch meeting is tough – he knows his shit. I have watched this once and I am planning to again while taking some notes.

However – it seems to me a lot of his ideas stem from working on social networks. I always struggle to see how best to apply theories like these when the product is not a social product. It may be easy to think everything is social or uses social but not everything at its core is a social network. FB, LinkedIn and twitter are.

Don’t get me wrong – there are ideas to apply that might help any product but I am grinding on how to tease the best out of this on a non social network product. Not as easy. Let me define what that means to be clear – yes someone can share something to a social network but it may not be that users see each other or each other’s activity in every product. So there may be users but they are not networked within the product.

It leads to me some thinking – maybe everything needs a little of the network poured into it – even if your product is not a network.

Back to grinding…


I am trying to blog more this year but I also said that last year as well. What can I say – I try.

I read this on SplatF and mostly agree about not wanting to waste time on social but write more – even if in smaller chunks.

I love twitter though cause it kicks of nice conversations that spurn me to write something. Yesterday was no exception.

Thanks to Chris and Dave for the inspiration.

Here is the string of tweets ::

I think Chris is making a great point and one I have always subscribed to when I considered joining or building a startup. The business goals of such startup should be to generate revenue. Within this framework though I think freemium is an accepted model. Because some startups, Spuul for example, are building in an area where piracy is rampant and the user population in places like India or Pakistan is not accustomed to having to pay. Or maybe they want to or would pay but the payment methods are not there.

I think other business models also run into the same hurdles so offering a free to use product that strives to convert the free user into some sort of paid user is an acceptable model. In our case we are also putting an ad business around the free model so it will also generate revenue.

All that being said. This is hard stuff. A lot of what we launched with has changed. We offer more subscription tiers than originally expected. We had to learn how to upsell. Had to decide over time on which features to make free and which features to make available only to paid users. We had to learn how to not try and attract only free users but users who wanted to kick the tires for purposes of deciding for themselves if they would eventually upgrade. Meaning there is a big difference in marketing to get a free user and marketing to get a user who starts as free but has the propensity to pay.

Lots of work to sort all these flows out and to build a business around freemium but I think in emerging markets and for some business verticals – freemium can work.

The other school of thought says only build something people want to pay for. This for some business verticals might also be doable but it may not always work. Either way I think it takes time to do either of these well and at scale. Generally startups are rushed to sort this out and don’t have the time to experiment to see what sticks.

After all an early stage startup really is just an experiment.

happy building!

Wow. Where did 2013 go?

Between the year of the baby and the startup – 2013 just blew by. I had wanted to blog a lot more than I did but as usual between work and diapers – I tend to run out of time. Probably won’t get any better this year but that’s okay – I have resolved myself to focusing on a few things so I do them well. Such is life.

I had an awesome holiday with the family this year to Japan. It was an ambitious trip, maybe overly so, in that we did 4 days in Tokyo then got in a car and drove in a very circuitous way to Kyoto. It was a bit much on some days given the 5 year old and the 1 year old can get car weary but we saw so many things and the countryside was gorgeous. The Thais saw their first snow and I enjoyed the great roads and awesome scenery. My friends over at hooked me up. Look them up if you ever want to ride a motorcycle on tour in Japan. Great bunch of folks.

When I returned from Japan I was thrust back into the chaos of Spuul – what I mean is startups are chaotic and it is to be expected somewhat. I even penned an email to the founders about feeling too chaotic and wanting to reign it in somehow. Maybe it was just my state of mind after the trip and not thinking about work too much. Not even sure it was the right thing to but fortunately my relationship with the founders is very open and candid – I always feel like I can speak my mind.

Then today I read this. Lots of cold water thrown on my let’s slow it down theory:

Love this excerpt:

Decision Making Heuristics for the Startup CEO

The heuristic I gave my friend was to think of decisions of having two states: those that are reversible and those that are irreversible. An example of a reversible decision could be adding a product feature, a new algorithm in the code, targeting a specific set of customers, etc. If the decision was a bad call you can unwind it in a reasonable period of time. An irreversible decision is firing an employee, launching your product, a five-year lease for an expensive new building, etc. These are usually difficult or impossible to reverse.

I realize now that this is what the founders practice anyway and what I have been doing a lot of. If it is just code and no one is harmed – just do it. We can also roll it back or alter it or even stay the course. No harm no foul. This is such a great reason to even be in a startup because you can move fast and change tactics at anytime. You still need the vision, the gut intuition and the confidence to move but you can always be moving versus thinking about moving.

I am trying to sort out how best to apply this to the way I run product at Spuul which is well – slightly different I think than most places. We just move – versus talk or meet a lot about moving. So far it is working but we have a long ways to go.

2014 is upon us. Make it count!