Category Archives: Main

The Black Box from the developer perspective

This is a great post :: http://stratechery.com/2014/black-box-strategy/

WHY TV IS SO ATTRACTIVE
As I’ve written multiple times, the scarcest resource for consumer tech companies, especially ad-supported ones, is user attention. There are only so many minutes in the day, and their consumption is zero-sum: a moment spent doing activity A is not spent doing activity B, and then that moment is gone.

Meanwhile, TV continues to monopolize a significant amount of that user attention. Although digital products have overtaken the amount of time spent on TV, primarily due to the accretive time spent on smartphones, the absolute time spent on TV has remained stubbornly persistent at about four-and-a-half hours per day per U.S. adult (source).

That four-and-a-half hours really is the gold at the end of the rainbow for tech companies: just over the next hill/technical hurdle, yet never actually attainable.

TV really is a cool spot to work in – or video to be more blunt. However what really annoys me is that every article from a tech angle is normally very US centric or US content centric. Of course there is a reason for that – America is where the best content is coming from, where the most ad dollars are and where most of the tech companies playing in the space reside. No argument there but the world is not just America and some of us are playing in the video space from other parts of the world with the hopes of attacking the global stage.

I won’t do a Spuul sales job here but just state that we are global and we are doing it from Singapore. Not easy but fun.

So the article breaks down the TV battle by naming the dominant players who are hacking on the problem. What is telling to me is what or who is not listed – Smart TV’s. I think in theory if you are skating to where the puck is going then possibly you can leave them out but if you are dealing with the video space today you can’t. They exist and users want to see your app there on whatever Smart TV they have but boy, oh boy what a mess. I don’t want to bash here but we know why most of them are not listed as players for the future – they are not going to make it in the future. Their ecosystems are just brutal – they want a cut of payments but they don’t have payment engines. They want a cut of ad revenue but they don’t have ad ecosystems. They have brutally ancient build and deploy systems that look like the early web development days. Frankly – they build shitty software and they are at risk of just going away or being dumb glass. They could fix it but it doesn’t seem like they want to.

Moving down the list we get into Apple TV:

I agree in that this is the one to watch – I don’t say this due to apple fanboyism but mostly cause it works well, they distribute internationally and for developers this stuff really is mostly magic. It just works. The work we go through to get chromecast to work is night and day when it comes to Apple TV which is dead simple. Apple has room for improvement though. They need to get into carrier billing, they need to open up their stuff for the rental market, and they need to open up Apple TV to apps. I don’t see all this happening but it would be awesome.

Amazon:

I don’t have a fire to play with so I can’t say much. Usually with Amazon though their international focus is lacking but when it comes to being open and such they do a good job. Since Amazon has video I find working with them tough because they favor their stuff and then America – but for them to win I think they need more content players on the box. I think if Amazon could make the fire really awesome for developers it would help but that remains to be seen.

Google:

What can I say but keeping up with Google and TV stuff is challenging. There was google tv the web based stack, then the Android 3.2 made for tv stuff, then chromecast and now supposedly a new Android TV. Very hard unless you have insider status to get good info here. They favor America for content and partners and their international stuff is opaque. But the hardest part with Google is they compete with all of us using Youtube, they reward piracy and they make it hard to want to go deep with them but you must go deep with them. There is no choice. On the plus side they have a better ecosystem for developing, they have some carrier payments, they are being open about other payments in android apps and they tend to try and break down the incumbents. We see this with adx, chromecast and the like – so Google is evil but you must work with them on some levels. Android is huge – bottom line. I hope Android TV is killer, truly open and Google courts international developers at some point.

Roku:

Roku is always the one I find interesting in this matrix – first off they are only in America and UK. Of course big markets but it can’t stack up to the other global players in any regard. Worse though is since being invested in by DISH the entire international content library is controlled by DISH. So if someone like Spuul wants to get on Roku we have to go via DISH who usually says no cause they have their own international content packages that they foist onto Roku. So when it comes to Roku being a player – I say not until the DISH deal is done. Roku is one of those funny things that purports to want to give the best experience to users but is really no different than a cable company deciding what you get and what you don’t. Roku claims now to be gaining ground by getting into all the TV’s but I don’t buy it. They should have opened up when they had the chance and gone big – now I think google and amazon will have their way with them.

Microsoft:

Oh what could have been. To me they should have created something akin to the media center PC by creating a cheaper version of the XBOX just for the TV but they wanted TV and Games – both suffered. Now they appear to be tilting back to the gamers which means the TV will suffer. XBOX is cool but MSFT has to step up their game or build a home entertainment to rival the others. I will say this about them though – working with them is getting easier and they are trying hard to build stuff for media companies. If they open up playready DRM more and really cloudify the DRM plumbing then they could become a platform for streaming companies. Time will tell.

All in all the streaming world is booming but to me it is very US centric and I am waiting to see who will change it or maybe it can’t be changed but if so then I will be watching what the international players do more than the US centric ones since the playbook seems pretty well known at this point.

Wishing for more powerful app store payments

Was sent this article by my bro @groovemonkey (with a lot more followers than me) and it got me thinking more about app stores and payments.

This is the read: http://dancounsell.com/articles/paid-paymium-or-freemium.

Paymium is still relatively unknown and gets pretty much no press coverage compared to freemium. Paymium is going to become increasingly more widespread over the coming year, and incase you’re wondering exactly what paymium is, here’s my definition:

Paymium: An app that is paid for up-front, with additional revenue being generated by charging for extra features via In-App Purchase.

As with freemium this type of model can work perfectly well in place of yearly paid upgrades as you can add new features overtime with IAP to continue to earn revenue from your existing customers.

Paymium apps currently only account for 2% of apps on the App Store, yet they generate the same amount of revenue as paid apps. I believe now is a good time for developers to start experimenting more with this revenue model, I know It’s something we’ll be doing with a few of our apps at Realmac Software over the coming months.

This is a very interesting model and was wondering how to apply it to Spuul but I don’t see a fit, however part of that reason is I think both app stores, Google and Apple (is there any other?), don’t offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to payments and customers. What I mean is everything is so rigid when it comes to subscription based payments.

For example with Apple they don’t offer any sort of trial capability. Example. Please buy this monthly subscription and you can use it for free for 7 days and if you like it just keep using it and we bill you after the trial period. If you can cancel during the trail period you don’t get charged but you get your 7 days. Google, Facebook and Amazon (they don’t let you set the time period though) all offer it with good results. People tend to try it and the conversion rates are good.

The other problem with almost all of these systems is that they offer fairly rigid subscription SKUs that do not transfer or modify across lines. For example – I have a 1.99 payment tier for a monthly subscription and I also have a 4.99. Customer A buys the 1.99 tier and a month later wants the 4.99. The app stores should provide an automatic upgrade SKU and just start billing the user at 4.99. Even be smart enough to charge the difference if customer A upgrades within the month. There is little intelligence in the subscription SKUs so usually one has to cancel one to get another versus upgrading or downgrading.

So when I think of the paymium stuff I think of interesting use cases like you buy the app for 1.99 and later if you upgrade in app to another tier the 1.99 could be credited by the system since the customers used the same app store for the whole process. There are other examples along this line I can think of.

What I am looking for is the app stores to provide all the bells and whistles to allow us, the developer, to craft any sort of payment and decision flow we want knowing the user is able to pay with the app store and we are able to offer what we want real time based on what the data is telling us might sell. Standard consumer sales type of stuff.

Bottom line is the app stores are generally taking 30% and I think the should offer more value for it. Don’t get me wrong – app stores are doing good things and the payment mechanisms make it easy to build mobile apps and extract money for services but their overall intelligence and feature level is still pretty rudimentary.

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 http://japanbikerentals.com 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:

http://steveblank.com/2009/04/10/good-enough-decision-making/

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!