Rego 2.0 decisions and country-specific download and conversion data

Rego 2.0, currently under development at Makalu, is going to represent a complete re-thinking of our popular locations app, and we couldn’t be more excited about how it’s turning out. But that’s the topic of a future article; this one’s about some hard decisions we’re grappling with.

Baseline decisions

In conceiving Rego 2.0, and based on our experience with version 1, we took two tough decisions:

  • No more IAP. Rego 1 is a free download, with an in-app purchase (IAP) of $4.99 to unlock the app. With Rego 2.0, we want to move away from the IAP model, making Rego for-pay up-front. The IAP complicated the app’s development and maintenance, and we believe ultimately led to less earned revenue than if the app had been pay-up-front (which certainly could be due, in part, to our own shortcomings in promoting the IAP.)
  • No localizations. Rego 1 is localized into several languages and we regret having done that, as it makes updating the app painfully slow and costly. We do not plan to localize Rego 2.0.
  • iOS 7-only. Rego 2.0 will require iOS 7. One of the biggest benefits of this decision, is that we should be able to offer reliable iCloud sync.
Update vs new app

Given these decisions, a dilemma we’re facing is whether to make Rego 2.0 an update to Rego 1, or whether to release it as a new app.

There’s no perfect answer to this question, but here are some considerations going into the decision making process:

  • If we move away from IAP to a pay-up-front model and release it as an update to Rego 1, then all the people who previously downloaded the app, but didn’t pay for it—about 90% of our downloads—would, after upgrading, find themselves with the full version, for free. That could be a good thing, for us, in terms of having a large user base exposed to future in-app revenue ideas we might come up with, but it would probably feel unfair to those who purchased version 1 of Rego.
  • If we release Rego 2.0 as a new app, we’re surely going to get pushback (as we’ve recently seen in the case of Clear) from those who have purchased Rego, and expected future upgrades to be free. (And that pushback would likely be correlated with purchase recency.) On the other hand, Rego 2.0 is going to be a very different app than version 1 of Rego. iCloud sync, for example, only scratches the surface of what’s coming in Rego 2.0.
  • If Rego 2.0 is iOS 7-only and we release it as an update to version 1, then we’re going to get some pushback from existing users who can’t upgrade.
  • If we don’t localize Rego 2.0 and we release it as an update to Rego 1, then we’re surely going to have some angry foreign-language users on our hands, who wake up one day to find an app they rely on suddenly displayed in English. (That’d probably be particularly difficult for our Chinese users.)

That last point—that Rego 2.0 won’t be localized—is probably the show-stopper to releasing it as an update. So more than likely, Rego 2.0 will be a new app, and we’ll have to prepare ourselves to deal with the unfortunate growing expectation that all app updates should be free (in addition to having cost nearly nothing in the first place).

Download and conversion data by country

As additional input to the decision-making process, I collected some data about Rego downloads and purchases, on a country-by-country basis. The results, displayed in the chart below, are potentially interesting to other app makers.

Table: Rego downloads, purchases and conversion rate by country, normalized to the United States.

Observations:

  • The United States is the single-biggest downloader and purchaser. No surprise there.
  • The bulk of our revenue comes from English-speaking countries, with the exception of Germany, where (from my personal observations) most people understand English. So the decision to skip localization in Rego 2.0 seems justified in that respect.
  • The conversion rate—i.e. those purchasing the IAP after downloading—is about 10% among North American and European countries. We felt that was pretty good. Very interesting is a doubling of that—i.e. 20% to 30%—in the nordic countries of Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Elsewhere it’s around 4% to 5%.
  • A big outlier in this data is China. The downloads in China are 65% of those in the United States, with the next country, Germany, at 20%—i.e. we’ve had a lot of downloads in China. But, nobody in China is purchasing the app!; the conversion rate is dead last at 0.3%. So it seems that the effort of localizing Rego 1 into Chinese didn’t pay off.
  • Finally, we need to keep in mind, before jumping to any concrete conclusions, that this data represents three versions of Rego and that the app has been featured in various country-specific App Stores at various times.

RaceSplitter invited to time the 2013 Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons

The Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons (or VCUF) is an endurance event organized each year by Eduard Jornet, father of the world’s greatest endurance athlete, Kilian Jornet. From the rustic town of Puigcerdá—nestled along the Spain/France border near Andorra—four trail running races take place over the course of a long weekend: a 14km race, a 35km race, an 87km ultra-race and the ultrafons itself, at a mind-boggling 214km!

Continue reading RaceSplitter invited to time the 2013 Vuelta Cerdanya Ultrafons

Rego goes viral in Brazil for the wrong reason

Yesterday we at Makalu launched our latest product — Rego, an iPhone app for bookmarking locations. It’s like Gowalla, but without the social part.

The good news is that Rego is doing very well, throughout the world. But then to our surprise, it went viral in Brazil. The unfortunate news is why it went viral in Brazil.

Turns out, Rego has an “special” meaning there, and Gizmodo Brazil covered the story in this hilarious article which got thousands of retweets and Facebook likes.

Here’s my version of the story:

As they say, “All press is good press”—so we’re looking on the bright side, or maybe better, where the sun don’t shine.

Update: After posting this video, I had an interview with Daniel Junqueira of Gizmodo, the author of the brilliant original post there. His colleagues then followed up with a second article on Gizmodo, about our interview.

Update 2: You know, our first thought about this was, “Oh what a disaster!” But at that point, there wasn’t much to do. And, to be honest, it’s pretty damn funny so we just rolled with it. Turns out the situation has been very positive — the meaning isn’t that strong, downloads in Brazil have gone through the roof! And since Rego is actually a pretty great app, the Brazilians are loving it (as is everybody who has downloaded it!)

Money for Something—One month after the book launch

My new book, Money for Something, has been out for about a month, and I wanted to post a note about my experience during that time.

Feedback

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and in that regard I’ve been thrilled by three things:

  • The diversity of background. I’ve been contacted by people from all walks of life—including designers, engineers, executives, parents, grandparents, university finance professors, philosophers and even coaches of Mixed Martial Arts!

  • The diversity of geography. It was my hope to attract a global audience, and that’s happened. It’s really exciting to hear from people in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Germany and Mexico, who are all finding local ways to implement the investment strategy outlined in the book.

  • The success stories. One particular person in the United States, with whom I’ve been working closely has, as a result of learning about the devastating consequences of high-cost investments, rolled over his retirement investment account from something costing 2.5% per year, to one costing 0.5% per year. Over his expected investing lifetime and savings rate, that alone will save him literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. (I plan to write a case study about this guy soon.)

It’s a deeply gratifying feeling to have created something that will have a meaningful and positive impact in people’s lives. I’ve always been proud of our work, but I have to say this is a new, and special feeling.

User experience is about the whole experience

Apart from the comments about the book itself, I’ve also received several compliments on the design of the book website, and the simplicity and efficiency of its checkout process and follow-on gifting workflows. For that, I owe all the credit to my incredible teammates Alex Bendiken and Justin Driscoll at Makalu Interactive

Positioning of the book

My objective for the positioning of this book was the following:

It’s a first introduction to investing.

While there are some great books out there about investing, a selection of which I recommend at the book website, I believe they are more appropriate as follow-on books to Money for Something; books to be read once the reader is convinced that they need to invest, and are going to invest.

In fact, I believe readers of those books, who have started with Money for Something, are more likely to actually finish reading them, and less likely to get side-tracked by some of the complexities.

So what are the goals of a first introduction? In writing this book, mine were:

  1. Make it short and concise, so that the reader is likely to finish it without putting it down. I would say most of the effort in writing the book was on taking things out, and simplifying.

  2. Make it complete enough, so that if the reader only reads my book, they’ll have enough knowledge to understand why they should be investing, and to implement a solid investment plan.

  3. Focus on the essential concepts which are universally accepted, to avoid the risk of the reader getting sidetracked by issues which are contextual (such as taxation).

  4. Tell the story of investing in such a compelling way that the reader, upon finishing the book, will be motivated enough to actually start investing.

In short, I want you to read the whole book, start investing, and stick with it!

The feedback I’ve gotten seems to confirmed these goals. Folks appreciate the “no fluff” concise writing style, and those who’ve written me seem very motivated to get started investing (and many report they have!)

By the way, regarding those interesting follow-on books, one was just released today. In my book, I discuss the long-term importance of the asset allocation and briefly mention the particular one I follow, called the Permanent Portfolio. Today, Craig Rowland’s anticipated new book, which goes into great depth about this particular allocation, has been released in Kindle format.

The next phase…

Several readers have contacted me with questions that, while outside the scope of the book, lead naturally from it. I’m currently considering how to address this follow-on interest and need — whether pointing people to the follow-on references, providing some opinion and help, starting a blog in which I write about some of the common questions, etc.

Challenges

After a month, I’m absolutely convinced that Money for Something is uniquely positioned, broadly needed, and represents a tremendous value for its intended audience. That audience is itself very broad, and our challenge now is to reach it. For the moment, we’re relying on word-of-mouth — and let me extend a huge “Thank you!” to those of you who’ve beeen gracious enough to help! 🙂

So we’re searching for ideas about how to further and more broadly get the word out. If you have any, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Coming up next, I plan a series of articles about the process itself of creating and self-publishing an electronic book. It’s a topic of interest right now, and I hope to share the details of our experience.

The Making of the Catalog Choice iPhone App

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that an opportunity presents itself to develop a product for an audience of 1.5 million people. That’s exactly what happened recently at Makalu, as we were engaged to develop the iPhone component of Catalog Choice’s new suite of premium services.

And we can’t wait to tell you about it!

The background

In 2007, Makalu was engaged by The Ecology Center of Berkeley, California to design and build a website that would provide American consumers with an effective tool to combat the growing number of unwanted catalogs they receive in the mail. The website — CatalogChoice.org — was launched, and quickly received the attention of nearly every large media channel in the United States, including a focus spot on “Good Morning America”.

Within one year, the service signed up more than one million members.

When Catalog Choice members receive an unwanted catalog, they login to their account, search for the catalog they received, and register an “opt-out” request. At that point, the Catalog Choice system acts as a powerful agent on behalf of the consumer to get request processed by the sending merchant. In this way, the consumer saves the effort of having to interact with individual companies, and benefits from the effectiveness the influential service has in getting their requests honored.

Through use of Catalog Choice, consumers reduce clutter and simplify their lives. And on the collective scale of millions, the service is helping the environment by considerably reducing the natural resources used in the production of unwanted catalogs.

Re-engaging with our friends

After Catalog Choice’s first year, when it was clear that a market existed for the service, a dedicated non-profit was formed, at which point The Ecology Center and Makalu handed the project over to the team that was established to manage and operate the service moving forward.

Five years later, we’ve re-engaged with our friends at Catalog Choice to:

  1. Redesign the website, harmonizing the contextual changes and features that have evolved over the past half-decade, and to

  2. Design and develop an iPhone app, which is the first in a suite of premium products known as, MailStop.

We’ll first take a look at the website redesign, and then look at the iPhone app.

Catalog Choice website redesign

Over the years, the service has expanded beyond catalogs, allowing consumers to opt-out of all types of unwanted mail — everything from credit card offers, to phone books. In addition, the service has established special relationships with local communities and townships throughout the United States, which are reflected in various ways throughout the site. Accommodating these changes, along with the introduction of a set of premium services, necessitated a fresh look at the overall site architecture and design.

The service is preparing to launch the new design, which so far has addressed the home page, and the purchase workflow related to the new MailStop products. We focused on simplification, higher sign-up conversion, and clearer communication of the service’s message.

We’re thrilled to show you three sneak-peek screenshots of the new look:

We’re really happy about the design, and looking forward to seeing its launch, and extended implementation throughout the site.

The MailStop iPhone App

The MailStop suite was conceived as a set of premium add-on services that both extend the ways in which consumers can be protected, and make using the existed Catalog Choice services even easier.

In that regard, Makalu was engaged to design and develop an iPhone app that saves consumers the effort of even having to login to the website. Having purchased opt-out credits (as an in-app purchase), users of the service can simply capture the relevant information related to their unwanted mail in images, and submit them directly to the service. Catalog Choice takes it from there.

With the MailStop iPhone app, it couldn’t be easier to opt-out of unwanted mail!

The design process

The experience of RaceSplitter and Rebalance (still ongoing) has taught us that it’s far more time consuming and expensive to change app code than design mockups (when, for example, you realized you’ve gone in a wrong direction), and so with the MailStop app, we went much further into the UI design than we have in the past, before starting the development.

The results were good. We found that a reasonable level of discussion and review were, in fact, possible around just a set of mock-ups, as opposed to playing with a working prototype. On the other hand, it wasn’t perfect. Although it was possible to satisfy all the requirements and constraints in abstract design, once the product came to life in the form of a prototype, we realized that no matter how careful you are, you can never completely appreciate the subtle interactions and frictions that make themselves apparent when actually using a product.

For example, during the design process we iterated six times on the workflow in which a user captures “up to” three images to capture three critical pieces of information (the catalog name, mailing label, and merchant data.) How do you efficiently communicate to the user that they can take up to three images, but that one is often sufficient? Given that they are to capture three pieces of information, the risk is that they assume they must take three photos.

As you can see in our screenshots below, our solution feels more described than direct, and that’s an important disctinction. The designed solution works, but it’s not perfect. We’ll take the opportunity in version 2 to design something which feels more direct and intuitive, and better avoids the potential correlation in the user’s mind of the number of photos available, and the number of information pieces we need.

The design and development process, however, was definitely an improvement over the experience we had with RaceSplitter (in which we built prototypes too early). We’re pleased with the results, but we didn’t yet hit the sweet spot; and so there’s process improvements still to be discovered.

A visual tour of the app

And with that, we’d love to show you the app, with this 10-image tour.

Look interesting? Why not give it a try right now? It’s free, and available today on the App Store!

RaceSplitter in the sport of Trail Running

BEFORE NOW, THE CHOICES AVAILABLE to organizers of trail running events for the timing of their races were:

  1. Expensive — Contracting a professional chip-timing service, the cost of which can easily exceed 1,000€.
  2. Painful — Manually recording times, using a stopwatch and paper, or typing into an Excel spreadsheet on a laptop.

An exciting new option exists that costs a fraction of a professional service, is convenient and easy to use, yet provides high quality, reliable results. Continue reading RaceSplitter in the sport of Trail Running

Timing of the 24 hours of San Pedro race with RaceSplitter

This past weekend, the nearby town of San Pedro celebrated its annual “24 hours of sports” festival, during which a variety of sporting events are conducted over a one-day period. One of the events was a 2km race for the town locals. The Makalu team volunteered to provide timing service using our RaceSplitter product — an iPhone/iPad app used to time sporting events and races.

Continue reading Timing of the 24 hours of San Pedro race with RaceSplitter

RaceSplitter demonstration at the Sierra Elvira Spanish Cup mountain trail race

Yesterday we got a glimpse of the future of race timing, as the Makalu team traveled to Atarfe, Spain to conduct a live demonstration of our new product, RaceSplitter — an iPhone application for race timing.

Continue reading RaceSplitter demonstration at the Sierra Elvira Spanish Cup mountain trail race

Demostración de RaceSplitter en la carrera de montana de la copa de Espana de Sierra Elvira

AYER HEMOS TENIDO UN ANTICIPO DEL FUTURO DEL CRONOMETRAJE DE CARRERAS, al tiempo que el equipo de Makalu viajó a Atarfe, Granada, para llevar a cabo una demostración en vivo de nuestro nuevo producto, RaceSplitter – una aplicación de iPhone para el cronometraje de carreras.

Continue reading Demostración de RaceSplitter en la carrera de montana de la copa de Espana de Sierra Elvira

The story of the building of RaceSplitter

Makalu — history of a service provider

Since 2001, our small team at Makalu Interactive has provided web design and development services for clients around the world. We’ve been fortunate to work on some high-profile projects, including the original CatalogChoice.org site, which gained over one million users in its first year, and the interactive game anchoring the Google & Virgin America cross-marketing campaign, Day in the Cloud.

(And as a side note, Sortfolio has proven to be an amazing source of high-quality leads for us.)

The itch to create for ourselves

Despite success in client work, we’ve always imagined that creating our own products would bring deeper satisfaction, and provide the opportunity to succeed beyond the linear function of available manpower. As a team of people passionate about great user experience — and having studied the companies that make them (like Apple) and the processes through which they are made — we’ve always been curious as to just what kind of product we would be capable of making.

We’ve always identified with 37signals. It was inspiring to watch a team of people that seemed so much like ourselves transition from a web design company (like ourselves) to a highly successful products company. We also enjoyed both Getting Real and REWORK, as they articulated a refreshing view and simple approach to many of the issues we struggled with. (It was no small satisfaction to later learn that a former employee of Makalu, Mike Rohde, would end up being the designer of the REWORK illustrations.)

Not only did we try to apply the ideas from Getting Real & REWORK to our client services business, we later found them particularly valuable when making our first steps in the direction of becoming products company.

Hello RaceSplitter

Last year, we were approached by a group of people associated with NENSA.net, FasterSkier.com and FlyingPointRoad.com, interested in having a timing app developed, for recording split times and providing relative racer position during nordic ski events. With European timing devices costing $500 and up, and the previously popular Palm app going the way of the PalmOS, it seemed natural that something should be built for the iPhone.

In certain nordic ski races, similar to cycling time trials, racers start individually or in waves, separated by a start time interval — say, 30 seconds. If you’re a coach on the course, timing racers as they pass by, it’s difficult to know who’s in the lead. Although it does other things, that’s the essential problem that app solves.

We accepted the project, and got to work. The app would be called RaceSplitter.

http://racesplitter.com

It soon became apparent that the app had the potential to be an ideal first product for Makalu. It passed both the “scratch your own itch” and “focus on what doesn’t change” tests. As both participants and observers in similar sports, we were deeply familiar with the application domain, and needed such an app ourselves. And unlike an app for, say, telling the world you’ve checked in at Starbucks, a sports timing device is something that should be as relevant in five years as it is today.

We put together a proposal, in which Makalu would acquire ownership of the app, with the client keeping a minority stake. Seeing our interest, not only in the app itself, but also in building a business around the product, they accepted our offer and RaceSplitter became Makalu’s first product.

As a client provider, one always hopes to give 100% to the client, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that becoming the app’s owner didn’t provoke a psychological change. This was the chance we’d been waiting for; to discover what we were truly capable of.

The complete user experience — attention to detail

We poured our hearts and abilities into the product. As believers that user experience extends to every way in which a product interfaces its users, we worked as hard on things like the pre-launch sign-up site, announcement emails, even the app icon, as we did on the app itself.

The RaceSplitter signup screen

The RaceSplitter website

As emphasized in REWORK, even though our 1.0 would be minimal in terms of features, it wouldn’t be half-assed; it’d be “at-home good”.

Launch — an international hit

The application launched, at $24.99, and within its second day on the market became the 4th top grossing app in the US App Store (Sports), number one in Norway, and was selling well around the world.

Feedback started coming in from customers, and they absolutely loved it. Many said it was the perfect product. We began collecting comments at:

http://racesplitter.com/testimonials

RaceBuilder — building on our momentum

We quickly shifted focus to RaceBuilder, a companion web-app to create, share and discovered races for import into RaceSplitter. This proved equally popular, and within two weeks more than 110 nordic ski races were published, containing 5,500 unique racers — including the World Championships in Oslo, Norway. More importantly, we established the beginnings of a central hub and community, on which we’ll be able to build and market services in the future.

The RaceBuilder website

Creating a race in RaceBuilder

Great products are discovered, not specified

One of the most important things revealed through the process of building RaceSplitter is that we could have never specified at the beginning of the project precisely how the final product would look and behave. (This observation has important implications for the client-services business!) The “functional requirements” were satisfied during the first one-third of the effort ultimately spent. The final two-thirds were spent in iterations — transforming a functionally-complete product, into a great product.

As proposed in Getting Real, the user interface design led the process, and ultimately went through four revisions, with two of those resulting in the elimination of an entire level of interface hierarchy. Here’s a sequence of revisions in a couple of areas:

The active race screen

The active race screen shows the current race standings, as well as provides access to the timing function. In the original wireframes, we separated lap standings on individual screens, navigated through swiping. We also had the “stop race” button in the lower right corner. To access the timing interface, we used the “Record” terminology.

In subsequent revisions, leading to the final, we decided to display all laps on a single (scrollable) screen, and moved the “Stop” button to the bottom left, where it was less likely to be inadvertently tapped by the thumb of a right-handed user. We also used more explicit “Time Racers” terminology to access the timing interface.

The timing interface

The timing interface, from a UI perspective, was challenging. We created a live wireframe prototype of our initial idea for the interface, in which the racer’s bib identification and timing button are integrated into the same UI control.

Later, however, we realized that this interface would only allow for timing one racer at a time. In nordic races, groups of racers often pass together, and need to have the same split time applied to everyone in the group.

Taking inspiration from Apple’s Mail app on the iPhone, we created a “timing bar” interface, where multiple bib numbers can be added, and timed at once.

The timing interface can be seen in action in this video screencast.

We spent a lot of effort focusing on the details of the UI. For example, we created aesthetically pleasing blank slate screens, and we created a custom, efficient UI control for numerical fields whose modification tends to happen incrementally — such as the assignment of lap number to a timing entry.

Features — wolves in sheep’s clothing

We’ve always been aware of the importance of focusing on a product’s essential functions, and taking great care when adding features. This was probably one of the strongest messages from Getting Real — learning to say no to features.

That said, we still couldn’t help but add some nonessential, and seemingly innocent, features during development. Some of those features later turned out to be surprisingly complicated, and costly.

For example, we added the ability to record a timing entry for a racer that wasn’t in the start list. Later, we realized we’d also need to design the UI to assign that blank entry to a racer. In designing that UI, it occurred to us that we’d also need to offer the ability to create a completely new racer (not existing in the database of racers), and then when creating a new racer, offer the possibility to create a new team. It didn’t stop there. We then had to make sure the app behaved sensibly in other areas, such as exporting of data, if the user chose not to assign that blank entry to anybody.

And on it went. We learned the hard way the unintended consequences of seemingly simple features.

A different view of “minimum viable product”

As users of several 1.0 products ourselves, we’ve gotten the impression that for many, the concept of “minimum viable products” extends beyond the essential features, to the entire user experience. We believe that although a 1.0 may be slim on features, its UI and overall user experience should be polished, and as frictionless as possible.

In RaceSplitter, after 200 hours, we had a working app. But then we spent another 450 hours perfecting the execution of that core application. The UI went through four revisions, focusing on the smallest details.

The results speak for themselves. Customers of RaceSplitter, rather than saying, “Good idea, let’s see where this is in six months.” (and then never come back, nor tell anyone about the product), are shouting praise from the rooftops. Not a day goes by that we don’t receive an email from somebody saying, “This app is perfect!”

Of course, we get a lot of feature requests, and it’s a bit of irony that many of those requests would work against the simplicity and frictionless interface that the customers value so much. Perhaps that’s why the designers of successful products are sometimes unpopular and under-appreciated; they’re the ones always saying, “No.”

Don’t be afraid to price an app beyond $0.99

To determine our pricing we surveyed coaches, who said they’d pay $50 for such an app. Then we spoke to some parents to understand what would be the impulse buy threshold, and we came to believe that was around $25. We settled on $24.99, hoping the app would then be popular among coaches, parents and enthusiasts.

We will experiment with pricing in the future, but so far we’ve not had any complaints about the product’s price. We’ve been told by several customers that although they initially tried the cheaper alternatives, they ultimately settled on our app, and feel it represents a good value to them.

Learning from the old advertising industry

There are generations of advertising industry history and experience available to us, from which we in the modern web/mobile world can benefit. Through a study of this industry, and particularly David Ogilvy, we gained insights on the things that deserve focus, and learned several effective techniques.

For example, we learned about the related influence and importance of headlines, subheads, image captions, and, above all, good copy. As emphasized in Getting Real, it’s all part of “design.”

We also learned that measuring performance is what matters, as the data often contradicts your intuition. We did a lot of A/B testing on our website, and found that by just adjusting the headline, we could double our conversions. As opposed to headlines about “ease of use” and “affordability,” we found that a headline that quickly established who the product is for (“coaches, parents & enthusiasts”), was the clear winner. (The worst was a title which labeled the product as a “professional” tool.)

Spreading the word

Our marketing of the application focused on three things:

  1. Online ads
  2. Direct email
  3. Promote word-of-mouth

Online ads — the winner is Google

For online ads, we ran both Google and Facebook ad campaigns (multiple ads in each network), as well as a direct banner ad campaign at a site where coaches hang out. After a month, we calculated our cost per conversion (where conversion is clicking the buy button, leading to iTunes). The costs were unacceptably high for the dedicated banner ad, as well as Facebook, but acceptable at Google.

Given how Facebook allows you to precisely target your audience (age, interests, geography, etc.) we were a little surprised how poorly the ads did there. But when you step back and think that people go to Facebook to socialize, and to Google to look for stuff, the results start to make sense.

Direct email

Through a couple of month’s research, we compiled a list of coaches and associations in a variety of sports. We needed to directly email these people, and to avoid coming across as spammers, we crafted the emails such that we both informed the reader of the product, as well as solicited feedback from them in terms of the application’s current applicability to their sport. We asked in which areas it might need to be modified or enhanced to more specifically address their needs. So that they could experience the app without having to purchase it, we created a couple of video screencasts of the application in action.

This approach worked really well. There was a clear correlation of sales to emails sent, and at the same time, we received an absolute wealth of expert domain insight, and developed some healthy relationships with key people in a variety of sports.

Promote word-of-mouth

This was the easiest part, and involved three important lessons from REWORK.

  • First, everything is marketing.

From the app, to the website, to our customer support emails, we want every aspect of interfacing with RaceSplitter to result in our customers thinking, “I’ve got to tell people about this!”

  • Second, nobody likes plastic flowers.

We decided to produce our own screencasts for the site, in order to quickly have some instructional videos available. When we later thought about commissioning a professional voice-over artist to make them sound better, we were surprised to discover how well our customers responded to hearing the voice of the person who was also responding to their support emails. Despite the imperfections and obviously non-professional voice, the reinforcement of the personal relationship seems valuable.

  • Finally, speed changes everything.

So far, we’ve been able to respond to support enquiries typically within a couple of hours; and often immediately. Customers absolutely love that, and seem to directly equate that to “caring.”

Niche market, beyond the design & development industry

As we’ve watched others transition from providing client services to becoming product companies, we’ve seen a tendency to create products targeted to the design & development communities.

One aspect of RaceSplitter that appealed to us was the fact that it’s a niche market, under-represented by companies with deep design & development capabilities, but one in which, on a global scale, presents a good business opportunity. We believe there’s a tremendous number of similar niches out there, and that design companies looking to make the jump to products should seek them out, as they represent markets full of people just waiting for a usable solution to their needs to come along.

Product creation is uniquely satisfying

Before I got into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I used to work out regularly at the gym. The motivation for going was, “I need to go, because I need to get the exercise.” Later, after getting hooked on BJJ, I didn’t go for the exercise; I went out of passion. And a positive consequence is that in training BJJ, I’m able to push myself far more than I ever could in the gym, and gain a much higher level of fitness.

Something similar happened in the development of RaceSplitter. We become more deeply engaged than any project we’ve been involved with in the past. There wasn’t any question of finding motivation; on the contrary, it took discipline to stop working in the evenings. That is how we want to spend out time!

Concluding thoughts

The experience of designing, developing and selling RaceSplitter has, for us, been priceless. We’ve gained the confidence that we have the ability to succeed as a product company. We’ve experienced the joy of hearing from customers thrilled in using a product we’ve created. We’ve learned things that simply weren’t possible being on the service-provider side of the table. We’ve created a product that is already successful, and has lots of potential for growth. And, in the process, we’ve had more fun and become more engaged than we have since our company’s beginning.

The experience also served, for us, as a real-world validation of the ideas in Getting Real and REWORK. In a world of both increasing complexity and human interaction with software, success is going to be found in the perfect execution of simple, focused products, delivered by companies that find a way to connect personally with their customers. That’s easier said than done. The processes of the past simply don’t get us there, and these books propose an alternative.

The Story of RaceSplitter

For almost a decade, my company, Makalu Interactive, has been providing web design and development services to clients. We’ve had a lot of both good fortune, and success. But all along, we’ve also dreamed of creating and selling our own products, and have been working towards the day in which we could share time between both serving clients, and creating for ourselves.

Late 2010, the opportunity to take the first step presented itself, and several months later, RaceSplitter — Makalu’s first product — went on sale in Apple’s App Store. The story of RaceSplitter — how it came about, how it was designed, and how it was later marketed — was recently published on the blog at 37signals.

Be sure to check it out! Click here to read the article.

RaceSplitter race timer for iPhone and iPod Touch

Last week, after seven months of design and development, we launched RaceSplitter, a high quality race timing application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. (It will also run on an iPad, in 2x mode; although, we are planning on a native version for the iPad as well.)

The application can record split times on multiple lap races, and has an innovative timing interface that provides three timing modes concurrently — the timing of a single racer, a group of racers or a sub-group.

In its first day in the AppStore, the application was the fourth highest grossing application of the day, in the sports category, and so we couldn’t be happier about its reception so far.

More news about the application will be coming soon. In the meantime, follow @racesplitter on Twitter, if you’re interested in keeping up with the application. You can also visit either of the following:

Launch of the Mocca Marbella Website

Those of us working in the Marbella, Spain office of MakaluMedia are pretty darn lucky to have a super scrumptious cafe/restaurant—Mocca Marbella—just five minutes away, serving up fresh, seasonal international cuisine each day at lunch.

After getting to know charismatic Danish owner Micheal, we agreed to help him get a website built, with the idea that we’d work on it in our spare time, on a low-priority basis. Well, two years later, it’d pretty much become a monthly joke between Micheal and us. Spare time just never materialized!

So a few months ago, we sat down with Michael, and all agreed to bump up the task from “low” to “high” priority, and seriously set out to get it done. Brian quickly built public and administrative applications in Ruby on Rails, and then Alex came behind and worked his design magic.

http://moccamarbella.com

On the public side, we tried to capture the identity, simplicity and quality that have become recognizable trademarks of Micheal and his restaurant in the local community here. Just like his famous one-page menu, the website exists in a single page, with the daily specials rendered on a virtual chalkboard, just like the real one perched on the sidewalk out front.

Micheal updates the physical chalkboard each morning with the daily specials, and to carry that concept over to the website, we built a custom administrative application where he logs in and enters the same information to appear on the site. In addition, with a click of a button, the application sends a styled HTML email to all his subscribers.

We’re very satisfied with how the site turned out, and Michael loves it. Even though we can’t take on any new projects for a few months, it has also been gratifying to have gotten several business enquiries from Mocca clientele, due to the site!

Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future

My company, MakaluMedia, is supporting the joint efforts of the National Writing Project and Google, to provide a platform for the nation’s young people to express their opinions on issues that concern them to the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates.

From the NWP site, a summary of the project follows:

Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future is an online writing and publishing project that invites young people to write about the issues and concerns they would want the next president to address and, with the support of their teachers, to publish their writing for a national audience. During the presidential campaign, U.S. high school teachers and mentors guide students through the process of writing a persuasive letter or essay to the presidential candidates. Students’ work should encourage the candidates to give attention to issues and concerns that students feel are central to their future. Topics are chosen by the students themselves to reflect their specific personal, regional, and age-related interests, and teachers will be able to support student writing and publishing in a way that most directly fits their local curricula and educational goals. Through the Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future website (which launches in mid-September) and Google Docs , a free online writing tool, participating teachers can work with students to publish their work online for their peers, teachers, and parents, and for the public. And who knows, the future president may read their letters too.

Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future is open to U.S. teachers and mentors working with students ages 13–18. If you know a school teacher who may be interested in participating, please direct them to the following site.

NWP Letters to the Next President Information Page

The deadline for teacher registration is September 8, 2008.

End the flow of unwanted catalogs with Catalog Choice!

Growing up in the US, I remember how annoying it was to receive commercial sales calls on the telephone late in the evening, when the family was sitting around trying to enjoy some quality time together. This problem was later solved (mostly) through the introduction of the “Do Not Call,” registry — a legislated service which marketers must consult before they can call you. If your name is on the “Do Not Call” list, it’s illegal for them to call you.

A similar problem exists today with paper catalogs. American consumers are simply inundated with unsolicited, undesired paper catalogs from a multitude of merchants. While receiving these catalogs can be just as annoying as receiving the marketing phone calls, there’s a deeper, more concerning problem. The production of the 19 billion paper catalogs sent each year in the US takes a huge toll on the environment.

19 BILLION. We throw around terms daily like million, billion, trillion, without really having a feel for the magnitude of those numbers. Consider this, it takes 11 days for a million seconds to pass. It takes 32 years for a billion seconds to pass! So, 19 billion catalogs — that’s a lot of wasted paper!

Earlier this year, my company MakaluMedia was offered an opportunity to participate in a project backed by some of the US’ largest environmental and non-profit organizations to help address this project. Today represents the culmination of several months of hard work on this project, and I’m proud to announce the launch of Catalog Choice:

http://catalogchoice.org

Catalog Choice is a free service, that allows people to find and opt-out of the undesired catalogs they receive. The concept is very simple; you sign up, search for a catalog you receive, and opt-out. We take care the rest, and in about six weeks’ time, you should no longer receive the catalog.

Word Count Journal Launches!

I’m happy to report we have just launched Word Count Journal:

http://wordcountjournal.com

Trying to get this app launched over the holiday period has been one of the most insane, yet bizarrely interesting, thing I have ever done.

I’m home in Georgia (USA), for the holidays. Our designer is home in Helsinki (Finland), for the holidays. Our developer is in Berlin (Germany). Our system admin is in Dublin (Ireland). The application key stakeholders are in New York (USA) and Hawaii (USA).

What a ride. Note to self: Never try that again.

Mr. Murphy, and his famous law, have been with us every step of the way. Network access to the code repository server got increasingly flakey during the countdown. Internet Explorer didn’t approve of any of our web-standards-based styling modifications. The Apple G5 on which we run Trac apparently got into a squabble with Apache and Python, and refused to let them play together any longer. Oh, and one family member had a gall bladder attack.

Somehow, Skype, instant messaging, Trac, Skype, Basecamp, email, Skype, Red Sky Cafe’s Wifi system and coffee, a bit of Skype, and a good deal of tenacity got us through.

So WCJ is launched, and that’s good. Looking forward to see what kind of acceptance the app has. In the first two days of operation, we already have about 140 user journals created! (And that’s not counting any private journals!) So it’s looking good.

And we’ve got some amazing stuff on the way in 2007.

Next planned launch: Just around Easter! Hmmmm…

Word Count Journal, and other cool stuff going on at MakaluMedia

This past year has been really great at MakaluMedia. The company has grown in its core space business, and has moved into a couple of exciting new partnerships in the areas of web infrastructure and applications.

In addition to some new, and really cool, Drupal-based platform work in Europe that I can’t talk much about (yet), we’ve had the awesomely good fortune to have hooked up with a very successful software entrepreneur in the United States, with whom, over the course of 2007, we’re going to be building and launching a series of consumer applications that we hope will positively impact people’s lives.

The first app will launch on January 1, and is called Word Count Journal:

http://www.wordcountjournal.com

Word Count Journal is a new blog format where you write one word your first day, two words the second, three words the third, etc. By the end of a non-leap year you’ll have written a total of 66,795 words, more words that most novels.

Read more about it on the Summit weblog!

Henderson & Henderson, building north Georgia lake homes.

Today our company launched a new website for Henderson & Henderson, LLC (which happens to be another company in which I’m involved.) H&H build one- to two custom dream homes per year in north Georgia, typically on Lake Lanier.

Henderson & Henderson, building north Georgia homes on Lake Lanier.

Over a period of a few days, MakaluMedia user experience designer Alex Bendiken (yeah, the Slashdot guy) and I worked together to specify and comp this site, and within just a few more days, Alex had it all up and running.

I couldn’t be more excited about it– I think it’s beautifully designed (very much in the Alex style), is fully built on WordPress, exploiting some its “Page” key-pair features to pull in Flickr images and specify the Google maps coordinates, and even to specify the state of the properties (“sold” or otherwise). And, hopefully, the site will be very “findable”, as its ultimate objective is to help market the properties.

Web application development is so much fun these days. Between Ruby on Rails (for custom applications), Drupal CMS (for complex publication and collaboration applications) and WordPress (for the small/medium complexity applications), just about all the bases are quite well covered.

Marbella Guitar Instructor: Mario Solis Sola

For the past few months, I’ve been doing something I’ve wanted to do for many years — take guitar lessons. My instructor is Mario Solis Sola, and he’s fantastic. Very friendly, and a great teacher. He’s presently looking for new opportunities in the area, and we decided to help him out with the production of a small website where his CV (resume) and contact details are published:

http://www.mariosolissola.com/

If you’d be interested in learning to play the guitar in the Marbella area, he comes highly recommended!

CostaCafes.com Launch

I don’t know whether it’s the lively coming and going of people, the aromatic smells, the taste of a great coffee, the change of pace, or a combination of them all, but I love hanging out in coffee shops. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t shut the Powerbook, slide it into its Waterfield sleeve, throw that into my Timbuk2 messenger bag, and head off to work for a few hours in a local cafe. And here in Spain, there’s no shortage of good ones!

Given that I couldn’t find a good local online guide, I decided to build one myself, CostaCafes.com, — as much a resource for myself, as for the public. So far, it’s been a blast to put together (even though it hasn’t netted me any free coffees as I’d planned!)

http://costacafes.com