My First Screen iPhone Apps as of November 2012

Jason iPhone 5 Home Screen 2012

I recently got an iPhone 5 and have gone on a new tear in exploring apps, downloading new ones and re-evaluating their priorities.

I’m always curious to see what constitutes other people’s first screen apps – this is where many mobile entrepreneurs dream of living – so I thought it might be worth examining mine.

I’ll give a run down of my home screen apps as of November 26, 2012.

Notable & Unique

These are the interesting apps that give you a sense of my personality – they’re tools that make my life work more efficiently and enjoyably.

  • Pennies - a really barebones budget tool. I tell it my monthly spending goal, and it gives me a simulated “gas tank” of money. As I record purchases, the needle drops, showing me exactly how much I have left for the month.
  • Runkeeper - I’ve talked before about how much I like Runkeeper, the iPhone/web app I use to track my running, and it definitely makes the first screen
  • Evernote - if you don’t already have a note system, I recommend Evernote. Syncs notes from desktop, web and mobile. I use it to draft blog posts, record new ideas and manage a lot of the info for my startup
  • Songza - my new favorite music app. I pay for Spotify Premium to hear the songs I know about but Songza is free and gives me playlists of music I haven’t heard of (including great electronic dance and instrumental music)
  • Pocket - a new favorite, great for waiting in line, sitting on the bus or when you’re bored and without signal
  • Instacast - while walking to work, I listen to my podcasts: BacktoWork, The WSJ Morning News, Systematic, Planet Money and Here’s The Thing
  • Quora – the social q&a site always has new fascinating answers to thought-provoking questions. A place to learn and sometimes get taken down a rabbit hole
  • Chrome - my cofounder convinced me to install Chrome as my default browser – unlimited tabs, address bar knows your favorites if you sync with desktop chrome, and tabs open in the background

Common

You probably have some of these on your home screen too – which just shows how ubiquitous some services are to our lives.

  • Facebook – for staying in touch with friends, though I really only check it when I have notifications
  • Twitter – for staying in touch with the world – specifically my world of technology, entrepreneurship and SF-flavored pop culture
  • Hacker News – interesting articles and discussions specifically geared towards entrepreneurs
  • Gmail/Mail – I like Mail because it’s faster for checking messages and composing. I use Gmail when I’m trying to search for a specific email or email someone who’s contact info isn’t on my phone, but in Gmail
  • Dropbox – I have most of my working files stored in Dropbox so it’s nice to be able to access them instantly via my phone
  • Google Authenticator - you use two-step authentication for Gmail and Facebook right? No? This is one of those security measure that is really worth taking.

Navigation

When you’re on the go, one of the most valuable things your phone can help you with is getting where you need to go. These apps help me arrive at the right place and on time.

  • Apple Maps – despite the criticism, I think the standard iOS 6 Maps app is doing well enough. The worst thing is it’s lack of transit directions
  • Routesy Free – super handy for the real-time MUNI and BART schedules when I already know which bus/BART train I want to take
  • Google Maps (web bookmark) – when I need transit directions to get somewhere new
  • CityMaps2Go – offline maps, useful when traveling abroad or navigating SF without signal
  • QuickMaps – drag to get Google Maps directions from where you are to key locations (home, work, etc)
  • Caltrain – necessary when planning trips down to Palo Alto from SF

Standard Issue

Sometimes you don’t need a custom app when the standard-issue app does just fine.

  • Settings – turning on Airplane Mode, fiddling with Wi-Fi & Brightness
  • App Store – finding apps I read about online, seeing what’s new/featured, updating apps
  • Calendar – checking what day of the week some future event lands on; most of my event input goes in iCal on my MacBookPro
  • Clock – setting my morning alarm and countdowns for or a work session or laundry reminder
  • Camera – loving the Panorama feature of the built-in app
  • Photos – mostly used to email a photo or screenshot I just took
  • Phone/Text – they don’t call it an iPhone for nothing

What I noticed: my most accessible apps are either communication services (email/phone/text), useful tools (evernote/camera/navigation), or content (instacast/pocket/HN). Facebook and Twitter are like a combination of all three.

What about you? What are your favorite homescreen apps? Let me know in the comments!

The Story of How a Business Guy Earned the Opportunity to Co-Found a Tech Startup

I recently heard the story of how my friend met his cofounder and had to share it. I think there are some great lessons here for business folks looking to team up with smart technical people. I changed the names and am vague about certain details because they don’t really need the attention from this story, but it’s all true.

Chris’s First Startup

I met Chris at Stanford: really smart guy who studied CS and has a great eye for design. He cofounded a company right out of college, a collaborative editing/viewing tool, raised a round of funding, grew the team to six and eventually sold it for a small sum to a much larger technology-for-enterprise firm.

Chris stayed on post-acquisition, working on various projects for his new employer. While heading up a mobile app project, he ran into an challenge and can’t find a good solution for it in the marketplace. He decided to start working on a home-baked solution on nights and weekends as it was somewhat tangential to his day job, but wisely kept his employer in the loop about his efforts*. The entrepreneurial side of him started to wonder if there might be more firms out there with the same problem.

Meeting the Business Guy

Chris began working on it as a nights and weekends project, letting his firm know he was making this for the company, but that he also saw greater potential for it. One day, at a tech meet up event, Chris strikes up a conversation with a guy named Mike. Mike is a few years older than Chris and has been a part of the tech scene for some time, having most notably hacked on a consumer web product that got strong traction in the early-to-mid 2000′s.

However, these days Mike spends his time blogging, advising startups and angel investing. He’s turned into a “business guy”. Mike is intrigued by Chris’s side project and tells him:

“That’s a great idea. But you gotta stop calling it a side project, because it’s clearly a startup idea. Listen, I’d like to be involved. I think I could really help you out.”

Chris rolls his eyes. Having sold his last company, he doesn’t really need money – there are lots of investor who want to back a successful entrepreneur with a new idea. What does Mike have to offer? He has been out of the game technically for a few years and his experience is in consumer web, not enterprise, which is what this new idea would be for.

“Sure, whatever,” Chris replies, “I’ll let you know if I take it further.”

Hustling Pays Off

Some time passes and Chris has nearly forgotten about the whole interaction. Then, out of the blue, he gets a phone call:

“Hey it’s Mike.”

Oh boy, now what?

“Listen, I was serious about helping out. Over the last two weeks, I’ve called over 40 companies and pitched your product. I’ve gotten 30 who are willing to integrate with your service and try it out.”

Whoa. Now we’re talking.

I’ll skip ahead.

After meeting up, talking quite a bit more and working together, Chris and Mike eventually decide to join forces and co-found a new startup together. They raised a seed round and then a series less than 6 months later, have gotten tons of press and most importantly, has been a hit in the mobile development industry, with 100′s of customers ranging from one-man dev shops to publicly traded companies.

Lessons Learned

It’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from a story, but every data point is worth something. Here are two take aways:

  • You gotta be legit. Mike was already an impressive guy, with money, connections, professional clout and a technical background. But being legit wasn’t enough.
  • You gotta overdeliver. Mike didn’t complain about how Chris didn’t “appreciate the value he brought to the table”. He went out and proved that he could bring in business for the company. Getting a hold of the right person at 40 companies in a few weeks and actually convincing ~30 of them to say yes on a cold call, without a demo or even screenshots, is very hard.

If you’re a non-technical guy looking to co-found a startup, realize that you have far less leverage than whoever you choose to work with for your technical co-founder. You have to prove your worth both from the resources you have access to, the skills you can bring to bear on the project, and your relentless resourcefulness for getting sh*t done.

Do you have a story about co-founders meeting that you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments!

Photo Credit - stuck in customs

FOOTNOTES

*the company, to their credit, was pretty open and happy about Chris’s side project efforts

Great by Choice: the surprising lessons of how tech startups succeed over the long term

Note: This is a pretty long article (~4000 words). You can skim it now but you might want to also bookmark it and fully review it when you have 15 mins or so.

Summary: Great by Choice describes the results of a deep investigation into how young companies can survive and thrive in chaotic, turbulent environments to achieve spectacular results. The book is of great value startups and entrepreneurs seeking to build enduringly great companies. In this blog post, I look at how his concepts of fanatical discipline, productive paranoia, and empirical creativity apply to building a startup that succeeds over the long-term [1].

Introduction

I just finished reading Jim Collins’ new book Great by Choice: Uncertainty Chaos and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (GBC from here on out). GBC is the spiritual sequel to a highly-regarded & best-selling book published by Collins in 2001 called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. Both are great reads, but I find GBC particularly relevant to technology entrepreneurs (like myself). Why? Two reasons.

The level of research behind the book:

Unlike many business books, this is not just one successful guy waxing philosophical about how he made stuff happen [2]. Jim Collins and his coauthor Morten Hansen had entire teams of research analysts work for 9 (!!) years to complete the book.

They picked industries that were highly volatile and selected young/small companies that did extraordinarily well (beating their industry’s average stock growth by 10x or more for at least 15 years). They found comparison companies that were started off very similar to the “10x companies” but only had average performance, and dissected all the data they could gather on both companies to find the differences. For more, see Appendix A below.

The companies / industries studied:

  • Computing/Software: Microsoft vs Apple [3]
  • Integrated Circuits: Intel vs AMD
  • Biotechnology: Amgen vs Genentech
  • Medical Devices: Biomet vs Kirschner
  • Surgical Devices: Stryker vs USSC
  • Insurance: Progressive vs Safeco
  • Airlines: Southwest vs PSA

The companies are relevant and familiar to tech entrepreneurs like me and many of the folks on this blog. My focus in this post is to look at how the conclusions from the research could be applied to early stage startups that WANT to build enduring and spectacularly successful companies. I’m excited to see what we find.

MYTH-BUSTING: It’s not about more vision, creativity, risk-taking or luck

One of the great things about this study is that it’s not just studying winners but looking at the difference between winners and losers. GBC found that the 10x companies were NOT more creative, visionary, ambitious, lucky, hard working, risk-taking, innovative, etc. It’s not that those things weren’t important – I think they were/are. And GBC acknowledges this.

It’s just that both groups had lots of these things. Yet they had different outcomes. So we have to look at what DIFFERED between the 10x and comparison companies. Let’s start by looking at how innovation happens at 10xers. Continue reading…

Amazing Across the Board: Cristina Cordova in Kick Ass Interview #3

You guys are in for a treat. Kick Ass Interviews have returned (see one and two) and they’re starting off with a bang. We’re joined by Cristina Cordova – a rising star in the tech world and an all around awesome gal. She shares some great stuff with us including:

  • How she ended up becoming VP of Business Development at a super hot startup
  • Her 3 key instructions for people interviewing at startups
  • The pen-and-paper productivity hack she uses that’s “better than any app”
  • The 4 lessons she’s learned on kicking ass
  • And why she thinks Facebook is “skirting its ethical responsibilities”

Enjoy guys!

- Jason

You work as the VP of Biz Dev at Alphonso Labs, which makes Pulse, an iPad app that made a big splash last year and even got Steve Jobs calling it “a wonderful RSS reader”. How did you get the opportunity to work in this role? What is your work like day to day?

I was in my last year at Stanford and working for Tapulous (makers of the Tap Tap Revenge iPhone game) in May of 2010. I was just about to finish my work there and relax until I started full-time at Google after graduation. My TA from my computer science class (Akshay Kothari, co-founder /CEO for Pulse) asked me if I could help him and his co-founder out with their app that was taking off. I agreed and I began to help Akshay and Ankit (co-founder/CTO for Pulse) out with marketing and publisher relations plus a few other things.

I left Pulse for a month and a half to give Google a try and it didn’t take long for me to realize what I was missing out on. I came back to work in “business development”, but it would be more accurate to say I do “everything else”.

My work day-to-day varies quite a bit. When I have meetings, I work with publishers big and small to get their content into Pulse. I manage our catalog of news sources and our efforts to get new and interesting content in front of our users. I also run our analytics, assessing our metrics for all the platforms we’re on and making sure our team is focused on key data necessary for our success. I also still do quite a bit of our marketing, blog posts and social media.

It’s fantastic that you’ve had the opportunity to get involved in so many great tech companies big and small. Many of The Art of Ass-Kicking readers are non-technical but interested in getting involved in business positions at tech companies and startups. What are your top recommendations for how they can land a great gig? What are common mistakes you see people making?

At a start-up with a small team, hiring the right people is extremely important and consumes a significant amount of time for the CEO and other key members of the company. Startups can be more cautious with hiring that at larger companies because each hire has an enormous impact on the entire company.

For those who are seeking marketing or business development positions, my first piece of advice is to do your research. Just because you’re not interviewing at a company with a market cap in the billions doesn’t mean that there isn’t information about the company or industry for you to consume before your interview. Read most, if not all of the company’s blog, twitter and facebook posts, locate all the press you can find on it and research who you’re interviewing with and their backgrounds.

Next, prepare for your interview by pretending you already have the job. Ask yourself what your plan would be from the second you started the role. Don’t think you’ll be handed a job description or given an outline of what your role consists of (I have never gotten this at any startup I’ve worked for). Assess what the company is not doing well, whether that is social media or strategic partnerships and prep solutions for how to improve it. Be creative and have at numerous ideas for what you would do if you got the job.

Last, be passionate. An interviewee can have all the experience in the world, but if he or she is not passionate about the product and the team, the company won’t take the risk.

You’ve been co-hosting the Girls Out Loud podcast on tech news with your friend Maya for over 6 months with 30 episodes under your belts. I enjoyed listing to Episode 29, where you explored some of the ramifications of the tsunami on the Bay Area. The dynamic between you and Maya is also great. What drove to do this initially? What keeps you going? How do you find the time?

Maya and I met initially through a mutual friend – she was just about to finish her first year at IBM and join a startup and I was working for Tapulous at the time. She wanted to start a podcast focused on technology and asked me if I would join her. We both knew that there was a lack of a female perspective on technology and we thought that we could deliver it.

It’s great to see how far the podcast has come. Some things haven’t changed – we’re still recording over Skype with the microphones on our Apple headphones.

Finding time for it has been a challenge at times, especially when we’re traveling or have big deadlines for work that require working at all hours (we have certainly missed a few weeks of episodes). I often take over the sole conference room at work at night and take a short break to do the podcast. Making time when you have very little is probably the hardest part.

Time seems to be the one thing that no one has enough of and it seems to be slipping through our grasp all the time. What is your approach to managing your work so that you have the time to do the things you need to / want to do? (Apps you use, processes you employ, mindsets you hold, etc)

For work, I stick to a to-do list in a small lined notebook. Every day I start a new page and list out everything I need to get done. If I don’t finish something, I move it to the next page for the next day. Crossing items off the list is much better than any feeling an app could give me. I try to keep my inbox to less than 20 when I leave work at night.

Some days it’s impossible, but as it piles up I’ll have an “email day” where I knock everything out. For managing relationships, I use a Google Docs spreadsheet listing all of my contacts, things that are pending etc. I try to work out everyday for at least 45 minutes. I work non-stop during the week, but the last 30 minutes before bed are for relaxation, usually watching TV or casual reading.

I try to stay away from my computer on Saturdays and go outside, take walks, have long meals with friends and generally enjoy life. It’s a mistake not to take time for yourself – even if you have to make time to do it.

You wrote a thesis on ethics of privacy in social networks. I think that’s great that you picked a more mainstream and accessible topic than most people do (my Ethics in Society thesis was on liver transplants). Can you summarize the overarching message of the thesis? What was the most valuable thing for you about writing it?

The basic message of the thesis is that there are ethical standards for using personal information (whether online or offline). I argue that Facebook violates many of these ethical standards by not notifying you before it collects your information, not giving you the opportunity to refuse consent to share and for using your information for purposes beyond which it was originally gathered. Facebook has been making it more difficult for you to control your information over the years and has been skirting its ethical responsibility to make it easier.

Taking part in a large research effort over a year and half was definitely my most treasured academic experience and taught me quite a bit about a product’s user experience as well. It also taught me to take my academic experience into my own hands. I didn’t want to write the typical honors thesis that never sees the light of day. I wanted it to be relevant and I wanted to it to be something I was personally and academically invested in.

It’s ironic that you said how accessible and mainstream the topic is. My thesis adviser recently told me that faculty in the department thought my topic may not have been worthy of academic inquiry in the beginning. Thankfully he didn’t tell me this until after I submitted my final copy because it ended up winning the award for the best thesis in the department. That’s probably another lesson in going after what you want when your own blood, sweat and tears are involved.

[Editors note: see a presentation of Cristina’s thesis here and the full paper: “The End of Privacy as We Know It?: The Ethics of Privacy on Online Social Networks” here.

I love that you chose this topic and succeeded with it even though others felt it might not be worthy. Way to get after it. This blog is all about learning how to kick more ass at stuff. What’s your take on the idea of “kicking ass”? What lessons have you learned about how you can take matters into your own hands and make things happen?

Kicking ass to me is being excellent at not just one thing, but everything one does. I admire people who have interests beyond work (i.e. staying fit, spending quality time with family, hobbies, philanthropy) and are amazing all across the board.

Lesson #1: Ask and you shall receive. Most women don’t negotiate their salaries and go on to make less than their male counterparts. Everyone has some leverage and can use it to their advantage in negotiations.

Lesson #2: Never be afraid to take a chance. I would consider myself someone who likes to play things safe, but I’m willing to take a risk if given the right opportunity. This played a key role in my move back to Pulse from Google.

Lesson #3: Plan to get where you want to be. If you want to move up from being an Account Manager to VP of Sales, get on the path that leads there and stick to it. I’ve been a planner my whole life. I applied to 17 colleges, numerous scholarships so that I didn’t have to pay a dime to attend and had ridiculous spreadsheets to track completion. Planning can get you most of the way.

Lesson #4: Never let obstacles stand in the way. I applied for an internship at Google and didn’t get it. I worked at a startup for the summer instead and got a full-time job at Google a year later. If something doesn’t work out, take an alternate route.

If You’re Young, Don’t Be Arrogant and Other Thoughts from Jeff Bajayo (KAI #2)

Hey guys – welcome to Kick Ass Interview Number 2. Up today is an ambitious young guy who covers tech news, is a firm believer in NYC geeks and has already learned some good lessons to share with us. I hope you enjoy meeting Jeff!

Can you briefly introduce yourself to us? What you’re all about, where you came from, etc?

My name is Jeff Bajayo, I was originally born in Manhattan, I’m a first generation American, my family originally hailing from Israel. I love technology, this love sort of stemmed from my family’s first computer; I was around 10 years old and very curious. Running Windows 98 and a not much else it was more than a “problem child”. I put more than a few hours of my childhood fixing and experimenting with it. Over the years, I got more and more into technology.

About three years ago I discovered TechCrunch. I saw them while they were attending CES and they were doing what I only had dreamt of; Playing with the latest and greatest technology, and meeting the brilliant minds behind it. A few months after that I was determined to be just like them. I taught myself how to configure a server, use Wordpress, and I honed my writing skills. I then started my first blog called JeffOnTheGo. It was my testing ground, and I learned how hard it was to get page views, readers, market the blog and most importantly use the resources around me.

From there I went on to apply and get accepted to write for a few different tech blogs. I now write for several sites, each focusing on a different aspect of technology.

Why do you like writing about the technology and startup space? What’s more important/engaging for you – the writing or the tech?

I absolutely love meeting startups and the brilliant minds behind them. I guess I enjoy finding out what makes this emerging breed of people tick, and I also try to learn from them. I’m young, and seeing a group of ambitious young people fresh out of college creating extraordinary things inspires me. People like Dave McClure and other folks I’ve spoken to through Y-Combinator are the true entrepreneurs. They work hard, use their brains and they do not give up. For me, it’s the tech that is most important. The tech and the people behind it.

Every day in high school I see people who are not ambitious, they slide through school and life like it’s a breeze. Being a part of the tech community, even in such a minor way has really helped shaped who I’ve become as an adult, and what I’ll do in the future. It’s a great example that with hard work and common sense, people can still succeeded in the US.

You know, I think the American Dream is most strongly held by immigrants and their children – like you and me. Awesome. Outside of blogging – what’s your biggest project right now?

In this past year I’ve branched off from blogging into actually trying to make some of my own ideas come to life. I’ve recently gathered a team for my biggest project yet. It’s called ProjectInterns, still in stealth though!

Exciting! Hopefully you’ll keep us updated as that evolves… You’re a young guy who’s going after some ambitious things – and doing quite well. But this path can’t be easy. Can you tell us about some setbacks, rejections or scary moments you’ve had when tackling on this stuff?

Well I think much of what set me back from the start was experience. I am young, I’m not as experienced as older folks and I think that is something that has really hurt me in the past. But as I go through different situations, I learn from them and apply what I’ve learned so I don’t make the same mistakes the next time.

One blog I wrote for in the past taught me many lessons after the fact. I was too ambitious and I wanted to take on the world instantly. I jumped at every opportunity to request to attend this conference or interview some person etc… I was a bit arrogant, I did not listen to much of what my editors had to say much of the time and I wasn’t being very professional.

But later on I understood my errors, and why at the time I felt they were maybe being a little too hard on me. I wasn’t experienced; I was just a kid trying to run with the lions.

As someone who’s young you have to realize that you aren’t invincible and that you don’t know it all, and when someone gives you an opportunity to learn something new or gain experience, you just have to embrace it.

Ambition is a good thing, but you can’t run unless you learn to crawl.

How do you feel the NYC tech scene differs from that of the Valley? Are we Bay Area people really living in a bubble that’s just foolishly obsessed with check ins, game mechanics and photo sharing?

The NYC tech scene is not so different then the Valley, just less open space and larger buildings. People here are just as obsessed with check ins and technology. While not being such an active member in the tech scene in the city, NYC like the Valley has a tremendous amount of talent, but not near as many startups as San Francisco. Geeks are geeks, where ever they may be, were all tech crazy.

What advice do you have to young people who are trying to do expansive work but feel stuck – without resources, connections, credibility etc? How can they overcome that and be more successful?

First off I guess I’d say don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I’ve had project ideas with the hope that they would become reality, but not to dash people’s dreams, tech is a harsh environment, just like any business, you have to fail a few times before you can succeed.

As far as resources and connections, signup for Twitter. I can’t begin to explain just how valuable a resource it is. Many of my friends, both online and off have stemmed from Twitter. It’s a place where relationships are formed and invaluable connections are made. Network, meet people, you never know when that person may be interested in something you’re doing and want to be a part of it; or vise versa. Tech is about being a social butterfly, and some may like you, other’s may not. That’s just how it goes!

Credibility comes with working hard and at a constant pace. Don’t start something (like a blog for example) and then a week later quit. Have a social presence and use your brain. If you do good work then people will notice eventually, if not, well then you have to work a little harder.

Some great people that I follow are Robert Scoble, Dave McClure, Loic Le Meur and Hiten Shah. All great resources for tech and entrepreneurial content.

If you’re looking for cool startups to check out, both Betali.st and Startupli.st are phenomenal resources. I also post all of the new and cool startups that I come across on my designated startup Twitter List (Updated a few times a week).

Finally just some general suggestions:

  • Be a news addict, I check it every day, multiple times a day, both tech and general  (Go Pulse!). One of your most valuable assets is to be informed.
  • Be easy to contact. When someone asks me for my contact information, I can easily hand them a business card or forward them to my website. I reply to emails within a few hours, not a few days and If someone leaves a message, I usually call back very promptly.
  • Always, ALWAYS be professional. No matter what the circumstance is, be polite and professional.
  • Don’t be afraid to meet new people, it’s awesome.
  • Something my mother has told me practically every day. Your name is the most valuable thing you have, never ruin your good name.
  • Don’t give up, I’m not successful yet, you may not be either, but if you give up you’ll never know will you?
  • Also don’t forget to check out my blog and follow me on Twitter!

If you liked this post, you’ll probably like my other stuff too. Consider subscribing via RSS or via Email.