Author Archives: Max Lynch

New from Drifty – Ionic: Advanced Mobile App Framework

 

 

We’ve been hard at work over the last few months working on a big new project called Ionic. Ionic is an HTML5 mobile app development framework that makes it incredibly easy to build cross platform mobile apps with web technologies.

Ionic is our first big open source project, and we are proud to say that Ionic’s projects have reached over 5000 stars on GitHub and have been gaining some great traction since late 2013.

As we look to the future of Drifty, we see a huge opportunity in helping mobile app developers build amazing hybrid native apps with web technologies they know and love.

Stay tuned!

You Don’t ‘Get’ Our Bootstrapped Company

 

 

Most people don’t understand what our company, Drifty, is all about.

I’m not talking about our branding or products, though that’s a separate thing we need to work on. I’m talking about who we are as a company, why we run the company the way we do, and what our goals are.

In the land of startups, there are two major operation styles: angel/VC funded, and bootstrapped. I am using Paul Grahams definition of startups=growth which I really like.

An angel or VC funded startup is the common style we read about in the tech news. These companies are raising successive rounds and following some standard practices that are known by many tech investors. They are trying to use cash to grow quickly, though many are just trying to pay employees at first (especially in high-cost locations).

A Bootstrapped startup, in comparison, isn’t following the popularized fundraising practices. That’s really all you can say about Bootstrapped companies.

Because being Bootstrapped implies a lot less about how you are running your company, most people are confused by them. Are they lifestyle businesses? Are they just startups that failed at fund raising? Do they just lack ambition?

When Ben and I started Drifty all we had was our friendship and passion for making software products together. Most people don’t know this but we’ve been best friends since we were small children. It’s something quite rare, I think. What’s even more rare is we developed complimentary skill sets and started a company together.

We enjoy working with each other, and we both see huge potential both in ourselves and our team to do incredible things. We pride ourselves on making cool shit. And we are generating more revenue than most startups ever will.

Right now Drifty is focusing on building products and services in the mobile development space. The first iPhone was released 6 years ago. It’s incredible to think how young this space is, how massive it is and will continue to be, and how it will rapidly evolve over the coming years.

Ben and I believe that if we did follow the traditional funding path, the lifespan of our company would be shortened in order to produce returns for our investors. Many of these companies come and go in a matter of years, with many exiting to just work for other people again.

The strange thing is despite most startup founders claiming they are going to change the world and make an impact, most of them get swallowed up by bigger companies, their brands and products never to be heard from again.

We believe we can build a big, important, and meaningful company, but that we shouldn’t rush it. We are playing the long game with Drifty. We are bootstrapping to not fall victim to forces that would have us focus on the short term at the expense of the long term.

I think it’s helpful to look at the companies we look up to. GitHub, Atlassian, Mail Chimp, 37signals, and SurveyMonkey are a few great examples. The interesting thing is that three of these companies have taken on lots of VC money.

But at the core, I think they all have similar characteristics of a strong founding team that was more interested in making something great that was going to be around for a while than to cash out.

That’s Drifty, and that’s what bootstrapping means to us. It doesn’t mean we will never try to raise, or we aren’t ambitious.

It just means we’re two stubborn best friends that just wanted to do things our way.

Be Better, Not New

Be Better not New

I hear a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs say “if only I had an idea.”

They spend weeks and months digging through various industries looking for a problem that no one else has solved yet, hoping to be the first and steal the show.

The idea is you can’t have a business if someone else has already done it. The competition can’t be beat.

I think that’s just plain wrong. Instead of being “new,” what about just being “better”?

Drifty was not “new” at anything. Every one of our products is an improvement on older ones. Instead, we strive to be better than what came before.

People constantly compare our second product Jetstrap with tools like Dreamweaver or FrontPage. They say we are the evolution of these tools. We love when they say that.

The nice thing about trying to be better instead of new is the market has already validated itself. They use products that can be improved on. They spend money and are familiar with how the products work and what they can and currently can’t do.

Being better means having something concrete to compare yourself to. Instead of Jetstrap making crappy HTML like Dreamweaver or FrontPage, we export really clean code that is what a pro would write by hand.

Instead of having every little feature under the sun we just have a few, and we make it super easy to jump in, get your work done, and get back to living your life. “Better” becomes its own brand of “new.”

The beautiful thing is what is “better” for one person might not be better for another. That means a market that was previously monolithic might really have segments that can be isolated.

This makes it easy to start small and grow big. Target one segment of a market you think you can improve on, and build something simple for them.

Drifty started small. Our products focused primarily on front-end web and mobile development. As we understand more about what our customers need, we are starting to expand beyond that. But only now that we have validation, revenue, and a team to do it.

So next time you are looking for a startup idea, why not try to improve on something you think sucks? Chances are someone else thinks it sucks, too.

Thriving on Chance – Probabilities and Startups

Rob Ireton http://www.flickr.com/photos/aoisakana/Photo: Rob Ireton http://www.flickr.com/photos/aoisakana/

Before I started Drifty, I found it difficult to imagine a world where people did things like click on ads, respond to surveys, put phone numbers on sign up forms, sign in with Facebook, or even purchase services on the web.

For a long time, this kept me from getting my products out there and having the courage to charge and provoke a fair value exchange, and to engage and understand my customers.

As a first time entrepreneur, I figured it was more like an all or nothing game: everyone will buy the product and you will have a real company, or no one will and you will have to move on to something else.

The reality is far from that, and you know what? That’s an amazing thing.

Just like in the real world, events don’t happen with 100% probability, but they are also non-zero. Over time, the occurrence will be measurable and potentially something we can reason about.

This means that when you do something new, like charge for your product or ask visitors to give you some more information on who they are and what they are trying to achieve with your product, some of them will do it!

But just because a few people will doesn’t mean you have a good business on your hands. You then need to see if the positive occurrences are frequent enough that you can continue to grow. This is the hard part of transitioning from a product people are interested in to a company that can grow and satisfy your growing expectations.

Just last night we started asking for optional phone numbers on our sign up forms for Codiqa. I was intensely skeptical people would fill that field in. I woke up to 50 phone numbers that we can use to follow up and more effectively sell our products to customers that genuinely want us to solve their problems. That represented 30% of new accounts created during the night.

Not 100%, but a quantity we can get to work on. And that’s what startups are all about.

 

 

Writing: Highly Effective

write_create

As a digital creator, I live to put shiny new things into the hands of people all over the world.

Crafting an experience that elicits a response in the market or on social media is addicting. It’s partly why I still wear my creator hat despite the fact that Drifty is growing and our successful products are changing less frequently. I can’t imagine a company where I’m not helping create new products several times per year.

Traditionally, my method of creating has been through software. I’ll build a web app that does something interesting, I’ll find some people on Twitter that want to try it, and I’ll build an audience and iterate on the product.

While I’m addicted to building new software products, it’s still a time consuming, potentially costly process that I can only afford to do a few times a year.

As I’ve been writing more frequently, I’ve realized that I get a similar high to building software products when I release a blog post and people read it.

It also struck me that writing has been a hugely important part of Drifty’s growth, including on social media, email marketing, and customer engagement and support.

It seems that writing is one of the most effective means of digital creation. It’s a process that requires little time investment, no support or maintenance costs, and doesn’t randomly break when you’re asleep.

Great writing can solidify your brand, spark conversation and traffic on social media and beyond, help your customers, and bring in more customers from search engines.

Writing has become just as important to me as developing software, and it is becoming a large part of how we run Drifty.

Get writing!

Bootstrapping is Hacking

bootstrapping is hacking

For the average startup founder, much of your life revolves around fundraising.

It seems to make a lot of sense: startups are highly failure-prone, and any increase in your odds of success is a great thing. Often startups are building product without revenue coming in, waiting to launch and take the world by storm. Having money in the bank can keep your mind focused on building something great, and bringing smart advisors on board can help you make better decisions. Not to mention the signals a big round sends to competitors, investors, and potential customers.

My company is largely bootstrapped, which means we haven’t raised any formal financing rounds. While we have taken “pre-seed” investments from TechStars, I still consider ourselves bootstrapped, and we have chosen to not raise follow-on investment despite ample opportunity to do so. It might surprise you to know that we are profitable and growing in spite of this.

We regularly deal with members of the startup community that just can’t fathom why we’d want to bootstrap. Are we not thinking big enough? Are we naive and think more equity means more value, ignoring the common wisdom that having a smaller piece of a larger pie is better than a bigger piece of a smaller one? Are we greedy and think revenue is better than having lots of users? Are we just complacent?

The answer I realized is so much simpler: I feel a strong pull to do the opposite of what is considered normal. I want to hack the startup process and throw out the idea that typical software startups need investors and capital in order to build value and be successful. I don’t believe it for a second, and I don’t care to do something just because so many say we should.

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I just didn’t care about fundraising. In my mind it’s largely a signal that you own less of your company, are shooting for a quick exit, and are delaying answering the really tough questions that will decide whether your company succeeds in the long term. Many VC-backed companies have prioritized the desires of investors over the interests of customers or their own employees. That’s not a very customer-focused environment or even a happy place to work.

Earlier today I was watching a great interview with Paul Graham about how hackers can be great business people. One quote stood out as Paul was being asked what characteristics great hackers tend to have:

“[Great hackers] tend to be sort of disobedient. They don’t like to do what they’re told. And in fact when they’re told to do something, it tends to create some bias in them to do the opposite. Because I think they assume, often rightly, that if they’re being told to do something that it’s in somebody else’s interest” – Paul Graham (watch this part)

Ignoring the irony that YC is all about large VC-backed startups, I realized: this is how I’ve always been. Tell me to do something and I’ll strongly consider doing the opposite. Tell me something is true and I’ll try to disprove it. Tell me I “should” do something and I’ll assume you have a one-track mind.

Of course, when I was younger this manifested more in typical teenage disobedient behavior, but now it manifests itself in a strong distrust of absolutism and a desire to explore the nuance of a problem space, and find a solution someone missed.

So, maybe I’m stubborn and being stupid by not putting some money in the bank or not striking with investors while the iron is hot. In my mind I am challenging the belief that fundraising is a required part of the startup experience.

I don’t believe it, and my company is already disproving it. Internet startups are so cheap to create these days, all you need is some skills and the desire to learn to market and sell your creations. You don’t need a business or marketing background, you just need to hack, hustle, and make things happen.

That is a profound evolution in business, and I want to keep pushing in that direction. The internet has removed so many barriers for all of us, and every day we knock down more.

Happy hacking!

Bootstrapping to 140,000 users with Twitter

twitter growth

We are huge fans of Twitter at Drifty. And for good reason: we used Twitter to grow Drifty into a profitable startup with 140,000 users in just one year. Not to mention we did it for $0 and formed strong relationships with our customers in the processs.

By some measures, our startup shouldn’t be notable on Twitter: a small team in a small city in the Midwest that hasn’t raised VC and rarely leaves the office. Yet we’ve defeated the typical odds to become relevant and sustainable without needing outside investment, in large part because of the equalizing effects of social networks like Twitter.

I’ve noticed that most startups don’t utilize Twitter much at all. They might have a profile but never tweet, or they just consume content and never share anything with the world. It’s also possible they think they need a PR/social media person to be successful on Twitter.

If two introvert nerds can be successful on Twitter, anyone can. And they can do it for cheap, potentially avoiding the need to raise outside capital to reach a real audience.

Find your Community

When we launched our first product Codiqa, a super simple HTML5 app builder (it’s free to try!) in January 2012, all we had was a cool landing page. What we didn’t have was any users!

Unwittingly, we built Codiqa following what has become a core product strategy for us: build something valuable for an existing community, start participating in the community, and work towards bettering that community.

For Codiqa that community was jQuery Mobile, since Codiqa was initially launched as a simple interface builder for jQuery Mobile.

When we first started tweeting for Codiqa we included @jquerymobile in all of our tweets. Since the community we were targeting all knew @jquerymobile, but no one knew Codiqa, it was a good way to indicate we were interested in becoming part of the group. Eventually @jquerymobile retweeted our initial tweets and we started to see users signing up for our private beta and further tweeting the link to their followers. It wasn’t long before links to and reviews of Codiqa showed up on the web, which boosted our SEO ranking.

For Jetstrap, our second product focused on Twitter Bootstrap development, the community was Twitter Bootstrap, which was already quite large and growing when we released our first versions of Jetstrap.

We approached Jetstrap the same way, by mentioning important bootstrap accounts like @twbootstrap, @mdo, and @fat. We had some really great luck where the bootstrap guys tweeted about Jetstrap and @mdo even mentioned us in a really great blog post about Bootstrap 2.1 and the future of the project.

In some respects we have been lucky that these communities are active on Twitter, but if you look hard enough you’ll be surprised how many communities use Twitter to share timely and relevant content, and they would love to share something that contributes to that community in an authentic way.

Enable Sharing

If you are authentically contributing to the community and bring value, people will want to share your stuff with the rest of the world.

Make sure you have Tweet and Follow buttons on all important landing pages, and put some thought into writing solid copy for the Tweet that will be shared. If you haven’t made yourself known yet in the community, make sure your tweet mentions important accounts that will help you gain visibility.

Invest some time into writing good copy for your Tweet button. Pretend you are going to Tweet this yourself, does it give your followers a good impression of you?

Here is the Tweet copy we had on the Codiqa beta landing page:

 

This tweet no longer had mentions of @jquerymobile because they already knew about us and we didn’t want to annoy them, but the copy was enough to make it dead clear where our product fit into the community.

Be a Creator

There are many different types of Twitter users. Some only consume, less consume and produce, and even less produce more than they consume.

As a creator, you have to produce more than you consume. This means finding interesting content to share to your followers, but also sharing your opinions and thoughts.

It’s also important to be personable. Many businesses sign their tweets with the person that is writing them, but another strategy is to engage followers with a personal account. This also helps build your personal brand which has value on its own.

Amplifying content for other users is also important, but you don’t need to make it 50% or more of your tweets: producing meaningful content is a positive contribution in its own right.

Tools and Services

There are many tools that help make you more awesome on Twitter. The two that I absolutely love are TweetDeck and Buffer.

TweetDeck lets you add multiple columns of tweets based on a filter. I often do a “search” query for my products since it’s more encompassing than a “mention” filter. However, having “mention” filters means you can favorite tweets for the account being mentioned. Otherwise, TweetDeck uses the default account set in the preferences. This is what my TweetDeck looks like (I have a few other columns that don’t fit into this view):

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.22.34 PM

Buffer, on the other hand, lets me queue up Tweets and posts them at certain times during the day. This is great because I often think of things to tweet in bursts, and Buffer distributes those tweets over a more reasonable stretch of time so I don’t annoy my followers. Buffer also has analytics so you can see the impact of your tweets. Here is a shot of our Buffer dashboard with a Tweet we shared on our Jetstrap account:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.24.22 PM

Buffer also has great extensions for the browser so you can share the pages you are on easily, and those guys are Twitter experts and super nice. Check out their blog for a wealth of info on kicking ass on Twitter.

Start Now

Twitter is an investment, so it’s best to start early. Some days I feel like all I did was waste time on Twitter, but those days pay off when our product announcements reach a larger and larger audience. TweetDeck and Buffer can be highly addicting, so use them in moderation (that advice is meant for me more than anything).

If you are completely new to Twitter, I suggest sharing articles that are relevant to your market, and work to become an expert in that market. Follow relevant accounts and engage with them in an authentic way (read: don’t just spam them to buy something). Find a healthy balance of personality and professionalism that is appropriate for your market, and don’t be afraid to take risks.

Profit?

How about you? How do you use Twitter to grow your business? Have you experimented with unusual Twitter tools or services? Anything that I can improve on? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.