Lean interview about Row0 iPad app

After a crazy week with Row0 where I was interviewed and featured in the Edmonton Journal and CTV National News and Sean was featured on Global TV, I took a moment to document some of the interview questions that weren’t shown in any of our coverage about the app.

What’s Row0?

Row0 is an iPad and iPhone app built for the World Junior Hockey Championships.  It allowed hard core sports fans an opportunity to consume as much information about the event as humanly possible.  It also allowed them to interact with other fans who care about the event as much as they do.  It was available in the app store for 4 days before we removed it after getting some heat about content rights of articles and photos we were embedding.

What’s the first thing people ask you about Row0?

So many of the people I’ve chatted with, especially since the press releases about the app, ask me “Where did you come up with the idea?”  I’ll often spew off some canned answer talking about my love for sports merging with my fascination  with computers, but the truth of the matter is … not only do I not really remember how “the idea” actually came together, but the app which we released is just a minimum product that tests a few hypothesis about a greater vision.  Answering “where did you come up with this idea” seems to imply that this is a good idea … when I really don’t believe this version of the app is good enough to be a bug business.

Well, what do you wish people would ask you about Row0?

The real question I wish I could answer is “Why did you decide to release *this* app first?”

Okay, you said that you don’t think that Row0 today is a big business, what IS the big opportunity that you’re going after here that Row0 sheds a bit of light onto?

I don’t know … but that’s the fun in all of this.  Experimenting and collecting data as fast as possible to iterate towards the big idea instead of spending a tonne of capital with a “build it and they will come” attitude.  

There are a few opportunities that I think could be pretty huge in this space.  Without going into too much detail (I could probably write several pages on each opportunity), here’s a list of some of these really high level opportunities that Row0 helps us learn more about.

1.  Elite athlete identity – How can we go way above and beyond what twitter and Facebook are doing to allow an athlete to create a brand for themselves, and to interact with their fans.  A portal for blogs, tweets, photos, and interactivity with fans.  

2.  Digital program guide for sports teams enabling fans to interact with their favorite teams before, during and after a game or season.

3.  Second screen service allowing fans to interact with other fans and content before, during and after an event.   

OK, all those sound great even though they’re incredibly vague, but why build Row0?  It doesn’t seem to be any of those?

You’re right, I believe that all 3 of these opportunities could be real businesses, but like any new software venture, each is riddled with leaps of faith and untested assumptions.  With Row0, we took a page out of the lean startup handbook and put metrics in place to learn the following:

– How often will people return to read about a recurring sporting event they care about?

– What do they care about reading?  Blogs?  Player tweets?  Fan tweets?  Looking at event photos?

– While consuming sports content, how often would people interact with a game about the event?

– How often will people interact with each other during a sporting event?  

– When will they consume content?  Before, during or after an event?

– How do you best reach these fans?  Social media, newspaper, news, feet on the ground marketing?  Radio ads? 

– Who owns the content?  do bloggers care?  Do photographers care?

Leveraging a number of unfair advantages (relationships with local journalists, sports bloggers, Radio personalities, the Edmonton Oilers), we felt very strongly that we could attract a good user base for our app.  With that user base we could answer a lot of the above questions and then iterate closer towards a bigger vision.

Ah, very wise young lean startup grasshopper.  Can you tell us more about the results of these tests?

We gathered a tonne of data.  In 4 days we had over 1000 active users and every interaction within the app was instrumented.  But lets save the details for a follow up interview /  blog post ….

iPad far from a living room device

Apple released the iPad as a device aimed at the living room.  I agreed with this position and fully expected to use the device while sitting on the sofa, casually watching TV, to check email, Facebook, surf the web etc.  However … I actually have found that I reach for my iPhone when I’m in these situations.

Why?  I think it’s actually pretty simple (and perhaps lazy).  I’d rather grab a device that I can operate using one hand.  The iPad is a 2 hand device, and for something as simple as checking email, twitter, or Facebook, I’ll simply grab my phone.  For doing any surfing that’s more involved … such as online shopping … I’ll grab the laptop.  It’s just too painful to type anything more than 2 sentences on the iPad.
In all honesty, the only place the iPad’s taken over for me is inside an airplane.

Flurry keynote at iPaddevcamp

I had a chance to attend ipaddevcamp last weekend at the Paypal offices in San Jose.  Great event, some great keynotes, and some amazing people in attendance.ipaddevcamp

One of the speeches that really stood out for me was the one given by Flurry / Pinch media.  In short, Flurry (who merged with Pinch media this year) helps gather usage metrics for application developers.  As such, they’re swimming in data which shows how and what users are using their iPads and iPhones for.

Flury presented some pretty interesting usage metrics.  Most of it which aren’t that surprising.
– iPad sessions are on average 2~3X as long as those on the iPhone
– iPad game, video and book sessions are about 10X as long as those on the iPhone
– iPad book sessions average about an hour.  (I was a bit surprised it was that long)

One stat that was a bit of a surprise to me was that social app usage on the iPad was far less than on the iPhone.  They attributed this to the lack of social apps on the iPad.   But I have to disagree with this explanation.  I think social apps are all about quick interactions consuming or producing content. Quickly check twitter while you’re waiting in line.  Check into gowalla when you enter starbucks.  Look at your facebook stream while you’re waiting for the light to turn green, upload a photo to flickr that you just shot.  The iPhone is perfect for this type of quick consumption and generation of content.

So I think Steve Job’s was right that there’s a market for a device situated between the mobile device and your laptop.  It’s all about the hour you have to kill while sitting in the airport, sitting on the sofa as opposed to the 10 second interaction perfect for the iPhone and the 4 hours you have with you laptop.  The iPad has it’s flaws, but to me the tablet fills this hole perfectly … and Flurry’s analytics seem to reinforce this.

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Why I love my iPad

Yes, I’m a bit of a tech gadget geek.  I own way too many toys for my own good, But  99% of the time I don’t think the hype lives up to my latest toy.

Despite it’s ridiculous and never ending hype, my iPad has exceeded my expectations.

It’s not the Version 1 of the iPad … but it’s the computing shift that it so obviously represents.  The iPad has it’s short comings – a keyboard that’s still only about 30% as effective as a real one … limited multi tasking … just to name a few.  But these are minor notes … and are gonna be washed away in future hardware and software updates.

What do I really like about it?

1.  Limited device, all your apps and data

It’s been several years since we’ve been talking about dumbed down devices that connect to your media and applications hosted in the cloud.  I was reminded today that we were looking at doing this 4 years ago at Saflink with the miValet project.  But the iPad is the first device that really nails this.  It’s a limited device (crummy CPU, memory and hard drive space), but it gives you access to apps and content hosted from the cloud.  The iPhone was a step in this direction too, but lacked the screen real estate to really allow you to consume your content.

2.  Usable multi touch

While multi touch has been around since the iPhone, it’s finally usable with the iPad.  The set of supported gestures is rich, given the extra space.  Not only can an individual manipulate the interface, but multiple people can interact on the device at the same time.
3.  Intuitive interaction using multi touch

To me this is the big one.  I often forget what a barrier the mouse is between a user and the computer.  We’re accustomed to it, but when you think about it, it’s a completely unnatural medium between you and the machine.  Try to teach someone who’s never seen a computer (good luck with that) how to use a mouse and you’ll see how bizarre the mouse is.  On the contrary, manipulating the user interface using touch and gesture is just so natural.  Treating objects in the UI as if they were real objects just makes sense.  Flip pages in books by … flipping pages in a book.  Steer the racing car by … steering the iPad …. sign your name on a document by … signing your name on the document with your finger.  The list goes on and on.  I was reminded of how natural the interface is when my friends 4 year old got a hold of my iPad.  Sure … kids these days … even 4 year olds are pretty good with a computer …. but I was amazed how quickly he picked up using the iPad.

OK … I’m done my apple fan-boy-ism …. I swear I’m not a fan-boy, but this device is awesome.