Eight months ago I decided to roam around Asia for a bit as a digital nomad.
While in Kuala Lumpur, after 3 months of traveling, I became restless. Meeting broke backpackers, spiritual seekers and partying gap-year students started to weigh on me.
That’s when I decided it was time for a new project. I went to the nearest Apple Premium reseller and bought my first ever Macbook.
I locked myself in my room – well, Malaysian Starbucks – and started coding the iOS version of our app. Swift, Xcode, Cocoa Touch, constraints, storyboards, viewcontrollers, … Wow, OK, this is going to take longer than a few weeks.
After some frenzied months of coding, I’m now in Sofia, Bulgaria and the first version of the app is in review by Apple, which means if everything goes well it will be online in one week.
Unfortunately, both my co-founder and I are pretty bad at UI/UX/design. We also didn’t do any marketing. We don’t have an email list ready for launch, we didn’t tell anyone we’re in the process of creating an iOS version and we never mentioned it on our website or Facebook page either.
This is pretty dumb.
I believe we were able to create a really good product that people need. Technically, we’re both on top of our game. But as you can imagine, we’ll have a hard time getting traction on the app store.
I used to look down on non-technical people. This was caused by meeting some arrogant managerial types who use the word “buddy” in every other sentence. They typically ask me to develop their app idea for free – equity to be discussed after one year.
I had been spoon-fed the tech-superiority mindset during all 5 years of my engineering studies. After moving to London and working at an ambitious tech startup for a while, I realised I was wrong. These guys had dozens of years of software engineering experience. But there was no product. The tech – albeit genius – had no use.
Turns out, as with everything, there’s 2 parts to the equation.
For a delicious cheesecake, you need a crunchy cookie layer, and on top of that a whole lot of fluffy, creamy cheese.
In business, you need substance. A disruptive idea, executed well, at exactly the right time (when it becomes technically or otherwise feasible). This is your crunchy bottom layer. You also need fluff. A flawlessly intuitive user experience, a beautiful design, marketing chops, a ton of confidence and speaking skills, amazing customer service and a big bag full of “dirty growth hacks”. This is your cheese. You need a big layer of cheese to make the crushed cookies digestible.
Cheese hides the base layer. An example is the Uber technology. It’s complicated with loads of maths and fancy algorithms. But the layman doesn’t know about this. For him it “just works”. It’s intuitive.
In other words, you need both Steves.
And then you could add a third layer to the cake: a delicious strawberry topping to hide the fact that there’s a huge amount of cheese in the first place. But that’s a story for another day.
Update: since writing this post almost 6 months ago we’ve been featured on Lifehacker, BuzzFeed and had some big front page hits on Reddit. The app has close to 100.000 downloads on iOS. Seems like we’re not that bad after all in the marketing department, but there’s lots more to learn. I believe most of it was the combination of a good product and luck, and that’s no way to do business…