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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,800 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Circuitous Innovation

I love text messaging.  Never before has there been such an easy way to communicate instantly with anyone else in the world, at any time.  I’m texting people constantly.

In fact, the other day as I was driving home from the gym, my girlfriend sent me a text message which I wanted to respond to right away.  However, to avoid texting while driving, I decided to use the speech to text feature of the messaging app so I could simply respond with my voice and have that translated into a text message.  Innovation is fantastic!

Now, having to read text is somewhat cumbersome and not always convenient.  What would be truly innovative is the ability to have a text message read back to you in a human-sounding voice.  More innovation!

Lastly, what would be absolutely perfect is if the synthesized voice could somehow mimic the sound of the sender’s voice, to avoid sounding too robotic and create an extra personal touch.

Here’s a basic prototype of what this true pinnacle of communication technology might look like.  Can someone start working on this?

A Trip to Zoë (Wait, is this a restaurant blog now?)

I adore Restaurant Zoë.  I first discovered it during Dine Around Seattle, when they offered a three-course dinner for $30 bucks.  I’ve been going back ever since.  They were closed for a few months while they moved from Belltown to Capital Hill, but their new location is top notch as well.  I figured it would be an excellent choice for Mystery Meet, and the chef did not disappoint.

Chilled Pea Soup

Chilled Pea Soup

Salmon w/ red pepper purée

Salmon w/ red pepper purée

We started off with smoked char with crème fresh and chilled pea soup, which was absolutely amazing.  I usually don’t like chilled soups, but this worked very well and the slight hint of creme added a lot to the flavor.  Between courses, a few sides were tossed out onto the table for all to share.  One side that was particularly interesting were fava beans roasted with jalapeños and seat salt.  They were a bit messy, as you had to spit out the pods, but were quite tasty.

The main course was salmon, served with baby summer squash and a red pepper purée.  Also delightful.  I found the salmon perfectly cooked, which I’m a bit picky on.  Plus or minus thirty seconds can sometimes make or break a salmon dish, in my opinion.

Dessert was a crème caramel with chocolate, which was the perfect finale to this amazing dinner.

As always, the wait staff provided excellent service and explained each dish in detail.  This is, of course, a requirement when you dine with a bunch of foodies.  Alternate entrées were also provided for those at the table who couldn’t eat seafood, wheat or dairy.  We had a turn-out of eight, and everyone seemed to get along quite well.  There was much talk about food, travel, and life in general.

If you live in Seattle (or find yourself in the Seattle area), I’d definitely recommend checking out Restaurant Zoë.  I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time, just as I did!

IMG_3578

The group!

Join me at the next Seattle Mystery Meet!

As a bit of a foodie, I’ve recently become familiar with an event called Mystery Meet.  The casual culinary enthusiast is given the opportunity to explore fantastic new restaurants and connect with other like-minded individuals.  There’s a set ticket price which includes a multi-course meal and dessert, and everything is taken care of ahead of time so there’s no messing with cash and splitting credit cards 18 different ways.  Mystery Meet, as the play on words cleverly suggests, comes with a bit of a twist.  Diners do not know where they’re heading or what they’ll be eating until the day before.  This adds a level of excitement, and encourages only the more adventurous to blindly purchase tickets.

Before each event, a series of clues are leaked through the website or social media which, with any luck, will shed some light on where the event will take place.  Each event also has a host, local to that area, usually another food blogger or – perhaps – an entrepreneur who runs a food related website.

That’s right – the next Mystery Meet event, held on Tuesday, June 18th at 7:30pm, will be hosted by yours truly.  Tickets are now on sale for $50 bucks, and will sell out quickly.  Sound like fun?  Like food?  Like entrepreneur things involving food?  Bored on a Tuesday night and all caught up on Game of Thrones?  If you answered Yes to one or more of these questions, I’d love to see you there!  It’s also the kind of event where it’s perfectly okay to show up by yourself.  I’ll make sure everyone gets a chance to meet everyone else, and maybe even ask people to change seats halfway through the meal.

In the mean time, a bit more on Mystery Meet can be seen here in this lovely video.  Hope to see some of my readers there!

Questions From a Reader

William is an undergrad at the University of Portland studying finance.  In his entrepreneurial class, they’re required to construct a business model for a potential start-up.  He and his partners are creating a business called RecipeKey, which offers personalized recipe searching similar to KitchenPC.  The other day, William sent me an email with a few questions about KitchenPC and I’ve decided to answer them as a blog post.  Enjoy!

It seems like you put a lot of hard work into KitchenPC.  What reasons did you have for stopping?  Did you just lose interest or have something else come up?  Or did your users not see it as a “must have”?

First off, I wouldn’t say I’ve stopped working on KitchenPC.  I’ve been working on the project in one form or another for about ten years now, and more seriously for the last six.  During that time, I’ve taken a few breaks here and there, especially when I get to the point where the project starts in evolve into something else.  I haven’t been actively working on the code the last few months, and no new features have been launched, but the site is still alive and well, with many visitors every day. Just last week I went to lunch with someone interested in the site and we bounced some ideas around.

Did you ever make money off of KitchenPC, or was it just a side project?  Would you ever consider going back and putting more work in and trying to develop it into a successful business?

I haven’t made a dime off KitchenPC, and it really hasn’t been my intention to do so.  At this point, I’m more interested in building a successful product that people are interested in using.  While it’s true that many types of businesses require revenue to stay afloat, a small consumer website is usually not one of them.  I have no employees, and I can afford the costs out of pocket.  I currently pay Rackspace about $70/mon to host the two servers that KitchenPC runs off of (a web server and a database server), as well as a couple bucks to Amazon for content storage.  The development costs were light, since I did all the coding myself.  I did outsource the design (HTML, CSS, graphics, etc) to a Polish company, and the cost for that was about $4,000.  Overall, KitchenPC was a very cheap company to build.

Since revenue isn’t required to stay afloat, the primary goal becomes building a product that people want to use.  Once that is successfully achieved, perhaps a way to generate revenue could be considered, especially if costs go up considerably.  However, this has not been successfully achieved.

Let’s say I decided to offer a Freemium model for KitchenPC.  Let’s assume I had some great features and charged $5/mon for them, which I’d say is about the most anyone would be willing to pay.  Most Freemium companies have a conversion rate of between 1% and 10%, with the average being around 2-4%.  With KitchenPC’s level of traction, I’d assume the bottom end at around 2%.  I’ve had about 2,000 users so far create accounts, so 40 of them paying would yield a monthly revenue of around $200.  That would yield a net profit (if you assume I work for free) of around $130 or so.  Not really a venture worth pursuing.

Another idea might be advertising.  Let’s assume I can get $1 per click, and 1 in 1,000 visitors will click on an ad.  KitchenPC averages about 622 visitors per month, or 0.622 ad clicks per month.  At 62 cents in ad revenue per month, making KitchenPC an ad driving business seems even more futile.

Looking at these numbers, I think we can agree it seems silly to worry much about a revenue model before you have a successful product to sell.  Right now, the only thing that matters is building a great product, and my focus is 100% on that.

The second part of your question; would I consider putting more work in to develop KitchenPC into a successful business.  I’m not of the opinion that my lack of success is tied to the amount of work I put in.  I spent a year on the site full time, working on the site 15-20 hours a day for months at a time.  I did as much research as I could, iterated, spent thousands on usability testing, running ideas off real customers, sending out surveys and polls, and everything else I could think of.  I worked a lot harder on making KitchenPC a successful site than I did at any project at Microsoft, but was still met with lukewarm reception.  A lot of people do love the site, but still most of the major site features go mostly unused.  The work I put in to the site was definitely not worth it for the level of success I achieved with the product, however, it was definitely worth it for the experience and growth as an entrepreneur.  In other words, I don’t think I would quit my job again, use up all my life savings, and work harder on a better version of the same site.

I think at the moment, it’s moved more into the realm of being a side project.  I have a few ideas on iterations I can explore, so it’s somewhat possible that I might stumble across a formula that demonstrates enough traction that would cause me to consider quitting my job and working on it full time again.  I’d rather lessen my risk by working on the site during my spare time to test the waters with a few ideas, rather than diving in and going all out again.  Luckily, I have a fantastic code base and a lot of cool technology that can be used in various ways.

Thanks for reaching out to me, William, and I hope my answers have helped!  The experience you get from building a company, iterating on ideas and working with customers is incredibly valuable and worth the time spent.  Best of luck with RecipeKey, and let me know if you need any beta testers.

 

Why iPhone is a gigantic piece of crap

Yes, this post will be a rant.  Sorry.

It’s become clear that no one at Apple actually bothers to test the iPhone with realistic scenarios, nor are they in the least bit interested in developing a platform in which solutions can be built on top of.  Their opinion that every app needs to live in its own little world, isolated completely from the operating system or other applications, has basically ruined any chance they have at maintaining their market share.  I’m not in the least bit surprised that Android is up 13% in the last year, and iOS is down 7%.

The final straw for me is their complete and utter lack of any sort of turn-by-turn driving directions that actually work.  I don’t mean an app that does this, I mean providing, as a phone, a solution that will get you to the place you want to go – a solution that integrates in with the phone as a whole.

I first bought the iPhone 4S the day it came out.  I had never before owned an iPhone, and was excited about what it could do.  After all, it was the best selling smart phone ever, and pioneered the whole application platform thing, right?  First, to my surprise, it came with absolutely no GPS software at all.  I was forced to spend $60 bucks or so on the TomTom app, which, by itself worked great.  However, the built in map software was the Apple version, with no turn-by-turn guidance.  Since iOS is a completely closed platform, TomTom cannot say “Hey, I should be the default maps app so load me whenever you need to get somewhere!”  This would have been nice.  A real platform would have exactly this.

Instead, if you click on an address in an email, or on a location on a Facebook event, it would load the crap Apple Maps app which forced you to click “next” every time you completed a turn.  You couldn’t even copy and paste, since the TomTom app made you type in a street, then number, then city then state.  It could not parse a pasted whole address.  I would usually have to write down the address on a PostIt note, then re-type it in to the TomTom app.  What a complete joke.

Along comes the new Apple Maps!  Yay!  Enter all sorts of media buzz here.

This version of Maps finally had turn-by-turn directions.  Despite what you read in the news, in general it works fairly well.  I won’t blame Apple for not immediately having the flawless data it took Google years to build.  So, now we have a fairly good maps app that will launch by default from other apps and links.

Of course, this brings me to my next major gripe about the iPhone.  You can’t charge the phone at the same time you use GPS.  No, seriously, you can’t.  You don’t believe me, but it’s true.

My last car, a Jetta TDI, had a little iPhone connector built in to the center armrest to charge iPhones and iPods.  You could also use it to listen to music on the car stereo.  However, when you plug it in, the phone’s built-in speaker is automatically muted.  So, if you’re using GPS, don’t expect to actually hear anything while your phone is being charged.  And, of course, if you don’t charge your phone, you’ll have about an hour of battery life while the GPS is running.  This appears to be a behavior of the phone that applies to every app, as neither TomTom, Google Maps, or Apple Maps will make a sound while it’s charging.  Even if you turn the stereo to “Aux In”, though you’ll be able to hear music on the phone, you won’t get any GPS turn-by-turn directions.

Recently, I got a new car – a 2013 Subaru Outback.  This car doesn’t have an iPhone connector, but it does have Bluetooth.  The dealer even helped me pair my iPhone to the car, so I could talk on the phone while driving.  However, if you have Bluetooth turned on, you won’t hear a peep out of the phone while using GPS; even if you have it turned to Aux-Input.  I’ve given up and decided to keep Bluetooth off, since I use GPS so often in my car.  I’ve tried looking at my phone while driving, but I miss turns every time.  Plus, it’s dangerous.

This blinding limitation irritated me to no end while in San Francisco last month.  I rented a Chevy Cruze, which had a USB connector for a phone.  I was staying with friends and family, most over an hour from the conference, which forced me to drive all over the bay area.  As I’m not familiar with the bay area, I was using GPS the entire time.  And, like all other cars, I of course cannot charge the phone and hear the GPS at the same time.  This caused me to show up to the conference with a phone with about a 50% charge, which usually didn’t even last the day.  By dinner time it was totally dead, and I had no choice but to charge it on long stretches of freeway, then unplug it when I got near the restaurant.

Luckily, I was meeting up with a friend who works at Apple.  He claimed there was a solution for this, and you can configure the audio output when using Bluetooth.

Turns out, on Apple Maps, when the phone is paired you’ll see a little “Bluetooth” logo on the bottom right corner of the map.  If you press it, you can select if the audio will be sent over Bluetooth or to the phone’s built in speaker.  This works okay in theory, however, get this – this is an app feature, not a system setting!  That’s right, this same setting does not exist on Google Maps or on TomTom.  Since Apple insists that every app needs to be an island, they expect every app to implement this “Do you want to hear your phone?” feature themselves.  To make this even more ridiculous, this feature only applies to Bluebooth pairing.  If I want to plug the phone in to a USB connection, which would allow me to charge the phone, there’s of course no setting for that.

Now I’m pretty much forced to use Apple Maps because it’s the only program that seems to be written correctly.  So, the other day I was headed to an event.  I had the event details stored as a Facebook event.  I went to the Facebook app, clicked the event, and clicked on the directions.  The Facebook app now actually opens the Google Maps website!  That’s right, the web site – not even the app.  I guess Facebook got so annoyed with this, they decided to bypass the API completely and just launch the browser.  The website asks if I want to use my current location, which I said yes.  It also has a button that says “Always Open in the Google Maps App”.  First, this always button seems to mean always for that exact URL, meaning the location I happen to be headed to right then.  Second, when it loads the Google Maps app, it only remembers the destination.  I have to then type in my current location, at which point it just prints out the entire list of directions; no turn-by-turn.  If I exit the app, go back in, then I can see that destination in my history, select it, and use turn-by-turn.  None of this is slightly usable while you’re driving, so I have to get this all setup while I’m still parked.  This is a hassle if I just want to use GPS for the last few minutes of the drive, and don’t want GPS yapping at me for the first 30 minutes.  Lately, I’ve just gone back to writing down the address on a PostIt note, opening up Google Maps, and typing it in by hand.  That’s been the only thing that consistently works on this platform.

The fact that absolutely nothing in the iOS world works together, apps cannot play off each other to deliver real solutions for realistic scenarios, Apple doesn’t allow an app to be a “default app” for web browsing, mapping, making calls, texting, etc, means that iOS will never deliver anything more powerful than its most powerful single app.

My next phone will be an Android.

 

Anyone wanna do Launch?

Thought I’d write up a quick post letting people know I’ll be at this year’s Launch festival, in San Francisco March 4th – 6th.  There will be a whole slew of new companies showcasing great new products (no, I won’t be presenting… this year) and a great time to be had by all.

I’m mostly looking forward to the chance to mingle with a room full of other entrepreneurs, which is actually the main reason I’m going (plus, they were nice enough to give me a free ticket!)

If you’re going, or would just like to grab drinks one evening, then feel free to send me a note as I’d love to meet up!

That’s it.