Would An App By Any Other Name Be As Sweet?

I was in Illinois this past week with my wife visiting her family.  Everyone knows that "Uncle John" runs his own company, and is trying to produce tech products that create solutions to everyday problems.  My sister-in-law shared that my nephew (her son) had been kicking around an app idea, with a name he was particularly proud of, and wanted to see if I was interested in developing it.

Eight year olds are cute.  Full of innocence and fart jokes.  My nephew is no exception, but with a dash of precociousness.  He approached the grown up table to let me know that he would accept $6 for his idea, and then, he went into his "pitch".  His app would allow users to see other people's underwear (An AR play. Very nice;), because people in their underwear are "funny".  Then, he innocently laughed and laughed, as only an eight year old can at the thought of masses of people being seen in their underwear.  He would call it "The Undieizer".

While I explained that I was not the person to develop his idea, I thought about the importance of a good name.  While I'm fairly certain that my eight year old nephew didn't agonize over naming his idea, I have devoted a good amount of time to thinking over the name of our company's new app (coming out in 7 days).  The app itself was tied to some existing technology that we had produced, but the real question was--does it's current name fit?

Sometimes, technology products have a catchy name that doesn't really tell you much about the product.  I think of Luxe, Viber, and Spotify.  It feels like it's something, but it not clear what it is.  It requires research on the part of the consumer or a concerted education effort on behalf of the company to get meaning across.  Others have names that make an allusion to its purpose, like Airbnb or Netflix.  It feels like this requires less education for potential customers, and thus, they are more efficient in conveying their purpose.  Check out the name of our new product below. 

Does a vague, but catchy name give a product more room to evolve?  Is it harder to pivot if your product is hemmed in by it's name?  What seems more important in the earlier stages--a chance to easily change course or a chance to easily convey meaning?  What do you think of the name of our new product (below)? Not enough info yet to answer that last question? Then keep an eye out for the launch on the 20th;) 

 

COMING SOON

 Coming June 20th, 2017!!!

Coming June 20th, 2017!!!

7 days until our new app, Pinpoint Bookmarking™, hits the app store!!

Keep an eye out and we'll see you then,

JOhn

www.pinpointbookmarking.com 

 

"Covfefe" and Other Errors: What Do They Say About You?

My entire life I have been plagued by an inability to spell well.  As a youngster, the last thing I wanted to do was take a spelling test.  It seemed more like a measurement of what I struggled with, rather than what I did well.  As I have gotten older, it has haunted me in the professional realm--leading to misunderstandings or judgment from people with a better command of language.  I have often thought to myself, "I did proof read this.  I just didn't know it was wrong." At home, it guarantees that my wife, an English major in college, will always destroy me at Scrabble and Words with Friends.  

Even in an age where typos are aplenty, thanks to the dawn of texting, it still feels like typos and spelling errors reflect poorly on the writer.  Whether it's our current US President with "covfefe," or an applicant for a job Enemy Tree is hiring for our next product launch, I am struck by how much typos and misspellings seem to reveal about the writer.  And it boils down to one of two things:

  1. The writer didn't take the time to proof-read
  2. The writer doesn't realize that it's wrong (I can relate to that a lot!)

Our modern world seems built on written communication, and the speed of getting that communication published.  It makes the impression for us; even if sometimes, it is not the impression that we would like to make. I feel like there is more forgiveness for some errors of language than for others, but I am not a linguistic expert.  

So, does it matter?  Is a command of the written word necessary for professional success? Do you discard applications with spelling errors and typos?  Why or why not?

If a Product Launch Happens in a Forest, but Few People Attend It...

When thinking about my marketing strategy for Enemy Tree, LLC's soon to be launched product, I am forced to pause and deeply consider launches--the good, the bad, and the "there was a launch?".  

A few years ago, I was invited to Lyft's Silicon Valley Launch Party.  As the charter bus took us from the West Valley College parking lot to the wooded grounds of Villa Montalvo, I felt transported.  Lyft offered a party filled with red cups, live bluegrass music, and mingling actors in full Victorian garb. The founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer, moved through the crowd, and my wife and I were even introduced to them by the friend who invited us (who was also a Lyft employee).  A few months later, Lyft's growth rate would outpace their competitor, Uber.  While there was surely a multifaceted marketing strategy, the regional launches were a part of an overall successful push.  

As part of the launch for the iPhone 6, Apple announced that every person with iTunes would receive a free copy of U2's latest album.  While U2 fans were probably overjoyed, the rest of the iTunes consumers responded with outrage at Apple and U2.  Instead of it feeling like a gift, it felt like an imposition.  Some would say that there is no such thing as bad press, but the iPhone 6 was not Apple's most successful phone, nor was this launch strategy.

Do you remember the Gas Cubby app launch?  The app to track gas mileage and vehicle maintenance was featured in a few blogs in 2008.  While I am sure some people read the articles and decided to try it (I still use it regularly); other people went out to the App Store, looked for a product to solve their problem, and downloaded the app with a good rating.  While there is nothing wrong with a well-funded launch, Gas Cubby demonstrates that a modest launch can mean modest success.  Sometimes, the court of public opinion can help push a product forward.

Some launches come with fireworks displays, and others with not as much as a sparkler.  In the end, I think a launch can have an impact on short-term success--creating a surge of interest in the product, but it isn't necessary for long-term success.  It's just a much longer road without direct engagement with consumers and the media.  With 100's of tech companies launching products every day, there's a lot of humming in the background.  I just hope I'm not the type of hum that gets tuned out. 

What do you think?  Do launches matter to the success of a product?  If they don't, what's needed to be successful? What happens if a launch takes place in the Silicon Forest? Does it make a sound;)?

Patent Pending...

 Our official paperwork from the USPTO!

Our official paperwork from the USPTO!

Some believe patents protect functionality.  Others believe that they stifle innovation.  Any time a patent is enforced, there are winners and losers, whether it's the emerging start-up competing against industry giants for a foothold of the market, or established companies attempting to machete through the patent thicket. 

 

That's why, in 2015, a little over a year after I left Tesla, when Elon Musk proclaimed "Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology", it got everyone's attention.  He later doubled down on the statement that anyone can "just go ahead and use them", which seemed to fly in the face of the legal clause "in good faith".  But even Elon understands that one size does not fit all.  Solar City files patents, but they are not open.  SpaceX has very few patents in an effort to protect the technology from getting into the hands of it's biggest competitor, China.

 

The past few weeks, I have thought a lot about the place Enemy Tree, LLC sits.  We aren't Tesla trying to encourage the largest car companies in the world to get onboard with the electric car movement.  We also aren't SpaceX trying to stop any threats of competition in their tracks.  While I hope someday to be in a position to make such choices, these are still a ways off. 

 

Instead, Enemy Tree, LLC is closer to Solar City.  We have a great idea, but there are some other products that are similar.  The market is large enough that we believe our product can compete, but in the meantime, there is no harm taking the extra step to file a patent or two.  Which is why, a few weeks ago, I went to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Denver to file a provisional patent on one of our unique pieces of technology, in preparation for our latest development project.

 

Believe the hype; patents are everything the kids are talking about.  They are a lot of paperwork.  They are many hours of thinking through every application of your product, and then, painstakingly committing that those descriptions to paper with diagrams.  And once every "t" has been crossed and every "i" has been dotted, they are full of an immeasurable feeling of satisfaction at having completed the process and knowing, at least, for now that what has been created remains yours.

 

And yet, outside of what I need to do to protect the interests of my fledging start-up, and our yet to be announced new product, I remain conflicted about the value of patents.  How do you feel about patents?  What is the tipping point that allows a start-up to open patents or stop patenting all together?  

Autonomous Driving And The End of The Roadside Motel...

 A Google self-driving car spotted in the bay area (Photo by: JOhn Rokos)

A Google self-driving car spotted in the bay area (Photo by: JOhn Rokos)

A few months ago, I was driving from Colorado to California for a reunion. I love to take road trips - the driving, the scenery, and the unexpected are all very appealing to me. I feel like it's always an adventure, and a bit of a challenge.... How far can I drive in one day? Could I make the trip without stopping - other than for fuel, food, and bathroom breaks?

 

Around 2 AM, I got my answer. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open, but I was still in the middle of the desert. The next town wasn't far, but it would be the last town in Nevada before hitting the California boarder. I needed to figure out where I was sleeping and soon. I was on the phone with my wife Jana, who was helping keep me awake. She knew I needed to get to a motel otherwise I’d try to “push through”, as my “go for it” attitude tends to lead me to do, which might not be the best decision. 

 

She quickly did a search and found me several places to try. I stopped at the first roadside hotel. No vacancies. I tried a second one. No vacancies. Only one hotel left, and luckily, I got one of the last rooms available. It was clean enough and reasonable. It gave me a place to rest my head after a long day of podcasts, AC/DC, and Taco Bell.

 

All this driving made me think about the coming autonomous car revolution just around the bend. With the advent of autonomous cars, everyone has been concerned about the loss of jobs for drivers. Trucking is one of the last good paying jobs for people without a college degree, and it can’t be outsourced. The sharing economy has allowed individuals with a car to launch Uber or Lyft gigs, or just rent their cars with apps like Getaround. We often talk about how autonomous cars will spell the end of driving as a profession, but is that just the surface of what might happen. What about the roadside motel and beyond?

 

When I travel by myself on this trip, I keep driving until I am too tired to keep going. I often try to go beyond that limit, which is not the safest decision, and luckily I usually come to my senses and I pull over. I find the nearest hotel/motel and check for a vacancy. If I could sleep in my car while it did the work, why would I ever stop? Getting some sleep without time lost on the road sounds all to appealing. I could easily see making the choice to drive as much as I wanted to, then, when I got tired, just let the car make the rest of the trip.

 

Decisions like this, not pulling over to stay at a roadside motel, will start to become commonplace as these technologies start to get implemented. With drivers likely to still be required to be in vehicles to start, but with economic forces still driving our decisions, why would anyone drop $100 for a place to stay for a night when they can just put the seat back and let the vehicle keep driving. 

 

As I think about autonomous driving, I can't help but believe that there will be other shifts that will impact a variety of business. It may start with job losses for the drivers themselves, but very quickly it will start to affect the roadside hotels and motels, and the convenience stores next to those hotels and motels, and the diners next to them, and…. See, when the vehicle doesn’t need driver input, and eventually doesn’t need a driver or chaperone at all, then the highway exits don’t need any services and those jobs disappear as well. 

 

At a certain point we need to decide what this world, and this life, is for. The recent election result may be a big wake up call telling us that we can’t just innovate people out of the equation, and that maybe some of this friction (having to stop driving to get some sleep) is just a part of it. We are either on the precipice of a near utopia or a complete collapse. The trick is that either way it’s up to us. Maybe there is a utopia where we pass “If a human can” laws or taxes that incentivize people doing jobs over AI and automation, nearly guaranteeing jobs to all people. And yet, giving business owners the option to keep getting work done (likely at higher expense) if no human is available. Or maybe there is a different answer (although I personally do NOT think universal income is that answer). 

 

Either way, it’s coming. And it’s coming faster than I think any of us can comprehend. Heck, just 3 months ago an 18-wheeler drove itself past my house with no human intervention to deliver beer for Budweiser. Budweiser may make a big deal of their past, with humans guiding Clydesdales through treacherous terrain to bring us all beer, but that doesn’t mean lowering costs by eliminating truck drivers is off the table. And it may mean everything else associated with driving and the open road is at stake as well, including the roadside motel and all the businesses around it. 

A Podcasting Anniversary, Milestones, and The Podcasting Road Ahead

A Podcasting Anniversary, Milestones, and The Podcasting Road Ahead

Mac OS Ken Day Anniversary!

Just over a week ago, on Tuesday, January 26th, marked a very special day in podcasting history. My favorite podcast, Mac OS Ken, had its 10 year anniversary. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a podcast on 5 days a week, lasts around 15 minutes, and goes over the major, and some minor, happenings related to Apple Inc....

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