Andrew Allen is the Co-Founder of NYC-based FiftyThree, makers of Paper, Apple’s 2012 App of the Year.
We built our own custom in-app store where we sell a collection of tools to Draw, Sketch, Write, Color, etc. For each of these we created a small canvas area to allow creators to try every tool before they buy it. It not only creates desire for the tool but removes the uncertainty we all feel in buying something we’ve never tried.
We have a flexible work schedule where many employees work from home for one day each week. It helps to avoid meetings and interruptions and saves time on commuting.
We put an insane amount of work into refining small details on our products like building custom in-app settings frameworks for fine-tuning animations, easing, etc. But we like to do things for our users outside our products as well. Including flying out our biggest fans to NYC to meet with the team, talk about how they use Paper, and share future plans.
Make it personal. We’re creating the next generation of tools that we want to use. All our favorite products came from creators who desperately wanted those products to exist so they themselves could use them. And if you’re building a product for yourself, it means only you can build it.
We launched big, which is how we like to do it, with a video, website, press releases, promotion from Apple, and media interviews. Since then we’ve continued to develop for Paper and work on new products that will build out the FiftyThree creative suite.
DARE – IYRNE
We did something that’s considered unpopular today in most startup circles which is we set out to build a real business from day one. So we didn’t give away our product for free for the sake of building a community of users to experiment on with new money-making ideas. We build great products and sell them because they’re great products. It’s an honest exchange. If you buy our products, you support us in building new great products.
A big lesson was that showing trumps telling. Which may sound obvious, but the magnitude isn’t—even a modest prototype is 10 times more powerful than the most elaborate story. Whenever we faced skeptics, we sat down and got back to making things.
To quote Ashton Kutcher, “Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” Don’t waste time looking for shortcuts, know what you want and go after it. Work hard and learn from others.
I’ll tell you about the wildest story we’ve received from a user of Paper. His name is Prashant. He was on holiday in Bhutan when he came across a secluded monastery, often referred to as the last Shangri-La, where he met a group of young 6-8 year old monks. None of them had ever seen a computer in their life. He handed them the iPad with Paper, and they “got it” in under 60 seconds. They were doing all the gestures, pulling out the tray, swapping tools, and drawing as though they’d done it for years. These young monks have become our new benchmark for intuitive design.
Love the journey.