ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Fundable Startup

8/9/2011 6:00:43 PM

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I've recently visited AngelList and saw a list of startups with their tagline next to the name. Approximately half of these startups had a tagline in the form of "[Insert hot startup here] for [insert some niche here]".

It was amusing at first, but then I remembered something I've read or heard somewhere. The idea was that good Venture Capitalists do extensive research on the companies and markets they are going to invest in. And lazy VCs just assume that good VCs did their research on this concept so it's safe(r) to invest in these "copycats" than in something completely new and unproven.

So, I created a tool that helps you find an idea for your next great and — most importantly — fundable startup by randomly combining other hot startup names with some industries and niches.

Unfortunately I was unable to come up with something fitting this formula for my own startup. Let me know in the comments bellow or @ailon on twitter, if you have an idea. Or you can just follow AdDuplex on AngelList.

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Ideaot

7/29/2011 1:51:17 PM

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Photo by Adam Hally

Not so long ago I’ve read a book by James Altucher titled “How To Be The Luckiest Person Alive”. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it. One of the concepts described in that book caught my eye the most. I’m not sure if it’s original James’s idea or maybe it’s a well known concept. I’m totally ignorant in that space.

Anyway, the idea is that you have an “idea muscle” and it atrophies if you don’t properly exercise it. I didn’t remember the exact exercise described in the book and now that I’ve reread it on the blog I see that I did it “wrong”, but I don’t think details actually matter.

What I do for the past couple of weeks is sit down for 10 minutes every morning before I start working and try to generate as many ideas about anything as I can. Most of the time these are some business ideas, mobile app ideas, web site or service ideas and things like that. Some ideas are utter crap. Some I may implement one day. Some sound pretty interesting to me, but are definitely out of scope of my expertise and/or interests, so I’m pretty sure I have no practical use for them.

The thought of throwing these ideas away saddens me. So I decided to start a blog where I'll post them in some detail. So, please welcome my new idea blog I called Ideaot.

The first 2 ideas posted there are:

  1. Physical Case for Capacitive Buttons
  2. Consumer Level Tea Bag Packaging Machine

Stay tuned for more and subscribe to the RSS feed to be notified about updates.

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Popular Business Books for Developers

7/28/2011 6:25:29 PM

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I haven’t been working for a “man” since 2001. I never seriously looked back. I was making just enough money not to think about looking for a “real job”, but it always felt like it’s going nowhere. A certain someone always encouraged me to read these motivational, pseudo-business books, but titles like “Become a gazillinaire without lifting a finger while sitting on the couch” were so vomit inducing that I couldn’t even think about it.

In October 2010 I finally gave in, and, even though I’ve read my share of fiction and technical books in-between, I became kind of addicted to these popular business books (as I like to call them collectively). I don’t know if these books are in any way responsible for helping me start what I consider to be IT, but it was undoubtedly started in that period. So, I guess these books deserve some credit for sure.

  • The 4-Hour Workweek. Timothy Ferris. This was the book I chose as my first book of a kind. The title immediately appealed to me. It wasn’t some crazy title promising me millions in a month. That’s what I wanted – make enough money to chill on the beach, or work a little more and make even more money while still chilling on the beach. And put it on auto-pilot. Little did I know that the title was carefully constructed/selected using AdWords and landing sites to attract jerks like me. This book immediately challenged my moral compass, but it was really helpful and inspiring. At the very least I’ve derived my “email of happiness” concept from there and am happily using it since. Highly recommended.
  • ReWork. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This book is from people I definitely respect and I totally like the business concept behind 37 signals. That said I don’t remember a thing from this book :) All I remember that I enjoyed reading it and that it was really really short. So maybe I should just ReRead it.
  • Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup. David Cohen and Brad Feld. This one is from the founders of TechStars startup accelerator program and includes lots of chapters from new and seasoned entrepreneurs. If launching something big and ambitious is your thing, then this is a definite must read. Highly recommended.
  • Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup. Rob Walling. This one is quite the opposite of “Do More Faster”. It preaches freedom and quality of life over striking it really big. Lots of useful advice inside. If you want to go big – read “Do More Faster”. If you want to create small profitable businesses and enjoy life – read this one. Want to get confused? Read both. Highly recommended.
  • How To Be The Luckiest Person Alive! James Altucher. I’ve discovered James’s blog recently and this book through it. That not as much a business book as a fun read with lots of life and business hacking advice in it. I’m a fan. Highly recommended.
  • Startups Open Source. Jared Tame. This one came recommended by a friend but I found it pretty boring. There are quite a lot of interesting bits in it. Author interviews lots of startup founders. But a couple of things annoyed me a lot. First of all the set of interview questions is 90% identical for all the founders. Reading the same questions over and over is pretty boring. The fact that most of the answers are quite identical too, didn’t help much. The other issue is that vast majority of the startups interviewed in this book (as Jared’s own) went through Y Combinator and unsurprisingly have very similar stories to tell. And unlike “Do More Faster” book that kind of made me want to apply to TechStars, this one left me with pretty negative, yet inexplicable, aftertaste for Y Combinator. Another thing – the magnitude of the founders/startups fluctuates dramatically – from people who started Reddit or Foursquare to someone who launched some random websites, slapped AdSense on them and made enough money to do something that’s is not even a business yet (nothing personal). I guess it’s fine if you want to just read interviews with people you are interested in selectively. But reading it cover to cover was something I shouldn’t have done.

That’s it for now. I’m off to read Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. I guess this is going to be the least “popular” read of the bunch, requiring a substantial amount of my brain power. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it.

Feel free to recommend books in the comments below.

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How I Know Windows Phone Will Be a Success

7/26/2011 5:55:33 PM

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My wife is not technical. At all. She doesn’t care about mobile operating systems, ecosystems and stuff like that. She has no idea how many apps are there in Apple’s AppStore, Android Market or Windows Phone Marketplace.

A year ago she got a bug that she needs to get an iPhone. But iPhones over here are either ridiculously expensive without a contract, or come on ridiculously expensive (in local prices) contracts and only on a different network than the one our family uses. So we declared iPhone a no go. What she cared about anyway was the looks and the “status”.

Later on Samsung released Galaxy S which looked kinda like an iPhone, was substantially cheaper (at least for us) and in many aspects looked better on paper. So that’s what she got.

It’s a nice phone (if you don’t mind the slippery back). So for the next half a year she used it like an expensive dumbphone + Angry Birds. Then her employer closed access to Skype at work. So I almost forced her to install Skype on the phone – “It’s painful to look how you underuse such a powerful smartphone”. Turns out at the time Skype for Android didn’t work on specifically Samsung Galaxy S. So much for a flagship Android phone. Then the problem was solved.

Around that time I got my first Windows Phone. Wife looked at it and said something like “woah, it’s alive! let’s switch!”. I told her that there’s no Skype on it and it’s not coming in the nearest future. That future is almost here.

For the next half a year whenever she picked my phone from the table she was always impressed with the Metro UI and wanted to swap phones with me.

At the same time she always repeated that she wants an iPhone. Even though she has never used one.

Few months ago she got into all that Facebook craziness. She is also a pretty good photographer (but too lazy to do something about it). So she started double-shooting photos. Once with DSLR and once with her phone for immediate upload to Facebook.

Then she heard about an iPhone app called Hipstamatic. It’s a photo effects app for iPhone with a pretty ridiculous (in my humble opinion) fake analog UI. So we looked for Android equivalent. One of the most popular Android photo effects apps is FxCamera. It’s featureset and effect quality seems to be a pale copy of both Hipstamatic and Pictures Lab on Windows Phone. But it’s free and kind of does the trick.

But whenever she picked up my phone she was always delighted. Yet she repeated that she wants an iPhone.

The more she used the phone the slower it became. It’s pretty painful to watch how she taps and taps on these buttons and the screen to go in and out from Facebook to FxCamera and back again. And this seemingly powerful phone is in no hurry to react. It’s also extremely annoying when I have to wait while she takes a picture and waits a long time for the app to process it.

“I want an iPhone!”

The other day we were having a dinner right next to Apple’s partner store (there are no real Apple Stores in Lithuania). So she says “Lets go check out the iPhone”. I oblige. She’s playing with the iPhone 4:

“Uh, oh… this screen is small” (3.5” on iPhone vs. 4.0” on Galaxy S)

“Hmm… looks kinda the same as mine”

“Hmm… Hmm .. I want a Windows Phone, but with Hipstamatic!”

And then I showed her Pictures Lab…

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How to transfer your Azure site to another subscription

7/14/2011 6:43:15 PM

Microsoft is pushing Azure and I, as many other developers, get access to it through different programs. Some of them are better than others, some expire, etc. So I had a need to transfer all of my used Azure services and data from one subscription to another.

I mentally approached this as some sort of IT admin task and was planning migration strategies but then it hit me that it could be just a switch on the Microsoft’s side specifying which subscription “owns” particular services. This turned to be true but wasn’t easy to discover so I decided to document the process for future reference.

  1. Go to Azure support site
  2. Click on “Billing Support
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  3. Select support topic “Transfer Subscription
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  4. Select sub-topic “Transfer Azure data to different subscription
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  5. Click “Continue
  6. Select contact method “Web form” (unless you want to call) and click “Continue
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  7. Now you will have to fill out the details form with your Live ID, contact information, etc. The key part here is specifying your source and destination subscription IDs in the appropriate field
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    These can be found in the Windows Azure Portal. Click on the “Hosted Services, Storage Accounts & CDN”, click on “Subscriptions” (or Hosted Services will do too). Now select a subscription (the top item in the tree view) and in the properties on the right you will find “Subscription ID” field in the form of GUID. That’s what you need.

Now you just submit the form and wait. A “Support Professional” will be assigned to your request and will handle everything from there. All in all it took less than 2 days (including some questions I had) to completely move my web roles, storage accounts and SQL Azure databases without any noticeable downtime. Much easier than I anticipated.

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Raising a Generation of Liars

7/11/2011 7:17:24 PM

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Photo by Leo Reynolds

Windows Phone, Zune, Xbox Live

I’ve bought a second Windows Phone. At current prices in Europe it’s basically on par with iPod Touch as far as the price goes. So I got it to be able to test stuff on more devices and, primarily, as a phoneless gaming device for my daughter. It seems to work just fine w/o the SIM card.

My daughter has had Windows Live ID for some time already. Windows Live Family Safety is awesome at helping parents give reasonable and safer internet access to their kids. So this worked just fine for me for a number of years.

Now to be able to install apps on Windows Phone you have to create a Zune account (and possibly Xbox Live too). So I went to do that.

First of all none of the Windows Phone related services are available in Lithuania, so I had to lie just there by selecting some other country where services are available. So I chose UK. Then you have to enter your date of birth. I’m doing this for my daughter who has just turned 12. So I enter her actual DoB and I get a screen that a parent needs to confirm this action for a minor. Fair enough. I login with my Live ID and now I have to confirm my own age by providing a credit card. OK, I can do this. Problem is it wont accept my Lithuanian Visa or MasterCard (even though it had no problems reserving 1GBP on it).

So I have these 2 LiveIDs. I’ve been using my Live ID to manage my daughter’s actions via Family Safety for years. But now I suddenly have to prove that I’m an adult. Hmm.

So I start over and enter my year of birth instead of daughter’s for her Live ID and bam.. no more questions asked, account created. Everything is peachy. Huh?

Now I don’t want to give Microsoft too much heat here. They are obviously doing this because of the government regulations and they are doing probably the best job in the industry with this. The only thing that actually failed here is their unwillingness to accept “foreign” credit cards which haunts me for their general Windows Phone services too.

Google hurting 10 year olds

Most of you have probably heard of the 10 year old boy from Netherlands who had his Gmail account locked as a result of signing up for Google+ and honestly specifying his date of birth. If not, you can read the original blog post here and a follow up here.

The ridiculous part is that Google lets kids into Gmail based on them accepting the ToS that has some vague terms on age restrictions and doesn’t ask for their birth date. So the kid is technically not allowed to accept the ToS, yet no one makes an attempt to verify his age during the signup and only punishes him a number of years later when he signs up for a different service and is completely honest about his age.

If they’ve asked for his age during the Gmail signup process he would probably go to Hotmail where his parents could set up an account for him via the excellent Family Safety tools. Probably not what Google wants.

Facebook is a ticking mass suicide bomb

My daughter has no Facebook account. She whined and whined about having one until I sat her down and told her to register while I’m watching. She had to enter her date of birth and wasn’t allowed in. Problem solved.

But guess what? Probably half of her classmates have Facebook accounts. They just selected a different year during signup. Now imagine if something like the above mentioned Google+ incident happens at scale on Facebook… I seriously think there would be not one and not two suicides over this.

Who cares?

No one is really interested in solving this problem. The easiest solution for everyone is for kids to just lie about their age. This way the tech companies are sort of not responsible for letting them in and everyone is happy.

I can’t remember of me having to lie this casually when I was a child and I don’t think it’s going to pass by without affecting our kids. Yeah, I sound like an old fart.

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Windows Phone App Publishing through Yalla Apps

5/29/2011 11:36:05 AM

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At MIX11 Microsoft announced a list of so called “Global Publishing Partners”. I’ve blogged about that about a month ago.

The one partner that is “focusing” on Central and Eastern Europe is called APPA Market. But since their pricing is way higher than that of Yalla Apps and there’s no real meaning (at least that is of value to me) behind that “focus” thing, I decided to go with Yalla. After all that’s my money and there’s no evidence that APPA Market would provide me with better service than Yalla Apps.

Layman’s business analysis off-topic.

I understand that all these companies want to make money with this program. I’ve also confirmed from numerous credible sources that Microsoft doesn’t provide them with any APIs to automate the process. So submitting your app to the marketplace and providing you with stats, etc. is basically a manual labor for them. And with that knowledge I totally understand the desire to charge for each action that requires an actual person to do some work for you.

That said let’s take a look at current fee structure for APPA Market:

  • Registration - £65 (credited to your account balance)
  • Application submission - £30
  • Application update - £6

Now based on the stats at WP7applist there’s an average of about 3 published apps per developer. I believe this number is highly skewed up by quite a few developers with tens or even hundreds of apps in the marketplace. So the real average developer would have 1-2 apps in the marketplace.

With the above fee structure, if developer has only one app, he will still have £35 on the balance after the app is submitted. This means that he’ll be able to submit 5 updates without paying anything above the initial registration payment and won’t bring any additional revenue to appamundi. But he got turned off by the pricing structure in the first place and never joined. So they didn’t even get the initial £65.

A case could be made that this sort of customer is not very desired in the first place. To that I would say (even if you discard the “every customer matters” mantra) that developers with extremely serious plans for app development wouldn’t go through a proxy anyway and would find a way to submit apps directly. Establishing a business in one of the supported countries is not rocket science after all.

My point is that these “hobbyist” developers are the core target audience for the GPP and they won’t pay much above the initial payment anyway. So why not try and attract more of them by having a reasonably attractive fee structure?

This is what Yalla Apps eventually realized and why I went with them.

Back to Yalla Apps

So the registration with Yalla Apps is straightforward and looks very much alike the App Hub process (if not better). You pay your initial $99 registration fee via PayPal and your account is active immediately. Choose your “Nickname” wisely during the registration cause this is what will be used in marketplace description for your app as developer’s name and it can’t be changed later. Keep in mind that Yalla Apps (and not you) will be listed as the publisher of your app.

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I didn’t try to unlock my phone through them since it’s already unlocked. So no feedback on the process. The important part is that it can be done and is performed via Remote Desktop.

The app submission process is straightforward and worked perfectly. Remember to have all of your deliverables ready (xap, tiles, screenshots, descriptions, etc.). You just go through a wizard-like process and you are done.

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Having seen numerous cases when developers selected apps to be published automatically just to find a critical bug just a few hours later, I didn’t choose the auto-publishing option. So it’s hard to tell how long it would’ve taken to publish the app that way.

It took 3-4 days for my app to pass the certification according to the status on Yalla Apps site. As I mentioned there’s no API for them so I don’t know how long has passed until the app was actually submitted to Microsoft and from it actually passing certification to the status on the site being updated.

Once it was ready for publication I initiated the process and it was live in the marketplace the next day. The funny thing is that the status in Yalla Apps dashboard changed to “published” only 4-5 days after it was actually available for download. Again – manual process.

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There’s a stats portion in the dashboard but the stats didn’t show up there until now (~2 weeks). But I’ve received a weekly stats update via email with Excel file and download graph attached. And since the official stats lag 3(?) days behind anyway, this is enough for me to get the big picture.

My app is free so I don’t know how payments would work. They support payouts through PayPal or Moneybookers. Both options are totally useable for us here in Lithuania. Check the services to find out if they can be used to withdraw money to your country.

Conclusion

If you are building a serious business around Windows Phone app development, I’d say you owe it to your business to find a way to publish apps directly. For the rest of us doing app development on the side or as a hobby these Global Publishing Partners is a working and usable solution for the time being.

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Interview with Windows Phone Dev Podcast

5/16/2011 2:48:20 PM

imageIn addition to the juicy Mango details the new episode of Windows Phone Dev Podcast contains an interview with me.

We’ve talked mostly about AdDuplex among a few other things.

I’d like to thank Ryan and Travis for having me on the show and for all the great and hard work they do for the Windows Phone development community.

If you are into Windows Phone as a developer or even just an enthusiast this podcast is a must. The production quality is top notch too. Especially for such a young podcast. Puts some much more mature podcasts to shame.

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ToMetric – UX oriented unit converter for Windows Phone

5/13/2011 2:43:47 PM

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I’ve released a new little app for Windows Phone. What it does is converts various values in US units into metric values understood by the rest of the world (well, almost).

Why another unit converter?

There are lots of unit converters in the marketplace already. Most of them convert from/to more unit types than my app does. The problem with all of  them is in the user experience. Here are some of the screenshots taken at random from the list linked above.

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Most of them (all?) have slightly different UIs but follow the same flow: select type/category of units (length, weight, etc.), select “from” units in that category, select “to” units in that category, enter value … profit. Some go a little bit further and don’t ask you for the “to” units but convert the value to all possible units in that category.

Really? Do you really care that 5 oz. is 1.417×10^(-4) t.? Or do you like navigating through menus, making 7 taps just to find out how many is that in grams (the most logical metric equivalent for that value)? And if you are, say, European, how often do you want to convert something from metric units as opposed to to metric?

Honestly looking the results up on Wolfram Alpha would take less time than using an app like that. And I thought the selling point of native apps was user experience.

So that, combined with the fact that I had the core functionality already developed for this web app/IE accelerator (yes, talk about power of Silverlight on the phone and .NET code reuse), led to the creation of this simple app that let’s you do the trick up to 10 times faster than most of the advanced unit converters in the market.

And when it can’t help you it let’s you quickly look up the answer on the internet.

And yes, it’s one way only. And it’s on purpose. Another app for my American friends is coming.

Check out this video comparing how most of the conventional unit converters work with ToMetric

Like this? Download ToMetric for Windows Phone. It’s free.

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Typing on a Touchscreen Smartphone

5/6/2011 5:22:19 PM

Several people commented on my typing “style” at MIX11. I type like this:

Picture 2

Yes, with my index fingers.

When I got my Windows Phone, which was my first capacitive touchscreen device, I tried different typing techniques and came to a conclusion that typing with index fingers in landscape mode was the most comfortable and accurate.

A few days ago this theme came up again and I decided to run a poll on how people type. I’ve limited the question to WP7 (for no apparent reason) but I think it applies to all platforms. Turns out I’m almost alone doing it this way:

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You can still vote in this poll at the time of this writing.

The reaction on twitter was even more interesting:

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And that’s just a part of confused feedback. So I’ve shown them the picture at the top of this post and some even changed their opinion (or at least pretended). I guess some even voted for index fingers in the poll as a pity vote, so I don’t feel like a complete freak.

Anyway this got me thinking why would people even think about typing with their thumbs? They are the fattest and probably the most inaccurate fingers. Second only to pinkies, I guess.

Force of habit

In my opinion there’s no ergonomical reason to type with thumbs in landscape on a standard size touchscreen smartphone with no hardware keyboard. And all the people typing with thumbs on such phones do it simply driven by the force of habit. And the habit was probably developed one of these ways:

  1. Typing on a Blackberry-like keyboard or on-screen keyboard in portrait with 2 hands. When typing this way you have to maintain phone’s balance since the keyboard is relatively far from it’s center of gravity and the grip when typing with thumbs is the most comfortable way to do this. It’s definitely not very comfy to hold the phone in portrait the way I do on the picture above.
  2. Typing on a horizontal slider like Nokia Communicators, HTC 7 Pro, LG Optimus 7Q, Sidekick, etc. Same as above. “My” grip is hardly applicable here for the same reasons.
  3. Gaming. Most gaming controllers make extensive use of thumbs, so gamers have them highly developed.

Since I never extensively did any of the above and Windows Phone (and apps on it) supports landscape typing in all scenarios where more than trivial typing is required, I naturally came up with the most comfortable approach for this.

There you have it. A scientific explanation ;)

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