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To Post-PC or not to Post-PC, That is the Question…

Whether the tablet will replace or just supplement PCs is a question that’s continuously being asked. Each have their place and each person needs to decide for his or herself whether a PC is overkill or a tablet is too minimal.

My sister just bought her first house. She contacted me with a list of big purchases she needed for the new house. On her list she had a fridge, washer, dryer, couch and…an iPad. That’s right, my sister sees an iPad as an essential for a new home. She doesn’t own a PC. She uses an iPad for e-mail, Facebook, YouTube and various other apps and games.

This iPad is filling a niche where a PC would be overkill for my sister to use. Knowing my sister, her hobbies and her profession (she’s a nurse), I cannot think of a single advantage that a PC would have over an iPad.

The iPad is also the better pick for her two year old daughter. I’ve seen this kid first-hand: swipe to unlock, swipe to the YouTube icon, to her favorite video and then tap the play icon, repeatedly. At two years old, this task wouldn’t be so easy on a PC. She completely relies on visual cues to find what she wants. This is allowing kids today to utilize technology at an even younger age than was possible with just the PC.

While the tablet has replaced PCs for my sister, for me it’s just a supplement. As a developer and all-around computer junkie, I’d have a hard time living without a PC. However, there are what I call circumstantial niches. When I traveled for a whole month in Europe, only having an iPod Touch fit the bill. I had access to internet, a map and travel apps and could fit it in my purse. On late work nights, I’ll leave my computer at work when I’m done and get by just fine with just an iPad at home. It’s impressive how I can do nearly everything I do on my computer on my iPad. But when I code, I require my computer.

The post-PC era is giving us many options so that each person can find the right device necessary for their lifestyle. Fortunately, buying a PC is not the only option for those that want the internet, want a few apps and want them on something larger than their smart phone.

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Getting Organized

As we may have mentioned once or twice, it’s crunch time for us at Degas, and we have a lot to get done. With such a vast range of things that need to get accomplished, keeping track of it all is a challenge in and of itself.

We recently started using a cool project management system called Unfuddle, and it looks like it’s going to be a big help. It allows us to create individual “tickets” for tasks or projects which we can then assign to the person responsible for completing them. Once that person has finished, they just “close” the ticket to show that their assignment has been completed.

Needless to say, this system has helped us to become significantly more organized. We’ve been able to lay out everything that needs to get done between now and launch (well, most of it – things will inevitably come up) and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This way we can tackle projects step by step as well as determine which need to be our highest priorities. It makes it easier to see what has been finished, what is currently being addressed, and what still needs to get done.

A huge benefit has been creating a standard of communication, especially between our designers and developers. Now Mel, Alyssa, or Hanna can create tickets for various aspects of their designs and send them to a developer to be coded. After the developer is done and the designer has reviewed it, they can close the ticket and move on to the next one, leaving behind a clear record of everything that has been accomplished.

We’re all still getting used to Unfuddle’s system, but we can already tell it’s going to be an important part of our project. As of right now our team has over 2,000 tickets. It’s a lot to do, but hey – at least it’s organized!

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Catching the App Bug

There is a saying that every person has a book in them. As in, every person has a story to tell and could probably write a book.

What if apps are the new books? Similar to books, there are tons of genres, different audiences, and different series. Some are fantastically entertaining and useful. Some are poorly executed and impractical. Few become so popular they evolve into franchises like Angry Birds or the Harry Potter series.

However, does that mean everyone should get up and start creating their own apps?  Ideas can be great and perhaps do really well, but I think it’s the execution that counts. Occasionally paired with the saying above, I’ve also heard “Yes, but not everyone is a writer!”

As we’re building our app, I find myself wondering if I’m a “writer”. I keep thinking more and more about what’s next to come. Don’t get me wrong, I’m growing increasingly excited about our current app and watching it unfold into something great. However, I now know that this isn’t going to be my last app. I have a desire to work on more projects in the future, whether they’re my ideas or helping develop another’s. It’s a frustratingly neat process that I can’t deny has hooked me.

So this gets me thinking: “Do I have a great app idea in me? If I were to design and develop my own app, what would it be? Would it sink or swim in the deep sea of the app store?” I, like so many others, appear to have caught the app bug.

How one handles this contagious condition is important. Like any great idea, it could flop without thorough execution. There’s so much thought and trial and error that goes into an app. Not only should it be aesthetically pleasing, it needs to flow and function well. I’ve learned that first hand while working on our current app.

Speaking of our current app, I’m glad I’ve realized my condition and thought about future possibilities, but its time to come back to the present. We’re not done yet and we’ve got a lot more to go. We’ll see how I feel about this bug after August.

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Writing a Product Description

Throughout the process of building our product, there are often times when we need to give a written description of what it actually is and what it actually does. Whether it’s writing copy for our website or passing it along to potential reviewers, it’s important to know who our audience is and put the product’s best foot forward. Although this task often falls on my shoulders, the truth is it always ends up being a team effort.

It sounds pretty straightforward- we’re building our product from the ground up, so nobody knows it better than us, right?

The truth is, coming up with a description of our product can be really difficult- this is our baby, and we want everything to be perfect. Also, there are an overwhelming number of things we need to consider.

First of all, we need to be able to say exactly what our product is and what it does on the most basic level. This really should only be a sentence or two, but it’s a little more complicated than it sounds. Our product is amazing, and it does a lot of cool things. We can’t help but feel like simplifying it to such a short description doesn’t do it justice- it leaves out so much of what makes it awesome.

On top of that, our product is tech based. It does tech stuff. I could very easily use the technological terms to tell you what it is and what it does, but that’s not something most people understand. Translating the technological jargon into the language of the average consumer presents a similar challenge- once again, how do you describe it in a simplified way that the customer understands while still doing justice to how incredible it really is?

Once we have our initial description we need to expand on it and provide some detail. This usually means highlighting some of our product’s best features and talking about what makes it so unique. But, as I mentioned before, we think it does a ton of really cool things that are worth mentioning- so how do we choose just a few? Which are the most important?

After hammering out all of these details, we’re still faced with the most important task of all- showing how our product is beneficial to the consumer. Our entire description is worthless if it doesn’t demonstrate value. Fortunately, this is the easy part. The product does a good job of selling its worth on its own!

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Do Tablets Need Keyboards to be Effective in the Classroom?

Last week, Bill Gates was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. After initially reading reviews, which focused on his statement that tablets won’t succeed in the classroom without a keyboard, I found myself disagreeing with his ideas.

I knew I had to read the actual interview, and I was actually surprised by how much of his interview I agreed with. I truly like his idea about lectures being for outside the classroom and the shared element of the classroom being for study groups. While I still think he’s trying to do what he can to promote the Surface over the iPad with statements I don’t fully agree with, I love his focus on bringing such technologies into (and outside of) the classroom.

With every bit of new technology entering the classroom, educators need to evaluate how to best integrate this device for educational purposes. I think most, if not all, would agree on this. However, it’s the technology itself and its features where people are diverging.

One of the biggest points of contention, as I already mentioned, is the need for tablets with keyboards. In his interview, Bill Gates stated that using a tablet in a classroom “is never going to work on a device where you don’t have keyboard-type input.” Being an iOS Developer, I admit that I was annoyed at how he was trying to diminish the usefulness of the iPad in the classroom.

I have been following the research for months showing how all kinds of students are benefiting from the iPad in their education. Tablets must be intuitive and it’s their interactivity that makes them so useful- their apps provide feedback to student and teacher on their progress. The introduction of the computer didn’t cause schools to remove penmanship classes altogether, so why would the introduction of a keyboardless tablet prevent students from learning to type? It wouldn’t.

Does a tablet need an external keyboard to be useful to students? No, but only if the tablet is finding its own niche in the classroom. We still don’t know at this point the role of the tablet in the classroom to its full extent. Is it supplement to a computer lab? A tablet sans external keyboard is never going to work in a typing class but at the same time note-taking shouldn’t be limited to lines of text. The ideal post-pc device would utilize a keyboard and a stylus. And let’s keep in mind, the iPad has had external keyboards for years- it’s just a separate purchase.

When it comes to education, the priority should never be which company is going to win and dominate the classroom.  I think we’re all fortunate to have multiple companies fighting to create the best tablet for everyone.

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True Life: Tech Bloggers Hate Me

Tech bloggers hate PR people. You can’t blame them for it – their emails are inundated daily with pitches from public relations professionals trying to get press coverage for the companies they represent. They probably all sound pretty much the same, and it has to get repetitive, if not down right annoying.

Imagine how you’d feel if somebody only ever reached out to you when they wanted something. Then magnify it hundreds of times on a daily basis.

That puts us PR people in a tricky position. We read bloggers’ articles – we know they’re smart and we know that they realize that we want something from them.

It’s not like we want to be another annoying PR person annoying journalists with another annoying email that they may or may not consider worth their time. But at the same time, we do want them to talk about our brand new startup and the super cool product we’re releasing, and hey, they might just want to talk about it too. As much as journalists might hate them, it’s hard to pretend like there aren’t occasionally stories worth covering in that mass of emails they receive on a daily basis. It can’t be WWDC all the time, so it must be nice to have those stories for a slow news day, right?

It’s an unfortunate situation, but what can we do about it? Our pitches are not meant to insult anyone’s intelligence or to irritate, we just don’t know a better way of approaching the situation. If any tech bloggers or journalists out there have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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Preparing to Crack Down

As any Seattle local knows, we were graced with a couple of days of gorgeous weather last week, and we decided to celebrate by wearing dresses to the office on Thursday! Unfortunately Kristoph did not participate, although he did dress nicely for the occasion. We couldn’t help but joke about how we couldn’t quite picture Dress Day happening at most other startups, which are usually primarily male.

The nice thing about Dress Day is that it coincided with our team lunch in Seattle for Nijo’s. Since we have yet to find any spectacular sushi restaurants in Bellevue (if you know of any, please let us know in the comments!), we were all pretty excited about the trip.

We had some great sushi, fried green tea ice cream, and a couple pitchers of extremely refreshing mojitos. Kristoph was really pushing for a third pitcher, but responsibility prevailed and the rest of us overruled him in favor of actually having a productive afternoon once we got back to the office (sorry, Kristoph, maybe next time).

Although our field trip might have sounded like it was all fun and games, we had a particular reason for this excursion. We’ve set goals and deadlines for when we want to release our product, so this lunch marked the end of our days of extended lunches and the beginning of our crack down. As hard as we have all been working up until now, it’s time to double down.

We’re going to miss our fun lunches as a team, but everybody is extremely dedicated to the task at hand and excited to finally get our product out. This past week the team has been extremely focused, and this will continue well beyond our launch date.

Capitol Hill Office

On February 27th of this year, we were scheduled to start our first official day together as the Degas team in our new office. Unfortunately, the date drew closer and our Bellevue office still wasn’t ready. This was our first taste of a #startupproblem. Determined to persevere, we found a temporary space up in the Broadway Building on Capitol Hill, where we spent a great week while waiting for our more permanent residence.

We all arrived on our first morning feeling excited about our project and anxious to get to work. As we walked through the door, we were greeted by champagne, strawberries, and chocolate to celebrate our first day together and facilitate our very first meeting.

Since this was the first time we were all together as a team, it was really important for us to spend time getting to know each other as we discussed our vision for our product and our plans for moving forward.  It turns out our temporary location was the perfect spot to do just that- there were plenty of cool places to go out to eat as a team or to grab coffee.  Here are Mel and Alyssa grabbing espressos as they got ready for a meeting about our product design at Stumptown Coffee Roasters:

Even though we were busy with focusing on our work and getting things organized, that didn’t stop us from enjoying our awesome meals together.  The falafel salad from Oddfellows was definitely one of our favorites, but we also went down to Nijo’s for some amazing sushi.  We had a great time exploring all of the restaurants in the area, and they were great places for us to take some time to discuss the direction of our product and determine our plan of action.

Another cool thing about our office was the view.  We were right across from Seattle Community College, which meant there was always a lot going on outside.  Although we were usually too busy working on our product design and development to really appreciate it, it was nice to take the occasional break to look out the window and people watch. One afternoon we even got to work to the beats of a couple of drummers on the corner.

By the end of the week we were all starting to feel like Capitol Hill natives (granted, a couple of us actually were).  Unfortunately, our time in the Broadway Building was coming to close- Kristoph received a phone call that the Bellevue office was finally finished, and everybody was anxious to move in.

Still, we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the office just yet, so after a very productive Friday we went down to Rock Box on the corner for some sake sangria and karaoke.  Nichole‘s renditions of broadway musicals and Kristoph‘s version of Love Shack were a great way to close out a week of hard work.  We knew we’d miss our time on Capitol Hill, but we were ready to get settled in Bellevue and continue our adventure.

The Idea

I had not envisaged jumping into another start-up for a while. It was only a few months ago that I’d left PressPlane, a company I founded with Kelly Smith in late 2008. I was looking forward to taking some time to kick back and spend time with family, friends, perhaps pursue some hobbies.

Alas, it was not to be. Through some quirk or flaw of genetics, or perhaps conditioning, my mind would not let go. Ideas would come to me, beckon me, demand my attention. Anytime I had a spare moment my mind raced, evaluated, analyzed.

Ideas, even among experienced entrepreneurs, especially among experienced entrepreneurs, are commodities. Ideas are a product of our inherent belief that we have the ability, the capacity, to change our environment for the better, to fix its flaws, and smooth out its wrinkles.

Ideas – as any early stage investor will attest – are in and of themselves not enough. It is not only the idea that matters, but the means and the will to achieve it.

It is with that viewpoint, that of an investor rather than an entrepreneur, that I chose to evaluate the ideas that came to me. I scrutinized not only their inherent merit, but also my ability to achieve them. As the ideas coalesced it become readily apparent to me that I needed others not only to execute a vision, but indeed to define the vision.

I reached out to Alyssa and Mel, whose ability to visualize and conceptualize far exceeds my own. We scrutinized the ideas we had, dissected them, reassembled them into more of a coherent whole. We deliberated, debated, argued until we found a common ground that we were each, individually, excited and motivated by.

I knew that I would go back, do it again. I needed to. I needed to do something, something meaningful, tangible, world changing.


Kristoph Cichocki | CEO Degas Media