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Running a mobile app shop – The Chaotic Moon Studios Story

I’ve been talking with mobile developers recently and over the past year. As my interviewee in this video, whurley, says, it’s a wide open space now with lots going on. While there’s lots of fragmentation (read: it’s not .Net vs. Java or even “it’s all web apps all time”), that’s actually an exciting thing at the moment.

This video interview is from Microsoft MIX11 where I ran into whurley. We finally say down to get the detailed story of what they’re doing at Chaotic Moon Studios, and what it’s like to be in the mobile app development business right now. tells us about the mobile app development and consulting shop he helps head, Chaotic Moon.


As usual with these un-sponsored episodes, I haven’t spent time to clean up the transcript. If you see us saying something crazy, check the original audio first. There are time-codes where there were transcription problems.

Michael Coté: Well, hello everybody! Here we are at Microsoft’s MIX 2011 in lovely Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort.

William Hurley: Yeah, THE Hotel.

Michael Coté: I think that’s the full title. Yeah, it’s right, I always like, it’s THE as well, so you sort of emphasize it and —

William Hurley: You have to yell it out like THE Hotel!

Michael Coté: It should be italicized but that might be too much to ask. So as always I am Michael Coté with RedMonk. Can I have a — for those who have watched the program for years, I guess, a returning guest, would you want to introduce yourself?

William Hurley: Yes, my name is Whurley, I am the Chief Technology Officer of Chaotic Moon Studios.

Michael Coté: Which is a fine Austin-based company more or less.

William Hurley: It is, we are very attractive.

Michael Coté: I have come to know that you have locations spread out through the world.

William Hurley: Yes, that’s true.

Michael Coté: So why don’t you tell people what you know I actually found one of your cards that you left somewhere and I need to ask you later on where you got these great little things printed up here, very nice thick stock, you could almost cut.

William Hurley: Oh yeah, those were at the power charging station.

Michael Coté: There you go, you could almost cut like some cold butter with this, they are so like so stable. So why don’t you give us a brief overview of what you Chaotic Moon guys do?

William Hurley: So Chaotic Moon Studios was formed just a little over a year ago at South By Southwest. We launched the company, we do mobile everything. So we work with some processor manufacturers and help them patents and security related stuff, we work with phone designers like for actual hardware for phones and we do a lot of apps.

And recently we released a whole slew of apps at the last of 2010, beginning of 2011, two of which were the daily for Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch and Grover the monster for Sesame Street.

Michael Coté: I don’t want you to reveal the end of the book.

William Hurley: Which if you ask spoiler alert. Basically if you ask anybody, that’s kind of all we do, we were like, oh! You did daily? But we do a lot more.

Michael Coté: Well how many other apps have you guys worked on?

William Hurley: Oh God! Dozens and dozens and dozens, I mean we have done a couple of dozen Windows 7 apps alone that are already in the marketplace. We have I think 3 or 4 more that are going to be released in the next couple of weeks.

Michael Coté: And so I mean the most pathway you described what you do is mobile everything, and I mean one of the things I am curiously hear you talk about is what that is, like what it is to be a mobile development design whatever shop, because I think people are kind of familiar with like I am a web app shop or I am a Creative Suite guy that does graphic design and stuff. But there is this kind of new shop that is like what you guys are, which is you come to us for whatever you want on mobile. And like what does that look like?

William Hurley: So it’s specializing not in a vertical or in a special technology or whatever we are platform-agnostic, we are technology-agnostic. We specialize in mobile computing. So a couple of us came out, did a bunch of work at the pervasive computing labs at IBM, you know we’ve got — we are made up basically of two kind of components.

So X kind of big agency, big interactive agency, Pixars type artist, and then XApple and R&D engineers and project managers and stuff. So they fight all the time, and the secret to our success is we have heard each other just enough to turn out a great product but not to actually hospitalized.

Michael Coté: This would be the developer design collaboration, like Adobe use to talk about.

William Hurley: Right, well Ben Lam (ph) who is the co-founder and I, actually we are going to do a presentation we pitched at South By. We are going to pitch it every year until they let us do it. Everything is beautiful but everybody ruins it. So basically it was going to be like this kind of live mocking debate of developers who were like, you know, this is perfect in the architecture and everything, and then the designer wants to add like this thing and it like breaks everything and Ben was going to take the design philosophy and be like you know, why can’t you just have particle effects on everything, that’s not true, I like teasing Ben about particle effects.

Michael Coté: That’s right, why can’t these programmers do all their stuff in layers or whatever?

William Hurley: Right exactly, why can’t I export it from Photoshop to iOS code?

Michael Coté: Right, right, so as far as like this shop of a bunch of designer sort of interactive people and the developer people like how many people do you employ or how about the roof?

William Hurley: So we started with three, big question we get is like, who funded you, how did you start? So we started the company, three partners, no funding, we got laptops, we were firm believers that if you build software or you provide a service then you should do that, so as people, and it’s good and that’s actual business model, then we will pay the bills and make money.

Whenever we see a company it’s like huge, tens of millions of dollars of funding to build like apps or something. It kind of makes us laugh, I mean, it’s like, wow like, how’s that going to happen?

Michael Coté: And so I mean if we can like rabbit-hole on that a little bit, so would you say that you can self-fund yourself getting into the app business? I mean assuming you have someone to pay you to do the app, and then the implication there is that there is not necessarily like a value multiplier to make some stupid term up for getting like an investment, it’s not like I am going to give you $5 million, and boom, you are going to make $30 million.


William Hurley: Right, exactly, but that’s where – to come back, I am going to tie it into your original question, which is, what is this kind of like mobile everything, because we have this slogan, “All Your Mobiles Are Belong To Us,” it’s kind of like our little geeky joke, but it’s true.

So we do everything, we have done original titles of Microsoft Game Studios, for example, we’ve done original titles that have been featured by Apple, we have done big projects for big media corporations, movie studios and things.

We are doing, right now, we haven’t announced our partnership, we are working with somebody who makes awesome, amazing battery accessories and stuff. We are actually designs some new ones and some new products with them.

Michael Coté: So they are sort of industrial design you are doing, three-dimensional stuff.

William Hurley: Right, stuff you can actually buy at home, right? And so we are doing management and marketing and systems around, publishing systems and things like that. So we are really doing everything, and somebody we get a lot of comparison, somebody compared this to BASF, and they said, Chaotic Moon, it was a guy we were doing an interview in New York and he said, well I know who you guys are, you are not the guys who build all the cool mobile stuff I use, you make all the cool mobile stuff I use cooler.

And I thought for a minute like, we should steal that, it’s pretty good analogy, sir. But that’s kind of true, but we also do a bunch or original stuff. So mobile everything, we believe all computing is going mobile and you and I, as older gentlemen, have heard this for years-and-years throughout our career but it’s never been true. It’s like, I remember being on a project back at IBM in 1997 where it was like next year, it was like the year of the mobile and it’s coming at anytime.

And it’s taken a while to get here, and so what we want to do is we want to help build the mobile ecosystem as a lot better computing paradigm than the computing paradigms we have now. What I don’t want to see is all of the stuff go from — we don’t want to take all the PC stuff and be like and now it’s on a phone and now the screen is smaller. We want to really change things and we saw a great demo today, the Qantas Demo and the Keynote, which was exactly the kind of stuff that Chaotic —

Michael Coté: If I remember, it’s actually sort of telling you, you are probably not going to make your flights and suggesting. I mean add on to this or correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like a big realization of mobile UX design is focusing a lot on work-flow, if you will, rather than having a suite of functionality, I am thinking about one sort of path that someone goes down to.

William Hurley: Exactly, so all these things we do, from hardware design to accessories, in the battery life to apps that talk about the management of the phone or they give you some functionality of some feature, you have to do all of these, you can’t just be like, I do apps or I design industrial design, you have to do them all, it has to be a cohesiveness if you will to that experience. And as you know from system management world, the big system management players they compete on comprehensiveness, precisely, and that’s what we are doing.

So could be a your one-stop shop for everything, but we also work with a lot of other shops, I mean, somebody said once that we are not building a company we are building a cult, because they were trying to bid something out with somebody they thought was a competitor of ours or like actually we help start those guys.

And they were like, what? And then it’s a comprehensive approach, it’s a very all encompassing deal. Again the Qantas Demo I think really summed it up, it’s an airline app that told you, hey, I see you are on a schedule for flight and it’s coming up, and it’s about an hour before, and GPS as you were nowhere near the airport you are also not moving, you should get your a** over there, or here are some other flights you can use or I can click and deep-link in the directions. That’s a great example of kind of mobile computing if you are on a flight.

Michael Coté: Right, and so, I mean, just as a definitional thing like obviously mobile means smartphones, iPhones and Android, Windows Phone 7 —

William Hurley: Oh it means more than that.

Michael Coté: — yeah, and so like what — when you are saying mobile, I mean other people use phrases like edge devices or what’s the jobs being termed a non-pc or something like that.

William Hurley: Yeah, there’s something in the middle.

Michael Coté: Right, but give us an idea of the set of what you mean by mobile computing or devices?

William Hurley: Okay, so we do do things with network operating systems, we do obviously big focuses on mobile smartphones, and not just smartphones but phones in general. If you go overseas, I will be in Bali next month and there won’t be a ton of smartphones, but there will be a ton of phones, and in those areas of the world they use them for commerce and trade minutes like their money and do all kind of things.

So that’s also a big mobile space, and that’s actually a very big on tap market in our opinion. But we are also working on some research projects, for example, with an automotive manufacturer for heads up displays, in mobile computing like in-car computing stuff. So basically we would define mobile as it’s computing, you take with you or that goes with you when you are in transit, you are putting it in your pocket, you are driving from Austin to Houston, you are on a plane.


Michael Coté: I mean it almost seems like computing minus desktop, laptop and server.

William Hurley: Right. Part of — those are the three things that our computing and–

Michael Coté: Yeah, and pretty much everything else that is probably somehow a computer and also on a network to some extent is — I mean although —

William Hurley: We have some TVs in our labs that run an operating system that allows you to write apps and widgets and things for them. But we don’t really consider that mobile; we consider that more as we do servers and PCs which is all the stuff you do on mobile has to be able to tie into all of these other things you already have and you already do.

So if you are going to have an app on your TV, may be it gives flight status or something like that. You are going to want a way to have that information you did when you are in the car or sitting at work or whatever that you brought home with you transfer to all of those devices in your home and stuff.

So we do look at a larger ecosystem. We need to just focus on being kind of the mobile experts.

Michael Coté: So looking at that mobile space, if you will, like as a whole like, to ask a broad question, how would you characterize like what’s going on there? Like what’s kind of the like the top 3 things in there that are exciting and then who is trying to like move in on to it? Like what’s the landscape of like Apple and the handset makers and the Android?

William Hurley: Well, I think it’s a really interesting time to be a consumer. That’s my answer, because I think we have a couple of different shifts that are going on and one of those — [Cross Talk].

One of those situations is kind of this rise of Android and don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of Android development, love these guys of Google, but at the end of the day, it’s like what’s really driving that?

What’s really driving that is Apple won’t license you their OS and Microsoft and another companies traditionally charge you for it. So if you are trying to increase your profit margin and there is a good operating system that has a bunch of apps on it, of course, as a manufacture, you can put it on there. So I think some of that.

Michael Coté: It’s sort of free, if you will.

William Hurley: Yeah, exactly. I think some of that is free to sell very well, but I think that what we are seeing is we are running a very dangerous course. You know you said, what are the top three things; there is one I am really, really focused on right now and that is this homogenization of applications. What I mean by that is there is something to be said for consistent user experience, but there is also something to be said on the other hand for cheating users.

As an app developer, I have 2 or 3 phones on me right now. I have all of these different tools, all of these things I use and one of the things that I have a real respect for is users don’t get all those devices; they don’t get devices for free, they don’t get developer kits and cheaper license. They save all their money and they bought one device that they can buy and it’s iPad 2 or Google Zoom or whatever the case may be, you know, a webOS tablet, whatever.

And the thing is this they are sold a bill of goods when their best buy, wherever they are buying it, there is a little sheet that says here are the features. This has much faster graphics and all of these processing and everything. As developers what I am seeing mobile developers do is we are not saying great, we are going to take the Coté App or the RedMonk app and we are going to exploit the crap out of it on that platform. And by the way, it will be different than it is on iPad and the manufacturer will love that because they will say hey, this makes us different, the app does these extra things, it runs better, whatever.

And there is a bunch of reasons to do that about who would love it because of that, but at the end of the day, it’s like that’s delivering value to that consumer who bought that because they thought like, well, the graphics are going to be smoother when I play Angry Birds, faster when I do the 3D game. And what I see is HTML5, which we are big fans of, it’s not a ratified standard, but we support it, we use it in a lot of things. But one thing we don’t use it for is, for saying okay, we are going to get the Coté or RedMonk app and now it runs on everything and there is one code but you’re seeing it and it’s like because we have seen —

Michael Coté: See, the right ones weren’t run anyways. It’s a 14:03 platform.

William Hurley: Right because we are old guys and we have seen this story before and before there was all of the stuff, there were things like Java and there were other things that were like oh, are you just going to do it this one way and then everything looks other way. And it’s like, it doesn’t really work out that way and there is a variety of reasons; political and social and economic and everything.

Michael Coté: Sure and things like that.

William Hurley: Yeah, exactly, but at the end of the day, the one thing that I really harp on and what I am seeing is I really fear that the homogenization of these apps that in the effort to get a consistent user experience, you are actually cheating users out of the ability of really exploit these devices. You know I can give you a great example. Microsoft showed off the Pins today. They pin things with the information, the info tabs.

Michael Coté: That’s like pining web apps to the Windows Desktop or what?

William Hurley: Well, to the front, so that they can pin like the Qantas app of some of the others they showed. Okay, but I can’t do that on iPhone. So why would I homogenize it? So, well, nobody gets that feature because I am only going to do the lowest common denominator and things I can do across all fence. That’s a fantastic feature and if I can do it, yeah, I absolutely should because the person who bought that Windows Phone, they heard all the things at the keynote today and they bought it because they are like, hey, I am going to be able to get access this information in this way or the deep linking.


And I see too many people as developers not implementing those types of features that are platform-specific because —

Michael Coté: Yeah. Well, I mean as you keep saying, we are old guys, but I do feel like even for the young guys, there is a part of the culture that exists in developers where you try to avoid customizing per platform and over the years, that’s become something you would not suppose to do. And yet in the mobile space, it definitely, and you probably have a better sense of this than I do as you just went on about, but it seems like it’s kind of the opposite of that like, in fact like you —

William Hurley: I think mobile almost dictates that you have to do that. You have to say.

Michael Coté: You want to do everything native, if you will, or more stuff than you would think.

William Hurley: Yeah, you don’t necessarily have to do everything needed but you have to look at the frameworks and the tools that are provided. So okay, I am designing the app.

Michael Coté: I guess in this context, native means something specific. It’s more that as you are saying you want to — you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of an API that only exists on one platform, whether it’s a web or a native like code they were in.

William Hurley: The seatbelts in the plane with 16:17 home on is different than the one in our car is different than the one in the — it’s special. And it’s kind of the equivalent of saying, we are going to just have a seat belt, it goes across your lap, it’s awesome and there are reasons that we don’t do that. There are core reasons like automobiles; the three-point harness was designed for very specific reasons and there are contextual reasons like the environment you are in. You don’t need a three-point harness in a plane because the reality is if that plane has a really big problem, you know what, I am screwed.

If you have ever heard Bruce Mau’s Massive Change, he has a great thing on planes about how everything inside the plane is designed to give you the illusion of safety and security, we are doing something that you should never do which is riding on a big tank of fuel at 100 miles an hour, but it’s like that. I mean it’s yeah, I think mobile dictates that we start really saying, we are going to push our processor as further as we can. We are going to push our graphics as far as we can. We are going to push the platform that interface how people interact with it and we are going to do it in the context of the user doesn’t know that oh, well, that’s that way because it means it also works on the Windows Phone 7 or on the Android or on the bada or on the MeeGo.

They just know that you know this is the way my things worry, this is what I bought — this is what I was sold on.

Michael Coté: Alright and to your point, I mean vendors would love that, everyone would — people who have something to sell would love it because it gives them differentiation point.

William Hurley: Sure, absolutely.

Michael Coté: And then in theory, if it’s done right, consumer should like it because it gives them way too much choice, a lot of features.

William Hurley: It gives them the value they were promised. Again, we have spent a lot of time working with retail establishments and working with people who are buying phones and we have a user group and I get to go shopping with some people and be like what’s attracting, what you are liking about this, what are you doing and they always go to that like, the best part is they always jump down to that little thing and they are like, oh, well, that says it’s faster and it has more graphics. I mean you hold them up and you put the same app and you are like well, what’s the difference.

And they are like, I don’t know, like I don’t see it. And then in lot of cases, there are things you can’t do that with but in those cases, you can — and by the way, you will get better performance sticking with the frameworks, you will get a lot better support from everybody involved. And I think you will make a better product and by the way, it’s harder and it’s more expensive. Yeah, it’s too, but doing things right often is.

Michael Coté: So I mean if there is sort of a gradient of swings over here and then customizing to each platform that’s over here, I mean it sounds like you would push it way over towards customizing the platform.

William Hurley: Yeah, we are more over on it, but again, we are talking about the apps. People often confuse in mobile content with apps. Content — absolutely, you can use HTML5. There are absolutely, very cool things you can do with that. You can use a use a lot of JSON and XML and all of these things.

So we are not saying like oh, everything if you are on iOS has to be in a coordinated database. We are not saying that everything has to be in the new SQL databases that they had showed today that’s going to be coming out that’s built into the phone OS.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I think I mean it’s more just like you shouldn’t be afraid; in fact, you should explore using things that are unique on each of the platform of the phones or whatever it may be.

William Hurley: Exactly! The web is the great common denominator programming mechanism, I mean it is and we are having more seemingly browser wars happening right now like we have already lived through two or three times.

Michael Coté: Sure.

William Hurley: And it’s like yes, you should explore that, you should find out what’s unique about that platform, you should find out what is going to make that user experience really, really special and it’s going to be something super simple. And the super simple stuff is always something that’s hidden way down in the SDK that everybody overlooks and nobody talks about a keynote, you are like, oh, that is the best feature.

Michael Coté: Like what would an example of a super simple thing to be from the past or something that you would make up just to give people a sense?


William Hurley: Oh, I mean, I think — I’ll tell you. I think, again, I mean I hate harp on what we saw today here at Mix, but I really think that the deep linking into an app, into a place in an app is fantastic. Now, that’s not HTML5 or web stuff. It’s taking from app, but it’s is built into the native thing and we heard it here. But when it comes out, how many developers that weren’t here are going to go digging through documentation and find out, oh, I can actually take you to a stateful point inside my app to a specific screen. I think it’s an incredible feature.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I mean it did seem nice because you don’t have to navigate to that point. I mean to use the web terminology; it saves your clicks to get to somewhere.

William Hurley: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what I am saying is it’s not an either/or. It’s the right mix of both, and the right mix of both is very crystal framework on the device you are working on, because they are written for a reason; there is a SDK for a reason.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

William Hurley: You kind of stay there and there is very good engineering reasons to do that and then mixing in the HTML5 and the cloud services and the things in the right mix, that’s really where you end up.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

William Hurley: I don’t think we are going to have a 100% completely all apps are native or hey, all apps are HTML5 as much as many of the web designers and people that we have met here that we would probably like that to be there.

Michael Coté: Yeah. Now I mean it is also interesting because like on the cloud side, it’s kind of the opposite, like everyone wants to go towards homogenization or commodity stuff and really make there be one backend.

William Hurley: Is that what you mean; on-demand?

Michael Coté: Yeah or utility computing, whatever you want to call it. But it is kind of the — because the bad servers started out being exotic custom hardware. I think it was specialized and now it’s trending towards the opposite of what you are saying, and it is happening on the — or like that you like on client side where you want the clients to be specialized and take advantage of things. So it’s a nice flip-flop of what’s in the —

William Hurley: Yeah and I mean at the end of the day, you are talking about providing valuable software. You are talking about providing value to users, and each case is going to be different and each app is going to be different. But you have to start taking an approach of putting yourself in the user’s shoes. I recently got in a little bit of a tiff with a person, Mr. “Maddog” at 22:19.

And it was about, he gave a great example of how he was an end user and why the GPL was so great. And he said that he’s done his resumes in the same software for 25 years and he got to a point where he couldn’t do what he needed and he didn’t want to reformat it. He went, because the code was GPL, he found it, he downloaded the source and he fixed it and he recompiled it and he finished his resume that night and it all took four years.

Michael Coté: Alright!

William Hurley: You, sir, are not an end user. And that’s the problem with everybody that’s going to watch this, it’s the development always. We think about — we are like well, everybody does this.

Michael Coté: Yeah.

William Hurley: We often fix things that are trivial for us to fix and it’s a two-hour support call for somebody who got their phone at 23:05 Wal-Mart or whatever.

Michael Coté: And I mean that points to all of my friends who are called upon in their family to fix computers. Over the past few years, they forced all those people to buy Apples. They are like, if you want help first, you buy an Apple and basically, their service desk requests sort of speak go down, because a lot of the stuff is just, it’s simple, I guess.

William Hurley: Well, we forget what people are trying to do with the devices and one of the things that I like everybody in mobile to steal from the Windows Phone 7 Campaign is this concept of like technology should do something for me.

Michael Coté: Right! Right!

William Hurley: I don’t want to have to learn to use it. I don’t want to have to be forced to do it, and I think everybody in mobile should just take that and just run with it and do their own versions of it. Again, not too hard from the Quanta thing, but that was a great example of not having to do anything to have technology go, oops, more than a calendar alert, I am watching you, know you are not in the right place, know you need to be here, making some assumptions and doing some things that are very valuable that deliver a lot of user value to me in one, two clicks, I have already corrected the whole situation. I think getting off the value and you are ask for a couple of things. The second thing I think we need is we need faster networks in the worst way and apps started small, and now they are getting big. I mean it’s you remember downloading eight megabyte apps back in the day and you are like, oh my God! It’s 12 megabytes.

Michael Coté: I plugged into the Ethernet here at some point and it was like 30 down and 40 up or something which is, I understand, in Korea, that’s nothing or whatever.

William Hurley: Right.

Michael Coté: But for here, it’s phenomenal, like it’s mega fast and it is — there is a problems with the networks speed.

William Hurley: You take your phone and you walk through the hotel or the casino and you can’t get a call or get a signal, right?

Michael Coté: Yeah.

William Hurley: It’s like as computing loser, so you know the first thing is avoiding the homogenization.


The second thing is infrastructure; we need better infrastructure and better latency and fault tolerance and all of these things that need to be taken into account.

Michael Coté: Yeah, that was like earlier this week, Cisco said they are kind of like cinching up their belt and getting rid of the Flip brand and things like that and I was thinking like that’s fantastic because what I would really like now to do is just make networks faster. But I don’t really care about video conferencing and collaboration; I just want faster networks.

William Hurley: You don’t want to work with anyone else.

Michael Coté: That’s right.

William Hurley: You just want to work faster by yourself, because if you could, you could do the work of 10 or 15 people you would have worked with at a slower network speed.

Michael Coté: And then I could keep being a hermit. Are there other like missions you would like to see the mobile space go on? You had two there, I mean what else? What are the other guiding principles you are operating under at the moment.

William Hurley: Well, I think that there needs to be a lot more imagination, I mean a ton of apps, I was really disappointed, and apologies to Microsoft, but if you look at the board over there next to the left of us right now on Windows Phone 7 thing, there is all of those apps and there are all apps that we have already seen and done. I loved the keynote today, and it was great they did the USAA app, but I didn’t understand what the difference between it was and the one that was 26:24 on other platforms literally like quite some time ago.

Michael Coté: Right. It’s more that they ported — I mean it was basically an app where you can – it’s funny like it exposes archaic process that need to be updated, but you take a real physical check and write the check, and you take a picture of the front and back and then you can digitally send the check which is great.

William Hurley: Well, or you could deposit, I mean USAA is an amazing institution and it has some phenomenal developers; Michael 26:48 incredible guy, but they — you could have given me a check and I can do that. So I mean I thought that the way Microsoft 26:57 should have been like Coté gives Whurley a check and Whurley goes, I am not driving to the bank, snap, snap. And it’s amazing, but the thing is I am not harping on that one at all. There are so many things that have been done. It’s like, wait, this is a brand new platform. But where is the like, here is this cool app nobody else has done that on any other platform because of all these cool features. And it’s like everybody is a little too focused on making money; they have all got the gold rush 27:26 on every interesting platform.

Michael Coté: Yeah, but there is like a feature in — I guess, Android has this too, but in Windows Phone 7 that the iPhone definitely doesn’t have it and you probably know the name of it, but you basically, — you can add little extensions of things. Like send this photo to Flickr, whereas by default, you can always send it to Live or some crap.

That would be an interesting thing to think about is like how could have USAA insert themselves into that workflow. Like where are areas where it would — I don’t know if this makes sense, but you know where are areas where it makes sense to take advantage of that or the notification stuff and pining things. But it’s true; I mean it gets back to the first thing you were saying.

William Hurley: Well, let’s face it; everybody is doing the bare minimal they need to do to get an app where they get into the —

Michael Coté: You want to start with small successes so that you can get on to bigger ones.

William Hurley: Right, but they never go on with bigger ones and we are kind of the opposite as a company. I mean we did The Daily and some of the other things we’ve done are huge risk. They are the first of this and the first of that, first Apple subscription app, the first tested that system and the first publishing infrastructure of its type and so on and so forth. So I think you know we’d like to see other people joining us and taking a lot more risk and putting the credibility on the line and sometimes it works great and sometimes it doesn’t.

But you do nicer things for users; you improve the user experience overall, you pioneer things, you do a lot and from mobile to really get to the dream that kind of Neal Stephenson or William Gibson type utopia that we think mobile computing will be. We really, really need to focus on pushing the boundaries and limits. Now is an incredible time to be a consumer and just because of all other choices that are coming out, but it’s even more incredible time to be a developer because all of the choices you have and all of things you have been doing, you don’t have to do at all platforms like we do.

You may focus on one, you may focus on a certain thing within one, but there are so much opportunities. There are so many really, really cool things and I am just not seeing enough of them out of us or anyone else.

Michael Coté: And like on that note like what — when people would ask for sort of like a justification of satisfying all that opportunity like basically a business case, if you will, I mean what do you tell them as far as like here is the monetary opportunity that should motivate you to want to pursuit these opportunities because people are hopefully in a healthy way always paranoid of technologists coming and telling them like give me some money so I can do cool stuff.

William Hurley: Right and that’s the thing. Sometimes you know we talk to customers and that’s we have incredibly honest conversations with them and sometimes it is you were doing this because you have to because your competitors did it and sometimes you are doing it because it is just a really cool thing. It’s almost a PR stuff.


And sometimes it’s very, very, very good business fundamentals. Now when we spec out jobs, we always put a section on Return On Investment and sometimes that may say, you guys are crazy, you are not going to get any money on that. We are expensive and you are nuts, but sometimes customers look at that and say, well, how do I justify this from a monetary standpoint, and it’s if you are selling an app for $0.99, rarely are you going to make a lot of money and we have this illusion.

Michael Coté: Sounds like especially if they are ahead of you guys.

William Hurley: That depends if their goals are making a lot of money, we are going to architect it to do that. But the thing is, is you take there are some really successful apps out there that have tens of millions of downloads. So let’s just pick a round number and say, 100 million downloads over the life of an app, average app is updated quarterly or so. So take that and say it’s been out for a couple of years. So really, you have may be 10 million actual downloads and then you take a certain percentage of those to about 18%, what we find is people who had it, deleted it, somebody else got it, they got it back.

So it’s just started changing it up. So people think that if somebody has made a $100 million on an app and it’s like if that was not the case, if that was the case, we would all be doing it. I wouldn’t be sitting here and talking to you or building apps for people.

Michael Coté: Sure. Sure.

William Hurley: I would just be making the original titles myself and we have done some original titles that have been really successful but these are not — even something that is a top selling app in any other stores is not necessarily the kind of blockbuster you think it is.

It’s marketed that way by everybody in the ecosystem because they want more developers and want more apps because that’s what drives — it’s not about the phones; it’s about the apps and the consumers.

Michael Coté: Yeah, now I always tell people is there and I don’t know if people catch on my careful wording, but there is an incredibly important perception that you can get rich writing mobile apps and maintaining that perception is like what’s important to fuel like enough people–

William Hurley: And the fact is, is that if you actually took the time to do it right, there is a lot of money out there, but it is like you don’t get to —

Michael Coté: Like you said earlier, yesterday is expensive and it is hard, like I guess doing something well isn’t always just easy.

William Hurley: One of our biggest operations in our business is the service called Application Resurrection and that’s where you spend a lot of money, you spend your kid’s college education and your company’s budget of ever building an app and it didn’t reach the matrix and it didn’t sell what you thought and it didn’t save the resource and you just dump all of that to us. And we take it behind the curtain, we have a conceptual artist who re-envision it and then we take it and we redo all of the art and all the development and everything and we release it, sometimes under the 32:34

Michael Coté: Oh, you guys are the clean-up team.

William Hurley: Well and that’s one of the biggest areas of our business because so many people are just like in such a hurry to make all of this money that they hear about out there, but there is a lot of crappy apps. I would argue that we used to have this argument out like well, between Mac and Windows, Mac had fewer apps that were of higher quality and Windows had thousands of crap apps. I mean it’s like well, surprise! Now their shoe is on the other foot because it’s like now there are tons and tons of apps out there where it’s like really good download, a hundred of them just randomly that you have never heard of are – look at the bad ratings and see how many stuff is just thrown out there in the hopes that maybe they will do get on to make money and then I’ll end up doing it right.

Michael Coté: There’s lots of resurrection thrown to the wall, by the way.

William Hurley: Yeah, you have to do it right the first time. You have to do it right the first time.

Michael Coté: So last question and it’s you have been really luxurious with your time so I appreciate that. So someone wanted to start a mobile business in the context of everything we’re starting. Never mind the tech — well, not so much of technological choices, although maybe that’s the most important thing but with your success and experience over the past years, like what would you advise them, like what’s the important thing to start doing when they start it up?

William Hurley: They should call me and I will help them. I mean we have been started helping several mobile companies start. We have been incredibly successful and we are taking that success and we are sharing it in the form of a, investing in mobile properties. So there are several apps that our companies that we’ve now helped out. We have invested either time or money or a resource or all three. There is a bunch of people. So somebody that you and I know who should go unnamed at South Bar 34:14 said, I am on TV, and he said, you can’t be a system lord if there is no system, can you?

And he is right. So we put on a 34:21 on him. But the reality is, look, for us to be successful, things have to make it over that kind of tipping point. To do that, there have to be a lot of other people doing this and it’s in my best interest to help.

Michael Coté: Yeah, I mean this is a very open source community sort of idea, I mean to generalize it.

William Hurley: No, but that’s how we put. We are a very open source company. So all the helping people, call us, we may invest in you. You may be like, we are going to start a three-man desk shop and we are like, great! We have got work; we will help you get that started.

Michael Coté: I mean so to generalize it, it seems like the advice here would be that at this point and hopefully, at future points in the mobile market that it pays off to be friendly and promiscuous with people. Like hiding away and being isolated is less helpful than if you just sort of talk with people and try to collaborate with other people.


William Hurley: If you have come from open source and understand open source, you will be very well in how we see the mobile ecosystem and where we see it going which is it’s like a lot of people compare us to ARM, because ARM sells to everybody their suites or what, and we are kind of that way. We don’t really see anybody as competition; we may work with them, they may need us. We see it as a much, much bigger thing and we are going to work with Google, we are going to work with Apple, we are going to work with Microsoft, we are going to work with Samsung and HTC and dozens of others and we are going to do the best damn job we can every single time.

Michael Coté: It’s sort of like no one is your enemy. They are all potential friends or collaborators.

William Hurley: Well, it’s even a little more different than that and maybe a little simpler. It’s each one, there is an opportunity to do something newer and cooler than you did last time and that’s what’s really driving our success is always like treating ourselves, like a lot of people have this kind of rock star thing going on. And just like a rock star, once the last album is out and like the initial sales are done, it’s like you are only as good as that and further that goes back without doing something new and big then it’s like you know what I mean.

Michael Coté: So it’s like second piece of advice that always answer what have you done for me lately.

William Hurley: Yeah, that’s true, exactly. So it’s like be very open, be very honest, I mean there are so many opportunities. People often are afraid of the limitations and they are like well, they tell people that they won’t hire me. It’s like you don’t know that; they may not need you to do that. There are tons of these very low level and mid level opportunities that have low hanging fruit that are a great place to start getting it to mobile as a developer.

Michael Coté: Yeah, yeah. Well, great! Thanks again for taking all that time. It was good stuff.

William Hurley: I appreciate it. It’s good to see you again.

Michael Coté: And we will see everyone next time.

Categories: Conferences, Programming.

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