On April 9, all Open for Business teams were invited to Pitch Club. This is an open monthly event where people can practice their 60-second pitch. They then receive feedback from Mike Lee.
I consider myself a decent pitcher, and was one of the winners of the Amsterdam Startup Week / Appsterdam pitch contest, pitching about Openbaar Vervoer. However, there is always room for improvement. And of all my apps, Openbaar Vervoer is probably one of the easiest to pitch, because so many people immediately understand this need.
I was quite happy with my pitch. The challenge Mike gave me was to make it apply more to the audience of the evening, as it was aimed mostly at potential users of Bike Like a Local. This is not simple, but a valid point and definitely achievable. The evening was also a nice opportunity to meet new people.
I did a redesign of much of the user interface of Bike Like a Local, to make it look more polished and professional. I added over 10.000 bike parking spaces provided by Stadsdeel Nieuw-West. I also added a database of contact information and improved some of the tips. I realised I could just release all these updates already, so a new version with these changes is now waiting for Apple review. Release expected about a week from now.
In the meantime:
Amsterdam Like a Local has been rejected twice by Apple. I’ve made corrections, and the latest update is now in review.
The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment sent me a large set of reports about the safety of using music and phones while on a bike. I still have to read it all, I plan to use this to make sure I don’t actually make it less safe for tourists.
I approached many bike rental agencies with some questions about how they handle certain situations, and got a lot of other useful feedback from them as well. Once I have all the replies, I’ll aggregate all their input.
I sent a WOB-verzoek to Stadsdeel Noord and Stadsdeel Zuid-Oost to provide me with the zones where they do strict parking enforcement for bikes, if any, and their bike parking locations. They have ignored previous requests; a WOB-verzoek means they have to reply or eventually pay a penalty.
I asked ATCB whether they have any data on internet connectivity for tourists. Do they use roaming? Do they not use internet at all? Do they buy a temporary Dutch SIM?
This survey is conducted in collaboration with Appril, Appsterdam and Enterprise App Store. The goal is to get some first insights and facts about the state of mobile App development and market in Amsterdam and beyond.
The survey focuses on your working experience and conditions, your development choices, your Apps and networking practices.
It will run throughout the month of April. At the end of the month, we will award one iPad mini and 5 App store vouchers of an App store of your choice. To win an award it is required that you have answered the survey in full and provide us with your email address.
Your email information will only be used for the purpose of this survey, and none of the information will be disclosed to 3d parties. You will also be provided with the conclusions of the survey.
On 28 March, we had a marketing workshop with Matteo Manferdini, who I already knew from Appsterdam. Matteo told us about many techniques involved in marketing, tailored to our specific products and small budgets. This was a group session, so all teams could also learn from each other.
There was a lot of great content in the workshop, but this idea is definitely on the top of my list. People are typically reluctant to buy, even if the expensive is minor. It’s much easier if I can first prove to them I can deliver value. This is of course the general idea behind trials, but Matteo had another suggestion which fits my product very well: get a free PDF about top 10 destinations to visit on a bike in Amsterdam, by entering your email address and joining my mailing list.
The typical form to use mailing lists is to get everyone to subscribe, and send them some sales talk every once in a while. However, the less common form is that everyone who signs up gets the same content after a certain time, by using an autoresponder. This fits my product really well. Tourists typically prepare their visit 4-6 weeks before coming here, so after they sign up and get the free PDF, I could keep them involved by sending them an email a week for 4-5 weeks. Then they can see I’m already delivering value, for free, and are more inclined to buy my app. Because the bulk of the content will just be reused for every subscriber, the investment is very small.
The content of the mails should actually be useful on its own, and not just a sales pitch for the app. However, I could make sure that they tie in really closely. And having a mailing list with opted in users on hand can always be useful later.
Although I like to think of myself as a fairly decent writer, there’s always room for improvement. For example, Matteo mentioned that organisations often like to talk about themselves, instead of what they offer the user. Also, signing up to the mailing list should not be “sign up to our mailing list”, but something like “receive free cycling tips every week”. And saying things like “well designed” or “clean” rarely mean anything to the reader.
Niches are often defined in simple demographic terms, like “males between 25 and 29 from European and Asian countries”. However, Matteo explained that this is often a very poor way to define a group, as even within such a group, differences are huge.
My niche is something like “foreigners in Amsterdam, that are cycling or want to, with limited cycling skills, that own an iPhone”. It can also be very valuable to find where people of this niche hang out. Is there a “cycling tourists in Amsterdam”-reddit? With half a minute of googling, I did find a somewhat active forum for tourists coming to Amsterdam. There’s probably more of this out there.
When you dive into such a community, don’t be an asshole, and make sure you’re not perceived as one. It’s not a platform for a sales pitch. But at the very least it’s an opportunity to learn more about what drives and frustrates these people.
During the workshop I also discovered two important questions. Most important: why actually do tourists/foreigners cycle in Amsterdam? Is it because we tell them to? Or for other reasons? This is rather fundamental to Bike Like a Local, so I should really dig into this.
The other question is: how many tourists actually have a data connection, either through roaming, or by buying a local SIM card for their phone? I’ve been using the general assumption that very few do, but I haven’t validated that. There must be research on this somewhere.
On March 27, we had a business model workshop with Floris van Alkemade, partner in venture capital fund Solid Ventures. This was a group session, so all teams could also learn from each other.
Floris explained us all the intricacies of startup investment, like valuation, the business model of the VC funds themselves, the difference between informal investment and VC, the return on investment a startup needs to make and why, and much much more. Although I did hear about these topics before, Floris’ explanation made the picture much clearer.
Bike Like a Local is not really an investible product right now: although it may result in a profitable business, it’s unclear how far it can actually scale; and I don’t have a plan on what I would need the money for. However, it was very nice to be able to discuss the issues with our plans with someone as experienced as Floris. For Bike Like a Local, specific points of attention were that I have to make sure it does not make cycling less safe by being a distraction, it has to work without roaming, and I have to make sure I have all my numbers backed up thoroughly.
In preparation, I updated my business model canvas to reflect everything I learned since I wrote it early this year. One of the most interesting new facts I discovered, is the size of the market. Somehow I never properly added up these numbers before. According to the Amsterdam Visitor Survey 2012, which Jasper from AEB gave me earlier, about 22% of all visitors to Amsterdam will cycle at some point during their visit. With around 12 million visitors yearly, that’s about 2.5 million cycling tourists every year. This means that even if I only sell my app to 1% of that market, I still make € 25.000 a year. Not enough to attract investors, but still very nice.
On March 16, we had a technical workshop with Bolot Kerimbaev from Big Nerd Ranch. Big Nerd Ranch is a big name especially in mobile development, known particularly for their excellent development courses. This was a group session, so all teams could also learn from each other.
Accelerometers and gyroscopes
Being a developer myself, I can figure out many problems on my own. I had left some of the most difficult for this session. My biggest challenge is the use of the accelerometer and gyroscope. I wanted to use these for two purposes: to track the stability of the cyclist, and therefore their skill; and to know when they’ve stopped cycling and gotten off their bike. I want to use the latter to help them remember where they left their bike, and to warn them if they park in one of the strict parking enforcement areas.
Accelerometers and gyroscopes are very neat sensors, but quite difficult to use. An accelerometer measures the acceleration, like speeding up or slowing down, in three different axes. The gyroscope measures the rate of rotation around each of these axes. Now, getting some numbers out of accelerometer and gyroscope is trivial. Translating between the movement a device makes, and how that might appear in sensor data, is already a bit challenging. But the real difficulty is in filtering out the signal you’re looking for. This is intense maths, in which I have almost no experience.
I thought I’d start with actually looking at the sensor data in known situations, and see whether I could manually recognise particular movements in the data. I installed Apple’s MotionGraphs utility, which takes the data from all sensors and plots it on a simple graph. I then tried that in accelerating trams. Trams accelerate quite violently, so that ought to be easy to see. The result was this:
If you look very carefully, you can see a small deviation in the blue line, for the z-axis (the green line’s -1 is gravity). That’s the acceleration of a tram - which is much more regular than that of a bike. However, it’s virtually indistinguishable from other noise, even though I kept my phone very steady. In real life situations, there would be much more noise. In other words, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to make this work for my plans.
This being my most difficult problem, I showed it to Bolot, who agreed that it would be very difficult to distill the data I wanted from the sensor inputs.
We thought the process through a bit more. Another way of knowing a user got off their bike is that they stop for a while, then resume walking, at a slower speed. That could be detected with GPS. However, the user might already have stopped the app by the time they start walking… and then we realised… the user might already have stopped the app. I don’t need advanced sensors to find out when a tourist stops cycling: they will take their phone out of their pocket, to stop the app. So as soon as they take their phone out, I offer them to stop the trip. As they’re already looking at the screen, that is also the perfect moment to warn them if they are in a strict parking enforcement area.
This does not work for determining the stability of someone’s cycling. But, I wasn’t too keen on that anymore, because I also lack a plan of what to do when someone is a bad cyclist. So I’ll drop that for now.
In other words, I learned at the technical workshop that I had already solved my most complex technical problem in an incredibly simple way, without realising it.
The days are getting longer and warmer, the new version of Lemurs Chemistry is almost complete, and it’s time to start touring again. I thought I was going to be talking about monads this year, but things have gotten so hard in our industry lately, I’m going to talk about that instead. I’m not doing a lot of speaking this year, so these are some of few chances to see me on stage.
Appsterdam Birthday Bash April 20 in Amsterdam
The City of Amsterdam’s famous canals are 400 years old this year, and we are two! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we started the Appsterdam movement. It’s going to be amazing to look back at how far we’ve come, and how the organization and its goals have evolved. It’s also an important time to look at what Appsterdam means to us, and where we need it go in the future.
There are a limited number of tickets available for the low, low price of €15. The Appsterdam Foundation has been planning a really nice evening, and given how many folks are coming from all over to attend, the networking opportunities should be as good as the show itself. Don’t miss it!
GOTO Chicago April 23 in Chicago
Missing GOTO considered harmful! The GOTO conference and its counter-clockwise cousin, YOW!, are the biggest and best general technology conferences in the world, run by some of the most genuinely nice, community-centered organizers I have ever met. Here I’ll be giving a keynote about the App Universe After the Big Bang, where I’ll talk about the state of our rapidly shifting industry.
You can save $150 off the cost of admission with the discount code LEE150. I was born outside Chicago, and launched my speaking career at the C4 conference in Chicago. I could not be more thrilled to be returning to the Windy City—especially now that it’s home to one of the most active Appsterdam embassies.
360 Intersect April 28 in Seattle
Over the past few years, conference talks have been getting less and less technical, a trend that conference organizers around the world have collectively decided to put a stop to this year. Always looking to fill voids, John and Nicole Wilker of the excellent 360 conferences have decided to try a non-technical technical conference. I think it’s a great idea, and am giving it my full support.
Here you can get 20% off the ticket price with the discount code BMF. I’m going to be giving a very intimate keynote called Insane and Back Again, where I talk about some of the crazy things I’ve experienced in these past few years of travel. These are the stories I’m not comfortable blogging about, but speaking at 360 has always felt like talking to a roomful of friends, and I can think of no better place to give this special, one-time-only talk.
MobiDevDay May 4 in Detroit
When I first started Appsterdam, Andy Ihnatko asked me why I didn’t start it in Detroit. Somehow, that opened up a soft spot in me that remains undiminished even after what happened the last time I was there. I’m pleased to finally deliver something for the Motor City by participating in MobiDevDay, joining what promises to be an amazing array of speakers.
I’m giving a talk called Engineering is Hard, where I’ll be talking about the things we go through in order to deliver our products, pay our rent, and make the world a better place. In the vein of the title, which you might recognize this as a saying I’ve borrowed from a friend, I’ll be sharing a lot of great advice I’ve collected from engineers around the world on making a living in these crazy times.
AltWWDC June ? in San Francisco
WWDC tickets went so fast last year, our ears popped, and just like that, the whole idea of WWDC changed forever. What used to be a chance to get the latest news from Apple has turned into a kind of homecoming. This has become the poster child for a conference where the conference doesn’t matter. It’s really just the one week we all decide to be in California, as much for each other as Apple.
With the number of ticketless “showcializers” set to outnumber the number of actual attendees, and IndieDevLab merging with Appsterdam, AltWWDC 2013 promises to be the best unofficial side conference ever to side conference a conference. Whether you have a ticket or not, AltWWDC is your place to sit down, plug in, and get some wifi, lunch, and maybe even some knowledge.
On March 14, I had a meeting with two people from Amsterdam’s Department of Infrastructure, Traffic and Transportation (DIVV). Jasper from AEB was there as well. The people I spoke to are involved with the city’s communication and policy regarding bicycles, and the DIVV open data program.
My main question for this meeting was: what problems are biking tourists experiencing in Amsterdam, and what problems is the city experiencing with them? This can help me to ensure I focus on the most significant issues with my app.
A big focus of Bike Like a Local is safety. Tourists are typically inexperienced cyclists, increasing their risk. The worst safety risk according to DIVV is the blind spot (dode hoek). If a cyclist is next to or behind a truck, it may not be possible for the driver to see them. If the truck then turns right, but the cyclist wants to go straight ahead (and therefore has right away), the truck can easily overlook the cyclist. The solution is in educating the cyclists. Unfortunately, this situation is not something I can detect in the app from the sensors, to warn the user at the right moment, so I’ll have to supply this as generic advice.
I also wanted to know about black spots: the most dangerous places in Amsterdam’s busy traffic. When a tourist is near such an area, Bike Like a Local should warn them about it, and stay quiet in order not to distract them. I was astonished to learn that DIVV does not actually have data on this, due to budget cuts. Apparently a lot of politics have already been involved, but a solution is not expected within the time I need. Since then, I’ve gathered a few other leads on acquiring data like this, so I hope one of those will be successful.
Improper bike parking
Another big problem is improper bike parking by tourists, mostly in areas with strict parking enforcement, like Leidseplein or Centraal Station. In these areas, it is forbidden to park any bicycles outside of the designated parking facilities. Enforcement is very strict. After being removed, bikes are taken to the fietsdepot, where they can be picked up for € 10.
The problem is that a tourist which is unaware of this policy, will simply find their bike missing. They will probably assume the bike was stolen. In any case, not knowing what’s going on makes it a much worse experience. So there’s an opportunity for me here to inform them of these special areas and help them out if their bike does end up at the fietsdepot.
Once the tourist knows that their bike is at the fietsdepot, there’s another challenge: getting there. To limit costs for the city, it’s in a very remote area of Amsterdam. Uber was offering very cheap door-to-door rides, but that service will stop soon. Again: an opportunity for me to help tourists figure out how to get to the fietsdepot, and probably how to get back into the city as well.
Even with these problems taken care of, the flow of information about removed bikes is slow and manual. In order to find out whether a bike is at the fietsdepot, the tourist has to phone them. But, there is some lag between the bike being removed, and being delivered and registered at the fietsdepot. DIVV mentioned that two stadsdelen are currently doing digital tracking of these bikes, which means they are registered immediately. The intention is also to make this data open. There are many possibilities with that data, providing the user has a data connection. DIVV didn’t have exact details, so I’m still going to discuss this with Stadsdeel Centrum.
Another issue on my list was tourists cycling in streets where this is forbidden. According to DIVV, this is a complete non-issue, so I’ve scrapped that for now. Losing bikes simply by forgetting where they are does happen, but is rare. However, we’ll also ask Stadsdeel Centrum about these issues, as they would be more directly involved.
The biggest value according to Eugene is to bridge the gap; as a health care consumer you pay substantial fees and you should bridge the gap between your needs, government regulations and the big companies. That will result to transparency and accountability and improve performance and affordability of the Dutch healthcare system.
What is the problem in opening health data?
There has been resistance to publish the data. US and Uk are leading the way but in the Netherlands there is a substantial lack of access to data. Why? because the Netherlands is one of the most privatized markets in health care. The Ministry of Health don't actually have all that data. It is the insurance companies have the majority of it.
Open Health Data hackathon organised by the Open State Foundation in Rotterdam.
What can we do with the data?
The Open State Foundation organised a hackathon over the summer and invited the Health Ministry to present the newly open datasets. It was a great start to show how the Ministry can benefit by making data available.
But how can open data fit into social innovation and economic activity? The US has some examples to show us:
The company was founded in 2008 by 2 emergency medicine physicians. They started by building clinical intelligence around open datasets. Aetna acquired the startup in 2011. You can find more examples on the presentation slides.
In the Netherlands, there are 5 open data sets supported by the Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport.
Performance of Youth & Pedagogic assistance Institutions
But these particular datasets are not that sexy; Eugene claims that the value is in real time data, either from cost or claims perspective. However, today no real time data are open in the Netherlands.
The next steps are to start thinking of business models with social impact and to help strengthen the open health data community.
“The Apps4Amsterdam: Open for Business” initiative is co-organised by Appsterdam. It is a 4 month program focusing on spreading awareness, increasing demand on Open Data and supporting three local startups. From January to April 2013 Appsterdam will be organising lectures and hands on sessions and addressing the needs of the Open Data community. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org"
I recently gave a presentation at the PromaxBDA Europe Conference, which is the largest gathering of marketing, promotion and design professionals in European television and entertainment media. I was there for Appsterdam to talk about the “best, most innovative and breakthrough applications of the last 12 months.”
A Snowy Paris for the PromaxBDA Europe Conference 2013
Among many other things, people in the PromaxBDA community make a lot of cool promos as part of their work. So to try to speak their language, we put together some videos of our own for the app reviews. The guys from One More Thingprovided the on-aircommentary. They usually do their live streaming broadcasts in Dutch, but they did these special videos in English just for us. Thanks Jesse, Jan David, and Koen!
Many thanks also toMediaMonks who provided the final editing of the videos.
I hand-picked this group of 18 apps over 10 categories for the conference presentation–apps that have either launched or exploded in buzz and exposure over the past 12 months.
Of course there are many other great apps out there. We want to do more Appsterdam/One More Thing reviews in the future, so please add your suggestions in the comments.
Below are the reviews. Enjoy!
Photo and Video
Vycloneautomatically makes an edited 4-camera movie that you can then share with the community.
Scoopshotis a professional version of the citizen journalist apps out there.
Design and Creativity
Paper is so successful because of its simplicity, elegance, and how much of a pleasure it is to use.
POP is a tool for making an interactive wireframe for your app using paper drawings.
Syncpadallows brainstorming on a whiteboard, even if everyone is in a different location.
Clear“has no interface” and uses only simple, intuitive gestures for your to-dos.
Vineis the Twitter for video that lets you capture and share short looping videos of 6 seconds or less.
Steviepulls videos from your friends’ social media feeds and presents them to you in a “lean-back” experience.
Snagfilmslets you watch films and shorts for free on your iPad. They have more than 3,000 items in their library–you only have to watch an ad first.
Blipparhas a special system for brands to use for building their augmented reality experiences.
Figuremakes a musician out of everyone, with a unique but intuitive interface.
Nodebeathelps you make dreamy songs by pulling “nodes” into the field.
22tracksis a streaming music app with curated playlists from well-known DJs from Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Brussels.
News and Inspiration
Flipboardpulls your news feeds into a unique but intuitive interface that invites browsing and exploring.
Prismaticfigures out what news you’re interested in by looking at your existing social media, music libraries, and whatever else it can find.
Walkers Kill Countfor The Walking Dead TV series syncs with episodes and makes a game out of predicting the zombie kills.
American Idolis about the community around the TV show and keeping the experience going between episodes.
One More Thing
TshirtOSis a concept in beta. It’s a programmable t-shirt controlled by an app.
I’m a very lucky man, and one of the things that makes me so lucky are my friends. These are the nicest, most talented people I’ve met in my life, and many of them have skills that have made them vital contributors to my success over the years—not only in making my products and building my brands, but in getting my message out there (for what it’s worth). For example, a bunch of them have started great podcasts with unbelievable guest lists, which they have generously allowed me to be part of.
My friend Saul Mora has assembled one of the finest collections of interviews in our industry with his NSBrief podcast. Seriously, look at his archive—it’s like a who’s who of NSCoders, and he’s had me on not once, but twice.
What’s cool about NSBrief is that the audience is just as illustrious as the guest list. Both times I’ve been on the show, I’ve ended up getting amazing, life-changing feedback from its audience. Most recently, I talked about trying to blend consulting with making our own apps, and ended up basically having the implementation details of that handed to me after the show.
Short version: we’re setting thresholds for when our consulting flag goes up or down. If we drop below 3 months burn, we have to accept consulting until we get back up to 12 months burn. Since we don’t have capacity for business development, we’re doing all our contracting through Big Nerd Ranch Europe. (So if you’d like to hire us, contactMarcel and Bolot!)
My friend Dave Wiskus and I were recently able to celebrate our strange relationship on his show, Unprofessional. Because Dave is the protege of my protege, I am always busting his balls. He wanted to do a show themed around being offensive, so I spent the whole show pretending to hate the show (which I actually love) and ripping on Dave (who I actually love).
It’s a beautiful piece of performance art. At one point I even insulted Dave while the call was muted, an act so dickish it calls to mind the old Dutch expression, to wipe one’s ass on the door. I had a really good time. Given how successful the show has been, it should come as no surprise that Dave (and everybody’s best friend, Lex Friedman) are not only genuinely great people, but incredibly good sports.
Finally, although the episode is not up yet, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by my old pal Guy English and Rene Ritchie on their show, Debug. I was so excited when they started this show, because of Guy’s skill as a conversationalist. Really, of all the many things to envy him for, that’s the one I envy the most.
Maybe it’s my internal journalism major, but I always pay attention to people’s interview styles. Saul sets up the guests and lets them talk. Dave and Lex relate to their guests by sharing their own anecdotes. Guy and Rene ask probing follow-up questions to encourage their guests to dive deep in exploring their topics.
I know the key to great conversations is asking great follow-up questions, but that’s easier said that done. I’ve always admired Guy for this, and I listen to their show as much for the interviews as for a case study on how to talk to people.
That’s what makes me respect my friends so damned much—they have so much to teach me, just by doing the things I can’t.