Clients and the Value of Ideas

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In this episode of Building Infinite Red, we are talking about clients and some of the assumptions that often need to be challenged when creating software. Throughout the episode, Todd, Ken, and Jamon touch on the importance of knowing who your audience is, what they value, and how your ideas will meet their needs.

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Episode Transcript

CHRIS MARTIN: Today we are talking about clients. It’s an important topic and one that pretty much every business owner inevitably gets asked a variety of questions. The question that we could start with is: what’s your favorite moment in working with clients?

JAMON HOLMGREN: You would think it would be when you launch their app or their site, or something like that, but I often find that actually to be a little bit anti-climactic ‘cause there’s so much going on. There’s usually already plans in place for a version 1.1. It’s not usually like everybody gather around the big green button and then the founder pushes the button, and it goes live. Although a little side note, Mark Rickert, who is one of our developers has released an app to the app store while in free fall during a skydive.

That is true. We can link to it and there’s a YouTube video of it. But that’s not usually how it works.

KEN MILLER: It wasn’t a client app I don’t think. I think it was one of his apps, but still.

JAMON: That was a pretty cool way to do it. But no, you would think that would be the most exciting time. The exciting time is usually during design, for me, because I feel like you start getting a lot of enthusiasm, the energy. A lot of those things start coming out during the design process. And when we get a chance to use our design process—some clients will come to us with something already designed, others will come to us who need design. When they’re going through the design process, it’s really exciting, you can see a lot of the possibilities. The development side of things is also fun, but a little slower moving.

TODD: I agree with Jamon on the design side. Once we get through the product development and start getting into design, probably past the wireframing and into some more concrete examples, it’s pretty fun to see the client get really excited. Especially if it’s a situation where they show people who are interested in their product, or their stakeholders and investors, or whomever, and they had a good reaction to it.

I would add the second most fun time with clients is once there is a beta or an alpha available for their beta testers. And again, they send it to them and they use words like “blown away,” or something like, that’s awesome. I’m not gonna lie and say, that’s always what happens, but those two times I think are the most fun to me.

CHRIS: One of the things that Jamon wrote in Slack that was interesting is: what are some common assumptions that clients bring to the process that have to be corrected?

TODD: I don’t know if there’s anything that’s common or consistent across clients. There are some things that come up. I would say, depending on the experience level of the client with software product development, we may have a little to a lot of teaching to do. And that’s one of the things we like to do is teach.

I find it particularly fun when our start-up clients are newer, they’re not on their series B or something. Because there is a lot of moments that you can help them and give them kind of golden information. Both from our personal experience running start-ups, but also we work with a lot of start-ups. So we’ve been through this before.

There are some misconceptions about software. Not necessarily from our clients, but from people who weren’t a good fit for us. For example, it’s very common in the world at large, to believe software is orders of magnitude cheaper than it really is. People also get very used to the quality that they see in apps like Facebook or Gmail, or these kind of things. And they think they can spend less than a car to get those things.

When you’re in our industry of course, that doesn’t seem super logical, but from their perspective it makes sense. An app costs nothing, or $1.99.

JAMON: Right.

TODD: Or $4.99, so of course something like that seems cheap. What they don’t know, of course, is Facebook has tens of thousands of employees.

JAMON: Yeah.

TODD: And even a smaller app, let’s not chose Facebook, which is huge. But like Instagram, for example. And not what it is now, but what it originally was, probably cost half a million to make.

JAMON: Yeah, I think I saw that they put $250,000 into their MVP originally. And it’s a very simple app when you look at it, compared to a lot of apps out there. I think that’s definitely something that, as Todd said, it’s not necessarily the clients who end up being good fits for us. But usually we get calls from everybody, all kinds of people.

KEN: Well, even those prices are reflective of just how far software has come in terms of developer productivity.

JAMON: Right.

KEN: Because half a million dollars doesn’t even get you a house in the Bay area. And the people building your house, most of them are being paid 20, 30, 40 dollars an hour and not $200 an hour, or $100 an hour. The Bay area is full of software engineers being paid $150,000 a year and up, many that are way higher than that. And you can still build software for half a million dollars, which is actually is pretty impressive when you think about that in terms of it’s inputs.

JAMON: Another interesting thing that the clients don’t necessarily realize when they come to us is the impact that the design process can have on their product. Usually you’re thinking of design as making it look pretty, making it look nice. But there’s a whole lot more that goes into that. The visual design aspect of design is usually, maybe, the last 30%, something like that. It’s not the bulk of the design work.

But there’s a lot of value that can be added there. You can avoid expensive mistakes during design by spending the time upfront to really learn as much as you can about your core customers and the features that are necessary. Because software is expensive, so you wanna build as little of it as possible until you really know the direction that you need to go.

TODD: Yeah, and I wanna be clear. You can make, for instance, a mobile app for $100,000 to $200,000. It’s not a half a million. But something that’s larger could be millions as well. Just wanna make that note on that price there.

JAMON: I think another misconception that some clients might have when they come into it, is they don’t understand necessarily all of the breadth of things that need to happen to make an app. We’ve had people come to us and want to build an app, but they don’t necessarily realize that they also need a server and they need some sort of cloud connectivity. They might need offline support. They might need access to certain APIs for GPS or whatever.

And beyond that, how to get through the app store. And how to get through Google Play. What is a compelling app store listing? What does that look like? You know, what screenshots are important?

And one of the most successful apps that I’ve ever been involved with, which is called A Dark Room by my friend Amir Rajan, he actually only has one screenshot on the app store, and it’s a very uninspiring one. But he has millions of downloads. It’s just, he hit it right on the head.

TODD: You know which store is incredibly hard to get through? IKEA. (laughter) Just saying.

KEN: It’s true.

TODD: We’ve mentioned before in this podcast, but it’s worth repeating, design is not how things look. Design is how things work. And through the very first part of our design process is product discovery. And that’s even before how things work. That’s what product is you want to make at all.

Since we work with a lot of start-ups, we also sometimes coach them, if they need it on coming up with a customer acquisition plan and a revenue plan, which their investors, prospective investors that they pitch to, will definitely ask them about, having pitched to them myself. So design is very important and it’s also one of the most difficult things that we mentioned in a previous podcast was getting from zero to one. Product discovery and design really help our clients get from zero to one.

JAMON: And they’re starting a business, you know, it’s not just building an app. They’re starting a business, or they’re continuing a business that they already have. And there’s a lot that goes into building a business for sure. I think that’s one of the things that, maybe some friends of mine who might message me and say, “hey Jamon, I’ve got this app idea, it’s a billion dollar idea.” (laughter) “Promise not to go off and rip me off. I wanna tell you it.”

And it’s fine, you know, the ideas are a very necessary part of this, they’re a spark. They’re really important. But the execution side of things involves designing and building the app, which we can do. We’re really great at it, we’ve done it a lot of times. But also, the business side of things.

There’s no one right answer to how to build a business. You can see that with many different business models. And that’s the tough part. Now, it can be very rewarding though, the whole journey and it’s been really fun to watch our clients build business models that are sustainable and come back as they grow, as they succeed, they find new opportunities and they come back to us and say, “hey Infinite Red, we need some new features. We need a new app. We need to rebuild the app for maybe a different purpose.” Those things are very fun to see.

TODD: Ken, you had a great thing about ideas, when people have an idea for a business. You’ve talked about a lot and I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

KEN: Oh, and how they’re not usually worth the paper that they’re written on. (laughter)

TODD: Yes.

KEN: Where this came from was that, like back in the days of the dotcom boom, when everybody and their brother had some amazing idea. I would be at a social dinner with somebody and they would be like, they’d whip out an NDA and be like, I wanna talk to you about this idea I have and I need you to sign this NDA. And I’m like, “No. I’m not gonna sign your NDA.”

Ideas, per se, are not worth very much. Right? A high level idea, per se, is not worth very much. Like my idea’s like, “hey, I have an amazing idea. What if you took a car, then you made it fly?” Right? And people will be like, “that’s an amazing idea.” Now, how are you actually gonna do that?

And so it’s kinda like, just because I have this amazing idea, “oh what if you made cars fly,” doesn’t mean that when somebody goes and actually makes cars fly that I have any right to that idea.

JAMON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KEN: Right? Because the high level idea by itself, although cool, doesn’t actually get you there. It’s the millions and millions of other good ideas that follow that, that really make something work.

Jamon, do you wanna tell the dating with music, I could tell you wanna tell the dating with music story.

JAMON: That’s exactly what I was gonna interject. So Derek Sivers, who founded CD Baby, he has a YouTube video, it’s very short. We can link to it in the show notes. Essentially it’s talking about ideas versus execution. And the general premise is sort of this, that he met with a friend of a friend, and they were having lunch. And this guy had this billion dollar idea. And he says, okay, what’s this great idea that you have? And the guy kind of leans over, very intense, and says, dating with music. (laughter)

And Derek’s like, is there anything else? (laughter) Is this … He’s like, no, dating with music dude. And it was … he’s like, okay, this idea is worth maybe the price of a lunch. Right? Like, the execution of it is the multiplier, you know, you can have a multiplier … a great idea, not execute it at all, is really not worth much.

A bad idea, executed really well is also not worth all that much. But a really good idea executed really well, is a multiplier that becomes your billion dollar idea. I don’t think it necessarily tells the whole story, you know, that particular anecdote because there’s also timing and other things like that.

KEN: Well and that idea isn’t even a multiplier idea. That’s like a hint at a maybe multiplier idea. Right?

JAMON: Yes.

TODD: He was just being nice to the guy.

KEN: He was being nice, right. So it’s kind of like, when I say there’s a chain of ideas, the first germ of the idea is the kind of idea that someone might get when high. Kind of like, “hey man, what if it was like dating, but with music. Yeah.” (laughter) Right? That’s exactly a high person’s idea.

I would almost bet money that that was a high idea. But anyway. The next thing is like, oh well you get people to put in their music that they like and we match people up. That’s starting to be an actual idea.

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: Right? That’s starting to be like, what’s the actual hook. And even that, there’s still, like well how does it work? What’s the UX? What’s the viral engine around that?

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: It’s not just programming. Like, we’re all programmers historically, so we’re gonna tend to see all of the stuff that’s gonna go behind that.

JAMON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KEN: Really, it’s the product development of design that, or really, what’s important. And a lot of the details that matter, are sometimes the ones that are not obviously to your competitors.

TODD: Almost always.

KEN: Almost always. So this idea that your super secret idea is gonna make everything work is, frankly, BS.

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: You have to keep having those good ideas over and over and over again. Every techy who’s been in Silicon Valley, or a similar environment, and around the sorts of people who have these sorts of ideas, every single one has a story of being approached by somebody who’s saying, “hey I’ve got this great idea. I’m gonna get you in on the ground floor with it. But I just need somebody to make it.”

JAMON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KEN: And we’ll split it 50/50. Young techies fall for this. Very quickly you learn, uh, no. You’d better have a lot more than that for that to be a 50/50 bargain.

TODD: I’m not even joking when I say that in San Francisco at least 50% of your Uber drivers will pitch an idea to you on your ride.

JAMON: We got pitched in an Uber, us three. We were in an Uber not that long ago and we got pitched on an idea.

And I think that it’s kind of interesting because the apps that do tend to be more successful that we’re involved with, they’re often not big ideas. They’re good ideas, they’re not like huge ideas. They’re existing companies that have a need that their customer base has kind of expressed, they can see it’s fairly obvious. And they come to us and they say, hey we need really good execution. And that’s what we’re good at.

They’ve identified the need. Have a lot of the infrastructure already in place. They already know how they’re gonna monetize it. They already know how it’s gonna impact their business. They just need a really great app. And that’s where we really plug in.

Now it has been kind of interesting to watch start-ups where they don’t have that in place and how they develop that. And where they go with that. It’s much more risky. A lot of them do fail.

And one of the things that I’ve heard from some of those clients sometimes is, “Jamon, why aren’t you so excited about my idea?” Now I’m not trying not to come across excited, I am excited about their idea. It’s just that I’ve seen so many of these where there’s certain other parts of the business that they lack.

From my standpoint, if I was in the business of picking winners and losers, I’d probably be doing my own start-up, right? But, honestly, there’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of variables. And not all of them are in your control.

So I think it’s been really cool to see the ones that do succeed. See how they piece it all together. I have a lot of respect for them, it’s a difficult thing, but it’s very rewarding. And then, of course, the companies that come in, like, we just started a project recently, this week actually I think. And they are an established company, they have a very big user base. A lot of people have heard of them, but they need a much better app. And they need a better app experience. And that’s really where you see the clients that really shine.

KEN: There may be a few people listening who are kind of mentally going like, “hmm, is that me?” What I would say is, if you think it’s you, it might be. (laughter) If you wanna know, like I wanna do this thing. And I don’t program and I’m not a designer, like, I don’t know how to make these things and I don’t really wanna be that person. If the idea isn’t what’s important, then what is important? What do I bring to the table that is gonna help me succeed and help a company like Infinite Red, or even just an individual programmer who I happen to find? What am I bringing to the table that will help beyond the big idea?

And there’s really two things. And they’re big ones. And you need at least one. And preferably two. And one is, access to capital. Not just building this, not just paying us to build this. But all the marketing and everything else. Right? You’re gonna need money. And you’re not gonna want to be in a position where when you run out, it just dies. You need to have a plan for that. That’s number one.

Number two, is access to audience. If you have one of those, in good form, then you can usually get the other one. Having both is ideal. But those are the two things, those are the things that the makers that you’re coming to work with, don’t necessarily have. And so, if you wanna know what you can be busting your hump to be doing right now, it’s getting those things.

And then, if you have those and you come to somebody with your big idea and you want them to turn it into something real, you actually have something to offer.

JAMON: One of the things that I think Ken and Todd bring to this conversation that I don’t necessarily bring to the conversation is I haven’t been on the other side. I’ve been a consultant for a very long time, so I see our side of it. But both Ken and Todd have worked for start-ups, probably who have used consultants. And seen the ones that have succeeded. Ken you worked at Yammer and there was an acquisition that Microsoft made there. And so it was a successful exit.

And then of course there are some other start-ups that you and Todd have worked at that failed. That’s something that I, maybe, don’t necessarily bring that perspective to. But the consultant’s side of it for sure, I see all kinds. I see all kinds of start-ups that rise and fall.

TODD: I hope no one takes this as a reason not to try, for sure. I would recommend to focus on your customer acquisition strategy and your revenue strategy. You have to remember Zappos when it came out, and if you’re not familiar with Zappos, it was a large company and eventually hired by Amazon, and they sell shoes.

KEN: Acquired, not hired.

TODD: Sorry, acquired, not hired. They sell shoes, which is probably the second oldest profession in the world. (laughter) So, obviously not a new idea. Hey, I have an idea, I’m gonna sell shoes. And you’re like, horse shoes? Space shoes? No, shoes, like you put on your feet.

But they had some innovation ideas inside there. Mainly extreme customer sport, and the big one was, buy five pair of shoes, send back four. Good ideas, but once again, there’s a series of little ideas, like how do we allow them to buy five pairs of shoes and send back four and still make money? There’s a hundred and fifty ideas in there, maybe a thousand ideas in there that matter.

So it’s hard to be an A-list actor, right? But if no one tried, we’d have none. So you can succeed. We get a lot of clients and sometimes their very obvious that they’ll see just because they have a lot of experience or they just really understand. But we have people who don’t know what they don’t know. And don’t know what they know yet, and that’s fine too. Those people may succeed also.

KEN: The number one problem that we see is under capitalization. Over capitalization can be a problem too, incidentally. If you raise too much money all at once then it can lead you to be too profligate. I’ve definitely seen that at start-ups.

JAMON: It’s way harder to say no.

KEN: Yeah, that’s a problem with venture capital backed companies that have just seen a bunch of interest all at once and then they have issues with that. But, under capitalization is definitely a much bigger problem because it means that every single decision you make, you’re terrified.

TODD: If your problem is over capitalization, please send an email to hello@infinite.red.

KEN: We can help you with that problem.

TODD: Today’s episode is brought to you by, too much money.

KEN: I’m actually being serious. (laughter) I mean, we’re joking. But I’m also serious. Like, we actually know how to make your money go farther.

JAMON: Yeah, and I agree with that. And we can also help with saying no. I think that that’s actually one of the things that’s probably surprising about working with us, is often we are pushing for not adding features.

TODD: This is sounding like a commercial this time.

KEN: Yeah, I’m sorry, but we’re not the only ones. I’m just saying that experienced people will tell you no. And you need that if you’ve got a lot of money.

JAMON: I think that’s an important port, you look at some consultants and their not necessarily pulling in that direction, but we want people to succeed ‘cause obviously that looks good on a portfolio. It’s a benefit to us.

One of the things we’ve always said, and we tell customers this, if we finish your project early, and don’t spend all of your money, I’m sure you’re gonna come up with more ideas. You know? It’s not like we’re gonna miss out. It’s never been the case.

If we finish a project early, the founders aren’t just pocketing the rest of the money and going home. What they’re gonna do is say, what about 1.1, let’s get on the schedule. Let’s move. There’s always something else. ‘Cause during the process of building an app you learn so much. And there’s always more ideas.

KEN: I’ve never seen a software project where at the end people were like, phew, I’m sure glad that everything that we could possibly think of was in that. (laughter) Like, that has never ever, ever, happened.

TODD: You never know. There was that app where you just said “Yo” to people. Yo.

JAMON: Yeah, didn’t they raise a whole bunch of money to add more stuff?

KEN: And what happened to that app?

TODD: I don’t wanna rant about VC. Some VC’s … not all. Some are great.

Another thing, going back to your original question Chris, which we’ve been talking a lot about, is, common things that customers or clients may not understand. Another one is just the pure complexity of software. It’s hard to understand because it’s not in the real world. You can’t hold it.

In your house, if you ever owned a house and had work done on the house, you’ll know that doing something in your living room is relatively cheap. Doing something in your bathroom is extremely expensive. Doing something in your kitchen is extremely expensive.

The reason why a tiny room like the bathroom is so much more expensive than a huge room, say like, your living room. Is because the bathroom has tons of different contraptions in it. Lots of different moving parts. Lots of different things can go wrong, from your sinks to your plumbing, fans, lighting, that kind of stuff. So the number of pieces matters a lot to cost.

Because software is virtual and because we can fairly easily throw on pieces. Software tends to be an order of magnitude, or more, complex than any other physical machine. A bathroom, even a car engine, is less complex than software is.

KEN: It’s compensated for somewhat by the fact that our tools are also more powerful.

TODD: Yes.

KEN: I mean, there’s countervailing things there, but your point about the complexity is right. If you run out of lot when you’re building a house, then your contractor says, hey we can’t build there, your lot ends there.

There’s no such constraints for software and that makes it easy for things to get kind of hairy.

TODD: If you completely disregard our part in the complexity, meaning we have to build all the moving pieces and test them and make sure that they coordinate together. Even disregarding that, sometimes people are shocked at how much they have to think about, and they’re not building it all.

If you just said, I wanna login screen, for example. Every app has that. That’s simple. Right? The number of questions that you could be asked by someone like us, to someone who’s less experienced will be shocking. And they won’t have the answers to it. And each one could be thought of.

Now of course we always give people common things that they should do, or whatever. But if you were to really think through the whole thing, just that one screen is way more complex than anyone imagines.

JAMON: Recognizing our experience, the fact that we’ve done hundreds of apps and encountered so many different scenarios, I think is important for working with a company like ours. I think back, in prior years, there have been some projects that haven’t gone as well. And one of the common traits of those projects is that the person I’m working with, they feel like they kind of know it all, because they do have a pretty big picture of it, and they want to put their vision down into software.

It often comes with blind spots of, what are you missing here? So having a high degree of trust and communication between the two parties is one of the hallmarks of a successful project. We certainly respect what the founders bring because they have the vision, a lot of the times they have a much closer relationship with their potential users than we do.

KEN: Absolutely.

JAMON: We’re not trying to impose our view of what that might be. But we can often bring things, like Todd was saying about the login screen. Like, you didn’t think of this aspect like what happens if you forget your password, or if you don’t have access to your email or something.

TODD: Or you’re on a plane, or Facebook changed the rules and half the users can’t login. That kind of stuff.

JAMON: Exactly.

TODD: Another thing too, is we sometimes experience this when we get designs outside of our company. Now, a lot of designers are great, but they’re never have been trained in, or have experience in software design. Our designers are classically trained designers. They can do all the normal things people think of designs, but they chose to specialize in software and website design.

So, sometimes when we get an outside design, we never used to do this, but we kind of now require it. The bare minimum is we’ll do a half week of design review. And we did one recently. And from a cursory look at their design, it looked like they had everything. Looked good, seemed to make sense. The design looked fine.

But after a half week of a couple of our designers reviewing it, they went through in great detail and produced a map of the whole app and how everything interacts with each other. And the flows and the different actors, different type of users. That kind of stuff.

JAMON: There were dozens of screens, right Todd? Like dozens.

TODD: There were a lot of screens, and probably half of them weren’t in the original design at all.

JAMON: It was striking ‘cause you could see the outline of the screen, it was empty and there’s a title of whatever that screen was supposed to be.

TODD: So that’s an example of, even at the design part, where you have to factor in all these different scenarios that you may not have thought about. And how the user would experience it if those scenarios happen. And also make a business decision whether or not you’re gonna address some of those scenarios. Sometimes you don’t because it’s a very small minority of your users, edge case as we call it. And it’s just not worth … the ROI and something like that would be poor.

So that’s something too, where it’s just half the app is really missing.

JAMON: And that’s where, I think having that high degree of trust is really important because then our spidery senses are saying, hey, there’s something missing here. Let’s spend the time up front, I know you wanna get started right now, but let’s spend the time up front to map this out and see if everything is here.

CHRIS: I’m actually curious when someone comes to you with an idea, how do you know when to start challenging the idea? And when to write the idea off?

KEN: I wouldn’t say that there’s very many ideas that we would write off. Because lord knows if we knew which ideas were going to succeed in this business, we would be billionaires already. And frankly, the people who are billionaires don’t even necessarily know. There is a healthy degree of luck in terms of like, who ends up on which gravy train.

But, that said, there’s always gonna be a variety of factors that go into whether something is successful. Some of them are universal. And some of them are highly specific. And it’s a little bit of a judgment call on which is which, however. We think that things like software quality and good UX, these sorts of things, are basically universal. Like that humans are humans.

In those regards, we are going to push for what we think is right. When it comes to the intimate understanding of the customer, the end customer, right, the people that these start-ups are trying to attract. That’s where we defer to them. We’re always looking for clients who clearly have that intimate understanding of their customer.

And this sort of leads into another point, which is that, someone on their team, whether it’s the founder, if they’re the only ones. Or someone on their team, had better really have that intimate knowledge. And they’re gonna have a full time job working with us. Basically.

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: Right? And that’s also something that I think people have not understood. It’s kinda like, hey, here you go make the software and I will dip in periodically.

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: Uh-uh (negative). No. Yeah, you gotta be really committed because you’re the one who really understands that like, so we’re gonna be working with you to go after this. And we need you, obviously.

JAMON: Yeah.

KEN: Not just to write the checks, but also to tell us who this person is and what they’re really gonna need. And sometimes our idea of a universal solution won’t work for something specific. But that tension is really important. We’re always fighting for those sort of universal values, but we’re also listening to hear what specific values are and the ways that they might override universal value.

TODD: Yeah, and there’s not one right answer and one right design to solve any particular problem. I would pile on with Ken, the people coming to us, the founders or the department heads or whomever they are, coming to us. They really wanna understand the end user and be able to articulate that to us. And over time we learn them too.

And some industries have very strong cultures that you have to be within, and if you don’t speak that cultural language it instantly turns off those people. It’s not just culture, but for example, we did a project for a company called PRO-TREAD, which does training for truckers. I don’t know if they’re the largest, but if they’re not, they’re probably closest to the largest in the country.

And this traditionally was done if you had a trucking company, you would set up computers in the corner and then when that driver was by their home base, they would sit at that boring computer and do the forced training that they’re required to do by law.

Not fun. No one wants to do it. The people at the company don’t wanna pay for it. Truck drivers don’t wanna do it. Of course it does increase safety and stuff, so it’s important to do, but it’s just human nature not wanna do something that’s, you know.

JAMON: And I believe, Todd, that PRO-TREAD was one of the first to even computerize it. Before that is was paper tests and in classrooms. So they were kind of moving that direction already. Now this was another iteration of their platform.

TODD: Correct. And this is a great example of an idea because it’s simple, everyone understands it and it’s obvious. Truck drivers spend a lot of time in the sleeper cabs of their trucks. At truck stops and whatnot on the side of the road and stuff. So, obviously making the training mobile was important because the training materials being on a tablet or an iPad was important. Making it not so painful for the person, so that it’s not … If you’re the manager telling the drivers that they have to take this testing, getting 50% less push back because it’s not as painful is a big deal to you.

And also, they do need to not just get through the training material, they do need to understand it and internalize it. It actually does help, even though no one wants to do it. So the basic requirements was, it has to be mobile, it has to work inside of a sleeper cab on the side of I-80. And it still needs to maintain their already high level of guaranteeing that people actually pick up the information, and they had a variety of ways to make sure that happened. And also, be more engaging and not as painful. That was the directive to our designers.

JAMON: I believe that when they first came to us they sort of envisioned the app looking basically like their web version and no real changes other than that. And we talked to them, this was a situation where we had a great rapport with the owner of PRO-TREAD and we’re able to talk with him and explain where design could really add a lot of value to a touch interface.

TODD: Yeah, so we actually did re-design it, not just to make it more mobile appropriate, let’s say. But to really push those goals they had. Now, designers and us and them now understood the goals. I just stated them. Fairly straight forward, the goals.

However, we can take those goals and we can design to those goals for sure, but we probably don’t know truck drivers as well as our client PRO-TREAD does. So them having been in this industry for a very long time, really understood the nuances that would make meeting these goals through design possible. Having them really understand their users, having us really understand how to solve problems. Us having the problems be both simple, straightforward and well defined, that was a successful project and although maybe not as exciting as Uber for gerbils. Because gerbils have to get around too, and no one likes to walk.

JAMON: Well gerbils do, actually, don’t they?

TODD: They kind of do, yeah. And they like tubes. So maybe be like Elon Musk’s …

JAMON: Hyper loop.

TODD: The hyper loop for gerbils.

JAMON: For gerbils.

TODD: Yeah, so that’s a very exciting, so if we had a client came and said we want a hyper loop for gerbils and we respond, “of course. Who doesn’t?” But it’s just funny, but teaching truck drivers important lessons is more fulfilling when you know, when it rolls out, there’s gonna be tons of men and women out there on the road having a slightly less painful day because of something worked on. And probably saving some lives. It’s not as sexy, but it is very satisfying in my opinion.

JAMON: Yeah, I totally agree. I actually have five uncles who are truck drivers. Very strong truck driving kind of familial influence. And maybe one or two of them might actually listen to my podcast here. So, hi uncles. (laughter)

But what I think is kind of cool about this is I do know truck drivers. I didn’t get a chance to work on that project myself, but there’s totally a personal connection there. I understand what they go through and the types of things that they care about.

TODD: I only have one brother and he owns a shipping company and he has lots of truck drivers, so I’m going to trump your four uncles. (laughter)

JAMON: Let’s have them fight. They’re all six foot four.

TODD: Although in the past he did drive, so, but anyways. Yeah. Ken, how about you buddy?

JAMON: Any truck drivers there at Harvard?

TODD: Aww, pick on the Harvard kid.

KEN: No, I don’t know any truck drivers. (laughter) You got me.

TODD: Today, brought to you buy Captain Obvious. You can cut that, that was a bad joke.