Farewell Flare

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Reflecting on next steps.

After working on Flare for the last 2 years, we’re shutting it down. I hold my head up high knowing that I worked with an awesome team, and I tried my best in an extremely tough space. I want to thank my comrades, my co-founders, my mentors, our investors, Expa and all the Flare users for giving me the chance to build this. I also want to thank Annie, my family, and all my friends for being so supportive of this dream.

This has been the most humbling experience of my life. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and I wanted to pay it forward by sharing the insights. I’ll be posting a little more over the next few days, so stay tuned.

One Night in Seattle

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Photo of the hotel room I stayed at in Seattle.

Last week I flew to Seattle to hang out with some folks at Convoy. They were nice enough to fly me out there and put me in a nice hotel for the evening.

I’ve been sleeping on a janky bed for so long now, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have nice sheets, pillows and what not. Yes, I can probably afford to get nicer things, but it’s hard to spend the money when you don’t know where you’ll be in the next year. It’s also nice to live minimal… but there’s an ironic price to owning less.

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View from the hotel room.

The room was super comfortable and had a baller view of the city. I’d like to thank Nicole from Convoy for hooking me up and saving some money. This was awesome.

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View from Convoy’s office.

As I talked to Dan Lewis from Convoy’s headquarters, he pointed out the view of all the new Amazon buildings in the area. And yes, that is one really progressive rain forest green house.

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Another view from the opposite side of the office.

Notice the mountains off in the distance. Call me a sucker for landscapes, but I absolutely love the scenery. Despite it being balls cold, I think Seattle is a pretty nice city. I’m hoping to head up there again for a vacation in the near future (when it gets a little warmer).

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Photo of Amazon Go, while in an Uber heading to the airport.

Holy shit, I thought that Amazon Go was just smoke and mirrors… but they’re actually building one next to the Amazon headquarters in Seattle. I’m a huge believer this is going to be a game changer on so many levels. What a fascinating company.

Anyway, I think there’s some interesting stuff brewing in Seattle.

VR Developer Stories: Snowday

This is the story of Snowday, a VR game created in SF.

Joe and I did some research around VR and decided that we wanted to put together a series of videos that highlighted VR developers in the community. We interviewed Shem Nguyen and Jeremy Bernstein (co-founders of Snowday) to share their perspectives about trends in VR, Unity vs Unreal, and their greatest challenges building a game with limited resources.

I’m really thrilled to have put this together in my spare time. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that trying to build a game in a space that has a small (albeit engaged) audience–and that’s friggin’ challenging. It’s hard enough to create a compelling game, and it’s even more challenging to try and make money off an early marketplace.

I think Shem and Jeremy are real passionate technologists and artists, and I truly admire their story. I’m rooting for them. It takes real visionaries to be an indie developer, and this team is glowing with passion. Download Snowday from Steam.

I’m hoping that Joe and I can find a small niché and create some content to promote the VR community. It’s also a good way for me to sharpen my story telling skills. Let me know if you want to see more videos like this.

Sunset from the Office

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Photo of the sky from the office. Shot on an iPhone 7 Plus.

Wow, what an amazing sunset. While San Francisco needed the rain this week, it’s definitely nice to see the sun through all the clouds.

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Another photo from the office.

5 Minutes with the Snapchat Spectacles

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Photo of Rudy wearing Spectacles for the first time.

I’d like to share some initial impressions. I’d also like to touch on and some challenges ahead of Snap and their new Spectacles.

As you may know, I designed an app similar to Snapchat (called Flare). While the app I created never took off, I had a chance to talk to hundreds of people, and observe the behavior of thousands of people and I’ve developed a perspective about the space.

Daily Usage = Daily Habits

Word on the street is that Snapchat has had some insane DAU/MAU (the ration between daily active users over monthly active users), upwards of 70% in their most prime growth.

To truly appreciate Snapchat and their retention, you really have to ask “how they created such a pattern of daily habits to hook their users”. There’s definitely a science to how Snapchat created habits through ephermal photos and 24 hour stories, but there’s something different about Spectacles.

The first thing you notice when you use the Spectacles is that it’s doesn’t feel like something you can use every day. The fact that they’re sunglasses makes it difficult to use when you’re indoors or at night, unless you’re Casey Neistat.

The second issue is that the process of uploading is slow and somewhat clumsy. This is a substantial amount of friction that punishes users for using Spectacles. Instead of rewarding the user for posting more, there is a negative feedback loop where the user has to wait. Just to give you an idea of how important performance is, I used to benchmark Snapchat’s camera launch versus our product. On average, Snapchat launched in about 3 seconds on an iPhone 6 plus. As you know, seconds add up. When talking to high school students, there was a girl that proudly admitted that she launched Snapchat at least 200 times a day. If you do the math, she had to wait at least 10 minutes a day for snapchat to load. If you multiplied that by a year, she spends 60.83 hours a year for Snapchat to load.

While the upload performance of Spectacles will inevitably improve, it’s still friction. All those seconds add up, at it really makes me question whether people will develop a habit around Spectacles.

I wonder if there’s enough dopamine generated when users snap with this accessory. Without instant gratification, I question whether users will naturally use Spectacles as their first choice camera (versus using a smart phone). And even if they use the Spectacles first, they still have to transfer files.

If the Spectacles could auto upload without a phone, I think they’re on their way to becoming an awesome camera that reduces friction across the board.

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Spectacles oversized charging case.

Light + Small = Portable

While the Spectacles are delightfully light, the case (that doubles as a charger) is unreasonably large, heavy, and not very sexy. For $130, they’ve created an incredible amount of value, but for some reason, there’s a lot left to be desired. The case won’t fit in your pocket–I mean, this thing is the size of a giant f’n burrito. Let’s just say you’d have to be pretty damn determined to carry this case inside your purse or pocket. While it probably offers an amazing amount of protection, it’s just comedically oversized.

I like that the case doubles as a charger, but it’s just not portable… and I think that is a mistake. Even the magnetic charging cable that comes with it is a little clumsy. Sorry to be so negative, but it lacks the minimalist ethos that I expect from all Snap products. It doesn’t feel very Snapchat, you know?

For me, a winning Spectacles case would be something 50% slimmer, lighter, and not a triangular burrito shape.

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Hooman showing me how to upload photos to Snapchat.

Previews + Control = Posting

People are self conscious about posting things. When I designed Flare and Bunch, I can tell you that users need to see previews. Without previews, users don’t know what they’re sharing to the rest of the world. All it takes is one bad post to tarnish their reputation or cause a huge embarrassment. While a preview adds another step to the posting process, it psychologically helps the user build confidence because they have control before posting. This, in turn, reduces friction in the long run. Users build trust with a product, building a positive feedback loop.

The Spectacles act more like a Go Pro versus a Snapchat product. I definitely think that there’s a market for this kind of product, but I suspect that Snapchat users will have to develop a new habit if they’re naturally self conscious.

And let me be clear, Snapchat is not all about posting anything and everything. Users on Snapchat actually curate their own stories, strategically posting what they want people to see. After talking to hundreds of Snapchat users, posting too often is considered bad etiquette, making a user feel needy or spammy. While Snapchat encourages people to post more, most people will only share a certain number of photos in their story. I’m not sure if the Spectacles will be able to override old habits or rewrite the rules of the game. Will it be okay to post 30 videos using Spectacles? Probably not.

Snapchat = Selfies

I think Snap knows that they’re the king of selfies… and perhaps they may be a victim of their own success. Yep, users love the lenses (ie. the doggie selfie). Spectacles will generate new content. While it can be formatted vertically and horizontally, I think the outward facing camera is interesting. I wonder if Snapchat has too much selfie content. One has to ask what are the long term effects of users consuming too many photos of selfies?

The fact that Snap is investing in a outward facing camera tells me that they want more content that’s more interesting for other people to watch.

And if I speculate, once Spectacles can miniaturize the Hololens experience, Snap will be the player to beat in augmented reality. The potential of creating a mixed reality experience in their Spectacles is something that I am personally really excited about. I just hope that this is just a first gen stepping stone that’ll get them there.

And if don’t think it’s going to happen, check out the latest description of their company:

Snap Inc. is a camera company.
We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.
Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.

Snap is maturing, growing into larger shoes, and reaching a larger audience. To continue their growth, their brand is changing. They’re entering the hardware game and it’s focused on outward facing content. This is extremely bold, and I applaud them for taking a new direction. As they create a new ecosystem of content and users, it’ll be fascinating to see which adventure they choose.

Anyway, I think Spectacles are cool, but they’re not for everyone. Right now, the only people that have them are investors. I’d be curious to borrow Hooman’s Spectacles for a week and get Annie’s sisters to play with it and do a real world stress test.

Shit, my MacBook fell off my bike.

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Photo of my Macbook after it fell off my bike.

Shit. On my bike ride home tonight, my bag fell off my rack after I hit a really hard bump on the road. Somehow the bag (which is connected to my rear bike rack), unlocked itself, causing it to fall off while I was riding at around 20mph. When I turned around, I noticed that my bag was missing off my bike, and I road back.

Some guy, in his car was staring at my bag (as if he was going to take it). I swear, some people are assholes here. Had I left it there for another 30 seconds, I think he would have swindled it.

Anyway, the laptop was in a protective sleeve, but it didn’t provide enough protection against the asphalt. I have a huge dent on the corner of the MacBook, and part of the screen is cracked now. This totally sucks because I love this machine and it has been my work horse for the last year and a half.

*sigh*

Now I’m going to have to figure out what to do. I think I’ll have to buy a harddrive to back everything up–I’m glad that I didn’t lose everything on there. Second, I’m going to have to see if I can get it replaced, or at a minimum, sell it off and try to recoup some money to buy a new machine.

Right now I’m blogging from my old broken MacBook Air from 2010. Maybe I should sell this one off too and just put it all towards something new. Or maybe I shouldn’t buy any more computers for a while and just stick to using my iPhone. Lol.

Anyway, I’m really bummed b/c I really took care of that thing… and my stupid bag had to fall off. Thankfully, I didn’t have my camera in there as well. I think in the future, I’m going to keep anything valuable in a book bag instead. I have so little in my life (in terms of material objects)… so it really hurts when I break a tool that I use every day. *grumble*

Okay, that’s enough moping for now. I’ve gotta consult with my team and get their advice.