On Thursday, Ravenswood-based Timelines Inc. will launch its second iPhone app. Since 2007, CEO Bob Armour and co-founder Brian Hand have been creating and running a series of web services founded on the throughline of sharing media in some form or another. There's LifeSnapz, for families to record and share their histories, and today comes the birth of Photogram -- an app that lets users share photos through Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter simultaneously.
Since everyone and their kid brother is getting into the iOS biz, I gave Armour and Hand a call to discuss how they plan to get it noticed and the challenges in seeking approval for Apple's App Store.
Congratulations on launching an iPhone app. But this isn't your first app, right?
Brian Hand: The first iPhone app we launched sort of as a practice run to get a feel for the process and timing and everything. It was an app called Disaster Of The Day, and it's basically all the 800 or so disasters that exist on timelines.com and taking that content and putting it into an app. It was a precursor and a way to get our feet wet in doing the process.
Bob Armour: It was a wagon compared to a Maserati.
BH: This one is just a lot more complicated.
So what are you doing differently this time around?
BH: Well it was a very significant change we made as a business. Our first three services we had are all web-based. Photogram is a mobile-app oriented business. The whole model is very very different.
What were some of the challenges you had in dealing with Apple and the App Store? Were they the same both times around?
BH: Unlike the web, in an app business, if you're serious about it being a business, you have to get your first iteration rate. It's not like the web where you can get something out super fast, iterate. The people who come to visit today are different from the ones tomorrow, so there's less of a commitment of those visitors to your site. An app on the other hand is a much bigger commitment by a person. They put it on their phone and it becomes part of the functionality of the phone. The old expression that you only get one chance to make a first impression is much more heavy for an app than for a website. That was one lesson we took to heart.
BA: In dealing with Apple, it's been their process, it's pretty well defined. They manage it well. They turn stuff around pretty quickly from when we submit it for review. When they checked it out we've been very fortunate that we've had a couple meetings with the person that runs the section of the App Store where Photogram will be. She has provided us with exceptional guidance in terms of what to produce, features to produce, aspects of design. They've been wonderful in that regard. They're a top-notch retailer, and we're excited to be in their store. We're hoping to be featured.
For a process that occasionally gets knocked in the press, it's pretty defined and for the most part pretty transparent. The toolkits they have for the developers are good. I think it's been a great process.
I've always read Apple doesn't give a lot of specific feedback if your app needs revisions. Is that not the case anymore?
BA: We were a special case in that the PR firm we were working with was very instrumental in helping us get to the person who could help us with that. We also demonstrated a level of seriousness that Apple wanted to partner with. Apple wants to showcase developers who are different and special.
You mentioned wanting to get that featured placement spot for Photogram. If you don't get that for whatever reason, what other tactics will you use to get noticed?
BH: We're doing a ton of other things. Really aggressively reaching out to people in our personal networks, journalists, everyone we know who has some influences out there. Facebook, Twitter, all social media. We've also got a guerilla tactic we're launching in early September. Patrick Skoff, this local artist, does these scavenger hunts. He paints something, and then he'll hide it somewhere in public. Anybody can get access to it, and he'll tweet out where it is, and anyone who finds it first gets to keep it. He's been doing this for a couple years. He's been on the local news. Anyway he bought a van and turned it into a mobile art studio. He's got a partner, Sam Brown, and the two of them are gonna take their scavenger hunt national and Photogram is going to be their sponsor.
BA: It's a throwback concept. We have other artists involved too with themes for the app, and are hoping in time their networks will help drive Photogram over time. Finally, with the actual product itself, within every Photogram that gets delivered via e-mail and the web page that gets created there's a call to action that explains what it is and points a potential downloader to where they can download it. We're hoping the recipients will send it along to their friends and it continues on that way.