Modern Products

Nov 05

Soluto’s acquisition, thoughts, and where I am today

I published this on my Facebook account yesterday:

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Last week was a very important week for me (in case you haven’t heard - it has been announced that Soluto is being acquired)


Most people don’t know that I’m actually not part of Soluto anymore for a few months now. I’m naturally still involved with everything that’s going on, and have great friends on the team, but I moved on.

I joined Soluto exactly 4 years ago. I knew the company from its inception (a year earlier) through my high-school buddy Ishay Green but in late 2009 an opportunity presented itself. The young startup recruited a successful entrepreneur as the CEO, a relatively unknown guy named Naftali Bennett. To be honest, since I didn’t know Tomer (Soluto’s co-founder) at the time, Naftali was the reason I joined. I wanted a mentor of his stature, someone I could learn from. A month after I joined, Naftali got an offer to be the CEO of the Yesha Council. Tomer retook his original position as CEO and was left with the keys to the spaceship. I joined for mentorship but found myself, together with Tomer, having to deal with the real world - alone. Gladly, Tomer proved himself as one of the best CEOs I could hope for, and gladly - we kicked ass. We released a first product, won TechCrunch Disrupt, got millions of users and amazing positive press, and the rest is history.

Lots of struggles, lots of wins, lots of difficulties, lots of fun, lots of friends, and two amazing girls born on the way 

In the middle of last year as Tuly (my wife) was approaching the end of her PhD in neural computation (she’s the smart one in the family…) it was clear we would need to relocate for her postdoc studies. Tomer was amazing in letting me take this family decision and helped me build a position that’ll keep me part of Soluto in NYC (and I should mention our investors Adam Fisher and Saul Klein who backed us up on this non-trivial process). We decided I would focus on marketing & business development instead of technology & product management.

It started well but after a few months I found myself not enjoying my work, and frankly not excelling in it. I’ve had my share of marketing successes, and I do enjoy doing marketing, but at the end of the day I’m an engineer at heart, and what drives me is technology invention and product management. Tomer and I had long chats and eventually decided that the best thing to do is part ways.

In parallel, an amazing opportunity presented itself. I was introduced to a guy named Adam Neumann, the founder and CEO of a company called WeWork, that many know as a co-working space for start-ups in NYC. I thought it was a real estate company. As I got to know Adam and WeWork I was blown away by their growth, but even more so by the sheer love their customers have for them. It was clear that technology can play a huge role in the company’s explosive growth. So when Adam offered me to join as Chief Product Officer and lead the company’s technology a few months ago I said yes.

So today I’m very happy. Soluto’s huge win fills me with pride. I’m proud of building a product that’s worthy of being acquired by one of the most awesome companies in the world who plans to offer it to 230M people. I’m proud of recruiting an amazing team who will build the Soluto service into THE world leader in its field (yes I’m talking about you- Merav Moskovich,Ofer PadanEinat Kovenski and Jess Swiatlo). I’m proud of my partner in crime and one of my closest friends for 15 years now (god we’re old) - Omri Haim, Soluto’s VP R&D, the balancing force in my Soluto life. I cannot mention all the names but I’m proud of each and every Soluto employee. I do have to mention my veteran friend Omer “Beki” Baki, Soluto’s first employee, Boaz Shetzer, my Natanya friend and management compadre, and of course Doron Bashan who makes all of this actually work. Last but not least I’m so proud of Tomer Dvir, my psychopathic boss for the past 4 years, one of the best CEOs I’ve ever known, who I learned so much from, who I had so much fun with, who made this journey unforgettable.

As I wasn’t part of the company when it was acquired, I was naturally not included in the company photo that was published in the newspapers. So I took the liberty of photoshopping myself in. Eh who am I kidding, I wish I knew how to photoshop stuff. I used PowerPoint, the tool of real winners. 

Have a great day 

Cheers,
Roee

Apr 11

Products should work for you, not the other way around (and a horrible Outlook example)

When building software, you often encounter a case where you expected user input in some form, but it arrives at another. Excellent products do not reach such situations because they know what to expect from their users. Generally speaking, the situation of receiving “bad” input can be divided to two cases:

  1. You just don’t know how to figure the input out
  2. You know exactly how to figure the input out, because you know of a specific user behavior that leads them to behave differently from what you want them to do, but you insist on your own way

Number 2 is bad. This week I encountered one of the worst examples of this scenario, in one of the most baked products in the world: Microsoft Outlook (of which I’m a fan, by the way). 

I input a bunch of email addresses separated by commas, and got this dialog:

I was so pissed off at that. So Outlook doesn’t accept my input, but also has the nerve to tell me it knows what I input, and *literally* asks me to go and do some work that will take me time, but could be solved programatically in a trivial manner. Modern products don’t do such things anymore. In case I didn’t mention it yet - I got pissed off.

The lesson here is simple: if you know of a user behavior that leads users to generate input you’re not adjusted to - just adjust yourself. Be good to your users and work for them. Not the other way around. 

Dec 29

Our service is down because Microsoft Azure is down. This is how we chose to react.

Running a cloud service surely has its challenges, but I believe it’s the future of consumer products and most technology in general. We (Soluto) rely our service on Microsoft Azure, which we chose as our scalable big data platform because we could build stuff really fast on top of it using our favorite tool: Visual Studio. We now run on hundreds of machines and deal with close to 100M data transactions per day from which we extract quick fascinating insights for our users, which is fun and cool.

For over 24 hours now, we’re down. It’s horrible. Seeing Google Real-Time Analytics show this image is.. well… heart breaking at best, and murderous-thoughts-invoking at worst.  

But every cloud provider has its glitches, and to be frank, every software or hardware company ever has had its glitches. We know people are working hard and around the clock to fix this failure, so instead of complaining, we decided to send our community to transmit positive karma in the direction of the people spending their weekend restoring the service instead of with their families. Who knows- maybe it’ll speed the restoration process :)

Here’s the post we published on our Facebook page

Hi all, sadly Windows Azure is still down which means we’re still down. Here’s how you can help: go to Windows Azure and write on their wall that you love them and appreciate the fact they’ve got people working hard around the clock during the weekend in the holiday season to restore our service. Wish them luck and send positive karma their way :)

What do you think? Would you act differently?

image

Dec 23

I’m selling my PC museum!

I love tech. Throughout the years I’ve surrounded myself with old tech memorabilia that has some significance in the history of computing, or to me personally. But now, as I plan my move to NYC to open Soluto’s US office, I need to cut down on my stuff. The apartments are much smaller in Manhattan… 

So with a heavy heart, I’m selling my PC museum.

I’m using this post as a homage to the stuff I collected over the years, and also as a landing page for potential buyers :)

Note: as far as I know, non of these actually work. Maybe they can be fixed somehow, but they’re sold as non-working machines. 

So here’s what I’ve got so far:

Apple PowerBook 180

Apple PowerBook 180

My favorite piece in the collection. Released in 1992 by Apple, one of the first laptops with a space to put your palms (see other laptops below- no such space). Perfect external condition.

Zenith 171 aka “Lunchbox”

Zenith 171 aka "Lunchbox"

Released in 1985, this not-so-lightweight portable computer is really awesome. I love the lunchbox branding, although weight-wise it’s like a lunchbox full of bricks. Beautiful piece. 

Commodore 16

Commodore 16

Released in 1984, this is the successor of Commodore 64 (and not the other way around, like I thought when I purchased it). It comes with a tape, lots of documentation and tons of games. 

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K

Released in 1982, the Specrum is a childhood PC for many Israelis. Originating in the UK, it was more popular in Europe then in the US. 

Macintosh SE

Macintosh SE

Released in 1987, the Macintosh SE had the same case as the original Macintosh. Comes with keyboard (no wire), lots of documentation and some extras. 

Apple PowerBook Duo 230

Apple PowerBook Duo 230

Released in 1992, the PowerBook Duo series were probably the first Netbooks. They were smaller, lighter, and weren’t very successful. But- they left behind some beautiful items. 

V-Tech Precomputer 1000

V-Tech Precomputer 1000

This is a truly remarkable piece. Why? Because it’s a PC aimed for children, to teach them the Basic programming language, released in 1988. Back in the day, some people thought children must learn programming languages. And not because it’s a solid profession, but because that’s how you “speak” to computers- through programming languages. And since in the future there’ll be computers everywhere, children must learn how to speak their language. Then came along companies like Microsoft and Apple that built operating systems - those things that are the foundation for the translation between humans and computers. Beautiful piece. Read another related story here.

Casio Cassiopeia A-11

Casio Cassiopeia A-11

One of the first Windows CE PDAs, running Windows CE 1.0. Comes with a.. wait for it.. Modem! And the first in the Cassiopeia series.

Packard Bell Statesman

Packard Bell Statesman

486 processor, 200MB of HD space, 4MB of RAM - a true beast. Notice no space for the palms, shows very early laptop design concept.

Sharp PC-4600

Sharp PC-4600

Released in 1987, with a 8088 processor and 40MB of HD, this is a beautiful laptop (although from its weight you would never guess it’s supposed to be portable). And it has a built in carrying handle, kinda like the next item, only much less elegant… —>

Apple Newton eMate 300

Apple Newton eMate 300

A beautiful device, although it’s one of Apple’s flops everyone loves to forget. It existed for less then a year on the market, starting March 1997, and it was supposed to be a cheap laptop replacement running the Newton operating system (and if you don’t know Newton then you’re not a real tech geek). 

Tandy 1400HD

Tandy 1400HD

Last but not least - my white whale, the beautiful Tandy 1400HD. If you’re interested in the history of personal computing, I recommend you read about Tandy - the leather shop that acquired RadioShack (!) in the 1960s…

Well, that’s about it. I have a bunch more old PDAs but those I can carry with me abroad…

If you’re interested in any of those devices, ping me at roee@soluto.com. One thing though - local pick-up from Tel-Aviv only :)

Is this horrible button placement or am I missing something?

Skype was misbehaving on my PC, so I uninstalled it and went to Skype.com to download and install it again. It’s Skype, possibly the most popular downloadable software in the world, right? So I didn’t think it’ll take me more than 200 milliseconds to find the desired “Download” button. 

But it did. Here’s the Skype homepage I saw.

Granted, I don’t have their data, and I don’t even know their goals being part of Microsoft now. But my experience tells me that if their goal was to make Skype accessible to many consumers visiting from a Windows PC, their placement of “Get Skype” (second option on the left in the blue toolbar) or “Join Skype” (white button on top right) is not ideal. 

Am I missing something?

Nov 26

Good luck Julie Larson-Green

I’ve been following Microsoft for a while now, fascinated by the disconnect between the huge amounts of money they make, the huge amount of people they effect, and on the other hand the reduction in what marketers would call “brand value”. In other words, while for every Mac in the world there are 10 PCs, in some places around the world it seems PCs just don’t exist.

A couple of weeks back Steven Sinofsky, the guy who ran Windows stepped down and was replaced with Julie Larson-Green. I don’t know either of them in person, but I had a chance of following both of them in the past years. I always thought of Sinofsky as a tough manager with very aggressive beliefs, thinking business-first. Larson-Green on the other strikes me as thinking user-first. 

I got a chance to meet both of them in February in Barcelona, when the first customer preview of Windows 8 was shipped. We (Soluto) were invited to this very small event as one of the first 70 apps ever in the Windows Store.  

Here’s me with Sinofsky (when I pulled an iPhone to take that picture he was like “an iPhone? Really??” - but it felt in good humor…)

Roee Adler of Soluto and Steven Sinofsky

And here’s a picture I took with Julie Larson-Green and Antoine Leblond, a very cool and funny Microsoft SVP

Roee Adler of Soluto and Antoine Leblond and Julie Larson-Green

I’d like to wish Julie Larson-Green good luck in her new position. Regardless of your opinion on Microsoft, it is a beast with tons of cash and tons of excellent people. I’m sure they’ve got more interesting stuff up their sleeves, or at least I hope so. An Apple-only world will be very boring. 

Nov 18

The hazards of working for an Israeli startup

I was driving to work when the sirens started. This is how Israel’s Road No 1, aka “Jerusalem - Tel Aviv Road” looked when everyone stepped out of their cars to take shelter:

This is me, taking shelter behind my car (give me a break, the sun was in my eyes):

And then I saw two amazing Iron Dome rockets fly up from right next to me, intercepting two rockets on their way to Tel Aviv. Advanced tech to the rescue!

Then I proceeded to work, just another day in an Israeli start-up. Fucking war.

Sep 19

Is boot time still an issue?

One of the things we do well at Soluto is enable people to understand what runs in their boot, what’s required and what’s not, and allow them to speed boot time. I’m often asked why this matters, because it seems today no one reboots their PC, they put them to sleep. I know I don’t - I reboot my laptop maybe once every two weeks, and my home PC even less.

As it’s a popular feature, there are two ways to look at it from a product management perspective.

  1. The “Let’s Convince The World There’s Value” way. Here, I’ll give it a try. The boot is a process where all that’s required to run in the background starts up. So every service or app you remove from the boot is less weight on your ongoing experience. If you’re supporting someone else through Soluto, they’re probably less savvy and so have absolute crap running in the background, crap that probably raises popups, tray balloons and other shit like that. So you can improve their experience. One last thing, for those who love to use msconfig - many of the apps you remove from your boot will return themselves there as soon as they can. Soluto maintains your configuration by kicking those apps back off the boot. So there’s value, right? But let’s move on to the more interesting and generally smarter perspective.
  2. The “Let’s Look At The Data” way. Here, I’ll give it a try. How can we know if rebooting windows is important to people? Let’s start by looking at how often the average user reboots their PC. Apparently, across our user base, we see an average of 1.16 boots per day. That means on average people boot almost every day. And that’s roughly true across different Windows versions and across countries. Now naturally our user base is tilted towards people for whom boot is important, but we’re talking about a very large amount of people. Why are they rebooting so often? Maybe it’s because they’re unaware of the fact that the Sleep functionality has significantly improved in Windows machines in the past years? Or maybe it’s corporate policy? Or just being old fashioned? Does it matter? When you look at the data, it seems there many millions of people for whom boot time is an important issue. So let’s put a smile on their face! By the way - do YOU know who they are?

So although Soluto’s service now does much more than allowing people to understand their boot and shorten it, boot time apparently is still an issue for many. As a product person, you must be able to step out of your own habits and look at the data. If you ask the right questions you may be surprised to find out you’re actually a minority in a very important group. 

If you yourself are suffering from a slow boot and would like to shorten your boot time - go ahead. Apparently the average Soluto user shaves 36 seconds of their boot :)

More info here.

Aug 06

Great work Visa, now I HATE you

Last week I jumped to London to watch the Olympics. Being a huge sports fan the experience was amazing, but there was one thing that drove me crazy.

The London Olympics has several sponsors, most prominently Coca Cola, McDonalds, Visa, Samsung and Acer (when I say “prominently” I mean their effects are felt everywhere through the games).

Before I flew, I discovered that McDonalds’ terms of sponsoring included that no one else in the areas of the games is allowed to sell french fries, unless they come with fried fish (because the classic dish of Fish & Chips could not be banned in the UK). But besides the Fish & Chips exception, no one is allowed to sell french fries around the games. Which pissed me off.

But that didn’t even come close to what Visa did. 

London Olympics proud to accept only visa

Those folks up there at Visa sponsored the Olympics under the limitation that no other credit card could be used to purchase stuff in the Olympics, from a cup of coffee to an official hoodie. If you’ve never been to such an event it’s hard to imagine how huge the venues are, and once you entered a stadium in the morning, you’re not allowed to exit and return with your ticket. Which practically means that once you’re inside, you can either use Visa or cash, that’s it.

And that REALLY pissed me off. As a consumer, I was abused and insulted. On the practical level, I hold both a MasterCard and a Visa, and the terms I get when using my MasterCard in Europe are better than my Visa (in the USA it’s the other way around). But losing a few pennies was not what pissed me off. It was that a major consumer brand chose to abuse simple folks as a way of marketing. And that’s just stupid. Getting a credit card is not something you do in a minute, certainly not in a foreign country. So Visa couldn’t really expect international visitors holding other cards to actually switch to Visa on the spot, right?

What did they expect them to feel? “Oh my gosh, Visa is so awesome, I wish I had a Visa card, when I return home I’m going to get one ASAP”? No! 

More probably, like myself, they would say “Why would those assholes do such a thing? They already have their logo smeared all over the place, what did I do wrong to be banned from using my credit card in the largest touristic event in London in the past decade?”

The marketers at Visa are probably more experienced than me, but I still want to give them a small marketing lesson:

If you want people to like you, give them something. If you want people to hate you, take something away from them. 

Simple right?

I understand that maybe this campaign was aimed solely at UK residents to switch to Visa, but I still find that abusive. 

So what could Visa do? Again I’m not an expert on credit card marketing, but if you follow the bold sentence above, Visa could just appeal to Visa owners by giving them something. A discount for using Visa. A special gift for buying with Visa above some amount. Whatever. As long as you’re giving something to your customers, and not taking away something from those who aren’t.

So great work Visa, now I HATE you.

[I spend my days and nights working at the tech startup Soluto, trying to help people enjoy their PCs. Have you tried it yet?]

Jul 29

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” — Eric Ries (via a-pr)

(Source: startuplessonslearned.com, via a-pr)