John Borthwick

CEO of betaworks

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 03, 2015


John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
PH, my name is John, I'm the founder of betaworks, happy to talk about pretty much anything. Things that fascinate me? here are a couple. For years I have been fascinated by how machines become social and how we can create more humanized experiences in technology. Right now I'm thinking a lot about the notification stream -- how notifications are becoming the primary experience on my phone and how that alters my workflow, my habits and my relationship to apps. Company creation is also something that fascinates me. betaworks is a studio and the studio model is different — understanding how you can build things better and faster is something I am obsessed with. So there you have it. And I put some collections on PH to give further context - Ask me anything! :)
Brian Donohue@bthdonohue · CEO, Instapaper
JB, what is your favorite betaworks studio company and why is it Instapaper?
@bthdonohue Instapaper?! As if!
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@bthdonohue Instapaper. How did you know that. I use it daily -- as I do digg, giphy, chartbeat, bitly hmm i see a pattern
Jon Ferrer@jonnyheadphones
@bthdonohue rude af dude
Giordano Contestabile@giordanobc · CEO, Bloglovin'
@borthwick now I'm sad
Veronica de Souza@heyveronica · Senior Editor, Digg
@bthdonohue Instapaper? I barely...
Joe Tombstonelli@joetoenails · Social Media Thing
@borthwick what's yr favorite meme?
Joe Tombstonelli@joetoenails · Social Media Thing
Jon Ferrer@jonnyheadphones
@borthwick @joetoenails there aren't enough upvotes in the world for this answer
@borthwick Howdy hi there, John. We all know about betaworks and many are aware of the crowd investment platform that is alphaworks. Do you have plans to expand to other Greek letter-inspired collaborative companies? When can we look forward to gammaworks or deltaworks, or my favorite, piworks, and what will the focus be?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@baratunde Lol -- na done with the alpha bet for now
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@baratunde btw -- since some other big tech company started messing with alphabet we rebranded alphaworks, quire. So quire. Quire.
Justin Lintz@lintzston · Sr Web Operations Engineer, Chartbeat
Hey John, which is your favorite company to come out of betaworks and why is it Chartbeat?
Kamil@kamilszybalski · Growth Entrepreneur. Was @Hootsuitelabs
@borthwick John, what books are you currently reading and what's on your shelf?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@kamilszybalski Hey so i put up a collection here: -- books worth reading, did that last week and limited myself to 10. Limits always yield interesting results -- so right now. I did a bunch of Napoleon books over the summer, I dont read much history but it was the anniversary of Waterloo and as a half brit and half french person I figured I should know more about that Corsican. Strongly recommend Andrew Roberts bio -- its great. Napoleon was an amazing individual, I learnt a ton -- what he accomplished in 15 years will blow your mind. Just finished re-reading Siddhartha -- Naval posted it on PH Books and I thought I havent read that in a while. Its good. Not as good as I remember. I have 5 other books im starting right now -- always read multiple things. Fiction and a lot of non.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey John - Thank you for joining us! You guys are one of the first to make the startup studio model work, and many people are following suit. What advice do you have for people looking to do something similar?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@eriktorenberg Hey Erik. First bit of advice I give people is I ask them if they really want to build a company that builds and grows up multiple products OR are they using the studio approach to find one thing that sticks -- assuming they are doing the former I ask them what are the things they can do and build at the studio level that give the startups the studio builds a real edge in the marketplace. I want to build more than one thing is not a reason to do this. You have to have a thesis -- some glue to the studio
Hey John! Over the past 4 years, Betaworks seems to have moved towards building more consumer-focused companies. Why is that?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@jvanslem In the early years we built tools that we needed to understand the social web (Chartbeat -- bitly -- socialflow). Once those were in market I wanted to turn back to user facing products. So thats what we did
Ali Afridi@alikafridi · Building Products
@borthwick Hey John, When do you decide it's time to scrap a project you've been working on at betaworks?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@alikafridi Good question. This is one of the hardest things we do but we have to do it -- but its core to our job as a studio. So we have developed a four stage process at betaworks over the years -- stage one is alpha testing, rapid build -- stage two public beta -- stage three in market and starting to scale. Stage four is all about scale. Generally speaking the way we measure the KPI's we have for companies here at the studio are qualitative for stages one and two and quantitative for three and four. So back to the question in stages three and four its easier to assess if we should pivot or shutter something. In stages one and two its more subjective. There is some science to this but there is also art to it -- you know it, and if you discipline yourself and the organization that knowledge is actually shared. So when you have to shut something down it isnt a surprise.
Eli Colner@rivveting · Founder, Salience
@alikafridi Looking forward to seeing what John has to say about this. I had to confront this dilemma a few days ago and it came down to: 1) Do I want to work on this problem in place of another higher impact problem? It always seems to be a choice. 2) Am I attempting to do something that has been tried before? I talked to another founder and realized I was spiking the exact same product that Ev Williams built at Odeo before they pivoted and became Twitter. Whoops! I think step 2, pitching the idea, is ultimately what helped focus my attention. It took about a day to drown that baby :( Fortunately, I only worked on the prototype for a weekend before pitching it. Doing that was a big time saver.
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@borthwick Hi John. Big admirer of you and an avid follower of BetaWorks. You've incubated some great companies such as GIPHY. My question for you is: With GIPHY, what drew you onto them? Was it the potential to have a big revenue impact? Or was it more their potential to grow a user base (which is massive today btw) ? FYI - shout out to Glitter!
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@geeky_yang Giphy is awesome -- GIFS are the native media for mobile platforms, text, social etc.
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@geeky_yang **insert happy gif **
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@borthwick Haha thanks! @rrhoover - any chance we'll be able to add GIFs in replies? Maybe? No? :)
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@geeky_yang haha, mayyyybee. 😊
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover Funny. No markup allowed in here either -- i tried.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hey, John! I've been fascinated with what you're building for a while. Well before Product Hunt I wanted to join and build products inside betaworks. What does the media/news industry look like in 5 years?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover RH -- you should have told me that!@!#@ WTF. next time.
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover Ok to your question. The media industry is in the process of complete re- construction -- no one can really say what is a media company today, cleanest answer is that it is a company that is supported by ad's but hey that would exclude Netflix. Ok. So in 5 years. New platforms for sure -- so the networks or platforms of today are different from the ones of 5 years ago and I expect that will continue to cycle. The media landscape today includes old media companies and new ones -- in five years the old will be gone. Completely gone -- they have to reinvent themselves or die.
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover News is more complicated. I believe Twitter is vitally important to the news landscape -- its the only real unfiltered, raw stream we have. I wish the product were better but I also wish there were alternatives -- if Twitter fails, it will hurt the entire news industry. Twitter and FB are fundamentally different, the feed, the graph, the filters
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
John, thank you for taking the time to answer questions today! Much appreciated. In your opinion what are some of the most important characteristics of strong companies and teams? And what are some of your tips to start-ups on how to build strong teams?
Tim Allison@darlingdash · Product Design lead at Zendesk Guide
Is the wearable space disappointing to you or about where it should be in relation to time spent in market?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@darlingdash Very young and early. Long way to go here - not disappointed
Emily Passer@emilypasser · Director of Communications, Quartz
@borthwick What are you favorite news publications/any email newsletters you're a fan of?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@emilypasser :) -- tis awesome and poncho. I use them everyday
Andrew McLaughlin@mcandrew · Medium
Betaworks makes a lot of mobile apps, and nearly always iOS first. Why not more love for Android?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@mcandrew Have you used one of those devices recently???
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@mcandrew Ok. I know you have. I think in the US android has become less relevant over the past six months. The devices arent great, the google app store sucks -- and the interaction between the OS, the devices and the apps is often very bumpy.
Dave Branson Smith@playswithfood · 96 Problems
@borthwick it's not just in the US, either (after living abroad for the better part of a decade, my gut reaction is to treat the US as an outlier for many cultural preferences, including tech). Android is losing so much ground in Japan too, and for the exact same reasons you cited (plus a tendency for social one-sideness, but I digress). Interesting that the Xiaomi "fork" of Android -- which looks a lot like iOS -- is one of if not the most successful examples of Android: it addresses a lot of the issues you mentioned.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
HUGE Thanks to @borthwick for taking the time to chat with us, and all of his support to PH and the entrepreneurial community in general.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@borthwick Hey John, With a builder + studio mindset, do you think this can be replicated with remote teams across the globe?
Drew Meyers@drewmeyers · Co-Founder, Horizon
@bentossell I would also be curious whether a studio could work with a distributed team
Mike Jones@imsickofmaps · Managing Director, Western Cape Labs
Hi John - thanks for doing this - your PandoMonthly interview is one of my all-time favs, watched it multiple times! I'm a Brit based in Cape Town, South Africa - with all the different types of applications and businesses betaworks has spawned over the years I'd like to know what you're seeing from this area of the world in terms of usage, engagement and influence? Secondly, perhaps a time-based lens on the same question - how has that changed over time?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@imsickofmaps Good question. I dont know enough about apps in your market. The data we have for South Africa is too small to be representative, what are you seeing? I can give you trite answers about payments and mobile tool use in Africa -- but my experience is secondhand. What are you seeing?
Mike Jones@imsickofmaps · Managing Director, Western Cape Labs
@borthwick unfortunately we're not seeing tons of original, creative work yet. Lots of clones or fast-followers but with the general lack of capital at the risk taking end of the scale here it's not the most conducive environment to creativity. Some standouts though are and http://www.namesandfacescompany....
Richard Oakley@richoakley · Founder of
@imsickofmaps thanks for the shoutout Mike!
John Carmichael@johnnyc115 · Senior Software Engineer, MaxwellHealth
@borthwick What app that you've recently purchased/downloaded has had the biggest impact on your day-to-day?
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@johnnyc115 Hi. So Matt Hartman told me about Headspace the other day and Im trying it. I've been meditating for 15 yrs or so -- im surprised how well it works.
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@johnnyc115 Another one for you. Not an app. But earlier this summer I decided to take cold showers in the morning -- really. Its awesome... Really. Try it -- weird but you asked (maybe you didnt)
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@borthwick I do the cold shower thing too! It's amazing. So much more energy.
James Cooper@koopstakov · Head of Creative, Betaworks
@borthwick The founder of headspace wrote a chapter in the betaworks book this year, I believe.