John Borthwick

John Borthwick

CEO of betaworks

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 03, 2015

Discussion

John Borthwick
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
Brian Donohue@bthdonohue · CEO, Instapaper
JB, what is your favorite betaworks studio company and why is it Instapaper?
@bthdonohue Instapaper?! As if!
John Borthwick
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
Jon Ferrer@jonnyheadphones
@bthdonohue rude af dude
Giordano Contestabile
Giordano Contestabile@giordanobc · CEO, Bloglovin'
@borthwick now I'm sad
Veronica de Souza
Veronica de Souza@heyveronica · Senior Editor, Digg
@bthdonohue Instapaper? I barely...
Joe Tombstonelli
Joe Tombstonelli@joetoenails · Social Media Thing
@borthwick what's yr favorite meme?
Joe Tombstonelli
Joe Tombstonelli@joetoenails · Social Media Thing
@borthwick I JUST GOT MEMED ON SO HARD
Jon Ferrer
Jon Ferrer@jonnyheadphones
@borthwick @joetoenails there aren't enough upvotes in the world for this answer
Baratunde
Baratunde@baratunde
@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
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@baratunde Lol -- na done with the alpha bet for now
John Borthwick
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
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
Kamil@kamilszybalski · Growth Entrepreneur. Was @Hootsuitelabs
@borthwick John, what books are you currently reading and what's on your shelf?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@kamilszybalski Hey so i put up a collection here: http://www.producthunt.com/@bort... -- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@geeky_yang Giphy is awesome -- GIFS are the native media for mobile platforms, text, social etc.
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@geeky_yang **insert happy gif **
Phillip Yang
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@borthwick Haha thanks! @rrhoover - any chance we'll be able to add GIFs in replies? Maybe? No? :)
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@geeky_yang haha, mayyyybee. 😊
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover Funny. No markup allowed in here either -- i tried.
Ryan Hoover
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
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rrhoover RH -- you should have told me that!@!#@ WTF. next time.
John Borthwick
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
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
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
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
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@darlingdash Very young and early. Long way to go here - not disappointed
Emily Passer
Emily Passer@emilypasser · Director of Communications, Quartz
@borthwick What are you favorite news publications/any email newsletters you're a fan of?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@emilypasser news.me :) -- tis awesome and poncho. I use them everyday
Andrew McLaughlin
Andrew McLaughlin@mcandrew · Medium
Betaworks makes a lot of mobile apps, and nearly always iOS first. Why not more love for Android?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@mcandrew Have you used one of those devices recently???
John Borthwick
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
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
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
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
@borthwick Hey John, With a builder + studio mindset, do you think this can be replicated with remote teams across the globe?
Drew Meyers
Drew Meyers@drewmeyers · Founder, Horizon & Geek Estate
@bentossell I would also be curious whether a studio could work with a distributed team
Mike Jones
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
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
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 http://madewithover.com/ https://recast.fm/ and http://www.namesandfacescompany....
Richard Oakley
Richard Oakley@richoakley · Founder of Labs.fm
@imsickofmaps thanks for the shoutout Mike!
John Carmichael
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
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
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
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
James Cooper@koopstakov · Head of Creative, Betaworks
@borthwick The founder of headspace wrote a chapter in the betaworks book this year, I believe.
Malcolm Levy
Malcolm Levy@mal_levy · Founder, Generate
Hi John, what is your view on creative networks that are emerging with all of the creative apps that go beyond insta and vine? Do you see a place for networks that are all about the creative ugc content being created?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@mal_levy Yes. Im seeing more and more tools for self expression, networks and tools. The second part of your question, are you saying a place to combine creative content across networks?
Malcolm Levy
Malcolm Levy@mal_levy · Founder, Generate
@borthwick yes that's exactly what i'm saying. we have been asked by a few different apps now to do this and its led to the conclusion that they should be invited into our network as well. what's your thoughts on this?
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Who are a few thinkers you most admire and why?
Hey John, where do you see TwoDots going and how have they changed the way we think about games in this day and age?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@bigseido Three dots? Great question -- Patrick, Paul and the team really broke ground on merging art and beautiful design into a game. Since then a lot of new and related games have entered the space. They helped form a genre -- pretty great.
Melissa Joy Kong
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
You've got quite the suite of companies! A few questions for you: (1) Was there a specific decision you made while building out betaworks that didn't seem significant at the time, but has come to meaningfully shape the evolution of the business? (2) Any business decisions you thought were right at the time, but you look back and think, "That wasn't the best move"?
Danielle Newnham
Danielle Newnham@daniellenewnham · Founder, The Junto Network. Author
@borthwick Hey John, my question is - what do you think NY offers startups which SV doesn't/can't?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@daniellenewnham NY is one of the great cities of the world. We have 5/6 big industries here - tech + media + fashion + art + finance ... its the mix and the melting pot that mix creates that makes it different. The cities and coasts are different -- there are certain companies that should be east and thrive east. Same for the west coast. Its different.
Hey, John. What do you look for in startups when deciding to invest or partner?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@oshmanm Fit. Fit first -- has to fit with what we do and are interested in at betaworks. Then people -- awesome founders and people. Then location. Thats it
@borthwick thanks. How early in the product would you like to get involved?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@oshmanm As soon as there is a beta. Send it to me, Matt or Peter
rachel
rachel@serial_milk · co-founder, Kip
@borthwick we have a beta just released (2 weeks ago) what's the best way to contact you?
Artur Kiulian
Artur Kiulian@arturkiulian · Partner at Colab
Hey John, happy Thursday! Saw you are using lots of productivity apps, do you use shopping list apps within your household? why or why not? Thanks! :)
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@arturkiulian Dont use any. Sorry
rachel
rachel@serial_milk · co-founder, Kip
Hi John, thanks for joining us for this AMA! Feedback is important to any startup, but too much feedback gives no focus. How do you deal with constant feedback and feature requests, especially for a social/consumer based startup?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@serial_milk Good question. I love tracking user interactions with our products -- getting feedback. But as you said too much can distract -- the distinction I draw is this. First -- get feedback at the right time. When an idea is young feedback isnt helpful -- you, the creator needs to get it all out there, get the idea fully formed and then keep in mind exactly what you want to accomplish from the feedback, get it and then iterate. Rinse repeat.
Danny Espinoza
Danny Espinoza@abcdannye · Founder @looksyvideo
Hi John, what are your thoughts on the explosion of video as a result of the ubiquitous front-facing camera? I like to think of the camera (when used for collaboration) as punching a hole through the network between two people. Do you have thoughts on new ways we'll interact via livestreaming (both P2P and broadcast) as bandwidth gets cheaper and solutions like WebRTC mature on mobile?
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey John thanks so much for joining us today! Outside of work, what do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@ems_hodge Spend time with my family. Exercise. Meditate. Cold showers
AJ
AJ@alanaut24 · Engitrepresigner
Hi John! Why are you a Powerpoint free zone?! Love the company by the way.
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@alanaut24 Alan. Good question. Powerpoints arent real, they are story telling. An abstraction of an idea -- I want to see an actual implementation of the idea, a beta. And powerpoints -- those stories -- always have happy endings, ppt presentations are like children story books. beta's .. work better
AJ
AJ@alanaut24 · Engitrepresigner
@borthwick thank you for the response! I've always excelled at telling the story either through PPT or any other medium. Where I fall flat is the actual implementation of the beta. Beyond finding a kickass team to surround myself with, do you have any advice on how to go from storyteller to implementer? P.S. Will you be my mentor?
Matt Silverman
Matt Silverman@mattjsilverman · Product Designer
@borthwick How to you feel about the trend of using more hyper-localized or hyper-focused networks to manage our lives? Meaning, using more specialized networks like dog walking, or yogi's - rather than using Facebook manage handle it all.
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@mattjsilverman Hi Matt. Inevitable -- we are seeing the fragmentation of use cases across social which makes sense as people contain community, match that with the fragmentation of the web into apps that are topic specific and match that with all the contextual data you can get that track dog walking and here we go. So yes -- expect more.
Liat Mordechay
Liat Mordechay@liatmord · Co Founder CMO at 24me
Hi @borthwick, how do you see the future of the Productivity space? What's missing today that you want to see tomorrow?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@liatmord Good question. I think the future of productivity apps lies outside the productivity space. What I mean is that when you say you are building a productivity app people think of Omnifocus or something like it. While I use Omnifocus everyday I think it needs to change -- today its a tool Im more interested in bringing in components of gaming, social apps, tracking apps into productivity. So the term and thinking needs to be expanded imo
Liat Mordechay
Liat Mordechay@liatmord · Co Founder CMO at 24me
@borthwick Thanks! can talk with you about it for hours...
Daisy Qin
Daisy Qin@daisyqin · Digital Strategist, Nuvango
Hi @borthwick - I've been thinking a bit about [push] notifications lately too, and how it's ultimately more tuned into the app's needs than the user's needs. (e.g. meditation apps trying to re-draw users back in with reminders like "hey, you haven't used this in a while" with the app's need for users as the primary motivator.) How do you feel about the viability of user-attuned (e.g. smartwatch picking up on agitation signals, triggering a meditation app prompt) or pull (e.g. I have a 15-minute block of time right now, I'd like to do some reading - Quibb, give me a list of articles to catch up on) notifications in the near future?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@daisyqin Thanks for the question -- important. Notifications right now are mid stream -- if we as an industry get this right they will become the meta-app, the primary form of navigation. But if we get it wrong and they become app need vs. user need focussed they will die the tragedy of the commons is at play here. So I think its very important that we build user focussed notifications and make it very easy for users to mute them. Some of this is in our hands as builders of apps -- but a lot of it is in the platform / mobile OS hands.
Eli Colner
Eli Colner@rivveting · Founder, Salience
What are your thoughts about the NYT story on Amazon? People that love what they're doing tend to work more and sacrifice parts of their personal life... should we accept that as a normal part of doing creative work?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@rivveting I have no issue with working hard, very hard -- I do it and I expect people we work with to do the same -- I care about what we build and hard work is an outgrowth of that. What you shouldn't confuse is input and output ... Creative work is about creating things -- I have spent time and wasted time working on process and things that dont yield anything (powerpoints in large corporates) -- dont like doing that. Focus on the output. What I found disturbing about the Amazon article was the culture -- of uniformity it has created, the Amabots of whatever they are called. Not for me.
Rachael Berkey
Rachael Berkey@bookoisseur · Internet Weather Cat
@borthwick How close do you think we are to the kind of social robotic leap forward that will significantly change the way we interact with technology? (Definitely thinking about this because of Star Wars and droids but see it as applicable.)
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@bookoisseur I think we are a ways off that future, I dont believe we are anywhere close to General AI, most of the advances we have seen are in domain specific AI. That said I am very glad we are talking about this because if Im wrong and a general, thinking robot is possible we (our species) will be at risk. Thats why i'm interested in laws around robots, arming drones etc -- we are laying the foundation for a world that will be inhabited by the machines we are creating. The rules that govern those machines and our relationship to them is tbd -- go watch black mirror ... but skip the first one
Tim Allison
Tim Allison@darlingdash · Product Design lead at Zendesk Guide
Why do you think private sharing apps never got the mass adoption - broke through as a 'must have' for couples? Or still time?
John Borthwick
John Borthwick@borthwick · betaworks
@darlingdash Not enough value. Most people have very good channels for private sharing -- for something new to break through that it has to be meaningfully different. Havent seen that yet. We will -- im sure.