Skip the Sketchpad and Wireframes

I’m not a “professional” designer, but I don’t use sketchpads or wireframes before diving into designing a new product.

My method is to open up Photoshop ( or a text editor if I want to make a version I can interact with ) and start mocking it up as I see it in my head. It’s too large of a gap between a broad stroke sketch to actually what the user will see to make a design decision – Wireframes aren’t real, your users aren’t interacting with your sketches.

An excerpt from Getting Real by 37signals

Build, don’t write. If you need to explain something, try mocking it up and prototyping it rather than writing a longwinded document. An actual interface or prototype is on its way to becoming a real product. A piece of paper, on the other hand, is only on its way to the garbage can.

This may not work for everyone, but it works for me on getting to the details that matter quicker. I’ve found it takes me around the same amount of time to sketch something on paper as it does to mock it up in Photoshop, but the difference is in what you can’t convey on paper.

Happy running…

 

Don’t Get Sloppy on the Details

So you got this revolutionary idea that you’ve been working on non-stop, it’s going to change the world and make you a gazillionaire…cool, have fun with that, but build the thing right first.

A pattern I’ve seen when developing an application is to put all your energy and focus on the cool or “main” features of a project and tie up all the lose ends and details towards the end (login screens, settings page, error messages, etc). Now there’s nothing wrong with this approach, that’s how I work as well, but the problem comes when your finishing up those details, you’re tired, you want to get this product out the door in the world making cash money, so you start putting less effort into those details. Maybe it’s just skimping on the text formatting or your settings page looks like a cardboard box with buttons, it varies, but the point is the details do make a difference.

Ship your product with only the core features to get it out the door, but don’t skimp on the supporting details for those features. And believe me, I’m guilty of the above many-a-time.

Happy running…

Creating Comfort in Our New Office

We have now officially been in our new office just over a week! There are still a few pieces of furniture that we’re waiting on (i.e. we’re using temporary desks until a custom 15ft community desk is finished). One thing we wanted to create was a space that was comfortable and inviting to our employees. We’re all accustomed to working from home, which is hard to beat on a convenience and comfort level, so we decided to bring some of the elements of home into our office.

No one wants to work on an empty stomach, so we put in a full kitchen that’s stocked with food, snacks, drinks… and of course, caffeine. Being able to walk a few feet and grab lunch for free is a nice perk when you’re in the zone.

We also wanted a media / gaming room with a comfy lounging area. Get your frag on with some MW3 or catch up on the Family Guy episode you missed last night with Hulu.

We also have a washer and dryer on site so the team can do laundry. Some day we hope to provide pick-up laundry service as a perk since no one likes doing laundry, and this is how my floor looks right now.

 

The bar was set high for us to create a comfortable office, especially when you’re used to working from home, but I think we did pretty well. Employees still have the option to work from home, but this way the comfort level is the same when you do come into the office.

Happy running…

How We Work at Twitpic

Given the size and user base of Twitpic, you may be surprised to find out that we just moved into our first official office space. Previously, we all worked remotely, which has worked out very well for us.

To give some background… I started Twitpic in February 2008 as a side project, not thinking it would grow into what it has become today. I ran Twitpic by myself for the first 18 months until we hired our first employee (and shortly thereafter, our second). Now we’re up to 7, which is extremely small compared to other sites our size. Regardless, our group is tight knit, and their capabilities amaze me everyday. I couldn’t ask for a better team.

Working from home has kept things simple and efficient, and since we’re a developer centric company, pushing code from the comfort of our own homes has been a pleasure. We’ve been a remote team for almost 2 years now (until this week, but more on that later).

Here’s how we worked as a remote team:

Communication: Campfire from 37signals is our main method of communication, with Skype coming in second and txt’ing / email (yuck) 3rd. We rarely have a real “meeting”. We’re dynamic when it comes to prioritizing work and what needs to be completed immediately.

Development: We originally started out using SVN, but moved to Git / Github last year, which has made things much easier. Some of the IDEs and code editors used have been: Textmate, Espresso, Coda, and (recently) Sublime Text 2. I’m sure there have been more, but text editors are like girlfriends… there’s always a hotter one down the road.

Support: We started out using pure email for handling support requests, but as they grew, we moved to a ticket based system to better keep track of things. We strive to answer any request within an hour, but usually we answer within a few minutes. And of course Twitter is also a great first-contact for support questions.

Fun!: If you’re not enjoying your work, you are in the wrong field. We recently took a company cruise to the Bahamas, which was a great time to get away from work and bond as a team. Company trips are something we plan on doing once or twice a year.

Team Twitpic in the new office

Now that we have an office to call home, it’s changed things up for us a little bit, but honestly not that much. We now have a place to feed on the energy and motivation you can only get from being around people in-person, but going forward, we’ll remain a hybrid team consisting of some remote workers, and some in the office. Also, just because we have an office doesn’t mean you have to drive into work every day. Employees are free to work from home, which is more comfortable for some and comes with less distractions.

In the end, do what works for you. An office is certainly not a requirement for running a startup, and these days, many don’t even start with one.

Happy running…

Welcome to The Startup Life

The purpose of The Startup Life is to document and share the experiences of beginning and running a startup. You’ll be hearing a lot about our startups Twitpic, Heello and other projects we’re working on. I can tell you from experience that when I started Twitpic I had no idea what I was doing and what was in store in the near future. Hopefully this blog will provide insight (and entertainment) to you.

Happy running…

It’s better to try and fail, than to not try at all