Maker Hunt’s AMA with Anand Sharma from Gyroscope

Today we have Anand Sharma. He’s the CEO of Gyroscope. He’s an awesome designer who is working on a really interesting project.

Hi guys! Excited to be here.

Quick intro: I grew up in LA and used to run a small design agency called Dragon Interactive. We got famous for doing a bunch of crazy CSS experiments & sharing them. Have worked on a bunch of interesting projects since then. Most recently did stuff for theory11.com (basically a real life version of Hogwarts) and then moved to SF about 4 years ago to build quizlet.com. And most recently built April Zero & now working on Gyroscope.

Let the questions begin!

Q. What inspired you to work on Gyroscope? — Eric Willis

Everyone wanted to use something like this and so I wanted to be able to reply to everyone who asked for it and tell them: “Hey you can now have that thing you really wanted!”

Q. What’s your favorite website besides Gyroscope? — Xiao

Hmm that is a tricky one. It depends on the context, there are lots of sites I love for various reasons. I find myself spending a lot of time on things like Facebook and Twitter obviously, just as practical aspects of life they are invaluable. I don’t think most websites are beautiful though, I think that could be much better.

Q. What sites did you draw inspiration from when designing your interface for Gyroscope and AprilZero? I read you took some cues from the interfaces in Iron Man — Jonathan White

Felton’s annual reports (print) were really sweet, lots of concept/motion graphics from Dribbble helped out too. A lot of inspiration from videos & fake interfaces because most real ones were too boring.

Q. How much time do you spend on making your websites cross-browser compatible? (And do you care about IE? ☺ ) — Jonas Daniels

Very little now. There was a time where I spent a lot of time on that, especially client work where stuff pretty much needs to work. But now I have the luxury of mostly supporting webkit since this is something new. And that has been really nice. There was a time where my stuff worked perfectly on IE6 and even 5.5 and I was proud of that.

Q. What tools are in your in design toolkit? —Eric Willis

CSS, Coffeescript. I’m pretty oldschool when it comes to tools & frameworks and stuff, I’ll jump onto something like a year or 2 after everyone else, if ever. SublimeText 3 is awesome. I still use Photoshop over sketch, but now most of the design work really just happens in my head or on a piece of paper. Paper & a nice pen is invaluable though.

Q. What advice do you have for budding designers? —Jonathan White

One of my favorite design advice is Ira Glass’s on the gap. You can look that up, but basically the gist is like at first your stuff isn’t going to be good but you need to just power through that by doing a high volume of work. I’d say the most important thing is speed, to optimize for. Out of everything to be good at, being fast is really important because everything else good will come from that. fast to debug, fast to come up with concepts, fast to build stuff. That will let you go through hundreds of iterations which is usually what it will take.

Q. You grew up in LA. What do you think about the current LA startup scene? —Eric Willis

To be honest I’m not too familiar with it. When I was there there really wasn’t one, almost everyone I worked with was online. Maybe it has changed now, but I imagine being in SF makes infinitely more sense for this. I liked it as a city though, really nice place if you don’t mind driving.

Q. What are some of your favorite apps in terms of design? — Eric Willis

My favorite apps. I love stuff by Facebook, like Messenger. It’s not very flashy but I use it all the time. I’ve been pretty impressed with some of Spotify’s new stuff, I listen to music pretty much 24/7. Most apps fall into a category where I find them really useful but I don’t think they’re beautiful.

Q. What does your typical day look like? — Xiao

My day, wake up and go to coffee shop sometimes and get an hour or 2 in by just sketching. Catch up on some emails and then usually jump into coding something or fixing some bugs. I like to take some time to design & think stuff through before jumping onto the computer, because after that it is too hard to context switch out & see the big picture. So that is probably some of my favorite & most productive time. Now we’ve got more of a team for Gyroscope so usually spend the day together with the guys at my place working until the evening around 6 or 7. Then dinner somewhere & back home for another 4–5 hours of coding until passing out at some point.

Q. While building Gyroscope you traveled to nearly 150 cities right? What was your favorite? — Eric Willis

Favorite city: Tokyo & Manhattan

Favorite place: Koh Tao or a nice island with good diving

I like to balance the big city excitement with being out in nature & somewhere alone but I love good food & experiencing different cultures. Hate places with a lot of smog, so probably never going back to China or India.

Q. What are your thoughts on the Apple Watch? Will you be designing for it? — Eric Willis

I’m really excited for the Apple Watch. I think it is going to be a huge turning point, I imagine it is hard to think about it or talk about it until we’ve actually experienced it. But I’m excited both to just have one as a consumer, but also for Gyroscope it will be a fantastic source of data — heart rate, workouts, etc. that will start to come from the Apple ecosystem.

Q. What role will websites / apps like Gyroscope play in our ever-more-transparent future… Can you share some of your vision? — Jonas Daniels

I think all of this new data will need a place to go & be made sense of, if you look at the Apple Health app right now there is so much interesting stuff but it is all just incomprehensible graphs that go up and down a little. So making them into stories and then using that to help people live healthier lives. I think software needs to play a big role in our lives & be responsible for keeping us physically in shape & on track — like we’ve gone to the moon, things like obesity or getting sick or being out of shape should be solved problems, not something that happens to even the smartest people.

Q. When did you know that you wanted to be a designer? And can you give us some details as to your early learning process at the very beginning. How have you evolved from a beginner into such a great designer? — Eric Willis

I was probably 15 or 16. At first my passion was photography, and I was mostly doing web design stuff to focus on that — to showcase my photography and stuff, and started doing some contracting to buy these expensive lenses I wanted and then at some point I realized hey like 50 people see my photos but a million people just used my CSS, there’s something exciting about that. And actually building systems that were both beautiful & complex, once that clicked there was no going back. It’s like solving puzzles, and being famous, and creating art, all in the same thing, to me it is the perfect job. Though in another life I think it would be fun to be a fighter pilot or a chef.

And for most of it I wasn’t that great. I always thought I was great, but then I look back a year or 2 and its like oh that was dumb. I think the instrumental thing was just doing like massive amounts of work, I’ve made so much stuff at this point that I don’t even remember half of it. And so after a lot of that, you inevitably get better. I’m not sure if there is a way to fast forward through that.

Q. This is a bit specific one, but I really love the “Learn More” experience on Gyroscope. I feel like it must have take a while to get just right. How do you strike a balance between the “ideal” design and the pressing needs of a startup? — Matthew Mueller

That took forever. It is tricky, I think you need to have a high bar but that means you really need to just pick one or two things to focus on in order to make them perfect. Which means you need to be really fast to get everything else done in a week. That animation probably took a few weeks, and the whole rest of the page had to be knocked out in a few days. But I also iterated on it, so there were a bunch of cruder and faster versions that I tested out before realizing ‘Ok, we’re doing this for real, now this thing needs a week of work to be really smooth.’

Q. Can you give us an idea is where you’ll be taking Gyroscope over the next few months functionality-wise? And where do you see Gyroscope in 2–3 years from now? What’s the vision? — Eric Willis

I think it is important to distinguish between Gyroscope the company & the product. So a big focus of mine right now is actually not on product changes but the company, so how do we get our next few hires & build the right team? What kind of office should we have and how will that contribute to our culture? On the product side, mobile is our big focus right now. I want our iPhone app to be even better than our site, and there is a lot of important stuff it’s going to have to do like integrating with the watch data. We’ve also got new integrations we want to do, new designs that take advantage of that data, just scaling everything up by an order of magnitude

This requests page kinda shows some of the short term stuff:

In the longer term I want everyone to have it be a helpful tool in their life, and something you just regularly rely on. As a way to communicate and share with people, as a way to stay healthy, as your identity.

Q: Where did April Zero come from? — Matthew Mueller

I was born on March 31, so its the day before April 1. Been using aprilzero as my online handle for about 10 years now, wanted to figure out something that would be available everywhere

Q. What are your thoughts on live-streaming (Meerkat vs. Periscope) and do you imagine a future where you also track streamed moments in your app? —Eric Willis

I love it, I’ve been expecting stuff like that for a long time now. It fits in a lot with what we’re trying to do. ours is a more comprehensive & data-powered approach kind of breadth-first view of what you’re doing while theirs is a really deep view into a single moment or place. I think it would be great to enhance your timeline with that sort of content, we’ve got photos right now and that is really immersive already but a video of what you did at a specific point would be even more interesting. I think video is hard to consume though.

Q. What startup do you most admire and why? —Eric Willis

There are so many, it is hard to say exactly. I guess you’re not counting Facebook or Apple as startups anymore. I’ve really been enjoying Slack (minus today’s incident). It has kind of taken over my life in the last few months, pretty much using it for everything these days and so I think it is impressive how they did something that companies have been doing for 10 years but with a few small changes have pretty much dominated.

I think that is always interesting, when someone just like wins. I also really love Spotify, that is a big part of my life right now. Thinking about which I would be really sad if I didn’t have…

Stripe is really awesome too. We use them for payments, and I know a bunch of the people there, and I think they’re probably the best example I can think of for great engineering culture & how to grow a team from a small set of people to a billion dollar company.

Runkeeper, Moves, Foursquare, all these apps that we integrate with — each one of them does such a great job I think and gives us such amazing info.

I’m really impressed with Instagram too. To be honest originally I thought it was really dumb. Can’t even zoom into a photo, tiny little squares with ugly filters for bad photographers. Now I get it, and it is brilliant.

I think as a designer sometimes it is dangerous to approach things with too much of a design view.

Well. I think we’ve covered all the questions. Anand… I really want to thank you for taking the time out your busy day to do this AMA with us.

Thanks Eric. This was fun, thanks everyone for your questions!


Next AMA is with:

Sandi MacPherson — Founder + Editor-in-Chief, Quibb — 4pm EST March 30th


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