Should Talented UX Designers Listen To Feedback?

An extract from an interview with Paul Martens, Founder of Cora

Paul K.: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, this is Paul Kemp. This is the show that helps app entrepreneurs, founders, people that love startups and anything relating to living a life of freedom and enjoying the digital revolution that we’re actually going through.

www.Cora.io

Social media is incredibly important, I did actually an episode a while ago and learned about the importance of posting to several social media sites. It does get a bit painful, so I wanted to get the founder of CORA on, who’s got a nice solution to this problem. His name is Paul Martens, he is the founder, he’s based in San Francisco in the Bay Area and he’s here to talk about CORA. Paul, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!

Paul M.: Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul K.: Thanks for coming on. I love San Francisco so before we talk about CORA, what’s it like to work in the Bay Area? Give us a sense of the vibe there.

Paul M.: I think when I first landed here I was surprised… At least downtown, it has an odd sort of small town vibe. I don’t quite understand that feeling, but when you’re walking around it just feels that way. I’ve been in Manhattan, London, I’ve been in some big cities, but this city somehow has sort of an introverted, quiet demeanor. It is a small town vibe in the sense that you run into people here that are celebrities.

Sergy Brin co-founder of Google

Every so often I worked out with the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, I’ve run into Peter Thiel a whole bunch of times just randomly, so it’s a small, weird, large city, I don’t know.

Paul K.: Okay, tell us the reaction when you ran into Sergey Brin. Did you get that nervousness about yourself?

Paul M.: No, he’s completely normal. There’s nothing crazy, he didn’t have any bodyguards — I would if I were in his shoes. It’s so normal. He’s very normal and apparently meeting these folks is very normal, I don’t know.

Paul K.: Okay, well let’s talk about CORA. What is it you’re doing, what problem are you solving and tell us how you’re going about solving it.

Paul M.: Sure. The MVP is super simple, it’s a social broadcast tool targeting consumers, so this is really broad. With just two clicks you can post to LinkedIn….

…Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, so it’s very quick, a very fast experience and it just affords folks a lot of freedom in terms of

“Hey, I can just shoot a picture, shoot text on the go and just rapidly post on a bunch of networks all at once.”

So the MVP is super simple, go to Cora.io to look at the prototype. Everyone gets it once I show them, sort of the walkthrough. But it’s very now, a very simple social broadcast tool.

Paul K.: It’s a crowded space Paul, how did you come up with the validation of the idea? Did you do anything testing-wise beforehand, before you jumped into the MVP?

Paul M.: Sure, I’m a UX guy, UX director by trade, so there’s all sorts of validation that I’m used to doing professionally so yes, absolutely. You go around, you talk to experts, you go to Starbucks, you show folks the app and you get feedback. That’s sort of the gorilla style, I haven’t done too much formal, but you talk about — for me 25 folks, get feedback, and then just sort of iterate every so often. But yes, it’s very easy to get validation on this product. The challenge here is because it is a crowded space for businesses, you’re kind of selling consumers on

“Hey listen, you can’t afford the Hootsuites, the Buffers of the world. It’s too complicated to learn if you’re a really small business. Stick with this product because it will just save you an enormous amount of time and headache”

unlike some of the competitors, who offer an incredible amount of value. I mean, I don’t know where the world would be without the Hootsuites of the world. But yes, you just talk to folks. I’m somewhat outgoing, so I have no problem just stopping people on the street and asking for feedback.

Paul K.: Paul, we’d love to know how you went about starting to build your audience. Have you got any tips for us on the way to go about promoting your MVP?

Paul M.: I’ll tell you what, I’ll maybe talk to you about somebody who’s doing a better job than me, and someone who I’m sort of learning from. There is a group of UX folks based in Malta, they have a product called HotJar, and they did something incredibly clever where they end up getting about 40,000 folks interested in their beta before they even launched. And they did a sort of very simple campaign on Facebook targeting UX folks and marketers, and they had this system set up where you would sign up, obviously, but then if you shared it with folks you would sort of rise up in the ranks of the listing. So there were 40,000 people, and you could easily sort of bump your way up product hunt when it launched. So they had this very clever way of getting attention before the product even launched. So if folks are interested, look into HotJar, see what they’re doing, what they did with their launch… I don’t know if they’ve written formally about it, but I’ve spoken with the founders and they’ve been very generous explaining what they did.

In terms of just social media, attention, do that. I auditioned for Shark Tank a few months ago, I’ve got a few connections with the production team there, so that’s going to be hopefully something that could come to fruition. I’m pre-seed, pre-launch, and I’m trying to be smart about it, but definitely the folks at HotJar did a great job. By the way, I’m not paid to say this, I just think they did a great job.

Paul K.: I think they’ve been mentioned on this show before. Please tell us about the Shark Tank, how that came about. We’ve had a few people on this show who have gone through it. How did you progress that?

Paul M.: It was so random. I started the company end of December formally, so mid-January I just saw an advertisement on a billboard and literally the next day was the audition date, so I quickly signed up. It’s a very simple audition process. For San Francisco they met at a mall, I think in LA and in Las Vegas they also did it in a mall. You basically show up, you get a wristband, you talk to someone, pitch your product and I swear it takes no more than five minutes, maybe even less, to pitch a product. That’s the only stage I’m at now. They’re filming in July, so it’s going to take a while I think for the whole callback situation to happen. If it’s already happened, I missed out, too bad for me. But it’s a very unassuming, very easy, just pitch to a producer and that’s it.

Paul K.: So Paul, let’s talk about social media, your experience on the different platforms. What do you feel is the best platform for getting app downloads and an engaged audience? Do you have any views on which social media platform we should be targeting?

Paul M.: That’s a great question. Before my current gig as the founder of CORA I actually worked at a company called Marketo, which is a marketing automation platform. The data that we got as feedback from customers says Facebook tends to be the rigor standard in getting attention. So it’s very prominent, obviously everyone has it. In terms of getting adoption, Facebook Ads seems to be pretty popular, pretty successful. They’re very targeted, and if you work with a marketing automation platform, most have an integration so you can actually get great data. Marketo is maybe more enterprise, more medium-sized business, so I’m not aware of competitors that work or are engaged directly with Facebook’s backend API, but from my research Facebook seems to be the dominant player.

Paul K.: Yes, also I wanted to grab some of the time we’ve got together on your experience as a UX designer, someone who’s building some beautiful products. I mean, how much did you listen to feedback and how much did you really just do your own thing, if you are into designing beautiful things?

Paul M.: That’s a fantastic question, and a very important question to ask as well, because as a designer you have to have a great instinct obviously, but you also want to verify that instinct, and there is a danger for younger designers to sort of operate in a silo and just say,

“Okay, I want to do this, this and that”

and not get much feedback. Honestly, devs are guilty of this, too. My personal opinion is have the best designer, the best aesthetic, or UI, or what have you, but then really be rigorous about feedback, adjusting, calls to action, what have you. It’s a balance, I like to have the best UX research out there, married with the best UI designers who actually sort of operate in a silo and are completely operating on instinct. If you can get both together working harmoniously, I think you’ve got a great product. And there are companies that have done that in the past. I look at Bang & Olufsen, Apple, even Four Seasons, the way they design their rooms; it’s really calculated, but they get lots of feedback. So having worked with Apple, Facebook, Virgin, the big companies, they do their validation and I feel like even if you’re in a small startup, do your research, do your validation. You won’t be taken seriously by investors if you haven’t done so.

Paul K.: So there’s two more things we need to do Paul, before we say goodbye. One is that you did mention that you have worked with some awesome companies, and I do remember actually going to one of Richard Branson’s parties and meeting him in person, and all the employees were there and it seemed like such a cool company to work for. What is the big difference to you running your own company, compared to working for some of those awesome companies you just mentioned?

Paul M.: Sure. You know, a personality-driven company is fun to engage with, and all three that I mentioned — Apple, Facebook, Virgin — they are that. I think the difference for me is I try to be really conscious of my strengths and weaknesses, I try to be really balanced about how I come across, so I’m not going to be terribly great at marketing in the sense of being obnoxious and creating these huge splashes. That’s not me, but that might be Richard Branson and he’s fantastic at it, and he shouldn’t change. I aim at the Steve Jobs of the world, where I’ve got this incredibly focused vision and I’m maybe mercurial, but I’ve got this amazing ability to corral tens of thousands of people. That’s not me, but I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. I think Jeffrey Katzenberg is also a great CEO, and Zuckerberg is fantastic as a leader. I think if you’re conscious about your strengths and weaknesses you can sort of take a bit of what every single successful CEO out there is, and sort of apply it to yourself. Years ago I wrote a book on basically personality drivers, focused on a few great CEOs, a few great designers. I sort of got into the psychodynamics of how they think and they feel and they operate in the world around them. And you do enough biographical research, you’ll start to see there’s a commonality between the most successful folks. I have no problem not being sort of this well-known individual because there’s really highs and lows with that, and I’d rather be more focused on sort of moderating who I am as a personality, being great to work with. If you had to choose between one or the other, that to me is far more important than being the big, dynamic personality behind the brand.

Paul K.: I was also thinking for anyone who may be working at Apple, Facebook or Virgin for example, is it something you would recommend leaving to do your own thing? Is that a lifestyle choice that you would recommend to others?

Paul M.: I love having left my last job. Six figure income, really fantastic opportunity, but you’ve gotta know who you are and you’ve gotta know your skill sets. Not everyone’s cut out to be an entrepreneur. In my opinion, you have to be an extrovert. I think Zuckerberg is sort of an exception. He surrounded himself with a really fantastic team, but you have to be sort of this extroverted personality, you’ve gotta be able to sell, or at least market yourself well. You’ve gotta be comfortable in front of people, and just know who you are. If you’ve got a great idea, why not?

Go for it.

I think a podcast or two ago someone was talking about living lean. I locked out in that right now, I was actually oddly enough able to live very lean in San Francisco. So know the environment that you’re in, know your goals and know yourself; be very conscious of your skill sets. Be aware of what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, and then hire around you to compensate; hire for success.

Paul K.: I love this chat, because I also left a six-figure salary to basically join the digital revolution, and I did it the wrong way. I didn’t have a gig sorted or an idea cemented before I left. Have you got any advice to anyone who is contemplating leaving a nice salary job to go and do their own thing, based on what you’ve learned?

Paul M.: Sure, I’ll tell you a funny story. Back in November I actually pulled together a few Romanian developers, a Canadian project manager and a Ukrainian designer. So we’re all converged to Costa Rica, we did a real test of the product, a rapid iteration, we tried to get this thing built in a week, the MVP. So after that happened and I realized this was possible, I was okay then at point leaving. I was sort of forced out actually, a week before Christmas I was let go. I was their most expensive designer and the company had sort of been struggling financially. So I didn’t really have an option too much, I was sort of encouraged to start this up because I already had a product up and running. So yes, my opinion:

really work through a prototype.

I kind of assume everyone’s got a prototype out there because that’s my job, my 9 to 5 was designing prototypes, so have that and show it to folks. If you’re getting good feedback, if you have a mentor or two, and they’re sort of saying

“Hey, this is great!”

transition yourself out, but be gentle about it. You don’t want to necessarily attack the situation, you don’t want to necessarily throw caution completely to the wind; take a fair risk. My attitude is be gentle, even if you get fired a week before Christmas. Try to make it work for you, have some 6 to 12 months of money saved up so when you do sort of take that job you’ve got runway. Investors I know will respect that. If you have personal runway, they’re going to like hearing that.

Paul K.: The final this is you mentioned about teams. I’ve had recently an approach from what seems like a great sponsor who puts together ready-made teams for projects, but how do you go about finding top-tier talent and attracting them to your vision? Have you got any tips for us on that?

Paul M.: That’s a fantastic question. I’ve had a real challenge with that, it took me two years to find my designer. I’m a designer myself, so maybe I’m more picky than others, but it took me two years of looking to find somebody. I’d already been looking for a while and it took that long. Now dev — I still haven’t found a core dev; I’m interviewing right now. There are some great teams out there, and I know some of your sponsors look fantastic, so I’m also looking at them, too. There are great developing teams ready for you, Creativedash is one that is number one right now for me. Find a core team… I’m unusual in that I don’t have a co-founder right now, so it’s only going to be a sole founder situation, but there are tons of opportunities out there, tons of companies out there that will provide that for you and I personally am not against that. I’m looking at a few, but at the same time I’m also looking to find a core future CTO for my company. Send your resumes my way if you’re a dev. If you understand programmatic design, if you can do programmatic assets in iOS, we’ll be good friends, so send your resume my way: paul@cora.io

Paul K.: Wonderful. Just on that, there will be show notes on episode 446 for anyone going to theappguy.co, and they could also search for your name, Paul Martens. And yes, you mentioned how to get yourself on e-mail, I guess it would be relevant to give your social media presence out, given that that’s the essence of CORA.

Paul M.: Yes, sign up for at least for an early beta access on cora.io, but I’m totally cool with connecting on LinkedIn. Don’t find me on Facebook, that’s really relegated towards family. LinkedIn I think is a great way to connect with me professionally.

Paul K.: You know, I can’t help it, I’ve got to squeeze one more in — how are you going about doing your own social media, because you mentioned Facebook for family? I have the same problem, I restrict it to… No one wants to see pictures of my kids, from the podcast audience. But how are you using CORA yourself to actually post your own things?

Paul M.: That’s a fantastic question and everyone’s going to have to wait and see, because what we’ve got designed is going to completely blow people away. I’ve shown it to a few folks. It’s going to be a very revolutionary way of understanding privacy, but also understanding sort of personal storage as well.

Paul K.: I love that, that is a good tease into going and joining the beta, so I definitely encourage everyone to go to cora.io. Paul, this has been a wonderful chat, it’s so inspirational. Here you are, working for Virgin, Apple, Facebook and now doing your thing with a great team — wonderful. Thank you very much for joining us on The App Guy Podcast.

Paul M.: Thanks, it’s been a lot of fun.

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