Stay product focused and use insanely intense project management software to keep track of development velocity. Without product you have nothing. Product has to be your number 1 priority.
Scott Lindenbaum is the President and COO of SPUN. Scott has been covered by CNN, MSNBC, and FOXnews, and has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and numerous other outlets. For ten years Scott was a halfpipe snowboard competitor sponsored by Burton Snowboards. He holds an MFA in creative writing, has studied Behavior Design with Stanford Human Interaction professor BJ Fogg, and is currently working with Apple on the UI design of future SPUN iterations.
What are you working on right now?
Every day is another day working on SPUN, my iPhone app. SPUN makes it easier for urbanites to keep a finger on the pulse of the city. It’s local news on steroids, with articles curated from local experts and professional publishers. If you don’t have time to check every local website every day, and if you’re into what’s going on where you live, then SPUN is for you. City dwellers need a one-stop aggregation of juicy articles. It’s the ultimate urban lifestyle guide. Also, it’s got a crazy-ass 3D interface. You rotate a prism that is floating in outer space to navigate between categories. We worked with Apple for 5 months to develop the interface. In a lot of ways the UI/UX is our crowning achievement. SPUN has been featured as New & Noteworthy in the app store for about a month. Right now we’re designing the iPad version, which should drop in April.
Where did the idea for SPUN come from?
I previously co-founded a company called Broadcastr, whose focus was publishing audio content to place. It created something like an audio tour for everywhere. It was a cool idea, but it didn’t make a widespread already-existing behavior easier for people. I studied something called Behavior Design with Stanford professor B.J. Fogg. It’s the application of behavioral psychology to interaction design. Without his models and heuristics, SPUN would not exist. Three B.J. Fogg takeaways: 1) create an ability shift in highly motivated people; make an already existing behavior that is a little too hard just a little easier, 2) keep it simple; don’t try to build the Hubble Telescope right off the bat. Build a tiny machine quickly and then iterate it in the market based on funnel analysis, 3) create positive rewards for every gesture and action in the app; people keep doing things that feel good. For example, the most important thing about toothpaste is not that it cleans your teeth, rather, it’s that your mouth feels really tingly when you use it. Tingly equals good. Good means you’ll be excited to brush your teeth again soon.
How do you make money?
SPUN is designed to drive users toward featured content. A portion of the featured content is sponsored. Brands pay for premium placement of their content in the app. This is very similar to Thrillist’s model, which has been monumentally successful. We are live in 11 cities, with plans to double that in 2013. Every city has four featured slots per category. These update daily. The bottom line: there are a lot of slots that can be revenue generating and it’s a scalable model. We also plan to do rev-splits on ticket sales related to the events we list.
What does your typical day look like?
Up at 6am. Coffee with my girlfriend. Walk the dog. Head to the gym (it’s very important to keep the endorphins pumping when you’re running a startup. Exercise is great for that). At the office by 9am. Email for an hour. Morning development meeting at 10am. Partnership management for two hours. Lunch at noon (sometimes with the whole team, which often turns into a brainstorming session). Early afternoon: Meetings outside the office, on the phone, and on skype in the afternoon (usually with press, developers, VCs, investors, etc). Meet with the editorial team at 4pm. Check in with my co-founder for a daily debrief around 5:30pm. Email from 5:30-7pm. Home for dinner. Walk the dog again. I don’t drink or smoke (though I have in the past). It’s important to maintain steady energy and a positive outlook when you’re on the startup roller coaster. These activities cause too much emotional fluctuation. I go snowboarding on the weekend to keep a balance between work and life. Another tip: don’t make your ego contingent on the success of your company. Whether you succeed or fail professionally should not affect the value or content of your identity/personality/ego. Put family first.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Magic wand. Cauldron.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I like that consumer-facing, UGC-driven, social apps are dwindling. I think we’ve seen the field leaders emerge (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). It’s time for new innovation. I like that curation is on the rise (Pinterest), and that curation is now automated and interest-driven. Apps that change based on your usage habits are great because they keep you feeling good.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was the weekend line cook in Long Island City at a failing tea shop. During the week I worked as a janitor at an accounting firm in mid-town. The tea shop was the worse of the two. The owner didn’t care much about satisfying the customers and she was generally unpleasant to be around. Since I was working 7 days a week I was extremely irritable as well. I applied to grad school during this time and was subsequently informed that I had been wait listed. This was unacceptable to me, so I called admissions and said, “I’m sitting on a box of industrial Windex in a store room at my terrible job. I’m not allowed to make this call, but I need you to know that if I was good enough to have made a high slot on the waiting list, then I’m good enough to go to your program, and I guarantee that I want to be there more than the guy who was the number 1 pick.” 24 hours later I got an email that said, “If you’d still like to attend, we’d love to have you.” The moral, always ask directly for what you want. If you don’t ask, you’re unlikely to get what you need. If you don’t get what you need then you have to make french toast for unhappy people in Queens.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have dropped SPUN down as a C-corp and started the whole entrepreneurial process from scratch with this idea. Instead, I raised money as Broadcastr and slowly iterated it into SPUN. There was no way to avoid this, as I had too much magical thinking around Broadcastr at the time and couldn’t see that it was not destined to succeed. Takeaway: a completely new idea should be treated as a new company if you can. That said, never leave an investor behind. Bring them forward into your pivots and new ventures at all costs. This makes future investors feel secure when they come into your company.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Stay product focused and use insanely intense project management software to keep track of development velocity. Without product you have nothing. Product has to be your number 1 priority. We use JIRA/Confluence to manage our dev. It’s a very customizable cloud-based tool.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When Pinterest, Spool, and Instapaper became popular I convinced myself that we needed a web strategy with a bookmarklet tool at it’s center. Going down this rabbit hole cost us a lot of time, money, and development. Ultimately, this tool never saw the light of day and the developer who worked on it was frustrated that his work was shelved. Moral of the story: develop features based on user need, not based on the sudden success of other products. Pay attention to what your user’s are saying not what the pundits are saying. Remember: “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.” -Bob Dylan
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a way to purchase lift tickets to ski mountains in an auction style. Winter sports people spend a ton of money on lift tickets and right now there is only one reliable website to purchase discounted tickets (liftopia.com). These discounts are fixed. It would be great to start a limited number of tickets for specific dates at a low price and have those auctions end when the lifts open that day. If you win the auction, you’re psyched to get a cheap ticket. If you loose, well, you’re already at the mountain, so you’re going to cut your loss and pay full price at the window. This would sell more tickets and drive more traffic, as anyone bidding is guaranteed to show up that day to the mountain.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
The sale and trade of automatic weapons is a problem, particularly in the US, but, to a certain degree, everywhere else as well. It would be great to create some kind of effective regulation around this issue. Also, I would like to have a 4-day work week in the US. 5 is too many.
Tell us a secret.
I see dead people.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Instapaper is great. I get emailed all kinds of articles all day and don’t have time to read them right away. Instapaper lets me read them offline on my iPad on the subway.
eBay. I’m always selling stuff in order to buy new stuff. Their mobile app makes it shockingly easy to post items for sale.
Venmo. I use this more than any other app; it’s for splitting bills with my girlfriend. I like that you can transfer money to anyone regardless of what bank or credit card they use/have without a fee.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. She is the originator of positive reinforcement training. This is how they teach animals to do tricks without using any kind of punishment. These methods must be understood in order to steer users into the effective and satisfying use of your app, and making a habit of it. Remember, people won’t make a habit of something that doesn’t give them a feeling of delight, and a feeling of positive validation.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@verge is essential for staying up on tech news.
@sugarserials is a friend of mine who created an algorithm that tweets novels one sentence at a time. He’s doing American Psycho at the moment.
@yes_snowboards because they always post great Instagram shots of people living the good life and riding deep powder on their snowboards.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud every morning when my dog does something silly. She’s a white French Bulldog named Olive, which means everything she does is silly.
Who is your hero, and why?
Jay Z seems to have things pretty figured out. From popular art, to persona creation, to marketing and branding, to family and fatherhood, and stacking up cash, Hova has you covered.
Would you ever run a startup again?
I go back and forth on this. Some people have told me that startup founders are unemployable after they ride the startup roller coaster. This is because you’re used to bing scrappy and nimble when it comes to decision making. As a result, large corporate environments become intolerable. Also, you’re likely to be fired for the way you like to operate. In other words, I may not have a choice. Entrepreneur for life.
You’re a New Yorker and have been for a long time; will you stay in NYC forever?
I’ll live in SF at a certain point, especially if SPUN raises a B round in the spring.
Scott Lindenbaum’s Email: email@example.com
Scott Lindenbaum on Tiwtter: @scottlindenbaum
Scott Lindenbaum on Linkdin: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/scott-lindenbaum/32/381/33b