Sean M Everett

Humanizing Technology | Table of Contents

Why Apple Doesn’t Build Apps

Okay, sure. They make iMessage, Mail, Calendar, and a few other required system apps. Like Maps (let’s just not go there, though, mmkay?).

But the reason Apple doesn’t spend it’s time building games or Twitter clones isn’t because it would compete with their developers. Quite the opposite in fact.

Apple is so successful because they empower app developers with Apple’s public APIs and sharing the dream of what they can build with it.

Apple builds tools. Tools for developers and designers to change the world.

Apple doesn’t build houses. They manufacture nails, wood, and paint.

The latter is typically seen as a commodity, but Apple has managed to make it the complete opposite of a commodity. They release things so vertically integrated, like Metal, that no other competitor can compete, because they don’t own the chip, hardware, and software.

So if you want to build a successful software business (that means you make enough profit to have a consistent growth rate week over week), it means you need to build nails, not houses.

Here’s to the nails.

- Sean

How Complex Is A Simple Fea…

Just add this button. Just put in this check box. Just password protect this thing. Just add this hover state.


It’s a dangerous word because it implies a small thing but in reality could require a large amount of effort. I’ve seen it come up time and time again.

The problem isn’t the request, or even the need. In fact, in 99% of cases if you ask for something, you likely do want it and need it. But, often times a lot of the danger and difficulty is hidden below the surface of the water, just like the overused iceberg analogy (thank goodness for James Cameron and his King of the World interpretation of Titanic).

So what are we as product people, designers, and engineers forced to do?

Well, we could just ignore it and focus on the highest priorities that have the largest impact, or we could explain it individually one on one, or we could write a white paper or blog post on why simple features are complex (see what I did there?), or we could try to do all of them.

Product Management best practices state that you ignore feature requests until your users or customers won’t leave you alone about them. Then you know it’s a priority across a large swath of customers.

Or we just quit, give up, and move to the beach and open a shanty surf shop.

Personally, I think we have to make a gut call on a few of them when we see large pockets of business value but require little effort. Then we can “sneak” these things into the broader plan. But there’s a danger in that as well.

It sets a precedent. A favor here, a hotfix there. And pretty soon you’re back to Frankenstein. Heck, it even applies to marketing, PR, contacting customers or anything that we’re tasked to do on a daily basis.

At the end of the day I’ve only ever found one thing that will continue to serve you well. And that’s to do what you feel is right in your heart. You’re so deep in the weeds and understand things at such a deep level, that no one else is going to have the understanding of the system you’re dealing with. You can spot subtle movements first before others and you have the big picture in your head. Whether you’re planning a large marketing push, a massive software release or just plain starting a new business, do what’s right.

You’ll be able to explain it, you’ll love what you do a little bit more, and you’ll get better results.

Don’t let others define your priorities for the day. Run your own race and at the end of the day if you can spend an hour helping someone else, then do that. Then you get done what you want to get done, and you’re also lending a helping hand.

To me, that’s what success looks like.

And it has nothing to do with a feature.

- Sean

Why Tim Cook Is An Operatio…

You may have heard this story but bear with me.

Apple is one of the most successful
Businesses in the history of mankind. Yes, take all businesses ever and Apple is not just the most successful by almost any measure, but also the most complex.

In fact, it’s so complex and operating at such unheard of scale, that it REQUIRED operational precision and perfection in order to become successful.

Most know that good old Steve was a product guy and that Tim was a master of inventory and logistics.

Tim do don’t get there by accident though. He’s in the office by 4:30am. He has his subordinates walk through an incredibly detailed spreadsheet every week. It’s even been said that he spends 5 hours in a room going line by line and holding his people accountable for every last aspect of what’s included in that spreadsheet.

It’s a 30,000 foot view all the way down to the millimeter view.

As a master builder will attest, the devil is always in the subtlest of details. If you don’t go to the Nth degree there’s no possible way to know “for sure”.

As a friend recently stated, “growing up is painful” but if you want to become Apple, maybe it’s time to get down in the weeds and pop back up to the plane every second for the next 10 years.

Businesses, likes products, are a fractal. As you zoom out, it will look the same as if you zoom in.

So zoom in and fix something. Then zoom out, does it hold? K. Zoom back in and fix another something with the prior zoomed in fix still in your mind. Zoom back out and compare the two. Now zoom back in.

Oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed and want to stab my eyes with this laser pointer.

And that’s what Tim Cook is a magician.

- Sean

Why Delta’s Customer Suppor…

I get up every Monday morning at 4am to catch the 6am flight from LGA to ATL. It makes for a long day, but it’s what’s required to build software with hundreds of customers from all over the world with enterprise-level requirements.

Anyways, I can get from my front door to the Atlanta office front door, complete with rental car and 30 minute drive by 9:30am and catch the second half of a daily standup meeting.

Yesterday, however, for a flight filled with men and women in business suits, our days were all disrupted by two hours. I missed two important meetings, one a company wide all hands call and didn’t get to the office until nearly noon.

The problem was that the Delta flight was missing a copilot. They found one, but he had to get in a cab from JFK and get to LGA. Then he got stuck in traffic. So while we’re all crammed into the plane, most people passed out because, yah, the sun still isn’t even up yet, we were delayed two hours.

I wasn’t upset (it’s out of my control) and most people were too tired to care, but that’s when Delta did something unexpected and wonderful.

They sent me the below email yesterday afternoon:

I get why Delta did it. These people on the 6am flight make that trip every week, myself included. We all have crazy status. I’ve flown 50,000 miles in the last 5 months, but when I’m on this flight I’m like letter U and have about 50 people in front of me on the upgrade list. That means there are likely a few Million Milers on my flight.

Delta sent this note because giving everyone on the flight $75 paled in comparison to the Lifetime Value of each customer riding inside that aluminum cage.

It’s a valuable lesson. Pick your customer service spots so your super fans and most valuable customers (in terms of LTV) get showered with love. Those are the ones who could make, or break, your airline.

And we all know from business school that airlines are the toughest businesses with the lowest ROEs of any industry. So they need every bit of help they can get.

Mobile app? Check.
Comfortable airport lounges? Check.
Great support? Check.

Did you notice something about those 3 points above? Yep, all user experience.

That’s why I fly Delta now even though I have hundreds of thousands of miles on American.

- Sean

Why It’s So Hard To Build A…

There’s a post up on techcrunch describing a potentially new social network for teens:…

But it’s actually more of a story about the process of building an app when you have money, when it runs out, and why the best things get built by those who are passionate about building.

There’s a secret buried at the end, one which is critical to a successful app. And that’s to develop a strategy for user acquisition. In this case they found tier 2 and tier 3 YouTube celebrities to get on the app and bring their followings with them.

It’s a great idea, you just need to make sure you’ve built something that people actually want.

- Sean

What Is Your Church?

Some people actually call it church and they go every Sunday. Others have a different interpretation of church.

They lose themselves in designing something, writing code or a novel, talking with friends (incidentally the original meaning of the word church), going running, doing charity, building a house, sewing, or riding the bike (cycle or Harley).

Me, my church is the gym. I’ve been praying to the god of iron for over a decade. When I’m stressed out, have too much work to do, have a horrible breakup or can’t figure out a solution to a math problem, I go to my cathedral stocked with weights instead or candles.

I lose myself in it. It clears my mind, and when I’m done I get an endorphin rush. It helps me stay younger, look better, and gives me more energy to work even harder the next day.

Unfortunately, some people’s churches are destructive. Cigarettes. Booze. Yelling.

These things aren’t a church. You know it because it makes you feel worse afterwards.

Church fuels the soul, not detracts from it.

You know you’ve found your church when time slips away, you’re incredibly engaged and focused and you feel joyful before, during and after. Nobody has to pay you to do it. And you end up bringing other people along for the ride.

I’m curious. What’s your church?

- Sean

Burger King’s 33 Year Old CEO

Burger King Is Run by Children

You may think this is a joke but it’s not. This is what happens when a hedge fund continues a private equity buyout of a company and takes one of the slash-and-burn board members to run the company.

Who said it’s a bad thing? I’m 33 years old and work 18 hours a day. Have for 10 years.

Many 60 year old executives physically can’t work that much in a day. Can’t go so hard for so long. Plus they’re just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But this kid. A 33 year old financier has the power (he’s the boss), the backing (he’s the Board’s employee) and the work ethic (has since childhood) to do the impossible.

It’s interesting to see the strategy play out. Remove all frivolous expenses like the corporate jet (makes sense) and the executive’s Mahogany Row glacial estate-like offices (it smells of rich mahogany), sell off all the stores (Ron Johnson, who), and ride the process optimization wave straight to the Scrooge McDuck pool of gold coins.

I for one applaud it. Give me poor smart and hungry any day over experience. Mistakes happen. Fires ignite. Holes collapse. But who has the energy to put Humpty Dumpty back together again?

- Sean

When Your Parents Come Into…

That day, ladies and gentleman, is today.

So in the case of humanizing technology, I’m going to put that damn technology away and focus on the humans in my life for a few sprint cycles. Don’t worry, I won’t be totally gone.

I suggest you do the same with your family, friends, and other humans this weekend. The user experience of real life. Whoda thunk?

Turn that phone upside down on the table and look the people across from you in their eyes. Laugh at their jokes. Be present in the moment. Your emails, texts, phone calls, social twitterings will be there an hour later when you finish your Arnold Palmer (lemonade + iced tea, for the uninitiated) sprint.

As Ghandi said, “It’s Friday, bitches.”

- Sean

About That Foursquare & Air…

Yah, so two consumer startups both changed their logos in the last few weeks.

Much of the tech press has written about the phallic or fellopianic (???) expression that the AirBnB logo seems to conjure in people’s minds. But the new Foursquare logo is nothing more than a 1980s-futuristic-looking ‘f’ with a map pin pointing down from the bottom of the ‘f’.

After all this debate and back and forth, and it’s really a simple thing. A brand (and therefore a logo) are what you think they are.

Target’s bullseye logo? Maybe you see someone in Texas prying a gun from Al Gore’s “cold dead hands” (thanks Planet of the Apes), or maybe you see the puppy with the circles around its eyes, or maybe you just see the precision of mathematical concentric circles.

It doesn’t matter how much someone tries to explain the logic behind the design, the logo is what you believe it to be.

For the AirBnB logo, you might actually see a hand drawn ‘A’ or you might see something a bit more sexual. Whatever you see, that’s what it is. Regardless of how the designer wanted you to see it.

A brand is a feeling.

Apple in the 1990s was viewed as garbage. I remember people saying “macintrash” because they thought windows was so superior.

Today, with the iPhone, iPad, and all the other i’s, we’ve reached a point where the brand value is off the charts.

If I was to start a tech company and make a banana logo, people would destroy me, and it. Even if I tried to make it the shape of an apple or a pear. Destroyed. But over the years, people forget that an apple is a fruit and instead spell it “Apple”. People believe it’s one of the most valuable companies in the world.

They associate a fruit with the highest form of innovative yet simple technology. A baby doesn’t try to take a bite out of an iPad because it has an apple shape on the back (okay, maybe some do if they’re teething). Instead, a baby swipes an iPad, because the technology responds to the baby’s touch.

Imagine that. A brand that “responds to your touch”.

Here’s my question for you. Does the company you work for or started, the brand you’re developing every day, “respond to your customer’s touch”? If not, maybe it’s time it did.

Because it’s not always how much cash is in the bank, but sometimes the amount of lives that have been touched.

- Sean

P.S. if you got that Al Gore/Planet of the Apes reference, we can be best frans forevs.

The Shocking Thing About Ap…

Below is a summary of Apple’s 3rd quarter financials, as well as commentary, from iClarified (emphasis mine):

Tim Cook Highlights:
● Best ever worldwide developer conference with over 20 million people watching keynote.
● Overview of Yosemite, iOS 8, and Swift
● 29 major car brands are integrating CarPlay
● Relationship with IBM to deliver solutions for enterprise. Will release over 100 apps.
● Record June quarter revenue. Thanks to strong performs from iPhone and Mac.
Earnings per share up 20% year over year
● Sold over 35 million iPhones, new 3Q record
● In the brick countries iPhone sales were up 55%
● 18% growth year-over-year in Mac sales
● Demand strong for portables
For the first 9 months of this fiscal year, the line item called iTunes Software & Services has been fastest growing part of Apple sales
● iPad sales gated by reduction in iPad inventory
● iPad Air registered 98% customer satisfaction rate. iPad mini with Retina has 100% customer satisfaction rate (ChangeWave)
● iPad accounts for 80% of tablet based purchases
● Very excited about agreement to purchase Beats. Will be great for music lovers. Provides Apple with fantastic music subscription service, access to talent
● Incredible pipeline of new product and services that we can’t wait to show you.

Luca Maestri Highlights:
● New June quarter record for revenue
● Result was towards high end of guidance despite reduction in inventory
● Gross margin 39.4%
● Operating margin 27.5% of revenue
● Diluted E per S $1.28
● 35.2 million iPhones sold. 13% growth
● iPhone sales grew well across all categories despite new product rumors that likely resulted in purchase delays
● 13.2 million iPhone units sold compared to 14.6 million last year
● iPad channel inventory reduced by 500,000
● So far 13 million iPads have been sold to education globally
● 4.4 million Macs compared to 3.8 million last year, new June quarter record
● Strong growth of MacBook Air
● Macs have gained global market share for 32 out of 33 quarters
● Total revenue from iTunes Software and Services was 4.5 billion
● iTunes revenue $2.6 billion
● Software and Services revenue was $1.9 billion
● Over 75 billion app downloads
● Developers have earned over $20 billion, nearly half in the last year
● Ended quarter with $164.5 billion in cash + marketable securities
● Dividend of 47 cents per common share
● Outlook for the next quarter: Between $37 and $40 billion in revenue

If you weren’t careful you would have missed the most shocking aspect of the entire earnings call yesterday. And the one thing that should drive shareholder buying decisions incidentally is also the reason for my strong buy rating:

"Developers have earned over $20 billion, nearly half in the last year."

Nearly half in the last year. Half.

That means that the app store isn’t just growing, it’s growing exponentially. It’s a hockey stick curve. Something every investor in startups looks for intuitively. And with the new announcement of Swift’s programming language, Apple making their developer tools easier to use and a plethora of new APIs, there is “no better time to be an iOS developer”.

The only downside I can see to all of this is the massive amount of competition us app creators face in the marketplace. Consumers only have a home screen with 20 to 24 apps that can fit. And some of those aren’t being replaced anytime soon, like Email, SMS, Phone, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

So you cut that in half and you have a million devs all competing for 10 spots.

That is going to break down eventually, and that’s the biggest problem that Apple needs to solve for app developers, and their customers. Because the iPhone is their #1 selling item and drives 75% of their revenue.

- Sean