The first Nike "Just Do It" commercial featuring 80-year old Walt Stack.

Seemed fitting since I opened VM Ware for the first time in 3 months. Starting to get settled in Manila, motivation is clawing back out of the hole. 

AuthorRichard Hochstetler

Essentially if all we as software engineers and product designers did was consult users on product design it would all be regurgitated shit. The brilliance comes in giving people what they don’t know they want. This is where the problem lies and opportunity lurks, great design is hard, innovation is even harder.

Alex Limi wrote in Checkboxes that kill your product:

Design by committee often looks like a row of checkboxes.

It’s a discussion of adding features, appeasing users, and product design.

Jony Ive, Apple design chief about consulting users:[1]

“We don’t do market research… It will guarantee mediocrity and will only work out whether you are going to offend anyone.”

Steve Jobs has famously said “Skate to where the puck is going to be.” Of course, why would you skate to where it was - it’s obvious. Applying this logic to existing apps, industries, or research is not so easy. If it was you’d just hire the local consumer research firm, ask people what they want, and then go build it.[2]

Scratching an Itch Product Design

I built Jottpad to solve a problem my wife and I were having. I was the user. I knew exactly what I needed. The hope was in solving a problem for myself other people would want the same solution.

Problems and in particular small focused problems have built huge businesses. The key is identifying and solving in a thoughtful, easy to use and understand way.

Michael Jurewitz writes Focus on the User:

Focus on the user. Focus on their life, their problems, and how you are helping them.

Dropbox, also famously called “A Feature” by Mr. Jobs, took the cloud storage conundrum and essentially solved it. It wasn’t because they had the best technology although that was essential. The idea of a single folder that syncs everywhere was immediately understood by anybody. Other solutions might have had more options, better engineering, etc…. but Dropbox built what people could use and understand and it just worked. The co-founder of Syncplicity had this to say about losing to Dropbox.

In the end, it really came down to one incredibly genius idea: Dropbox limited its feature set on purpose. It had one folder and that folder always synced without any issues – it was magic. Syncplicity could sync every folder on your computer until you hit our quota. (Unfortunately, that feature was used to synchronize C:\Windows\ for dozens of users – doh!) Our company had too many features and this created confusion amongst our customer base. This in turn led to enough customer support issues that we couldn’t innovate on the product, we were too busy fixing things.

Instapaper solves a problem a lot of people have, but I don’t think at the time Marco created it a poll of people on the subway would have uncovered the problem he was solving. Marco even says his original idea was to save for later and then print out the articles for reading offline.

Clear redefined the interaction with a todo app. It doesn’t have the most features, in fact it has almost none. What they did was make user interaction fun and that hook keeps people coming back for more.

Solving your own problems or observed problems of others in a simple, elegant way is not cheating, not many of us will ever come up with a product that creates a market.

Creating a Market

Another class of product comes out of nowhere, there is no market, nobody “wanted” this, in fact nobody even knows what they’ll do with it - but it worms a way into our lives.

Twitter - “What are you doing.” Narcissism breeds a huge social network.

iPhone - “Why do I need this $500 phone.” Well you don’t, until you do. I don’t think the majority of us could justify that we actually need an iPhone but prying it out of your hands after you’ve grown accustomed to the way it makes your life better… I’d put quitting the iPhone on par with quitting smoking.

Solve a Problem, Focus on the User

Solving an existing problem is not cheating. Creating something out of nothing is incredibly hard. In either case it’s always about creating a compelling, user-focused solution to known or unknown problems.

  1. Quote from this article - Jonathan Ive: Apple’s goal isn’t to make money  ↩

  2. This sort of research is useful for product alphas and testing. Developing in a complete vacuum is usually an arduous task.  ↩

AuthorRichard Hochstetler

I have a hard time justifying my efforts towards anything I don’t own. The longer I’m an independent developer the more this gnaws at me. And I mean independent in the sense of working on my own projects, being my own boss. Not the freelance type of independent… I’m a horrible freelance developer for the very reason my only motivation in those scenarios is usually money.


Looking back I’ve always been drawn to activities or jobs where my effort was directly related to the overall sucess of the endeavor. In high school at the age of 14 I was a decent basketball and baseball player. I gave up on baseball and focused all my effort on basketball. Basketball is well known as being a team sport where individuals are most able to influence the outcome. At the time these thoughts had nothing to do with my decisions, a 14 year old kid doesn’t put a lot of thought into anything.

My first job out of college was working in the information technology bowels of a steel manufacturing company as a programmer / analyst. I lasted 9 months and jumped to a technology startup as the 30th employee. That experience showed me how much could get accomplished in the business world with a small team and highly focused effort. It also taught me no amount of effort can fix a product nobody wants. [1]

After that experience I tried my hand at consulting[2], another software company, IT department of a an insurance company, and finally landed at Pacejet, a small software company, as team lead[3]. It was exactly what I was looking for at the time, autonomy and direct influence on how well the company performed. But again, I had almost no ownership related to the companies performance.

Which brings me to today, about 2 years removed from working for anybody but myself. When my wife and I made the move to Lagos, Nigeria the plan was always to stay on at Pacejet in some capacity. However, once I got here and was about 6 months removed from the situation I was once again reminded just how uninterested I am in freelance development.

Owning my Own Output

I’m 35 and I’ve realized I want to be successful for something I build myself. My time is not infinite and thus choices are required. Whether it be software projects, blog posts, or something as simple as a twitter account - own it. This doesn’t mean it has to be just me, I enjoy being part of teams but I need to have ownership.[4]


Mark Cuban writes Don’t Follw Your Passion, Follow Your Effort:

If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time. Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you .

My effort is proportional to the amount of ownership. I’m going to own my time and effort and hopefully that will lead me to building something successful.

  1. Amazing technological feats do not a successful product make.  ↩
  2. At the age of 23 the money was amazing and a bit of a motivator, that has passed.  ↩
  3. Pacejet was an awesome opportunity in so many ways and I still consider this some of the best work I’ve done.  ↩
  4. This could be stock options, profit sharing, whatever the vehicle it has to be compensation directly related to the success of the company.  ↩
AuthorRichard Hochstetler

What do you do? That answer was always simple, and I guess it still should be but it doesn’t roll off the tongue anymore. The confidence and pride is gone when I respond. I was given my dream opportunity and I’m flailing.

A taste of independent development even without financial success still feels a bit like success. The problem is I didn’t earn it. And this is what has been nagging at me for almost 2 years. I was given the opportunity based on a job relocation for my wife.

I digress… So much of a working age person’s identity is wrapped up in a career. I achieved a level of success coming up through the ranks as a programmer, developer, team lead, etc…and that was my identity. I built stuff and loved doing it.

Yes I’ve successfully shipped an iOS app with a full fledged web back-end which takes a full-time amount of work to improve and run. But, lets be real - Jottpad makes enough money to pay server costs and barely that most months. For me to tell people I’m an independent software developer only because I’m lucky enough to have a spouse kicking ass feels wrong to me.

What to do? Getting a “real job” feels like giving up on the opportunity of a lifetime. To keep banging my head against the wall pushing Jottpad forward is a bit like the definition of insanity.[1]

Obviously something needs to change, I need a way to measure progress that doesn’t end with me feeling selfish by sticking to this failing dream.

I don’t have some big epiphany to sort this all out. I’ve never failed at anything I’ve committed to but at some point pragmatism wins…

  1. “Doing something over and over expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein  ↩

AuthorRichard Hochstetler

This is an update to a previous post in which I whine about how to get an iPhone 5.

I’ve had a Verizon iPhone 5 for a little over a month now. The “small” redesign of the phone is well worth the upgrade. The iPhone 4S now feels squat, heavy and slow. Meticulously iterating on a proven design, while maybe not sexy, consistently produces a quality product and Apple has done it again with the 5.

Procuring the iPhone 5, on the Verizon network, from Nigeria, was no small feat. It involved a couple detailed emails to my mother and talking with a sales rep, over Skype (voice-only), in a Verizon store to close the deal. I bought an out-of-contract iPhone 5 with a month-to-month plan as another line on my mom’s plan. This was the only way Verizon would let me purchase an iPhone, while living in Nigeria.

A couple headaches attempting the purchase over the phone or internet from Nigeria which resulted in me sending my emissary (mother) to a Verizon store:

  1. Since I currently do not have an account with Verizon I was required to show a plethora of documents to facilitate a credit check and identify verification. This all required faxing to some “corporate” machine somewhere in the bowels of the US. My repeated (4) attempts to do this all resulted in a confused customer service rep being unable to find my documents.
  2. The only way to get an out-of-contract iPhone 5 on the Verizon network is by purchasing from Verizon which requires an account or contract of some sort with them. So the out-of-contract phone requires at least a month-to-month contract. You can’t purchase an out-of-contract Verizon iPhone from the Apple Store and there is no concept of prepaid for an iPhone - the Prepaid 80 plan apperently does not apply to the iPhone.
  3. I did not want to wait until I was back in the US and physically able to go to the Verizon store myself since it was a few week wait on receiving the iPhone. I needed to get this process started from outside the US so the phone would be avaible when I arrived for 2 week holiday.

Once the iPhone was ordered on my mom’s account the process went fairly smoothly. It was delivered before my arrival and waiting to be opened & activated. This was a fairly painless process, just open the box, restore from an iCloud backup and it was good to go. Since the phone was ordered from Verizon and technically already on a contract the activation was seemless and worked right out of the box.

I did have to go into a Verizon store and switch ownership from my mother’s account to a new account created for myself - this only took about 15 minutes and my Verizon service was never interrupted.

Month-to-Month contract vs Prepaid

The only real caveat in this whole thing is the month-to-month contract you’re forced to use due to the absence of prepaid plans for the iPhone. If I fail to pay and let my service deactivate I’m forced to pay a re-activation fee and was told the re-activation process could take up to 48 hours, not ideal for stepping off the plane in Atlanta and being able to use my phone. So… the solution is to put your account on hold. This can be done for 2 consectutive 3 month terms. After that you need to pay for at least a month of service and can then do the process over again. Luckily the suspend/re-active process for this can be done via the Verizon website.

How I Wish Cellular Phone Service Worked

Contrast this with stepping off the plane and activiting or using an iPad 3 with Verizon LTE.

  1. Put in Verizon SIM.
  2. Go to Settings and sign up for a 30 day data plan.
  3. Wait for activation message and start using data.
  4. Enjoy what I found to be incredibly good service in the Atlanta airport and all major cities in Ohio. In fact the service was so good using hotel Wi-Fi was typically a step down in speeds and we used our iPads tethered instead.

Minority but Willing to Spend Money

I’m obviously in the minority here when I talk about how I want cellular services to work, but I would argue that this is a minority willing to pay for convenience and speed. The LTE service was so good I found myself going through about 15GB of data in two weeks. I would typically have just used the hotel Wi-Fi or waited till I was somewhere with unlimited Wi-Fi for bigger downloads but the speed difference was so big I was willing to pay the extra data charges to not wait.

Even my wife, who typically doesn’t care about waiting a bit for downloads, when I showed her the difference in speed between downloading an episode of Grey’s Anatomy over hotel Wi-Fi or Verizon LTE gladly paid a bit more for the extra data plan and we forwent the crappy, costly hotel Wi-Fi.

My point being, prepaid is typically thought of as a low-cost option in the US. But I counter that it is exactly the service high paying business and vacationers want as well. If made easy to use, like setting up data on an iPad, and providing a better level of service than free hotel Wi-Fi - I think the investement in crafting the user experience for cellular phones would definitely pay off in increased usage and data consumption.

Was it Worth the Effort

Anyway, I’m glad I went through the hassle of getting a Verizon iPhone 5 for use in the US. My parents and my wife’s parents both live in Verizon only coverage areas in Ohio. Having a phone that worked for the few days we spent at each over the holidays was worth it to me - and it will be worth it for future trips.

Outside the US the phone is in fact unlocked and I have had zero issues with compatability. I purchased a SIM cutter and simply cut my Micro SIMs down to Nano SIM size.

The hardest part of this whole process was re-adjusting to non-LTE and in a lot of cases no service when arriving back in Lagos, sigh…

AuthorRichard Hochstetler