Date: 2012-08-13 Category: Interviews
Evan Doll, Co-Founder of Flipboard
iOSDevUK Conference Special
About Evan Doll
Evan previously worked at Apple for six years on the iPhone and Final Cut Pro. He also taught the popular iPhone development course at Stanford University where he also got his undergrad degree in Computer Science.
Follow Evan Doll @edog1203
The Flipboard app is a godsend for readers. As well as collecting personalized content from websites, it grabs photos, text or video from links in your Twitter stream and stitches them into a magazine-like layout with neatly arranged panels, lots of white space and beautiful typography. The end result is a visually rich magazine that’s alive and breathing with content posted by people and websites you care about.
Flipboard became hugely popular very quickly, Apple named Flipboard ‘App if the year’ in 2010, only a few months after it launched and when the Flipboard team was only a year old they had already received over $10 million in funding from stars such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Ashton Kutcher. Due to it’s popularity an Android version was made available in May of this year.
We caught up with Evan Doll while he was in Wales to speak at the iOSDevUK Conference in Aberystwyth and he was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about your connection to Wales?
My great-grandmother, Alice Davies, was born in Rhosllanerchrugog. Her father was a builder and moved to San Francisco to help rebuild the city after the 1906 earthquake. I've always identified strongly with my Welsh heritage, so it was a real treat to finally be able to visit.
How did you get involved with Apple and iPhone development?
I studied Computer Science as an undergraduate at Stanford University here in California. I loved everything about Apple as a teenager, so after receiving my degree I tried repeatedly to get hired there. After several months of applying for open positions without hearing anything, I was finally invited to interview and ended up joining the Pro Video Apps team. After spending three years working on a variety of projects, I began to hear rumours about an amazingly cool secret project. Finally, it was announced to the public in January of 2007, and I immediately emailed the manager of the team to see if I could join. The interview process to transfer within Apple to the iPhone team was even more stringent than getting hired at Apple in the first place, and I was lucky to be able to join and work on the iPhone six months before it was released in July of 2007.
What motivated you to leave Apple?
Apple was (and is) a very special place to work. I was able to grow tremendously as an engineer and as a person, and made many dear friends with whom I'm still quite close. It was also fantastically satisfying to be able to build products that people around the world used every day. But there's a strong spirit of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley- there isn't really a stigma around failure, and everyone you meet seems to be cooking up an idea for something that the world has never seen. So when I met a guy named Mike McCue with a great background who I enjoyed working with, it felt like the right thing to try something new.
You mentioned in your talk that you had a lot of self doubt after you left apple, how did you over come this?
Starting a company is full of emotional ups & downs. One day you feel like you're on top of the world & your ideas are golden, and the next day it feels like everything is falling apart. I've learned that it's really common to feel this way- in fact, I'd be more worried if I wasn't regularly wracked by self-doubt! Your relationship with your co-founder is almost like having another spouse- you're providing one another with emotional support & balancing one another out. Working with people you respect & enjoy spending time with is more important than anything else- it's much easier to change your idea than to swap out your entire team.
Where did the idea for Flipboard come from?
We were thinking a lot about the opportunities and challenges of a world where people are constantly sharing with one another online. We're incredibly connected to one another, but it can be difficult to sift through the noise. We wanted to make it faster & more beautiful to see what others are recommending & discussing on your social networks. That way, you can eliminate some of the guilt, the fear of missing out on something important, without spending all day staring at a screen.
What was it like starting out? What were the main challenges you faced?
One of the biggest challenges when building something new is balancing the desire to make something perfect, and the need to get something in front of real users as quickly as possible. You don't want to release something that's half-baked, but you can't take years and years either. This is something that Apple does an incredible job of- they're obsessive perfectionists who know when to stop making changes & kick it out the door.
What advice would you give budding app developers or start-ups in general?
First of all, don't ignore marketing. If you build something incredible and don't work hard to tell the world about it, you've short-changed your hard work. It's sometimes easy to forget that not everyone cares about your new creation as much as you do. Second, try to build prototypes as quickly as possible. If you're an engineer, that might mean writing code, but prototypes can come in all other sorts of forms. You might build a presentation using Keynote or Powerpoint. You could sketch on paper. Anything that goes beyond simply talking about your ideas. Until you've seen them in front of you in some form, you don't know if they're really any good. And finally, don't let the fear of risk overwhelm you. It may feel like you're risking a lot when starting a company, but the only truly non-renewable resource is your own time. If you don't feel like you're wasting your time, then everything else- money, ego, sleep- can be replenished eventually.
Where do you see mobile and tablet computing heading in the future?
It's amazing to think about how much the world has changed since 2007. We carry around these insanely powerful, Internet-connected devices in our pockets that can change nearly every facet of our daily lives. And we're connected with our friends, family and people we simply find interesting. Any kind of product that you can think of, from travel to shopping to entertainment, still has the potential to be totally reinvented in this new world.
What are you working on at the moment? What's next for Flipboard?
Another principle we've borrowed from Apple is trying to be secretive about what's next, so that the news will make a big splash :). We know that our biggest threat isn't some other company, but the possibility that we'll become complacent. So we have a lot of ideas that we're incubating right now, and we hope to share them soon!