How To Design A Global App?

My favourite App at the moment is Vivino, the app for wine drinkers. The image recognition works pretty well, and the database of wine labels Vivino recognizes is massive. From a Penfolds 389 to an obscure Spanish white, Vivino identifies them all and lets me note how much I paid, where I bought it, and add comments if I want. I can also see how much others paid and their ratings, and I can even find out the cheapest or nearest place to buy a particular wine I want. I’ve not yet reached the stage where I check the price and ratings before I select a wine in a restaurant (my wife would kill me anyway), but I can’t resist checking Vivino later on to see if was dudded.

Yup – Vivino is a smartphone App with a truly global appeal. It’s easy to use, looks great, and its target customer base is any wine drinker anywhere on the planet. What makes it truly global though is the amazing database of wine from every wine growing region in the world. Haystack can learn a lot from Vivino as we gear up for our own global launch. Vivino is the only smartphone App which Brian (Haystack Chairman) has found out about before I did. Brian is not on Facebook or Twitter. He is therefore largely immune to social media marketing (he thinks) and he gets very proud of himself for being able to use Shazam. How did Brian find out about Vivino before I did then? He was having a meal and wine with some friends when one of them used Vivino to record the wine at the end of the meal. Everyone else at the table instantly downloaded it. And that’s how we want people to find out about Haystack – by meeting someone who uses Haystack and hands back the paper business cards they receive.

But what other lessons do apps like Vivino have for Haystack? Well Haystack has to look world class and this starts with our brand identity. Haystack did not always look as uber cool as it does now. When I was in charge of product design and brand, we went through several names and many different product designs. I’m not going to embarrass myself by listing all our names before Haystack but they were mainly bad except for the ones which were really bad. Fortunately, after two years of chopping and changing, my brother Nir came up with the name Haystack and immediately the entire team knew we had found our brand name. Jordie, our UI/UX guru, came up with the Haystack logo but even that has evolved and now there is all sorts of cool geometry behind it. Yes I know Apple started all this design stuff ages ago but we want Haystack to look like it belongs alongside Twitter and Google Maps so we probably spent a lot more time and effort than we imagined on this. For the functionality of the App itself, I’ve now lost count of the number of design changes we have gone through; but each one took days or weeks to build and sometimes just minutes to throw away.

For an App to be truly global, it obviously has to have a look and usability which is equal to the best Apps on the market. Achieving this requires design genius AND coding genius. So far, I’ve found only one place in Australia to find that coding genius; game developers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Four of our core development team came out of QUT’s creative industries and IT faculties. Three only graduated this year and one came to us after a project with Amazon’s coders in the UK. We only have one developer over 30 years of age and he came to us after stints in Silicon Valley and building an App for MTV. These people are in incredibly short supply in Brisbane, but if you look hard enough and hang out at enough QUT showcase events, you will find them. The good news is that after you get a couple of these samurai on your team, their talented friends will follow because coding geniuses like to work together.

However, all this look and feel stuff counts for nothing without core functionality. To be genuinely global, Haystack’s database of business card brands must be constantly growing in the same way the vivino database of wines seems endless. For our Australian launch, we originally planned to preload a few dozen national brands. This low number was optimistic to say the least and reality has overtaken us. Every time we demonstrated Haystack to someone, they would ask us to make sure their own brand was included at launch. Brian became so concerned about this that he called me every single day for two months until I could promise him we would launch with at least a thousand brands ready. Now we have many more than that in our database and the capacity to add 100 new brands a day if we have to. This requires an industrial speed production engine (and a design team to use it). This was something else we hadn’t planned (or budgeted for), but it now sits like a new Ferrari waiting for its first run on the autobahn. Roll on October 21.

Being global also means having to build capacity for 10 million users say – I think that’s our latest plan anyway. We launched a test App last year which now has 20,000 users which took a bit of work. Building capacity for millions on Haystack was a different proposition altogether, especially as all that work and money doesn’t make the App look any better for the user. It took all our nerve to invest the time and money to build a back-end which can scale for global domination. If this gave me headaches on the financial side of things, it gave my brothers migraines when it came to the technology build. The reality is that we don’t really know what our full capacity will be until we start to load up. I can only hope we do find ourselves worrying one day as we creep towards the 10 million users and then make a quick call to some big data experts to assist us to scale everything up again.

I’m not going to bore you with the other things we have had to do like global trademarking (expensive!) and International company structuring because these things apply to all international businesses. I will say though, Haystack is incredibly lucky to have a group of investors whom, between them, have all the international business, legal and financial experience we could wish for, and we use it all! But after all is said and done, do you really need to do all this stuff to launch a global App? …Well, I really do hope so, or I’ve wasted an awful lot of my time and a lot of other people’s money!

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