Today we are having our first interview with Stefan Vladimirov, a creative mind behind the to-do app called Swipes. In this interview I will try to find out how did the app was born, what was the process and how can you start up in the mobile business from this promising Denmark based startup.
1. Can you shortly introduce yourself, your team and the product you’re working on?
My name is Stefan, I am 23 years old from Bulgaria and I am working with the design part of the Swipes. We are a team of 3 people: Kasper and Yana are the other team members. Each of us are entrepreneurs by soul, but Kasper is also very much involved into the development of the product, and Yana is into marketing and PR, establishing relations with a lot of different bloggers that promoting us online.
From the left: Kasper, Yana and Stefan.
Swipes is a very simple, very intuitive daily task planner. It is inspired by the Getting Things Done and Mailbox approach to handling tasks and emails. The idea is that you have 3 spaces for Today, Schedule and Done, and you focus on the things that have to be done today. You shuffle them, you prioritise them by the way you want them, and whatever is not necessary to be done today, you schedule it for later. It is a very simple tool; it’s for everybody, for professionals as well as for personal use.
2. What was the process from the beginning to the launch of the application?
We actually were working on a different project, it was a dating app which had a bit of a twist of a social game, but then with Kasper we were talking that “you know it would be so great if we had some kind of an app that would just organise the timeline of our day”, and we couldn’t really find anything like that. We were using Wunderlist primarily because of the sharing capabilities, but it didn’t have this nice, intuitive touch to it. It was very much inception based; a lot of lists, a lot of subtasks and the other thing is design. I am very very obsessed with the design and I have been following the whole flat design development very closely, and I really wanted to see something like that for task management.
We started working on a project roughly 2 months ago. Kasper developed the early prototype and we started creating upon it design and functionality wise. When we had something ready that we could show to people, we started testing it with users, close friends and at the point when we had almost finished product, we started building hype around it through Facebook and Twitter. So far for the last week, we have reached 3,000 people on Facebook and it’s going pretty well. Also, we were featured in a lot of different blogs. To our surprise, we are actually number two in Productivity in Poland on the App Store what is really, really cool. At the moment, we are close to 2,000 downloads already and we just released it officially on the 15th June (interview was taken only 4 days after the launch).
3. How did you come up with the name for the concept?
Coming up with names is always such a pain in the ass. When we started working on the Swipes and we decided to focus, it took us very little time to come up with a name. We were brainstorming and it just hit us on the head at one point.
I don’t even remember the alternatives. The moment we started talking about Swipes, we knew that this is it.
4. How are you planning to stand out in such a competitive to-do apps market?
Yes, it is a very competitive market and our differentiation point is the mindset, because none of the other apps out there have used this mindset that was introduced by Mailbox, so that is one of the main things that makes us stand out because there are different needs for the to-do market. People that want functionality always go for Things or OmniFocus, but this is very optimised, efficient and simple for people to organize their day the fast way.
Functionality and the mindset and, of course design wise, there are couple of apps out there taking this flat design paradigm. For the last year, so many companies out there have been adopting flat design like Google, new Myspace and now we have Apple with iOS 7, so general users are going to get more of that, and we are also hoping to use it as a leverage point to promote and sell the app.
5. Investments and funding. How did you find the time and resources to build this application?
So far it only costs our own time and efforts, and we are very much into the whole Lean Startup methodology. We haven’t invested anything because we can do everything ourselves. I am very proud to be in the Swipes team, because basically we have everything that a startup team would ever want to have, and whatever we decide, whichever direction we decide to take in terms of product development, we have the skills to make it. The first of our ambitions is to land an investment for this product and continue developing more things.
“Gather a very good team. People that you can trust, people that you can have a really good time working with, people that believe that whatever you are doing is going to be great.” – Stefan Vladimirov, Designer of Swipes
6. What were the main obstacles and challenges you faced during the project?
I think that we had a little bit of misunderstandings here and there between Kasper and I, like a designer and developer. Also from the perspective of my background, which is very static because I come from photography background. I came into graphic design fairly recently, and Kasper is very much into interaction so we did have some adjustment periods there, but I think that right now we are functioning very well.
Of course, the whole promoting and hyping the app is very new for all of us and that is also something that is still challenging, but we are trying different things now. We see that videos are something that definitely works. Just on our first video, we got around 6,000 people reached without promoting it, and the second one reached 20,000 people with just investing 80 Danish krone ($15) in it. So this is really something that is fairly new, but is really challenging and exciting to work with.
7. Could you please list some tools you have used in the process as a designer, developer?
Kasper was using Xcode, the graphics were mostly done in Adobe Illustrator. I feel more comfortable because I have the freedom there. Also, because it is a flat design, it is very easy to experiment and prototype very fast in Illustrator. Final designs were put through Photoshop to ensure pixel perfection. Illustrator has some really annoying thing of adding extra pixels; I don’t know why, but when I export PNG’s, they are not the right size. So that was one thing, and of course for our videos we have been using Premiere Pro and After Effects.
8. What would you do differently next time?
That’s a good question. So far, I feel that I am very much in my happy place and I see that my teammates are very satisfied with how the things are developing. I don’t feel that there are any major things that we regret, and so far we haven’t made any major mistakes. In terms of making things better, from my perspective, I would invest much more time into getting better ideas about interaction design and trying out different things. As a team, I think that something we managed to achieve was a really good level of task distribution.
9. Who is saying the last word you as a company or the customers?
It’s very early to say a concrete answer, but it’s our approach to the project that a product design was very customer oriented. What we did was we went through every possible user review on the App Store about a to-do app, and we mapped out all the different complaints or the things that people were appreciating of the different apps there. We tailor made our app to fit those needs that were missing there. We have a clear idea of what the next features are that we are going to include, because we know that this is something that people want.
10. What are your plans for the future as a team and personally as a designer?
As a team, we really want to continue developing more projects. Also to take higher perspective in terms of the project management and business development and to have other people to work with us; that’s one of the main reasons why we are aiming for an investment in order to have the capital to achieve that.
As a designer, I really really want to get even better with user interface (UI) and interaction design and general user experience design (UX). Right now I am fairly good with graphics, but it is just a tiny part of the whole picture, so this is one of the directions I personally want to take.
11. What is the most important thing in your business? What was the motivation to start the project?
The motivation was that we wanted to have this in our hands. The moment when I first had Swipes on my phone, I deleted Wunderlist immediately and started using it, because we really wanted to have a great product that we could use ourselves, and that was the main thing – that was that spark to start working on a project.
12. What about the feedback from the customers?
So far people love it, of course we also have some critical feedback and we are really open to that. We have great conversations with everybody that connects with us on Facebook and Twitter. There was one Polish guy that was very dissatisfied because there was no way to delete the tags, which is something that comes in another version, but then we talked with him and actually managed to turn him into a very loyal user and now he is spamming Twitter about us all the time. Overall people are really happy with the product.
After 5 days after the launch, we are in 60 countries around the world – already on each and every continent. Only the penguins are still not using the Swipes, but they are getting close.
13. What would you advise for new app developers or people who want to start up their business in the mobile market?
Advice number one would be to gather a very good team – when I say a good team, I do not necessary mean experts or anything – but people that you can trust, people that you can have a really good time working with, people that believe that whatever you are doing is going to be great. However the first time you are going to suck, you are going to fail. Swipes is not the first startup that I am working, on and it’s people that make a huge difference. In terms of more practical things, I would say to focus on the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and to get something out there as fast as possible to put it in the hands of people and get the validation, and if it is really something that people have a need for, if it is something that people like, it’s easy to adjust and to get on the good track.
Founded: June, 2013
Headquarters: Aarhus, Denmark
People: Stefan Vladimirov, Yana Vlatchkova, Kasper Pihl Tornøe
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