Using the internet on my phone is breaking my heart

Posted on March 6, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

NOTE: This post took a weird turn and got a little long (but fun).  If you just want to see the job spec for “Founding Designer / Info Architect / UX Specialist” it’s at the bottom. If you want to pick out details of my new company through strange and abstract metaphors…read on

I realized today that I sort of mailed it in on my post about our desire to bring on a “founding Designer” for my new project.  “Founding designer” really tells you nothing except that we are looking for someone with some set of design skills to join our small group attacking the mobile web.  I’d like to get a bit more specific.  In the spectrum from information architecture to graphic design, with UX maybe lying somewhere in the middle, I believe for our specific effort someone who enjoys the IA bleeding into UX side of things would be happy in this environment.  A new friend at lunch today described IA through the example of one who helps a supermarket decide where to shelve what food/products…and I think that analogy is really interesting. One of the inherent constraints of the mobile web is it’s sheer breadth and vastness relative to the real estate available to display it.  How do we take the worlds collective information and knowledge and fit it into a screen that is 4 inches? It’d be like asking the minimart to house every brand and product on earth in a 1000 sq ft space.  Well we could take the aisles out, and fill that space with shelves, but how would people move around? We could leverage the storage in the basement, and store extra skus there, we could only display the products relevant to the people in the store at the time, we could be really smart about dynamically changing product on the shelves based on the customer, we could build underground tunnels for the customers to access a warehouse down the road, we could install ladders in the aisles and double the height of the shelving, we could remove all the products and just install tablets with images of products on the shelves, and drop ship the goods to the customers house, we could rip out the cash registers and replace that space with products, and let the user checkout on their phones, we could change every rule about the way you think a supermarket works, with the one expressed goal of showing the customer every product they want to see (and ideally none of the products they don’t), while still adhering to the core principles and needs of a customer of a supermarket which are to discover the food, pay for it, and consume it wherever they want to eat….

now, that was a bit of a rant, but replace “food/product” with “data/information/urls/apps/actions/content/whatever” and replace “supermarket” with “mobile web/browser/app/operating system/smartphone/whatever” and you see why a designer who gravitates toward IA style challenges might enjoy a problem such as ours.  You might assume that our engineering team is the magic wand that gives you doubleheight ladders, basements and warehouses, dropshipping, etc…and just sit down and help me think about where to put the food, and the aisles, and the ladders, in order to let our customers see every food product in the world without stressing out, or closing applications, or giving up, or accepting defeat, or running for their 13 inch screen (unless we are helicopting them there from our store with white gloves and champaign)….This is an impossible problem that is possible…I know what your thinking…that a search box is seductive, but it’s not the answer. You might think that an infinite vertical scroll of all the food is the answer (especially because that’s the cop out that 85% of native applications have subscribed to)…its not.  And even if you do figure out where to put all the food, and what food to put where, we need to think about how our customers are going to grab the food, and do they have shopping carts, or QR readers? Do we deliver, or do they wheel flatbeds out to minivans? Should products be actual size, or miniatures, or jumbos? Do users want to remember what they saw and order from home, or do they want to act now? Act now, awesome, but what if they can’t reach? Or carry? Go go gadget UX…what if we invert the shelving and have the user pass through the store twice? Second time around the high shelves are low and the low shelves are high?  HOW THE FUCKETY FUCK DO I SHOW A USER…I MEAN CUSTOMER…EVERYTHING EVERYTHING EVERYTHING THEY NEED AND WANT FROM THE WEB..I MEAN SUPERMARKET…NO I MEAN WEB…without frustrating them, or making them feel like my supermarket is tiny and fragile and constrained relative to the mother fucking 1 Billion square foot COTSCO with mile wide aisles that they’ve been going to for years.

Because right now all I see is incremental attempts to jam COTSCO into the footprint of a mini-mart…but you can’t wheel those flatbed pallets around in aisles this small…so some genius platform peeps said “I know, I’ll just put the products outside the store”…it makes so much sense…I’ll just take the stuff that most people buy and I’ll put some shelves up OUTSIDE the store, so a user can just drive up, take what they want, and never have to try to navigate these tiny little aisles…but they didn’t realize…or maybe they did…that I don’t just go to the supermarket for my staples…sometimes I want to try something new…or sometimes I want to try something that I only try once a year…how does Matzoh fit into the outdoor shelving solution?  Do we build a special shelf, just for Matzoh even though people only eat it 10 days out of a year? No…matzoh probably stays inside…and if a user wants to find it, they can deal with the small aisles, and make bad decisions, and not touch and feel it before they buy it…


So these are my problems, and they require ground up solutions from brilliantly creative, patient, flexible, confident, ambitious, and courageous people who either have experience or extreme will to throw at them…. As it happens, I tend to roll with engineers, who want to solve these problems through creative and sound engineering innovation.  I am starting to spend more time with design minded folks who share our ambitions, and more than that I don’t really know…on our small team, I spend a lot of my time thinking through both technical and design solutions to these problems…but the voice and eyes of our user is underrepresented in what amounts to a lot of system design to date…I have strong feelings and desires…and I think every user of the internet is suffering right now on their phone…and the question I have for you who might come lead consumer facing product design at our company…is do you want to internalize this suffering?…and help create the supermarket of the mobile world (understanding that it’s really a chain of supermarkets that share common infrastructure…which makes life harder because not every store is the same)…I’ll support and challenge you, and we’ll all be your family…and our mission is your destiny…and out impact will be the greatest achievement of our collective lives…let’s jam:

The short “job spec” version:

About Newco (sorry I know it’s painful, we’re running the trademark search on a better name/brand, will update shortly): Newco is a technology company with the mission of generating or participating in every mobile web view on the planet.  We pay attention to browser technology, OS level functionality, content delivery, navigation, and any user story that begins, middles, or ends with “user opens the web” (I use “web view” loosely and frankly “mobile” loosely).  We want more of those user stories to happen on people’s phones and we want those stories to end happily.  We are sad that many, if not most, end poorly.  We would like to integrate the web more deeply into every action you take on your phone, and we would like to more deeply integrate every action you take on your phone into the mobile web.

We are three (CEO, VP ENG, CTO): Our last company worked out well, so we decided to work together again.  There is one spot open on this core team through the bootstrap phase and then we will likely become a 15-20 person company over the next 18 months.  You can google around and do your research on “Doug Petkanics” “Eric Tang” and “Jordan Cooper.” (try to do it on your phone…see how fun that is).  Anyway, I think this is a once in a lifetime type opportunity for the right person who is looking to make their mark on the world. See detail below:

Founding Designer / Info Architect / UX Specialist: Half of our challenge and value is in improving the way people move around the internet on their phones.  Banish the concept of the “old web” from your brain and we can begin there.  (The other half is more on the technical/data/architectural side, which you’ll be exposed to, but don’t need to sweat). There are tradeoffs at every turn between the infinite possibility and promise of the web, and the ease of accessing it on this constrained device.  The job is to help lead our thinking at every turn, in every flow, and turn sad user stories into happy, or even better, “mind blown” user stories.

Desired Traits:

–       Belief in yourself and your talent

–       Desire to go big and dedicate your life to this one mission

–       Patience

–       Ambition

–       Work ethic

–       Comfort moving/bridging between abstract and concrete

–       2-15 years product design experience in relevant arenas 

The Package: 1) Supported Autonomy 2) A real stake in the company. Like if things really work out you’ll never have to think about money again stake. And if things go as well as last time, you might have to think about $, but you’ll probably be able to buy a house or something 3) Competitive cash comp to live comfy in NYC 4) 100% healthcare, benefits, etc.


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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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