We recently had the chance to catch up with Russell Ivanovic, behind Pocket Casts, a tidy, gorgeous podcast management app for iOS and Android.
UI Palette: Are you targeting a specific demographic(s) with your marketing, and if so, how did you choose the demographic(s)?
Russell Ivanovic: Not really. To be honest our current marketing technique is massive launch day coverage, followed by word of mouth. We don’t buy advertising anywhere.
UIP: What is your background in the tech world, and how has it enabled you to build a better product?
RI: I graduated in 2001, with a degree in Computer Science. My first job was with a large multi-national defense contractor, working on low level messaging services designed for radios. I also had a lot of exposure to the geo-spatial area of things.
After that I spent 4 years at a web development company where I worked on everything from back end databases, to front end web site design. About 3 years ago myself and the person I founded Shifty Jelly with Philip became full time app developers instead.
I feel like the background I had was invaluable, because it gave me an insight into all the hidden parts of apps that most developers don’t even think about, as well as hands-on experience with managing the expectations of your user base. These days all of our apps rely heavily on web services, that we’ve built entirely ourselves.
Not having to rely on a third-party to provide those has meant that we’re able to be really flexible and fine tune things to work exactly how we want them to work. To give you an example, when Pocket Casts first came out it used server-side parsing to keep track of changes in your feeds. This meant that while other apps had you waiting up to 5 minutes to see what was new, our server delivered it to your phone in seconds. This is now recognised by everybody as the best way to do this, but no other app has yet to adopt it, and I only know of one other person who’s currently doing it.
UIP: Are there any features for Pocket Casts that you feel go under-utilized by users?
RI: I feel like in the past that may have been true, but in our version 4 reboot we stripped back a lot of features no one was really using. That said probably the ‘Episode Filters’ functionality is one that a lot of users are still learning about. It let’s you set up filters for your episodes, so that you see only the ones that are relevant to you. I pretty much just use one filter now, and never even go to the grid of podcasts anymore.
UIP: It seems like it could be a crowded business-space, so how did you notice the market niche for Pocket Casts?
RI: When we first started Pocket Casts it wasn’t crowded at all, Apple was actively banning Podcasting apps back then. When we launched we were the only the second podcasting app to ever be approved for that platform as far as I know. Since then a large amount of competitors have sprung up, and even more are in the pipeline. I can’t say that bothers us much, we’ve always focussed on building an app we want to use, and we have some innovative things in the pipeline that we feel no one else is working on. I know it’s a cliché, but we really don’t even look at what our competitors are doing, because we don’t care. it’s not arrogance, it’s more that we don’t want to be influenced by them at all.
UIP: How did you acquire your first users?
RI: That’s a rather long story. The original iOS version of Pocket Casts sold terribly. We didn’t promote it well, nor were we well known outside of Australia. Interestingly enough our success with Pocket Casts started on Android, with the launch of version 4 on that platform first. We’re a tiny team of just 2 developers, so we had to pick a platform, and we realised quickly that Android was being ignored by everyone else, so we went there first. Our gamble paid off, we’ve had incredible success there and where then able to translate that back into iOS. It’s amusing because it’s the opposite to what most people do.
UIP: What are some of your favorite free (or “guerrilla”) methods for marketing?
RI: Our personal favourites are simply getting the people who write about apps to help us beta test our products. Not only do they help us fine-tune our applications, but by the time we ship a lot of their suggestions are in the app itself, so they feel invested in it, and they tend to write about it as well. Honestly we’d still let them beta test even if they wrote nothing about it at all, but having launch day coverage is definitely a valuable thing.
UIP: What are the top design tools that you relied on during the production of Pocket Casts that you would recommend to other app creators?
RI: Well our designer relied on Photoshop. It’s hard to recommend it though, it’s simply the least bad tool out there. In terms of actual good tools: Skala Preview from Bjango comes to mind. Being able to instantly see your designs on an actual device is invaluable. We’re also incredibly excited to see that Bjango is working on an app design tool called ‘Skala’ which we hope will replace most of what Photoshop does in our current work flow such that Photoshop is simply the place you go for more advanced photo style features.
UIP: How long has the overall design/development process been?
RI: Pocket Casts 4 was well over a year from initial design to final build. Looking at the final product, it’s probably something we could design and build from scratch in 4 months, but that’s not how product development at Shifty Jelly works. We come up with ideas, prototype them, and even while we’re building the app we continually refine the design and change functionality. We’re not scared of throwing away designs or code, it’s all part of the process. For example in June when I attended WWDC and saw iOS 7, I messaged the guys back in the office with a simple statement: “Change everything, we’re going iOS 7 only”. So the design literally changed completely from June to July and the app looked and functioned nothing like it did before. It was risky, but it paid off.
UIP: What are your impressions of iOS 7?
RI: As a developer I love it. As a user I love it too. The only thing I want is more polish. It’s crashy and still full of bugs. I hope that Apple does nothing between now and iOS 7.1 except clean that up 🙂
UIP: What’s one thing you wish you knew before making this app?
RI: That’s a tough one. I guess I wish I knew that iOS 7 would be such a drastic change that way we could have delayed our initial implementation a bit and not wasted time on things we ended up throwing out. That said I don’t put much value in hindsight. You do the best you can with the information available to you at the time. No point in looking back later and trying to work out what you should have done.
Sincere thanks to Russell Ivanovic and his team at Shifty Jelly, for sharing this wisdom with us. We invite our audience to leave questions and thoughts in the comments.