Q&A with Flowtown and Optimizely

Welcome to Part 3 of our bite sized articles, where we are putting your questions to some of our Future of Web Apps speakers. This week you are getting 2 for the price of one and hearing answers from Pete Koomen, co-founder of Optimizely and Dan Martell, co-founder of Flowtown. Firstly, let’s hear from Dan:

How should I proceed when I get an idea which I think it’s good and it could be a successful startup, but I’m alone as a web designer/front-end developer, no business experience and with no developer friends or connections? (@pipozoft)

“Just create something and put it out to the world to play with.  If you can’t write the code to make it work, then try hiring someone part time (compensate them on future revenues or equity) and see what the market thinks.  You don’t need business experience to start, you can gain it while doing it.  You don’t need connections to start just pick up the phone and introduce yourself to people that have public facing websites that offer services that you might need.  Share your idea with them and ask for advice on moving forward.  It may take a few calls but that’s normal and why business isn’t for everyone.”

Do you think there are any fundamental differences between designing websites and webapps? (@SalilMalkan)

“Absolutely.  Websites are all about communicating the value of something and how it might help the visitor solve a problem. Webapps are about building interactions that help guide a user to solving that problem.”

Do you think there is a connection between how much money you earn, compared to how happy you are in your job, and if so, how close a relationship do you feel this is? (@liamjay66)

“Honestly, once you make similar income to your neighbors the next level of happiness will come from self actualization.  Either through your work or creative projects.  No amount of money will make you happy – it’s how you interpret what you have that decides this.  Wanting what you have equals happiness – not wanting more money.”

Thanks Dan! Now let’s hear what Pete had to say:

What is the single best thing (not supporter influenced) product that has aided you as a designer? (@culshaw)

“We’re a little biased, but we’ve actually had great success using Optimizely to test our own landing pages.”

What’s your opinion on hierarchical CSS code structure? (@robobeau)

“We recently started using SASS (http://sass-lang.com/) for all of our CSS and we love it so far.  It’s really simplified what was becoming a tangled mess for us.”

The web is the most powerful creative platform in the known universe, in my opinion. There are so many applications for using it to further science, arts, research and much more yet the “be all and end all” of the web seems to be “social networking” (which generally equates to sharing media). Do you ever get disapointed that it is generally just used as an aid to business, or for online games? What would you like to see it used for? (@benjambles)

This seems like a silly question.  There are wonderful spots all over the web where people of all stripes meet to communicate, collaborate, create, laugh, etc. Some are for-profit sites, and others are run by enthusiasts.  The web’s characterization here as a mere “aid to business” or “online games” seems absurd given the scope of what can be found out there.  I guarantee that if you can imagine an application, you’ll be able to find it implemented and actively used somewhere on the web.  If not, you can always create it yourself–that’s the beauty of it all.”

How should I proceed when I get an idea which I think it’s good and it could be a successful startup, but I’m alone as a web designer/front-end developer, no business experience and with no developer friends or connections? (@pipozoft)

“a. Start making connections.  The ability to build and grow a successful business hinges in part on your ability to make connections and promote your work. Vanishingly few ideas spread on their own, and you’ll never get your ideas built or out there without a strong network.”

“b. Learn as much as you can about the areas in which you need help.  Business guy with no technical chops?  It’s a LOT easier to recruit a technical co-founder when you can speak their language, and even easier if you’ve already built a prototype. Conversely, it’s a lot easier to convince your MBA friends to join up when you’ve already made several sales.”

Do you think there are any fundamental differences between designing websites and webapps? (@SalilMalkan)

“I’m not sure what the difference here between a “webapp” and a “website” is.  If you define a website as a mostly-static page and a webapp as a dynamic page that makes heavy use of Ajax, I think it’s interesting to note that while the webapp designer has at her fingertips a larger “functionality toolset,” she is still constrained by the same usability rules as a website designer and must exercise even more design restraint.”

Thanks to both Dan and Pete for taking the time out to answer your questions. Next week we’ll be wrapping up this series of articles with our final interviews.

If you’d like to see these guys in action, then be sure to come along to the show! We have a full schedule plus ticket availability on our FOWA Site. Go check it out and register today!

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