Giant Thinkwell’s latest product, Haiku Deck, has been getting quite a bit of attention over the last few weeks. We covered the team of three — Adam Tratt, Kevin Leneway, and Marc Kamaka — and the launch of their iPad-based presentation tool earlier this month. They were also one of the few startups that Valley celeb Robert Scoble interviewed while in town.
We invited Adam Tratt, founder and CEO of Giant Thinkwell, to be on the GeekWire podcast last week to chat about how Haiku Deck is different, where they see the presentation market going, and even how they might stack up against Microsoft’s PowerPoint. If you missed the show, or just prefer text, here are edited highlights from the conversation.
So, you just found out something really really cool about your app. How about you share what that is? “So the app business is notoriously tough. It’s tough for a number of reasons, not the least of which is getting distribution and getting noticed. Specifically in iTunes it’s difficult because the window into the ocean of apps is so small. Getting featured is a big deal and we just found out that we’re featured on the homepage of New and Noteworthy for iTunes. It’s a huge milestone for us. We’re over the moon!”
I feel like I’m interviewing someone after a big baseball game! How does it feel? “It feels good to know that we’re there…I’m a little terrified frankly. It’s more like qualifying for the Olympics than it is like winning a medal because now we have to live up to the expectations of geting lots of downloads. I’m really proud of the team, they did an awesome job making an awesome app.”
You’re essentially trying replace PowerPoint in some ways but in a much sexier, cooler way right? What is Haiku Deck? “It’s a tool for communicating. It’s a presentation tool for creating beautiful decks. What we say was that the whole category for presentations was ripe for an overhaul. Not enough has changed since the advent of mobile and tablet computing, or the interent even. I say this from a position of authority only because I was an Office product manager 18 years ago. What we wanted to do was bring a fresh set of eyes and new thinking to the experience. The way it works is simple. You type your words into Haiku Deck and we go out and find beautiful creative commons imagery that match your words. In addition to that, we’re deploying best practices from presentation experts. This notion of one idea per slide and consistent look and feel, so that in the end you create a flawlessly beautiful deck.”
So what about my 30 bullet points per slide? Are you telling me that’s not good practice? “I hate to break it to you, but if people are reading your slides they’re not listening to your words. We actually don’t have a bullet point feature in the app. We were a little nervous that people were going to freak out about that but we haven’t had a single complaint yet!”
This intrigued me in part because back 10-15 years ago someone would try and compete with PowerPoint by creating a piece of software. Then maybe three years ago they would’ve created a web application. You guys are doing something completely different, you’re launching first on the iPad. Talk me through that decision process to launch first on the iPad? “It was a little bit of trial and error. We first started on the iPhone, mostly because that’s where the most people were. We built a prototype and after two weeks of talking to customers it became clear that they wanted to look at a presentation on an iPhone but the idea of sitting on a bus and trying to tap out a deck, that was not something that resonated with customers. That’s when we moved to the iPad. Part of what we learned along the way is that there’s this huge opportunity to change the way people share this kind of story. It used to be that when you made a deck it was for sharing on a projector or on a laptop screen only. Now there’s just so many awesome things you can do, from embedding a story like this in a blog, making a story richer and more concise, or sharing it on your facebook wall or through Twitter. The opportunity to set a story free is really different now than it was a few years ago.”
I understand that once you create your presentation you can then export it and use it in traditional things like PowerPoint or even Apple’s Keynote? “Yes, you can export it. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to get all of the features that all of the users would want. We focused on doing one thing really well, which is make it impossible for people to create ugly decks. If you insist on putting your logo in a watermark at the bottom, or putting a chart, or eight point font, we don’t want to stand in the way of good work being done. That’s why we allow for export. What we are seeing so far is that most people are sharing via the web so that they can get their story on any device, whether that be a phone, a tablet, or a PC.”
What are the positives and negatives of using Apple’s App Store as your only distribution channel? “It’s tough. We took a gamble that when the iPad came out, this amazing tool for watching movies in bed and flipping through The Wall Street Journal and GeekWire while on the train or the bus, the future will include creativity and productivity. That’s where the market is today. Now, of course, Microsoft is coming on strong with Surface and Windows 8. And don’t forget Android, they’re no slouch either. It’s clear that iPad is where it’s at today so we wanted to win there, prove the model there, and if people love what we’ve done we’ll go elsewhere.”
It’s interesting because on one hand you are competing with Microsoft with an alternative to PowerPoint but on the other hand you are buying into their worldview that a tablet is not only for consumption, it’s for creation. Is that really the case? On a tablet that I have, an iPad up by my bed, I’m not thinking about business productivity. Do you think people really are going to be creating documents on their iPads? “I saw some research that showed about 20 percent of iPads purchased are being used in the work place for work uses, not just for watching The Office on your lunch hour. Right now it’s not really creating documents. Nobody would choose to sit down at their iPad and write a word document unless they had to. There are lots of other ways you can do it and our app doesn’t require a lot of typing. We’re limiting the number of words you can put on the slide in the first place. I find that when you’re creating in a creative process, a lot of the time sitting up at your desk in front of two glowing rectangles is not the right atmosphere for achieving creativity. Our app is all about story telling and thinking creatively and presenting it visually. For me, the idea of slouching down in a cushy chair at Starbucks to make a great deck, that to me is easier and liberating as opposed to the old way of sitting at your desk and having half an hour to get this done.”
Do you think Microsoft has to bring a full fledge version of Office to the iPad to keep that piece of software relevant? “First of all, we are a freckle on the derrière of Microsoft. For me to suggest that I’m competing with Microsoft is a little overblown. Microsoft has done a lot of great things and I’m fascinated to see what they do with their iPad release. I think they’re going to be feeling a lot of pressure to fit as much of the functionality from the full featured PowerPoint into their iPad version of that. I think there’s an audience that will appreciate that and I think that there’s an audience that will be underwhelmed because that’s exactly what will make it potentially difficult to use.”
As of now you guys are offering this up for free. What’s next for you guys and how are you going to make money? “We’re monetizing our app right now through themes. We ship with five design themes that effect the font and image filters. The product is almost like Instagram for PowerPoint, you can very easily change settings to make your deck look good. We’re selling a bunch of those and over time we may choose to sell premium photography in the app since all of the slides have a photographic background. There are also other professional level features that we may add over time but right now we’re just trying to 1. Get the app out there and get people to try it out (Haikudeck.com) and get the feedback so we know what they want and what to build.”
If you would like to listen to the whole podcast it is embedded below.