I’m excited that my company, TMSOFT, recently launched White Noise 7 and it was covered by Tech Crunch. I’ve spent the last 8 years developing the White Noise sleeping app and spent the last 2 years building a platform called the White Noise Market that will now allow users to share their own White Noise recordings and mixes.
The first question Lora Kolodny asked while interviewing me about the launch was “Doesn’t SoundCloud do this? How is it different?” I told her White Noise creates audio loops from your recordings so they can be listened to all night without interruption. If there is just a small gap in audio or something doesn’t seem smooth when the sound repeats then people will wake up. I’ve spent years building an algorithm to create a perfect audio loop and now our users can help us in creating the world’s largest collection of relaxing sounds.
As I was driving home from the office the day of the interview, I continued to think about her question. Isn’t it more than just creating the perfect audio loop? I failed to mention White Noise allows you to attach a photo and location to each recording and when you share it to the community it appears on a world map. Want to find a specific sound from your region? Now you can drill into this shared world map to discover regional sounds. I thought to myself, that’s pretty cool but is that really unique?
I thought more about what makes the platform unique. Users that post their recordings allow other users in the community to not only download them, but also to use them in their own sound creations. These new soundscapes are created by mixing multiple sounds together, changing various audio properties, and then uploading the new creation back to the White Noise Market. These shared audio loops have now become building blocks that can be assembled in different ways then published again as a completely new and unique sound. I think this process is what sets White Noise apart.
It’s not just about uploading your sound and saying, “Here it is world. Enjoy!” White Noise users will be able to build something new from other people’s sounds and from there it could really grow into something more unique. So it’s not just an audio sharing platform. It’s a platform where the content is constantly evolving and growing into something new and exciting. I think that makes the White Noise Market pretty unique.
Do you want to get a million downloads? I discussed how to do just that at a MoDev event a few years back. In just 6 easy steps, you’ll be able to boost those app downloads. Now don’t worry because this isn’t an infomercial and I’m not selling anything. It’s just totally free advice with no strings attached.
There was a small group of people at this event (maybe 40), but the video has had over 15,000 views. I just watched it today (3 years later) and found that the concepts and methods still hold up. If you didn’t get discouraged from my last post, Ideas are Worth Nothing, then you have to watch my presentation when you are about to launch your new app.
Over the years, I’ve received many questions about how to take an idea and turn it into a product. This ultimately was the inspiration for my book, “Tap Move Shake,” which had more than just coding tutorials. It was an entire playbook from start to finish that included creating media, publishing, and marketing. Some found it to be very useful (mostly engineers that didn’t know how to do marketing), but others just didn’t want to put in the effort required even though they had the best idea ever.
Best Idea Ever
Here is a small sampling of the many requests I’ve personally received:
“Hi! I had an idea for an app and if you like it and build it I think it will be big. When it goes viral a 10% split for me?”
How about 50% because even though I don’t know you I bet it’s amaaaaazing!
“I have several game ideas. I might want to learn code but would rather stay on the creativity side of it.”
I would like to stay on the creativity side of it, too.
“You probably get a lot of App ideas and offers, but thought I would contact you regardless and see if you would take a meeting with me about a new idea I have been cooking. I have a brief write-up of the idea that could be reviewed by you with an NDA.”
Nobody will sign a NDA to hear an idea. Nobody.
People have become fueled by the movie Social Network, seasons of Shark Tank, and Kickstarter potato salad. They think all you need is a great idea and the money will come. It doesn’t really work like that. Ideas are the fun and exciting part of a long and stressful journey to building something. I know this because I’ve spent lots of years building lots of somethings.
I have given countless presentations over the years handing out a ton of advice. But more and more I find that people seem to think all you need is a good idea and that alone will result in someone paying you for it, cutting you in with a percentage, or working on it for sweat equity. That’s not realistic at all. Even Dilbert knows this. New entrepreneurs should read the article, Your Ideas Have No Value by Carol Roth which explains it perfectly. It’s really all about the execution.
Starting a business is not easy and I personally know of far more failures than successes. In order to mitigate that risk of failure you need to obtain a wide-range of knowledge. I think the most successful entrepreneurs have a common trait that’s programmed into them–they never stop learning. If they succeed at something, they will learn from it. If they fail at something, they will learn from that too. It’s a process and their journey usually begins by having a job working for someone else, collaborating with others, and gaining as much knowledge as possible. There are no shortcuts.
Working hard to learn a myriad of different skills has been the key to my success. There isn’t an employee in my company that I can’t fill-in for. That’s because at the beginning I was the one that did that job. I taught myself how to build mobile apps, but I also learned how to do quality assurance, customer support, marketing, accounting, sound engineering, graphic design, and more. I needed to have general knowledge of every part of the business. Granted, it was out of necessity because I couldn’t afford hiring for those positions when I first started. Now that my business is thriving, I can hire people to work on my ideas. I can finally be the idea guy and have others build it. But that’s only because I worked hard to get here.
If I haven’t talked you out of pursuing your idea yet and you are excited to learn more then I highly recommend these great podcasts, videos, and websites as resources to get you going.
Everything is a Remix – Please watch this right now, especially if you think your idea is the first of its kind. It’s a very thought provoking video series on the originality of ideas.
Startup Podcast – All about starting a business. And it’s told as a story rather than a basic “how-to” so it’s not boring.
Tim Ferris’ Podcast – Tim interviews world-class performers such as Chris Sacca (billionaire investor of Uber, Twitter, etc) which is about as good as it gets for advice. Almost all of Tim’s interviews have great takeaways in them–I find myself learning a little something new each time I listen.
TWiT TV – Leo Laporte has been covering tech forever and runs a great podcast network with lots of varied tech shows. He hosts This Week in Tech and it’s one of my personal favorites.
Robert Scoble – Robert covers the future of tech and interviews lots of tech founders and entrepreneurs. Follow him on Facebook for his most up to date posts and announcements.
Meetups – I’ve met great people at tech meetups in my local area. There is a lot of good advice and resources out there for free. I’ve even made some good friends too.
Tech 411 – Oscar Santana and I host a tech podcast called Tech 411. It’s okay.
Ready, Set, Go
It really boils down to this—if you are passionate about an idea, willing to work extremely hard on it, and learn as much as possible in the process then you might have a chance. A chance to be more than just a person with an idea. You can be the person that built that thing that everyone needs. And I’m all for that!
What’s it like to sleep on the International Space Station? This week at my company we published a collection of space sounds that you can add to the White Noise app. Read more about it at the official blog for TMSOFT and listen to what the ISS sounds like below:
I’ve been asked by Congress to testify before the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. I feel honored to be representing small businesses on the issue of patent trolls. I hope sharing my story will help bring meaningful patent reform so small businesses can spend less time with frivolous lawsuits and more time on innovation. Check out my recent article on Why Congress must ensure ‘game over’ for patent trolls.
My “How to Build your own Arcade System” article has always been my most popular article. According to Google Analytics it represents over 99% of all my visitors to this blog. If you search Google for “how to build an arcade” you’ll see my article is the #1 link out of 21,800,000 results.
How is that possible?
I think the reason is… well… first, it’s a pretty good article. I remember when I wrote it, years ago, that there wasn’t one place that had all this information–the arcade cabinet, the hardware used, the software configuration. It was months of research. A labor of love. The article that followed was completely original. My words. And then over time other blogs started linking to it. Discussing it. And ultimately that’s the reason why Google thinks it’s pretty good too.
Flappy Bird’s company dotGears recently notified Apple that my game Duck Run infringes on their copyrights, specifically the bird character used in the game. I spent hours drawing my duck character in photoshop and I think it looks nothing like Flappy Bird. What do you think?
The above Flappy Bird image was pulled from the USPTO FlappyBird trademark application. This application was recently filed by Dong Nguyen in March, 2014 and is waiting for review. He is not just filing this under electronic games but also watches, stationary, hand-bags, glassware, blankets, pillows, clothes, and toys. Not only is Flappy Bird coming back to the App Store, but it appears dotGear is taking the Angry Birds approach and will start selling merchandise. And why not?
We all know the story of Flappy Bird and how it quickly became a huge success only to be removed from the App Store because the author couldn’t handle the stress. I covered this story on my Tech 411 podcast and even had a chance to meet the author, Dong Nguyen while at GDC this year.
I was actually really excited to meet him, as the Flappy Bird story was really big at the time. I only asked him one question, “Are you bringing Flappy bird back?” “Yes” he replied. We were both at Twitter HQ so it seemed appropriate that I should tweet the news. The next thing I knew, Mac Rumors was running the story.
Is Flappy Bird Original?
We are all influenced by the work of others. I recommend watching Everything is a Remix to really see this point illustrated. The artwork and gameplay from Flappy Bird is far from being original. Let’s compare it to Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers:
Flappy Bird, on the left, has almost identical green pipes found in the Super Mario Brothers game. The Flappy Bird gameplay is very similar to the secret underwater world found in the same game. Mario is controlled by tapping a button that flaps his arms causing him to move upward, while not flapping causes Mario to fall downward. The Flappy Bird graphic itself looks more like the fish from this same underwater level than my little ‘ol duck.
Why Build Duck Run?
Dong said that it took him 3 days to create Flappy Bird. I was impressed he was able to make a side-scrolling game in just 3 days. I wondered if I could create a flappy style game in the same amount of time. Considering I’ve competed in plenty of hackathons and even wrote a game in just 20 lines of code (which became the starting point of my book), I thought this would be a fun challenge to take on. After just 3 days, I had completed my game which I called Duck Run and released it to both the Android and iOS platforms.
Duck Run received great reviews and has pulled in around 200k free downloads. Because it was so simple, it became my go-to game for learning how to port to other platforms. It’s now available on the Mac platform and Amazon Fire TV. I think it’s smart to have a simple game in your portfolio for this reason alone.
The last thing my company needs is another frivolous lawsuit, but I refuse to be bullied into removing Duck Run from the App Store. I think it’s pretty clear it does not violate any trademarks or copyrights. I’m not sure the original Flappy Bird game could say the same thing.
Lodsys has dismissed the patent infringement lawsuit it filed against my company TMSOFT. The dismissal is with prejudice which means they can never sue my company again for infringing its patents. I did not have to pay any money to Lodsys or sign a license agreement. I also did not sign a confidentially agreement so I’m free to talk about this matter.
So what did I have to agree to?
Never to sue Lodsys over its patents (I otherwise would have the right to ask a court to rule their patents invalid if I wanted)
Dismiss all motions with prejudice (we had filed a motion to dismiss that also sought to recover my attorneys fees, costs and expenses)
Make a donation to a mutually agreeable charity
I’m in the business of creating apps, so mutually agreeing not to sue each other was fine with me. Dismissing all our motions would terminate this lawsuit which is what I wanted as long as I didn’t pay Lodsys a dime and I could still talk about it. The mutual donation to charity was also fine with me especially if it was to the EFF or PubPat.org. Of course they wouldn’t agree to that, so Make-A-Wish Foundation was selected.
I was a little confused about why Lodsys wanted to make a donation to charity. I asked my lawyer if it was to make them appear more human. He said it is most likely because if we would have said no to this offer, the judge could have said we were not behaving reasonably. That seems a little ridiculous given they were the ones that filed this frivolous lawsuit. But, I get the point that Lodsys could say to the judge they were willing to dismiss it if only I’d make a small donation to a charity. This would be their way of making me look like I was the one wasting the court’s time by continuing to fight the case despite Lodsys being willing to dismiss it without me having to pay them anything.
Although this was a win for my company, it was only a win because I had Dan Ravicher and his associate from the Public Patent Foundation (pubpat.org) representing me pro bono. It is extremely rare to get this kind of assistance (I know of no one else out there offering to defend small businesses like mine pro bono from patent infringement allegations) and I am very fortunate that someone as talented as Dan agreed to fight these bullies for free. I asked Dan how much this would have cost me:
“I’ve spent about 200 hours on the matter and Sabrina about another 80. My comparable market hourly rate (partner at a top NYC patent firm) would be $750 and a comparable rate for Sabrina (senior associate at a top patent firm) would be about $500.”
The total costs to my company would have been $190,000. And that’s just for the initial response to this lawsuit. We hadn’t even gotten to court which would have increased that amount into millions. Remember that it only cost Lodsys about $450 to file the lawsuit. This is why small businesses will usually always settle. It’s just not worth it to fight. And even if you could win and get awarded your attorneys fees and costs, which are very rare, you probably won’t see a dime of that money.
This is because patent trolls are set up as shell companies without much in assets. Any money that the patent troll receives from all the licensing agreements is immediately distributed to other companies—this includes the law firm representing the patent troll on contingency and the company that originally held the patent. Any money you might be awarded will be long gone by the time it comes to collect.
Payments are also sent to the troll using overseas bank accounts. This is mainly to avoid paying US taxes, but it could also make it more difficult to follow the money if an investigation was ever brought on. The patent trolls have created an extortion business model that is virtually risk-free–Nothing to lose and everything to gain.
There is a lot of talk going on about patent reform, but most of the ideas being discussed would not help small companies. In my next article, I’ll discuss solutions to the problem and my visit to Capitol Hill where I was able to share my story to those that might be able to fix our broken system. Hopefully one day tech startups can stop worrying about patent trolls and get back to building cool stuff.
My company TMSOFT was recently sued by Lodsys in the eastern district of Texas. I initially thought I was being sued for using a hyperlink in my White Noise application (see below). I know now I’m being sued because the CEO of Lodsys didn’t like what I publicly said about their company. That’s right. I’m being sued because I called Lodsys a “patent troll” on my podcast, Tech 411.
This all started in May, 2011 when my co-host and I re-launched Tech 411, formerly a radio show in Washington DC, as a podcast on iTunes. Our first couple shows discussed how Lodsys was going after app developers. I commented thatLodsys was “patent trolling” with “evil letters” that were “complete b.s.” Around this time Apple had featured our show and it quickly became the #1 tech news show on iTunes.
Shortly after these shows were published, I received one of the infamous Lodsys letters which said I was in violation of their patents. Their letter included a screenshot of White Noise showing a web page used to share news and cross promote other apps. They highlighted a hyperlink that would open a URL to another one of my apps on the App Store. If opening a URL to a web page or app store listing is in violation of their patents then everyone who publishes an app would be in violation.
I invited Patrick Igoe, a registered patent attorney, onto Tech 411 Show #5 to discuss the matter. Patrick had already done analysis of Lodsys’ patents at his applepatent.com blog and he couldn’t find a single reason why app developers would be in violation. That was the same conclusion that Apple’s own legal counsel came to as well.
Over the course of a couple years, I received a few voicemails fromeither Lodsys or the law firm that was representing them. They wondered if I had any questions regarding taking a license agreement. The only question I ever came up with was wondering how they slept at night. I’m sure the White Noise I created for the purpose of better sleep wouldn’t help them. I continued to hope that Lodsys would think my company was too small to pursue.
That all changed when Lodsys sued another batch of App Store developers which included my company TMSOFT. They even filed suit against the Walt Disney Company. I guess I could be flattered that my little company is being sued along with a 100 billion dollar company, but it isn’t possible for smaller companies like mine to afford a proper patent litigation defense. I’m sure Walt Disney will be fine, but smaller companies like mine are usually forced to settle. And Lodsys really doesn’t want to go to court either; they just want companies to pay a licensing fee and not put up a fight.
I’ve been fortunate to have Dan Ravicher from PUBPAT (pubpat.org) represent my company pro bono in this matter. Pubpat is a not-for-profit organization that has the mission to protect freedom in the patent system. He’s a champion of the little guy who has offered to help app developers and small companies that have been targeted by Lodsys. He is currently representing local farmers against Monsanto, a company that is very aggressive with its patents on genetically modified seeds. He haspresented at Google on protecting freedom in the patent system in which he describes some serious issues with our patent system.
Dan contacted the lawyer for Lodsys, who actually admitted to him that this wasn’t about money. It was about the things I said on my tech podcast and blog. During that time, the CEO of Lodsys, Mark Small, was getting a lot of negative media coverage and even wrote on his blog that he received several death threats. Mark obviously didn’t like the comments I made about his company and retaliated by sending a patent infringement letter.
Lodsys is seeking a percentage of revenue from the time they sent me the letter to the time their patent expired. Usually they request around 1% of your in-app-purchases. My company made about $500 with in-app-purchase during this time period and 1% of that is $5. What? I’m getting sued for $5? Given it cost Lodsys $350 to file the lawsuit I assumed they would ask for more than that. And they did.
Lodsys offered to settle with my company for $3,500. If I pay them off, what is stopping the next troll from knocking on my door? Nothing. And I’ve heard that if you pay a troll to go away it can lead to more trolls showing up. It’s like your company gets added to a spam list. That’s not a list I want to be on. I’d rather be able to talk about this issue and hope that at some point in the future our patent and legal system will change to address this serious problem. In the end, it’s dragging down our economy because small innovative companies have to spend time and money defending themselves against bogus lawsuits instead of hiring new employees.
My apps are not in violation of Lodsys’ patents. My lawyer believes this. Apple has stated app developers are not in violation. The EFF says it’s time to beat this troll. If I were to take the Lodsys offer then I’d have to sign terms where I couldn’t talk about it. That’s a real problem because there are lots of people that want to share their patent troll story but they are no longer allowed. I don’t want to be censored. I want to openly discuss issues that are facing my industry. I believe that this case will be dismissed (PUBPAT has filed the motion to dismiss below on TMSOFT’s behalf) and I hope this will open up a path for others to follow. Will you help me in this fight?
One thing you can do to help is spread the word to raise awareness. Share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Another thing you can do is donate to PUBPAT’s Defend Apps from Patents Campaign by clicking this button:
All funds donated to PUBPAT for its DEFEND APPS FROM PATENTS Campaign will be used to defend small and nonprofit apps from patent threats, including, for example, its current defense of TMSOFT from Lodsys.
TMSOFT Motion to Dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act and For Lack of Personal Jurisdiction – Filed 7/1/2013 – Download
Innovators need patent reform: An open letter to Congress – Sign
I just released COMPULSIVE for iOS and Android. It’s a puzzle game. The rules are pretty simple in that all you have to do is join 4 or more tiles of the same color to score points. The bigger groups you clear the more points you get. And you earn a bonus multiplier if you can create chain reactions–one group clears which causes another to clear. The game last 60 seconds which is plenty of time to score lots of points.
The first thing I noticed when people play Compulsive is they don’t realize tiles can move to any location on the board. This is most likely because they are use to playing Bejeweled or Candy Crush. This will only hurt your chances of scoring big because Compulsive lets you move tiles clear across the screen to make a move. It only requires that there be a same color tile next to where you drop it. That’s it. I found after experimenting with a lot of different rule sets, that having more restrictions on tile movement just wasn’t as fun. I never got into Bejeweled for probably this very reason.
There is a special glowing tile that drops on the board every 15 seconds or so. It’s the coolest part of the game in that it cleans off all tiles of a specific color from the board. Just drag it onto the color you want to clear and then watch them explode. The glowing tile is very strategic. It can be used to quickly clear a color that’s in the way, score some points, and setup an awesome combo. The glowing tile also clears itself if it hits the bottom row. It’ll reward you with 1,000 points when that happens which also counts towards a combo multiplier. Figuring out the best way to use this tile will take a little practice but the rewards can be great.
Where did I come up with the idea? I think I had a lot of influences from a lot of different games. The board is a vertical 6×8 rectangle with tiles that fall down the screen. This might remind you of Tetris. It has a very generous point system which might feel a little bit like Bejeweled. The design is very modern and clean which is similar to Letterpress. The glowing tile is similar in behavior to that of the diamond in Super Puzzle Fighter II. The Mike O’Meara show thinks the music comes from the movie American Psycho. I really don’t think that’s the case… although it was one of my favorite movies of all time.