Bruce Seymour | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bruce Seymour

Background:  

MEA Mobile is a New Haven-based app product lab that makes Printicular, which enables the printing of cellphone photos. The company also offers iArtView, an app for art galleries; and Zebroute, a smart link mobile creator for marketers.

The Mistake:

I failed to recognize the importance of designing user-friendly products and realizing that all competition should not be viewed as evil.

When we first started creating apps for the iPhone, we thought about all the interesting features, settings and controls we could add into the project. I remember one project, a karaoke-for-kids app, where we put in a whole group of extraneous controls. I cringe looking back on it: Why does a kid need balance control when they’re trying to sing “Johnny Be Good”?

Recently, I’ve been on a biography binge and discovered the French mathematician Blaise Pascal. if you know him as having the namesake of the early computer language Pascal, well then you’ve just dated yourself. And I share your burden, because this is the language I first learned to program in.

Among other things, Pascal's noted for saying he wrote a long letter because he didn’t have time to make it shorter.

We’ve learned that time is our biggest competition.

The Lesson:

I mention Pascal because he was right: Simple is difficult. This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned from mobile app development. The web has a high tolerance for mediocrity, but mobile doesn’t. There are a millions of successful mediocre websites, but there are much fewer successful apps which are mediocre.

We've learned to focus on the creation of simple apps and simple systems. Our new Printicular app, which sends your phone’s pictures to your local pharmacy for printing, is a great example of what we do. Printicular is a simple way to print pictures from your phone — you can print camera photos or print Facebook pictures with a few taps, and your pictures are ready in about an hour at your local store. The development took us a while to get right, but today it’s been updated over 90 times and has millions of users.

Another lesson it took me a while to learn is our view of competition. In the early days, there were a limited number of companies interested in taking a chance on mobile app development. So we viewed the competition as arch rivals and each proposal we didn’t get was big deal. Today, mobile is not just a technology, it’s a consumer behavior. We don’t view anyone as our direct competition. Instead, we actively work with companies who in the past we might have considered rivals. The reason for this is because the market growth and technology progress is staggering. We’ve learned that time is our biggest competition.

Find MEA Mobile on Twitter at @meamobile.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Seymour.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Connecticut.