Interview: JÃrgen Schweizer of Cultured Code

Things IconWith the GTD (Getting Things Done) app market heating up, Cultured Code released version 1.0 of their app, Things, at Macworld this year. Things generated a lot of talk during it’s beta phase and has lived up to the hype with the 1.0 release (look for a review soon). We were lucky enough to get an interview with Jürgen Schweizer, President of Cultured Code.

How did you get started programming for Macs and how did Cultured Code come about?

I started programming in 1981 on a Sinclair ZX80, which was a pretty amazing computer. The ZX80 was much smaller than even the Mac mini. Of course, it was not only smaller in physical size, its operating system fit in 4K! The computer landscape at that time was very different from what we have today, but it was extremely exciting and it was also obvious that this was the start of something new and big. I even sold software while still at high school in the form of computer code that people actually had to type in to use!

To me, the introduction of the first Macintosh computer in 1984 marked both the culmination as well as the end of this wild and crazy period of computing. Of course then came the PC which I found dull and uninspiring. I moved on and pursued another interest of mine: Mathematics. I studied Mathematics and subsequently became involved in teaching and doing research. It was only until much later when I realized that Apple had actually survived and was still producing computers in a much different spirit than the rest of the industry. But it was actually the announcement of Mac OS X that made me want to once again start creating software. The Mac was a small niche, but Mac OS X was finally something one could again be passionate about.

While still teaching at University, I began to learn Cocoa and prepared myself for leaving and creating a small software company called Cultured Code. This was the time when creating web pages using CSS began to become a feasible alternative. Oliver Marquetant joined me and we created our CSS debugging tool Xyle scope.

What made you develop Things in light of Omni Group already having OmniFocus, another GTD app?

My desire to create software that helps to get organized is actually an old one and goes back to my days at University. When we founded Cultured Code, we actually wanted to create a personal information manager. We called this the “Sea of Information” project. The CSS tool was supposed to be a side project to test the waters. However, it took a life of its own. From a business perspective, it never worked very well, but I got a lot of insight into creating and marketing software.

It was clear that we had to do something different in order to save, and even better, to grow the company. It was an obvious step to revive the “Sea of Information” project. Luckily I discovered David Allen’s book, which was a revelation to me. He seemed to have answers to questions I couldn’t even clearly formulate :) .

At the time when Omni announced their product, we had already spent a lot of work on our own project including a series of prototypes. But after Omni’s announcement, it became clear that task management would become a respectable product category on the Mac. I got even more enthusiastic and was able to attract Werner and Christian to start working with me. Werner is an amazing programmer with a strong intuition for every aspect of a software company, while Christian was one of the most talented graphic designers I had seen. It is really the combination of our talents and our desire to create something worthy of the Mac platform that made Things possible.

How does Things differer from OmniFocus and what makes it special?

Right from the beginning we wanted to create a tool that was easy to pick up yet powerful. It is no exaggeration, with Things it is possible to manage thousands of to-dos, but Things is also the application with the most modest learning curve.

There are so many methods of becoming more organized, but most of them require quite an amount of mental energy. With Things we wanted to create a product where users only need to spend the least possible amount of energy to get organized. This way you become more productive with what you actually want to do. We were in fact so focused on this mission that we even deliberately dropped features we now learned we shouldn’t have :) .

But what is really very interesting is that users who were using other products before are now telling us that they are getting more stuff done using Things. This is a great testimonial to the fact that with task management it is vital to not just to provide features, but to work very carefully on how you implement them. Even little design decisions can go a long way in making users more productive.

How do you justify the price of Things (or any app)?

There are two sides to this question: the developer and the user point of view. Luckily both of them are rather compatible in our case :) .

From a developer point of view it is important to be able to have a strong development and support team. This means that selling a product at too low a price will eventually kill it. Some people who do not have experience with advanced task management, view task management apps as simple to-do lists. But there is much more involved in helping people to get more things done. In fact, the problem space of successful task management is quite involved. Very small software shops are simply not able to do this right. We have seen this a couple of times in the past, where products slowly died because the developer was no longer able to keep up with the various challenges involved. During the past six month we have spent a large amount of time and energy to make Cultured Code stronger as a company, for example by hiring some very talented and experienced programmers. Our users can look forward to us making a lot of improvements available in 2009.

Users on the other hand will ask themselves, whether a product is worth its price? Now imagine working with an application that really makes you more productive. If such an application saves you a few minutes each day, or helps you getting more things done, how much is that worth? I think the precise answer to this question really depends on your work. But with Things we are in the lucky position where its price is much lower than the value it represents to a user.

How do you combat software piracy?

Seriously fighting software piracy requires quite an amount of resources. We rather spend those resources at making Things better. But when they see a useful product at a fair price, the vast majority of users simply want to do the right thing and help continue an application’s development and support.

How do you personally use Things?

Things is always open on my Mac. I manage everything I need to do with it, no matter whether it is related to work or not.

What’s next from Cultured Code?

As I said, task management constitues a large problem space. Expect us to stay ambitious. But also expect the unexpected as we are going to do things differently :) .


36 Responses to “Interview: JÃrgen Schweizer of Cultured Code”

  1. Ben Leivian on January 19th, 2009 10:16 am

    Things looks like a really great application. Thanks for writing this interview!

  2. Tim Stringer on January 19th, 2009 11:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this interview! I’ve been using Things for a few months now and have to say it’s one of the most elegant and genuinely useful Mac applications I’ve ever used. I’ve tried many organizational methods and software over the years and the GTD approach and Things combination is one that is highly effective.

  3. Josh of Cubicle Ninjas on January 19th, 2009 2:48 pm

    I love Things. Using it in conjunction with the iPhone app and it has changed the way I look at the world. And I’ve now been working with it since July, which means this fits well within my daily workflow. There is no peak of adoption and then disappointment.

    Personally, I think they did a better job of making GTD useful in reality then David Allan ever has. Great work!

  4. Arron Hutcheson on January 19th, 2009 6:56 pm

    Nice interview. I bought Things for the Mac and my iPhone. I love being able to put everything in on my Mac and then sync it to my iPhone. I am so much more organized now since I’ve started using this program.

  5. Chris on January 20th, 2009 3:28 am

    Great interview!
    Things is awesome. Jurgen completed his goal. I switched from Remember to Milk to Things almost instantly. The keyboard shortcuts are easy to pick up and the navigation and organization is almost native for any Mac user.

  6. Olga on January 20th, 2009 4:47 am

    Thanks for the great interview!
    I do really think that THing is one of the best iPhone apps for managing tasks. Though it seems a bit pricy for ordinary people.
    I also like It is great for collaborative use and it can be accessed not only from iPhone but also from any browser on the desktop.

  7. Dan on January 22nd, 2009 7:45 pm

    Love Things, have been using it in beta since March last year and have the iphone version too.
    I don’t think I have ever been so keen to hand over my cash for something before version 1 was released.
    It just feels nice and easy to work with, runs effortlessly, I haven’t emptied out my logbook since first installing it and it’s not sluggish at all.
    The interview was a real insight into the Things team’s attitude, hit the nail on the head with the comment about piracy, look forward to lots of great stuff in the future.

  8. hiroshimo on January 23rd, 2009 12:17 am

    I love Things too. It is a great software and it is worth Its price. Everyday I use. Thank you.

  9. Julian Whitta on January 23rd, 2009 12:41 am

    Jurgen and his team have done an outstanding job with Things. I’ve been a user since the public beta was announced and have nothing but praise for both the product and Cultured Code. The release of Things for the iPhone simply completed the circle. Together, these apps have fundamentally changed the way I do things and, indeed, get things done. Previously I used OmniFocus and, while that too is a standout app, Things manages to accomplish a similar result without the hefty investment of “mental energy” that Jurgen refers to. Having said that, its really a case of “horses for courses” – if I had a project manager mindset, OmniFocus would be the perfect solution. But I’m not, and that makes Things the king in my book!

  10. Tore on January 23rd, 2009 7:46 am

    I love it too. I usually use software only for a while when it’s still hot and new for me. Things is not hot and new for me anymore, having used it since august 2008 but I still use it all the time.

    I’d really recommend reading David Allen or listing to Getting Things Done Fast, a workshop in audio. You’ll get a lot more efficient if you use more of the GTD-principles and not just the Things program.

    I’ve never looked at OmniFocus because of the price and UI.

  11. Bud on January 23rd, 2009 11:04 pm

    I’ve tried a number of GTD apps for Mac over the last year including iGTD, Inbox, OmniFocus, and Things. Most of the other apps were too structured or restrictive in the way they allow you to work. Many of the UIs were too cluttered or just plain ulgy.

    Things was a refreshing break from the pack. The UI is uncluttered and makes me feel like getting to work. The real strength of Things for me was the flexibility in allowing me to work how I want to work. There is some structure such as Inbox, Today, Projects, etc, but the use of Tags is really the key. Things reminds me of some of my other favorite tools from 37signals. The brilliance is in the simplicity.

    I’ve used Things in beta since last summer and it has significantly improved my effectiveness in running my business. Cultured Code allowed us to not only use a fully functioning beta version, but also to be a part of the development process. They listened to the beta users by adding features, fixing bugs, and answering questions throughout the process. The addition of an iPhone version completed the package. Thanks to Cultured Code for developing such a great tool – I’ll be watching to see what else they come up with in the future!

  12. MacApper Interviews Jürgen Schweizer About Things - Shawn Blanc on January 25th, 2009 11:22 pm

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  18. Teddy on January 31st, 2009 8:35 pm

    This application has without a doubt changed my life. I own both the mac and iphone version and I am way more organized and on top of things.

  19. Rob from RetroFacto on June 1st, 2009 10:12 am

    Oh crikey, am I torn.

    I bought the iPhone app last year and never really got up to speed using it. Perhaps because of a failing on my part or some early limitations of the software.

    Then I didn’t really need a to do programme due to being made redundant in December 2008.

    Found myself with a copy of THL through MacHeist.

    Now I’m looking at both again due to launching a new company, RetroFacto, and I am really torn.

    Who knows how long it will be before THL gets their iPhone App out there? Who know how much that’ll cost?

    As I said, I already bought the iPhone version of Things, so part of me doesn’t want to waste that £5.99 and I do think Things is a great app.

    Got to love the drag and drop Email to task feature in THL tho. Come on Things, add that feature and I’m sold!

  20. Rob from RetroFacto on June 1st, 2009 10:39 am

    Update to last message.

    Considering the already current syncing available with the iPhone app, plus a new discovery (fine everyone else probably already knew) regarding the Services menu and creating a keyboard shortcut to add to do from any app: That’s it. Things is going to be purchased forthwith.

  21. luke the earth on June 2nd, 2009 11:38 pm

    Just here to share this website:

    And yeah, Things is the best for me.

  22. Mac Fanatic » Apple Developer Awards 2009 on June 10th, 2009 9:23 am

    [...] And hands down the best Mac app around (and for iPhone too) would have to be Cultured Code’s application, Things.  If you want a powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use personal organizer/GTD application, you have to check out Things.  Check out my review of Things or an interview with lead Things developer Jurgen Schweizer here. [...]

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