With 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 JÃ¼rgen 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 .