Brian McCarthy‘s and Lance Laspina‘s NameShake was something I found out about through The Joke Gym‘s (& Friend of the Blog) Paula Johnson. Pop culture does not normally include iPhone coverage, but the way Paula described it to me seemed to make it a perfect fit for the blog. According to Johnson, NameShake is “an iPhone app that lets you figure out names for your baby. It has a huge database with the meaning of thousands of names. You choose the gender and country of origin you want, shake the iPhone, then see the names … The product has already helped me, but not with a baby … There is also interest from writers who can use the product to name characters.” My thanks to Johnson for getting me in contact with McCarthy, and my thanks to McCarthy for this email interview.
Tim O’Shea: How did you first come up with the NameShake product?
Brian McCarthy: Well, my wife and I discovered we were pregnant last July. After carting around baby naming books for awhile and suffering the ignominy of numerous paper cuts, I decided there had to be a better way. That’s when I called Lance to ask for his advice and during the conversation we decided to work on this together.
The initial project was much broader but we chose to test the waters by limiting ourselves just to the naming application for the short term. I have to say, we both feel it’s been really worthwhile and hope to do more applications in the future.
O’Shea: What are your respective roles in this project?
McCarthy: It’s funny, because we never decided on specific roles in the beginning but just divvied things up as they happened. Our first challenge was to create a “paper-application” which is to say, we had to decide everything that the program would do and then design all of the graphics for the user interface. We met over coffee and sketched it out for weeks until we were satisfied.
Lance is a great artist so it was logical for him to take those rough ideas and create the page layouts which eventually were implemented into our power point presentation. In the meantime, I found us a programming team, licensed a database from a renowned author and negotiated for each.
O’Shea: What have been the biggest hurdles to date in the product development?
McCarthy: Our own ignorance! Lance and I are pretty smart guys but we knew nothing about programming. We both come from the creative side of TV and film and so the learning curve on NameShake was huge. We decided early on that trying to learn to program in Cocoa Touch would be detrimental so we sought out an experienced programming team, which we found in Pakistan of all places. So coordinating all of the elements – programmers in Pakistan, our database author in Seattle, and text editors in the Philippines became a big chore. It really opened our eyes to what a couple of guys with ambition can do by leveraging global commerce and outsourcing the areas we were ignorant in, or didn’t have time for, to others.
O’Shea: Has it been solely developed for iPhones or is it compatible with other platforms?
McCarthy: Right now it’s only been released for the iPhone. We’re considering porting it to Symbian and Android in the future.
O’Shea: Have you seen a stronger response to date from parents or from writers looking for a tool to help with one aspect of their writing?
McCarthy: It’s hard to say because we don’t see much data on our buyers, but I’d say that right now it’s mostly parents who are buying. We were featured on a couple of websites, MomLogic.com and Babychums.com, who gave us positive reviews so that’s helped to drive sales.
We also hope it takes off with screenwriters and novelists, as personally I’ve found it to be very convenient and a real time saver when working on my own projects.
O’Shea: How important has the Internet been in your marketing–it appears you have a great many followers on Twitter?
McCarthy: Well, the internet is critical to our success and we’re still at the beginning of our marketing plan. As for Twitter, I’ve grown a little skeptical of it as a useful service. We have over 2000 followers but it seems to me that most of them are trying to market to one another. In other words, I think Twitter is a forum where 99% of the people are talking and 1% is actually listening.
And because our first true love is film, we couldn’t resist shooting some humorous webmercials to help market NameShake. So far we have three in the can and Lance is still in the process of putting them together, but we plan on releasing those on all of the usual suspect video sites to help drum up even more attention.
O’Shea: How aggressively are you trying to grow the product?
McCarthy: Do you mean grow our market share or grow our product line? Well, in either case the answer is “aggressively.” We established sales targets before we even designed the program and we want to hit those although we have more competition now than before. Also, we’re looking down the road to see what we can do next as we already have several ideas for a 2.0 release
O’Shea: What’s on the horizon, professionally/creatively for both of you in the remainder of 2009?
McCarthy: Funny you should ask that. We both want to create some more iPhone products but we’re also both hungry to get back to our passion, film. We’ve never collaborated on a film before but now we’ve got a couple of ideas we’re toying with. Our partnership has worked so well and we have such mutual respect that it seems like a natural evolution.
We also plan on focusing quite a bit on iPhone application development consulting as we know for every programmer who’s capable of doing it himself, there are ten others with no programming experience like us who might have a great idea but don’t have a clue where to start. We’d like to be able to guide those people through all of the necessary steps and save them time and money by not making the same mistakes we did. In essence, we’ve learned a great deal on this journey and would like to help others experience the satisfaction of seeing their “million dollar” iPhone idea come to fruition.
If people are interested in our program or in contacting us as consultants they should visit our site, www.nameshake.info
O’Shea: In terms of the consulting services you are offering, what are some of the rookie mistakes that you’ve seen some developers make that hinder an otherwise great product?
McCarthy: I would say that there are two cardinal sins. The first is designing a product that doesn’t answer a need or desire. There are 25,000 applications on the app store and many of them are junk that no one wants. The second sin is having a poor user interface. Nothing will turn off users faster than a program that is confusing or ugly to use. We have an instructional video on our website but if you look at NameShake you’ll see we designed a product that is intuitive to use. Making it easy to use and nice to look at was a major priority of ours.
To make a great product you need to spend plenty of time in pre-production. Think about the product, explore the market, break down the numbers and then design, design, design. If you do enough planning, production and sales will be much easier. It’s much harder to fix it after the fact.