No matter how global, it always starts local

Cardstack was never meant to be a local product. Not that there would never be local customers, but more in the sense that the target market is pretty wide. It’s small, lightweight and is easy to ship — perfect for an “Internet product”. Product and distribution was all thought with an international mindset.

But no matter how large the market is or how global the potential audience is, the initial market is often within your close circle of friends and contacts. Obvious, right? Well, this is something that was underestimated with Cardstack. Good products spread through word of mouth–especially for a fairly unknown brand that first need “social validation”–so reaching out first to your contacts make sense.

But of course there’s always the fear and anxiety of showing the world something new and being exposed to criticism. Is it good enough? Can it be refined? Is there really a market?

Overall, it’s probably why Cardstack was soft launched at first. After a few international orders, the market-fit was confirmed and only then did I feel ready to talk more openly about it. And then a flood of orders came in from friends, contacts, friends of friends and contacts of contacts. The global product was suddenly all local for a few days and it did put Cardstack on to a good start.

Wether it’s software or a physical product, consumer or business product, it’s easier to sell to people you know than to strangers. This makes any product a local product at first.

Getting back to engineering and writing code

I stopped actively coding a few years ago, right after I graduated in Computer Engineering. I had to do something else. It’s not so much that I didn’t enjoy coding, but I wasn’t in love with writing code for the sake of writing code. I loved the craft, but not as a job or as a service provider.

Probably much like an author loves his craft. It’s great as long as you get to pick what to write. You get to actually create. When somebody else tells you what you should write, the whole magic goes away. You’re just trading time for money and somebody else ends up putting his name on your work.

So I went on and explored a whole lot of other things and got paid to do it along the way. I actually built a business around those things. Marketing, SEO, UX, design, conversion optimisation and digital strategy just to name a few. I learned a whole lot. I tried, experimented, succeeded and sometime failed.

I basically learned business. Sales, marketing, branding, product development, customer lifecycle and product design. The whole thing.

I never totally lost touch with coding though. I always ensured to stay somewhat up to date. Almost like I wasn’t completely assuming the decision of going in a different direction. Or maybe because it has always been a differentiating factor among other people — in a digital marketing world, I actually understand technology and how things are built.

But a strange thing is happening now. I had to get back into more technical stuff recently and I actually enjoyed it. Again. It felt like the pressure of experimenting with other things was gone. Not that I’m done experimenting or that I’m out of curiosity, but there’s no more pressure. I learned what I wanted to learn, what pushed me out of engineering.

My perception has also changed. While I was seeing software engineering as a job or a service — and the same goes for these other things like marketing and design — I now see them as a way to achieve something. To create.

I feel like I’m being brought back to engineering but with a much broader perspective and different context.

A context in which technology is not a job, but a way to build and create. A different perspective in which technology is actually nothing without sales, marketing, design and a creative process. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Everything is somehow connecting.

Re-thinking the wallet and designing CARDSTACK

cardstack story

Most of us use just a few cards on a daily basis, barely use cash anymore and store more and more on our mobile phones. Why is it then that we have to carry around that big, clunky, uncomfortable wallet?

It’s no surprise we see people ditching their wallet in favour of simpler alternatives. Sometimes quite radical alternatives like rubber bands or binder clips. Some other times, ones like slim leather wallets.

While the rubber band, the binder clip or even the money clip work well, the end result is far from elegant. And as far as slim wallets are concerned, they’re fundamentally traditional wallets with just less space.

So you either have to go for style or space.

That’s why last week we launched CARDSTACK. This is a project we had in the pipeline for quite a while now and it’s good to finally show it to the world.

Re-thinking the wallet

When designing CARDSTACK, the goal was to re-think the wallet and create a product that would allow to effectively carry just the few cards you need everyday without giving up on style or flexibility.

There is no better way to simplify and slim down a wallet than to just get rid of it altogether. So early on, it became very clear that the wallet itself had to disappear and that the cards should simply become the wallet. That’s CARDSTACK. A simple, yet elegant and stylish, stack of cards.

The back and front aluminum covers, at just 0.5mm each, take less space than a credit card. So no bulk is unnecessarily added. The same goes for the weight: aluminum ensures a robust wallet and keeps the weight incredibly low.

The back and front plates make it easy to slide in or slide out your cards, while preserving the intimacy of your wallet. The silicone band securely holds the cards into place without compromising the aesthetic and the use of silicone ensures the band won’t break or wear off.

Security also became a concern when designing CARDSTACK. Thanks to the aluminum plates, CARDSTACK will block any RFID signal and keep your cards secure.

The result is a modern, slim, lightweight and colourful wallet for our modern lifestyle.

hi

Know who you’re designing for

Even though it’s a simple product in appearance, a lot of thinking and experimentation went into designing the product. One of the biggest takeaway from the design process is “know who you’re designing for”.

For CARDSTACK, it was fairly easy. I was mainly building it for my own needs and for people looking to radically reduce the size of their wallet. After carrying around for quite some time a wallet consisting of just a broccoli rubber band holding the cards together, I felt like it was the best wallet I ever had. Unfortunately, it was far from elegant.

We’re far from the broccoli rubber band now, but you can still feel where this product is coming from. What the initial inspiration was.

When you get early feedback, it’s easy to get caught into adding this or that. Add a pocket for keys. Add a pocket for coins. Don’t use a rubber band. Use plastic. Use Aluminum. But in the end, does it really make a better product? Will it be appealing to the people I’m designing this product for? Will it be as flexible and versatile? Would I use it?

Saying no is core. Most of the time though, I found out that saying no was more about explaining where the product is coming from and what we’re trying to improve. This gives a sense of context and what the overall vision is. Once people got that, their feedback was much more helpful and in line with the overall vision.

We’re really excited about CARDSTACK and so far, early customers seem just as excited. I hope you’ll love it as much as we do.

Focus is stepping back and choosing what to ignore

It’s easy to think of focus as just consciously putting more energy or time into something. It is, in a way, but without ignoring everything that gets in the way, it’s nearly impossible.

That’s why focusing is so hard. If it was just caring more about something without having to compromise or to let go, it would be really easy.

On the contrary, ignoring involves putting things aside, sometimes irritating a few people and making though choices as to what matters and what deserves your time.

So before trying too hard to focus on one thing, it may be a better idea to take a step back and define what has to be left out, what has to be ignored, what is eating all your time and energy.

The cost of ignoring may vary — sometimes it’s money and sometimes it’s relationships — but then focus just seems to happen.

The blank slate that is Excel

Excel is being used to do quite a lot of things. Things it generally wasn’t designed to do — Interface design, project management, databases, invoices and more. I’ve seen it all.

It often ends up being a mess, awful to look at and impossible to maintain. But sometimes it’s quite impressive. Even surprising.

You see, Excel has this bad reputation in the tech industry because it’s getting used to solve all sort of problems it should not. Why use Excel when a piece of software exists to solve the specific problem you’re working on?

Well, Excel provides a blank slate. Almost like building blocks, allowing you to build anything you want without the friction of having to learn something new. Plus, you don’t have to take the time to find a solution that already exists, but doesn’t solve your problem exactly the way you’d want.

Especially in a corporate environment where installing new software involves a painful process with the IT department or costs approval.

I used to hate Excel and all the wrong ways of using it, but the truth is that it’s one of the most flexible and widely adopted piece of software. Not only can you use it in a lot of different ways, but you’re also sure anybody will be able to read and edit it. Without being collaborative in its features, collaboration is about people first and it’s easy to collaborate around a tool everybody knows. It’s friction less.

I don’t use it a lot, but I understand why non-techies use it that much. The grid is reassuring, gives structure and is easy to work.

I still think it’s broken in many ways, but I understand why it’s so widely adopted.

Shield people from your work anywhere, anytime lifestyle

Would you pick up the phone at 10 PM and call a colleague for something that doesn’t require immediate attention? Probably not, but yet, most are shameless about sending emails late at night or even during weekends.

We do so because we expect email to be unobtrusive. It is, if you consider people have work-specific devices, but clearly that’s not the case. We carry our emails everywhere with us, on our phone and personal computer.

So when sending a late night or weekend email, you actually send these signals:

  • I’m working and you’re not. Shouldn’t you be working too?
  • I’m way more busy than you are. My busy work lifestyle has a direct impact on your leisure time, deal with it.
  • This email requires immediate attention, otherwise I would’ve waited until tomorrow morning

So it creates pressure. Pressure to work all around the clock and pressure to respond immediately. Even though it’s not your end goal.

Now feel free to work whenever you want, that’s the promise of the always connected world. But expecting others to do the same creates unnecessary pressure and a tense climate.

There’s a very simple solution to this — schedule your emails using a service similar to Boomerang. If you work during the weekend, get some work done by answering emails, but schedule them for the next Monday. Working late night? Schedule your emails for the next morning.

It doesn’t make any difference to you, but it’s a big deal for your colleagues.