Open Letter: A Better Experience for You

in Other

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You deserve the best. Mail Pilot exists because, as two college students, we decided that email could be better. We set out on an experiment to see if we could imagine a better email experience. Believe it or not, our initial motivation was not to start a business, but after the success of our idea on Kickstarter, Mindsense was born to bring Mail Pilot to life.

Along the way, we’ve faltered in bringing you the best email experience, and we’re here to tell you how we’re fixing it. This letter is as long as it is honest, but we look forward to starting this conversation with you, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts with us.

Shortfall 1: The challenges of remaining an independent boutique company
In an effort to bring you the best experience and answer solely to you, our customers, we’ve made the decision to be an independent boutique company with no traditional investment. This means that have grown slowly and very intentionally, but at times, not quickly enough to meet your expectations. We are a very small team—currently four people, only one of which is a full-time developer. Developing a suite of fully native email applications is an incredibly daunting task to tackle with one developer.

Solution: We’re hiring
For the last two months, we’ve been actively recruiting a full-time developer. We haven’t found the right person yet, but we’re not going to stop until we do. If you know anyone who would be a great fit for our team, here’s the full info. At the same time, we’ve also hired for and rearranged our Customer Support team to be more responsive to you. We’ll share more on this below.

Shortfall 2: A rushed, buggy 1.0
Our first version of Mail Pilot for iPhone and iPad, while working ok for many, has endured quite a few issues. The entire application was built from scratch in less than four months. We rushed this release because we were fearful of competition, and that was a bad decision. While we’ve made several incremental updates, it’s completely fair to describe the current application as buggy, slow, unstable, and unimpressive to this day. We are incredibly sorry for all the issues with this application.

Solution: Rebuilt application, free upgradeWe took the time to re-write our iOS app from the ground up (read the announcement here). Normally, we would charge for a major version upgrade of a one-time paid application, but since the first version was not up to the standard we set for ourselves, we’re going to give this one to current customers for free. We’d love to launch with iOS 8, but we don’t know when that will be yet, and we prefer to ship a higher quality app a week or two after iOS 8 launches if necessary. So, to be safe, we’re slating the release of Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad for October.

Shortfall 3: Inconsistent product updates
We’ve been inconsistent with updates to our products. This directly relates to the challenges we’ve faced in remaining independent and working with a small team. After Mail Pilot for iPhone and iPad was initially released, we were excited to see all the  requests for a desktop counterpart. So, shortly after the release, we set our sights on developing Mail Pilot for Mac. Because of our limited development resources, when we decided to switch gears, we put Mail Pilot for iPhone and iPad on the back burner. It stayed there for way too long. Similarly, in our efforts to bring Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad to you, Mail Pilot for Mac hasn’t seen an update in a few months.

Solutions: Regularly scheduled updates

  • Updates every other week for Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad — After launch, we’re going to spend two months in an intensive feedback/development loop to bring biweekly improvements to the application. During the public preview and beta of Mail Pilot for Mac, we had incredibly close interactions with many of you and released updates based on your feedback and reports weekly (sometimes more frequently). We want to mirror this experience. Our goal is for Mail Pilot to be the best email client out there, so instead of jumping back to another development project after we launch, we’ll be listening intently to your bug reports and feature requests, and shipping updates regularly.

  • Incremental updates for Mail Pilot for Mac —We will be shipping some updates to Mail Pilot for Mac over the coming months with some general improvements and to bring it up to speed with Yosemite. Since our focus will be on our iOS app during its launch this does mean we won’t get to bring our Mac app to a version 2 as soon as we want to, but we think it’s for the best. We want to knock it out of the park with our iOS app, then we’ll do the same with our Mac app.

Shortfall 4: Poor Communication
The launch of Mail Pilot for Mac was one of the most exciting times for our company. During our 3 month public preview and beta period, we were in close communication with you and got some amazing feedback that made Mail Pilot for Mac infinitely better. We really had our finger on the pulse of the application and how our users were interacting with it. This changed when it came the public launch on the Mac App Store. Within hours of its launch, Mail Pilot for Mac became the #1 paid application in the entire Mac App Store in over 50 countries. We were taking on customers at a rate we had never seen before. Our small team was all hands on deck responding to customers via support email and twitter; we even had to bring  on temporary relief staff to help get quicker responses. During this period and for a long time thereafter, we lost the pulse. And we never really got it back. Until now.

Solutions: User conferences and transparency

  • User conference — Our team is planning our first ever user conference. Everyone who uses Mail Pilot will be invited to register for our free online user conference which will take place after Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad ships. The Mail Pilot User Conference will be a 1-day event consisting of multiple webinars where we’ll share tips and tricks to get the most out of Mail Pilot, show you our roadmap for the future, and hold Q&A’s to get your questions answered by our core team members. We’re excited to spend some time with you during these webinars, and we’ll post more information about them as we get closer.

  • Weekly status updates — Every Friday, we will post a status update from our support and development teams on our Status Board. You will get a glimpse into where we are in our development process, what issues came up most in support, and what we’re doing about them. We’re going to make a more thorough status board page where our current one exists. We’ll also post a link to each update on our Twitter account.

  • Customer support — We are rethinking our approach to customer support. To start, we have dedicated two of our team members to keep track of and improve your customer experience. Their core responsibility is to represent your voice to our full team as we work to improve the way you use and experience our products. Furthermore, we want to improve the experiences you have in interacting with our company. If you contact us through our support system, email, or social media, one of our two reps, Nathan or Mike, will be assisting you. These guys are top notch – I’ve never met anyone else more dedicated to solving people’s problems and making sure people’s voices are heard than these two guys. While I hope you never have to chat with them because of a problem with Mail Pilot, if you do, I know they’ll do everything they can to assist you. They’ll also be at the center of our 2 month intensive improvement period – taking everything you tell them to the team as we figure out what should be developed on next.

  • We’d love to hear your thoughts on our plan for a better customer experience.

 

We’re here because of you. Let’s craft some great software experiences together.

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Announcing Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad

in Announcements

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Your mobile email experience is about to leap forward. Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad is arriving in October.

This is not an ordinary update; it’s a completely new application. In reimagining what email should be on the mobile, we designed a brand new user experience and created a suite of new features. Under the hood, the application rests on top of a new foundation that we architected over the last year to dramatically improve stability and performance. We know it’s been a long time coming, so as we complete the finishing touches, we wanted to share what’s in store.

Completely Redesigned User Experience

Mail Pilot 1 was focused on creating a more productive email workflow with intuitive organization. We’ve taken that to the next level with Mail Pilot 2 by rethinking the way that we interact with email on mobile devices. With elegantly natural navigation, new gestures, and a message view with clarity and context like never before, every part of the application has been designed to be both productive and beautiful.

Suite of New Features

In addition to Mail Pilot’s core features, we set out to take advantage of what your device and iOS 8 have to offer to make Mail Pilot 2 more integrated, synchronized, and contextually aware. Moreover, we rethought what true cross-platform compatibility should be and built integrations between Mail Pilot on Mac®, iPhone®, and iPad® that are as intelligent as they are seamless. We’re excited to share more details about these major additions and all of the other new features and improvements you’ll find in this application over the coming weeks.

Stability, Speed, & Compatibility

And of course, the change that got this all started was the completely rewritten backend for Mail Pilot. You’ll enjoy dramatically improved stability, IMAP compatibility, speed, and performance. With this new foundation, everything simply works and works simply.

Sneak Peek in Macworld

Check out a sneak peek of Mail Pilot 2 in the next issue of Macworld magazine. We’ll be sharing more details about Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone and iPad over the next few weeks. Check our Status Board every Friday, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on our progress.

P.S.: It’s a free upgrade

We want to make sure that everyone who purchased Mail Pilot 1 has the best mobile email experience that Mail Pilot has to offer, so even though we would normally charge for a major revision, this one is on us. Anyone who purchased Mail Pilot 1 for iPhone & iPad will get Mail Pilot 2 for free.

 

We’re Hiring

in Updates

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We grow slowly and intentionally, so this doesn’t happen often, but we’re hiring.

Here at Mindsense, we’re looking for excited developers who love making things work well. If you’re passionate about creating rock-solid, life-changing applications, and you love Swift or Objective-C, get in touch.

Our HQ in Blacksburg, VA, complete with a foosball coffee table, desks with dry erase surfaces, and a coffee bar overlooking a little glimpse of our beautiful area in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Why work at Mindsense? We’re an indie iOS & Mac app development studio, sustained only by selling our apps direct to customers, so we answer only to our customers and to ourselves. We use this flexibility to stay responsive to our customers and the market, regularly experimenting with our crazy ideas and futuristic visions.

What’s it like to work at Mindsense? To give you a peek into how we work as a team, we put together three posts: “How we handle time off“, “How we use Strengths“, and “How we implement Kanban & Scrum“.

Why work at a startup at all? Glad you asked, we wrote a whole blog post on that, “Top 5 Reasons to Work at a Young Company“. Why work in Blacksburg? We wrote a post on that too, “Top 5 Reasons to Work in Smart Valley“.

If you’re interested in joining our team, send us an email today.

 

How we use Strengths

in Other

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It is a unique challenge for a job candidate to speak openly and genuinely about what they’re good at. Sure, a resumé is a decent tool to share experiences and an interview is a great place to ask deeper questions, but it’s difficult to really get to the bottom of what actually motivates and drives people we’ve only just met. One of the first things we do when bringing someone new onto our team is we give them the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, and ask them to take the online assessment. This isn’t a self-help personality quiz, it’s a resource put together after interviewing 1.7 million professionals from various fields and distilling everything they learned about how people can be the best they can be in within a team in both their personal and professional lives.

By focusing on our strengths, we make ourselves the best we can be. By partnering with people that have complementing strengths, we can, as a team, have all the bases covered by the right people. You’ve seen this a lot with software startups: the common setup requires 3 people: somebody with a knack for design, somebody for development, and somebody for creating a cash flow positive business. You wouldn’t have the guy whose strength is design try to do the financials when somebody else on the team has that strength. Plus, our strengths are intrinsically motivating. Simply because we are good at something, we’ll be even faster at it, because we enjoy it.

Strengths is also about personal growth. The writers argue that focusing on our weaknesses might allow us to take something that we’re only 10% good at to become 20% good at it, while focusing on our strengths can allow us to take something we’re 150% good at to become 300% good at it. I can certainly agree; we’ve seen this in practice. I’m not particularly good with coming up with creative, new algorithms to replace inefficient old ones, and if I spend a week trying to devise a better big data reconciliation algorithm, I might make it 5% more efficient, when a solution that would make it 200% more efficient has already been engineered by someone who has this strength. However, I have a knack for design, and if I spend a week practicing new design techniques and trying to expand my repertoire, I’ll end up with a number of cool new resources which are ready to be published and used.

With Strengths, we learn a good bit about ourselves, but we learn even more about each other. We know how to work with each other, how to communicate more effectively, etc. One of our early developers had high analytical, so we knew in order to get him on board with a decision, he would need to hear all of our reasons leading into that decision and how the circumstances led to that decision. With Josh, who is high achiever, I know that he needs a well-maintained task list. He enjoys seeing what work needs to be done and checking it off. I don’t have the need for to-do lists, but I know he will. I also know not to rid him of the joy of checking something off of our shared lists on our whiteboards — there’s a certain sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with that for achievers.

To make sure we always tap and balance each of our strengths, and to make sure we get to know everyone else’s, we each have a plaque on our desk with our top strengths listed on them. We don’t think we’d be where we are to today, both personally and as a company, without this use of Strengths and, we could not imagine moving our company into its next phase of growth without a culture rooted in Strengths.

Sound interesting? Join our team! We currently have two open positions.

How we implement Kanban & Scrum

in Other

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Kanban

At Mindsense, we adhere to the Kanban process management and improvement method. We’ve found that managing knowledgework can be difficult without a specific method for visualizing our progress and improving our process. Kanban solves those issues.

With Kanban, we have a few major focus points:

  • The workflow of knowledge work is inherently invisible. Visualizing the flow of work and making it visible is core to understanding how work proceeds. Therefore, we visualize our progress with our in-office Kanban board.
  • There is value not in starting things, but in finishing them. Therefore, we limit the amount of work that can be ‘in progress’ at one time.
  • Our process is explicit. By explicitly documenting our process, we can adhere to it better, and modify it more objectively.
  • Monitor process. We collaboratively manage flow, monitor data points on our progress, determine process improvements, and implement them incrementally.

Kanban board — Our physical Kanban board is on the wall in our “War Room”. Each row on the board is a story, and team members move their tasks move through the columns as they make progress on them. There are limits on how many tasks can be in progress at once, to help us understand and use the value of seeing tasks all the way through to completion, instead of just starting a bunch of different things.

Retrospective — At the end of each week, we conduct a retrospective where we reflect on the past sprint and identify any improvements that could be made to our process for the next sprint.

 

Scrum

We use the agile method Scrum. As a result of our Kanban process improvement methodology, our application of Scrum has a few slight variations. We’ve found that we can remain lean and responsive to both the market and our customers by using Scrum. It forces us to have deliverables each week, to regularly make sure we’re working on the most important thing, to estimate task complexity more accurately, and to constantly improve our process.

With Scrum, we have a few major focus points:

  • There is value in how much we produce, not in how much we work. Therefore, each week team members identify what they will be responsible for completing during that sprint. They will demonstrate the final product at the end of the sprint, or they will need to elaborate on why they were unable to finish. In our experience, it’s also a more relaxing, flexible, and healthy working style.
  • Scheduled regular communication can help resolve issues more quickly, reduce the number of interruptions or meetings needed throughout the day, and keep team members responsbile for and aware of the tasks they need to have completed. Therefore, we hold daily standup meetings at 10:30. They don’t last longer than 10 minutes.
  • It is difficult to estimate how long a release might take. Therefore, we score each task on how complex it is, not on how much time we think it will take. Then, we track our velocity — the running average of how many complexity points we have completed per sprint. Using our velocity, we can see how much we should expect to be able to complete in future sprints.
  • As a young company, it is imperitive that we remain responsive to the market and to our customers. Therefore, we implement short, 7-day sprints that allow us to push deliverables and re-prioritize future tasks regularly.

Sprint planning meeting — At the end of the week, we hold a brief meeting to determine the most important things we need to do the next week. At the beginning of the week, we hold our sprint planning meeting to determine what will be done. During this meeting, we prioritize the backlog, and determine what can be feasibly shippable in the next sprint.

Daily Standup — Every day at 10:30 am, we hold a standup. These are held at our Kanban board. At a standup, each team member breifly answers the following questions:

  • What have you done since yesterday?
  • What do you plan to do today?
  • What impediments are in your way?

To maximize the value of our daily standups, team members don’t demo functionality until the sprint review if possible, and avoid discussing progress updates during the day until the next standup unless if immediate feedback or action is needed.

Sprint review — At the end of the week, we hold a sprint review where we review the completed work, the planned work that was not completed, and present demos of the completed work.

We’ve found this process to work really well at applying methodologies around many of our core values and understandings surrounding the work that we have. We’re constantly improving it, so this is really just a snapshot of where we’ve ended up today after two years of tweaking and iterating.

 

Sound interesting? Join our team! We currently have two open positions.