TECHNOLOGY

Caterina Fake on How She Plans to Build the World's Living Atlas

The Flickr co-founder and serial entrepreneur explains the big ambition behind her latest project, Findery, and what she's learned since launching.
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Caterina Fake is one of those highly successful Web entrepreneurs. After co-founding photo-sharing site Flickr and selling it to Yahoo, she went on to co-found the decision-making tool Hunch, then sold it to eBay.

The tricky part about serial successes is that after each big hit, everyone--investors, the media, etc.--raises their expectations about what you'll do next. Fake, however, takes this challenge in stride. Each new startup is a new opportunity to learn.

That's not to say she's lost her ambition. Her latest project is Findery, a travel app for iOS that lets globetrotters add notes to points of interest. The real plan? To build the world's biggest, living atlas. I caught up with her recently to talk about what she's learned so far.

Findery is a cool, user-generated travel app. Where do you want it to go from here?

Hopefully big! We hope [you use it] whenever you are somewhere and you are wondering, what is that building? Who lived here? Tell me the story of this place. You'll open up Findery and it will tell you. We want to be the world's living atlas, and give you the story of the places you go. If Google is about "What" and Facebook is about "Who" we want to be about "Where."

This is your first big mobile-centric idea. What's different about building a mobile app vs. building a website?

Mobile app development take a longer time than Web development! My background is in the Web, and I had to readjust my timing expectations of how long it takes to develop native apps. I think it's also important to have a much more mature product when you're releasing as an app than as a website, go through more iterations, and pare back your feature set.

What's the biggest mistake a mobile app company can make? 

On social media and user-generated content apps like Findery, it's important to have activity and participation before you launch the app. Otherwise you end up with the "empty restaurant" syndrome, where no matter how good your place is, there seems to be no one there. We made sure to build up the Findery community a year and a half before launching the app. It made a huge difference!

So building interest first is key. What's not helpful to startups in this process?  

I'm generally not a big believer in financing stories--raising money is just the start of building a great product. I like product stories, and stories about members, the people using the product. Without Findery's members, we wouldn't be here, so it's important to let them know how much they are appreciated.

Give me the one piece of advice you'd give for making a successful app.

Make sure you focus on the user experience. My background is in design, and UI, and UX. Design is as important as everyone says it is, and has been proven again and again to make a tremendous difference in a product's success. But of course, having a great design is only the beginning. You have to have great engineering and marketing too. Entrepreneurs must be jacks- and jills-of-all-trades. 

What are some of you favorite travel destinations on Findery?

Because of the Rural SW Alabama account, I'm suddenly a big fan of Alabama! I haven't visited that state yet, but their notes make me want to visit.  I also like to "armchair travel" on Findery, visiting Ecuador, Lithuania. I like to think of new places and explore. We're still in the early days of the app, but it's the kind of thing that gets better every day, the more people join, use it, and leave notes.

 

Last updated: Apr 3, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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