A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

12/20/12Follow @wroush

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most people to give you the answer. So it’s really true that the people who are close to us in life, there is really not a lot of them. It’s really hard to scale that.

However, I do think that it’s possible for technology to deepen those connections. That’s really our endeavor here. We believe that yes, the march of technology and now social technology has really enabled us to use these tools to communicate with more people than ever before. But that it must be possible to deepen relationships too. We think there are not enough people or companies focused on that in the world. That is the thing that drives us.

X: Let’s switch gears just slightly and bring in the element of design. Can you tell me about this room? We’re sitting here with all sorts of cool artifacts of design, like the first iPod. So how long have you been immersed in design thinking?

DM: Oof. I don’t know. My whole life? My grandfather gave me a Mac Plus when I was like four years old. I have my original Mac Plus sitting on my childhood desk at home at my mom’s house. And I kind of was lucky in that my grandfather was the vice president of the International Ski Federation like for 20 years or something when I was growing up, and he used to go to Zurich all the time. He would go to Switzerland and Germany and he’d bring me back things from these countries which I don’t think most other kids from Helena, Montana, would have access to. He’d bring back Leika cameras and Swatch watches and other watch brands. Porsche cars and Audi cars. Things you wouldn’t see in Montana. That Polaroid SX-70 camera there. My grandfather gave me that. I’ve had that since I was a kid.

So, you know, I think because of my grandfather I sort of had access to this world of design that you wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths with. Oh, Braun clocks and these types of things. So I was exposed to designers like Dieter Rams really early on when I was a kid.

So I think that that spurred a lifelong interest in design and design thinking and just trying to understand design and what makes a great product. What makes a product not just beautiful but functional. I think that that’s a pretty important thing.

I guess how that ties into this place and this room and things, when we started the company, Dustin and I and even Shawn were interested in starting a company that had a true appreciation and respect for design, and making decisions design-first. Because we felt that there weren’t really enough companies [doing that]. There’s companies like Apple and there’s companies that stand for design and have really pushed design forward over the years. But in our generation, especially on the consumer Internet, there just weren’t that many. So we had this deep desire to at least put a stake in the ground as a company that really cares about design and doesn’t just care about it from an aesthetic perspective but really cares about it deeply in a way that would drive the entire company. So both Dustin and I are design-first people, primarily and it kind of permeates everything.

This room is my conference room so it’s got a lot of stuff related to design and how we think about things. There’s some design, there’s some social psychology. Morality. These types of things. Happiness.

X: How do you leverage your sense of design and the contribution design can make to function, to build a more effective social network? Maybe call out some of the things you did and thought about.

DM: Fundamentally we believe that we are just barely getting going in technology’s ability to make our interactions with other humans more interesting. If you think about where we are, for the last, whatever, you could argue about when social networking as a technology came around, you could say that it was early bulletin board systems, you could say that it was AOL, you could say that it was ICQ or IRC, there are all these different social systems through the ages, but if you look at current social technology, it’s been the last eight to 10 years, right, that we really have been experiencing some of the more intense networking technologies? And what’s interesting is that if you look at the personal computer revolution, eight to 10 years in we were still using DOS. So I think we fundamentally believe that we are still in the era of social DOS right now. And that if you look around at a lot of the most popular social network technologies, it’s still a fairly basic form of communication and language. We’re still using simple buttons and simple keyboard and mouse related feedback to interact with each other.

So we are kind of trying to take design, and mostly, actually, take the touch interface. One of the questions people ask is, “Why don’t you have a website?” I think when they ask that question [what they're asking is] why wouldn’t you do that, everyone has a computer? It turns out everyone doesn’t have a computer. And only about a billion and a half people in the world ever had a personal computer. Five billion people have mobile phones. And as many people have touch devices as have computers. This interface is so different from a keyboard and a mouse. The fact that you can touch the screen, you can do different gestures, you can do a lot of interesting things.

So what we try to do is approach this platform and what you can do with these devices—not just the screen, but they have sensors in them, they are with you every hour of the day—we like to think that with mobile, life is the platform now, rather than just your desk. It used to be you would come to a desk and there was a glowing rectangle with this weird keyboard contraption and a mouse sitting next to it. And you’d sit and your desk and the computer would make your desk interactive. And that was it. Then you’d have to go on with your life. And most of the experiences designed for the computer were very asynchronous. I’m going to set up this event, I’m going to invite some people to it, people will show up, then they need to have all this information when they get there. If I meet someone new at that event, I need to come back to the computer to look them up in this directory. So all of the experiences built for the computer are very specifically designed for a world where you don’t have a computer all the time.

X: Real life was going on outside the computer.

DM: Right. Now all these things are intertwined. Not just with everyday life. They are near your head when you’re sleeping. On path, our third most popular type of content is sleep. People share when they go to bed and when they wake up every day.

X: What are the first two most popular?

DM: Photos and text. We call them “thoughts.” And music is the fourth. So it’s this amazing device that’s with you all the time and it’s part of your everyday life in ways that computers just never could be. So I guess what we try to do with design is, we really try to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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