A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

12/20/12Follow @wroush

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usually seeing something that your friend is still doing right now. So understanding where you are in time is a really important thing in Path. So we kind of had to figure out a better way to do it.

And so we actually started with the clock smack in the middle. It would show up on top of each post and tell you where you were in time. Then we kind of started to dive into it and try to figure it out. We came up with the idea of this clock that floated along with the scroll bar, depending on how much content there is in the feed. The clock itself has Swiss movement, kind of a throwback to my grandfather. The idea being that the time stamp is such an important thing, but it’s not important unless you are in the mode of moving through the feed and understanding where you are in time. Once you have slowed down to appreciate something, it doesn’t matter that much and it can go away. This is one of those things where, it seems like something small to focus on, but it turns out that time is one of the most important things of all.

X: I wanted to ask you about how you use Path and how your average user uses Path. With the introduction of Path 2.0 in 2011 at some point, it became a more elaborate journaling tool. You could use it for capturing more kinds of stuff. Do you have people who use it for capturing stuff regardless of whether their friends might be interested in it—just documenting their own lives? With less of a question as to whether anyone will ever see it? And are there other people who are obsessively broadcasting their location or the meal they just had for the benefit of their friends? What’s the balance there?

DM: We have a few different very interesting cases. We have done a bunch of research in the last few months. I would say that our strongest use case, well there’s two. We have a very premium Internet user, sort of, I would describe them as a very discerning Internet user that has probably used all social networks ever, and is a discerning quality-centric Internet user. They want a very high-quality experience. They appreciate Path for its quality, and its design. And they actually appreciate it also because of the philosophy of less-is-more. They have experienced everything under the sun, all the different social networks throughout time, and they have now come to Path and said, “I get it. I want a place where less is more, that I have only the people I really care about, where the experience itself is really high quality and feels like a premium experience.”

So we have a big set of those people. And those people also tend to be very privacy-centric. They are sophisticated Internet users but I think that also makes them sophisticated business people or content creators. So we end up with quite a few celebrities and journalists and CEOs, venture capitalists, people who are very privacy conscious and they have a public life and a private life and they really want Path to be the thing for their private life. So we have like quite a few of those very sophisticated users.

X: Are those people tending to upload content that’s really carefully framed, beautiful photographs?

DM: No, they actually use it for their personal life. That is what’s so fascinating. I like describing that user’s evolution through time—they have gone through using Facebook and using Twitter and using Instagram or whatever to share these personal moments, and they felt that intimacy in these other networks, and then it went away. And so they come to Path and they say, “I get it. This is the place that’s going to stay that way.” That’s one type of user.

The second type—and I would say these two are equal—is the family user. These are people who really believe that, they really love this kind of place which is completely private, just for their family. They probably have family dispersed all over the country, all over the world, and they really want to stay connected and become closer to those people they don’t get to be with every day. They might want to share photos of their newborn, or just share everyday life. We call it celebrating the ordinary. They want to share the mundane every day. By doing that together as a family, the whole family becomes closer.

I would say the most emotionally interesting -mails that I get from our users are those. I get an e-mail probably every day from somebody who says “I never had anything in my life that has brought my family closer together than Path. Please never let it leave the world.” If not once a day, at least once a week. That hits us pretty hard, because both Dustin and I are from northern towns. He’s from northern British Columbia, across the bay from Alaska, I’m from Montana. Both of our families are there in these remote places. And building Path was as much an endeavor of building it for ourselves as it was building it for the world. So it brought our families closer together from the first beta, the first version. We knew that use case would be very powerful for people.

So we have a lot of family users, and in fact a lot of our investors, a lot of the people who are our biggest supporters, through the ups and the downs, whether it’s a press cycle or something else happens that is sort of a down period for the company—like, our first version didn’t work very well—it has always brought families closer together. We have quite a strong vein in that.

X: Are there any other really interesting categories of users?

DM: Yeah, there is this one really interesting category, which we haven’t talked about very much, but there is this interesting user, I don’t know how much I want to talk about it—you can write about it if you want—but this user also believes that less is more and they run businesses that are sort of in that category. We did this study, we had this really big spur of users in Florida, in Miami, so we did this study, and one of the categories of users was real estate agents, and they were actually using Path to share photos of the homes with their small list of clients that they wanted to have an everyday interaction with. So we have a set of users who are using Path for business reasons, in a very limited context.

X: Like art dealers or personal shoppers.

DM: Yeah, we have heard art dealers and real estate. I have not heard personal shoppers, but yeah, it’s sort of, the folks that like a small client list. We have actualy heard from teachers, from doctors. Anything where the context—if it’s a classroom with 30 kids in it, a doctor who has a small set of clients and wants to keep them up to date on the latest health information but doesn’t want to be broadcasting that on Twitter. There’s a whole set of businesses which are very privacy-focused which, for some reason, we’ve hit a vein there. It’s actually not something that we build for, but people are using it for that.

X: Because you guys are so focused on the mobile platform, I’m imagining that that came with its own set of challenges, from the beginning. Especially when it relates to the unique ecosystem around Android and Apple phones. The development life cycle is very different from the Web life cycle. How have you adapted to that over time? It must be something you only learned gradually, how to iterate. Especially if you are really focused on design—that slows iteration down even more.

DM: It’s been an excruciatingly painful process. Most of us came from the Web world. I would say, we all grew up with desktop software. Dustin and I used Hypercard a lot when we were kids. In the desktop software world, when you were developing desktop software you would put it in a box, and ship it to people, right, which is pretty interesting. The Web came along and that enabled this really rapid iteration, as you said, and on the Web you were able to … Next Page »

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

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