A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

12/20/12Follow @wroush

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the day I left Apple. It was that if you do something and it turns out pretty great, don’t dwell on it too long. Just move on and do the next thing.

So the definition of a spotlight is that you’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be part of something that was successful in one way or another, so people know about it. Really what you’re talking about with the spotlight is people’s expectations that the next thing is going to be pretty great. I think that one of the things that a lot of the former Facebook folks go through is kind of this, the next thing you work on, people expect it to be the next Facebook or a similar scope or scale. The thing is, it took eight years to get Facebook to how big it is today. A lot of people don’t remember that in the first year of Facebook we didn’t even have a million users. And in the second year we barely had two million users.

So I think that one of the nice things about being from the Facebook world is that we all remember when we didn’t have a lot of users and people didn’t believe that this social networking thing was a good thing. And no brand was willing to experiment. And users in college thought it was pretty cool but everybody else was on MySpace. So, I think that you benefit a little bit from the experience that you’ve had, at least those of us who came from Facebook, because Facebook itself was actually a fairly slow-growing business. Which most people don’t think of it that way. That’s one thing.

But I guess, coming out of that, you have this responsibility. When you have the spotlight, or whatever you want to call it, you sort of have a responsibility to give it a shot, again. And try to build another great product. Try to do something. Whether or not it works or not at least you gave it your best try.

I think the hardest part about it is going through the wall of expectations upon launch. So, like I said, with our first launch of Path 1.0, we really put a minimum viable product together. We thought photos was an interesting place to focus. When we launched, about 10 other photo sharing things launched the same week. We launched the same week as Instagram and we had no idea they existed. So there are all these amazing things you don’t expect. We put out a minimum viable product. Some people loved some pieces of it, some people hated some pieces of it. A lot of people said, “Oh, the spotlight is too intense, these guys will never succeed, they’re going to fail.” And I think that all that matters is that you go and you try and you take the feedback that you get.

One of the ways we benefit is that we get a lot of feedback from very passionate people! I think all they really expect is, “I know you can do better. I want a better product!” They know there is value to be had. That is all they are really asking for. So I think that our endeavor here has always been to listen really carefully and closely to what people say and what they want and what they think they want, and then take that and apply design thinking to it, and apply our sort of rigor to trying to create great products and make it better and better and better.

We spent the first year trying to make Path 2.0 happen. I talked you through some of the simplicity that we had to go through. I also thnk that a big part of creating a big product, or just starting out creating a great product, is taking something where your first version is usually very complex, and distribution is a function of simplicity. The more you can simplify things and make it easy for people to understand, the more people will use it. So a big part of Path 2.0 was just taking the time to simplify and making it easier for people to understand what exactly we are trying to put into their lives.

As we put more out this year, it will be the same kind of thing. We’ll get closer and closer, where hopefully somebody like you that uses the product all the time, we’re going to give you some things this year that being a longtime user you will say “Wow, I had no idea that was coming, but oh my God, I’m so glad I was a long-term user.” There are things like that that now we get to do, because we’ve kept going. I guess you pointed out—did you learn a lot from each of these things? Absolutely. Without each one of these incredible challenges, we wouldn’t I think have been able to produce the product that we’ve got today. Crises are these great things. Whether it’s a crisis like the address book thing we went through, or a crisis of product where we put out a version that was maybe too minimally viable. You never want to waste a crisis.

X: With the address book thing, you guys very quickly went to the extreme response. You did exactly what the harshest critics were asking for, which was sort of like a no holds barred apology, and you deleted all the data.

DM: We did the apology, then we deleted all the data, and we went one step further and now we encrypt all address book data coming onto our servers. We can’t access it. Nobody can access it. It’s fully encrypted.

X: Did that response grow out of your awareness that you were in the spotlight and that you had this greater responsibility?

DM: Yes, I would say greater responsibility. Because of the spotlight, maybe. But greater responsibility because of our values, yes. We are building a personal social network for your private life, so we really deeply care about privacy here. We’ve got a whole depth of thinking around privacy and how we’ve constructed the privacy rules inside of our product. What happened there was something where we were interfacing with a platform, and we were doing something that was a best practice, and it was one of those things where we stepped on a land mine and we didn’t even realize it. Because that value matters so much to us, we can go out, we can apologize, we can say we really didn’t mean to do this, but to us actions speak much louder than words, so we went and we deleted everything and now we’ve encrypted everything. For us, making that commitment to building trust with society and with our users, really matters. You can say things, but you have to do in order to really communicate, I think.

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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