PageCloud Quick Facts:
Many of us have tried to make our own website – using pre-made templates, or web editors, or the visual designer on Adobe Dreamweaver. And many of those attempts have been like ordering x-ray specs from an ad in the back of a comic book: extremely disappointing, and never looking as good as the ad. So when I first heard about PageCloud, I was to say the least, skeptical. However, after seeing Craig Fitzpatrick, CEO and Founder of PageCloud, pitch at an event (and feeling everyone’s heads in the room collectively explode while he was demoing), I knew I had to sit down with him to talk PageCloud and web design.
So tell me about PageCloud, and ideally, the kind of person who uses it.
Sure. PageCloud is a web-publishing platform, but it’s a very special one and it’s the first ever to really bring a true desktop publishing experience to the web. It’s integrated with everything, it’s fluid as if coming from a desktop application, but everything is Cloud based and runs right in your browser. It’s really one of those things you just have to see to believe.
As for the target audience, while longer term I think really the entire planet at some point will want to put a website up, realistically we’re focused on the professional segment to start. Specifically: designers and developers who are building sites on behalf of other people, usually for money, and usually for small businesses.
It’s those kinds of people that (with PageCloud in their hands) can move at an amazing pace. We’ve really kind of set them free from a lot of the cumbersome constraints of yesterday’s technology.
That’s really interesting, because I saw you pitch at Product Hunt Ottawa, and as I watched your demo, in my head I was like “Wow, this is gonna kill agencies that build websites for “Joe’s Sandwich Shop down the street” because the tool is so easy and intuitive that Joe’s niece or, even Joe himself could build it.”
Yeah, you would think that, but what’s become clear over this journey and after talking to so many people, (literally I’ve shown this to 100’s of people just one-on-one), I’ve come to believe that a great website is still the product of a team of skilled people.
So you want great artwork, you want great writing, someone who understands marketing – and most of us aren’t all of those things. So, interestingly enough, the great paradox is this: we keep trying to build a technology where anyone can do it, but the reality is, not anyone can do it. So I still think that it’s just going to shift the value proposition of agencies a little bit back towards the thoughtful creative that delivers on a purpose that business websites are designed to sell.
I think for the most part that people want to be able to change their website as opposed to build it. So I think agencies will still build sites, but it will be nice when you own a site and you can just crack it open, make a small little tweak, change the messaging, change your portal, move something one inch to the right, and not have to call the agency back for that.
I don’t view this as taking work away from agencies. I view it as giving them a jetpack – another tool that they can use to just enhance their effectiveness and really delight their customers.
And how did PageCloud get its start?
I’ve run a bunch of product teams for a bunch of startups, and because of the experience, I always knew that marketing owned the website. Unfortunately, most marketing departments never had developers – and you need to be a developer to build a website.
It’s just the way that the tools worked for many years. And so my developers kept on being stolen from me to go and help marketing build websites, and then my product schedules were in jeopardy, and there was always this tug of war. I always thought it was just weird that you needed to be a developer to build a website – especially in a start-up, where you’re trying to be so agile, and your time is so precious.
So, about 3 years ago, I had gotten into the habit of using an Apple product called iWeb. It was a desktop product, worked only on Mac, and it was free. It was part of their home suite, and it was kind of a toy. It had its flaws: it didn’t render code properly across all the different browsers, and it was horribly under-featured, but there was something there.
It was probably the closest example of something that had this desktop usability that could spit out a website, and I was inspired by that. I’d always secretly hoped that Apple would come out with a Pro version, but it turns out instead they discontinued it. I remember getting that email one day and I went home that night and started writing code.
So walk us through that process. How long did it take you to code before you said, okay, I have something, it’s time to build a full product?
It was a couple years of just my own personal time on the side and it started off very innocently. It was a hobby and more of a curiosity, or a hypothesis. I wasn’t entirely sure that it could be done. I started out just trying to solve certain problems and messing around. I mean, the first thing that was built was just this ability to put a rectangle in a web browser and be able to drag it – it started as simply as that.
And eventually the problem that I was trying to solve really is not to create all new features or whole new capabilities, because there’s already lots of tools that technically let you build websites – that’s not the problem. The problem is their usability’s terrible. It’s horribly time consuming, restrictive, delicate, and they break all the time; so really I viewed this as a usability adventure – as trying to just have all that functionality so smoothly built that the technology just melts out of your way.
So like I said previously, I saw you pitch at Product Hunt Ottawa, and during the Q&A someone brought up mobile and responsive design – and you have a very interesting view on that. Could you share that with us?
Sure. That’s a very hot topic these days. I mean, if you look at the root of it all, this term responsive is a term that’s sort of whipping around the universe and in simple terms what it means is we want things beautiful everywhere and we want things usable everywhere, on all devices. I think it’s a noble goal, but I think that it’s a misunderstood domain. I think that there are a lot of people running around only sort of half understanding the implementation details.
There’s a knee-jerk reaction right now, that when people say responsive, what it conjures up in their mind is the ability to grab the edge of your browser and re-size it in real-time and you see things re-flow. But, the reality is nobody ever does that in the real world – it’s completely impractical and not necessary. And it wouldn’t even be so bad if it didn’t take you 3 to 4 more times the engineering and design to produce that.
So I did a lot of thinking about this, and then I did some experiments, and then I did a lot of observation. I was watching how people use all these different devices and a few things became clear. First off, there’s a natural viewing distance that people have when they use these mobile devices. If you’re sitting at a desk, with your laptop, your screen is probably gonna be about 2 1/2 feet from your face – that’s a comfortable viewing distance.
When you’re holding a tablet, you’re gonna hold that about half that distance. When you’re holding a mobile phone, regardless of whether it’s a 4 inch or a 6 inch screen, you’re going to hold that about 1/2 the distance of a tablet. Now what people don’t realize is that human beings are automatically adjusting their viewing distance to be suitable for the device they’re looking at.
Your tablet, your laptop, your desktop, all of these can use the same size. It’s only the phone that can’t, and so, you still have to design for the phone, and what people are doing right now as a knee-jerk reaction is they’re taking a full-size desktop site and they’re squishing it horizontally. What they get is this 15 screen-long scrolling mobile experience – which is really horrible. Whereas I believe you should really just design your mobile site for someone who’s on the go. So the things that they want they can get to quickly without having to scroll through 15 screens worth of stuff.
So there’s really only two screen sizes in the world that you have to care about when you’re building a website. One is the phone, and one is everything else.
It’s pretty amazing that what started out as a hobby and a hypothesis has grown into a company with such a crazy level of potential. Craig has assembled a great team (which is looking to grow in the near-future), and I for one am looking forward to seeing where he leads them.
Number one thing to never underestimate:
““What it takes to get to market. As entrepreneurs, we’re building something for a reason – and we’re very passionate about it, so it’s tempting to blow everything you’ve got just building the product. But it’s equally hard if not harder to take a product into market and get it in front of enough people so that you have a real business. Save half your energy at least, and half your money for going to market, as opposed to just blowing it all on the building of the product.”“
– Craig Fitzpatrick, CEO of PageCloud
Invest Ottawa’s Startup Spotlight is a regular look at some of the amazing startups flourishing in Ottawa. Know a company we should cover? Email Jason at [email protected].
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