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Bastian Allgeier of Zootool has very kindly agreed to put himself in the spotlight to answer a series of questions relating to the design, development and business of his company. In a nutshell Zootool is about collecting, organising and sharing your favorite images, videos, documents and links from all over the internet. I have personally used Zootool almost daily for the past year and highly recommend you guys go check it out.
New browser tools at Zootool make already amazing community/visual bookmarking service even greater ♥ - Jeffery Zeldman
It works so well it feels like it’s been a part of my workflow for long time - Jon Hicks
Zootool is a beautifully designed application. Has the Zootool website design changed dramatically since first launch or has it been a case of smaller UI refinements?
It actually has changed pretty dramatically. The first version from 2007 was all green, brown and super dark. I made an album on Flickr with old screenshots. When I look back at it, it’s hard to believe that it started that way and that I liked that design back then. But as a designer I always have the problem that I despise my own designs soon after I launch them. It’s somehow a curse, but on the other hand it always keeps me moving.
With the name Zootool you could have gone the direction of using animal references or illustrations in the design. Have you deliberately steered away from this?
There’s still the rhino, which I use as some kind of mascot in various places and which has been there from version one, but I don’t focus on it that much anymore. It’s a bit sad, but I get feedback from time to time, that the style of Zootool and the rhino is too similar to Evernote. Evernote started shortly after I launched Zootool, but got so much bigger in the same time, so it’s really hard to tell people that the rhino and the Zootool style has been there before and that it has been a coincidence that they use a similar motive.
There is a lot of discovery along the journey of creating an application. Has Zootool changed direction at all from the initial concept. If so has Zootool superseded the original intended functionality or have you removed certain functionality to keep it more focused?
Zootool’s core concept hasn’t changed that much, but I’ve added tons of additional features during the last three years and some of them were probably rushed and it would have been better to not implement them. It’s just getting harder and harder to stay focused the longer you run a web application. People give feedback and ask for features, you see competitors come up and your own ideas, of how the “perfect” app should be, start to change. So you always try to make your product better and more powerful and you are tempted to stuff in new features and improvements all the time. The problem is, that it is so much harder to take features away then adding them, so it’s very important to learn to say no – no to user requests and no to your own ideas – otherwise you end up with a huge messy pile of software.
You have recently launched an iPhone app for Zootool. How much fun did you have with this? What problems did you encounter?
The best part about the iPhone app for me was the story behind it. I’ve designed and built everything around Zootool on my own so far, but the iPhone app has been something I knew I couldn’t do. I’ve asked on Twitter if someone wants to help me with it last year and Nicolas Cormier answered within a few minutes. He’s a crazy talented iOS developer, who lived in Sydney at that time and now lives in Oslo. We’ve never met in “real life” so far – which is a shame – but we started working on the app the next day. It is still hard for me to believe how productive we were, just working together via email and Basecamp, and how good the app turned out. We became real good friends in the last months and I learned so much by working with him on that app.
How did Zootool handle the sudden influx of Delicious users when Yahoo announced internally they were shutting it down?. Did this give Zootool any problems? If so what was learnt and what was improved?
The rumours about Yahoo shutting Delicious down hit us really bad in December. We had 600,000 bookmarks in our database and about 30,000 users until that point. Within three hours people signed up like crazy and imported more than 1,500,000 bookmarks, which completely killed the servers. I was able to handle the traffic in the following days by adding more servers, but the monthly bill exploded and I finally had to move to a new hosting company. Zootool is hosted on a much more powerful server setup, so it’s all good now.
Every startup must consider monetising their product at some point. You added pro account features back in October 2010 and you were kind enough to give me early access. This appears to be a winner in my eyes but you’ve not rolled-out pro membership as yet. What’s your current strategy for making Zootool a viable profitable business?
I wanted to roll out pro membership much earlier, but the iPhone app took longer than expected and kept me from finishing the last features. It’s the first thing on my list at the moment and I hope to finally be able to launch it soon.
It’s the most important step together with Fusion ads and the iPhone app to put Zootool financially onto solid ground and keep it thriving. Running a bootstrapped start-up isn’t always easy, but I hope that people will like the additional features and support us.
Do you advertise or has social buzz played a significant part of Zootool’s promotion?
The only advertising I did for Zootool so far was on the Fusion network. I think that Fusion ads are not really comparable to other ads. They are more like recommendations and their quality is just awesome. I don’t like banner ads at all and I don’t believe that they have any real benefit for a site like Zootool.
I find positive blog articles, tweets or posts on Facebook much more relevant and I believe that word of mouth is the most effective way to convince people of your product. The only problem with this is that you can’t control it, so all you can do is to make sure you did everything to build a great app and hope that people like it and write about it.