Gary Levitt: “I’d love to see Israeli engineers getting more user centric, more customer oriented and more design focused”

Ofer Dak@startupmania

 Gary Levitt
Mad Mimi’s CEO Gary Levitt wanted to send an email "flyer" to promote his music company, but found out There was no easy way to do this. So He built it. Having no business, software, code, or design experience, as He himself testifies, he set out with a vision that has turned into the 4th most popular email service provider in the U.S.. Levitt  is now responsible for all of Mad Mimi's product design, user experience and remote direction of a 30+ employee team, 6 of them full time engineers. All that without ever doing any marketing.

how did you start in the RoR world?
I was playing around on the web, and stumbled upon a Ruby logo and went to the RoR website... it said: Web Development That Doesn't Hurt. It appealed to me, and I thought I'd give it a shot... building a web app. so I went to workingwithrails and I reached out to about twenty of the most popular rails devs.
I had a $10k chunk of cash to spend and I only wanted work with luminaries... famous coders. I started off with Obie Fernandez and Zed Shaw, Probably two of the most famous Rails devs in 2006/7. Obie was like rated #5 and Zed was rated #1... even above DHH. I worked hard to get them into my project... but that's what I did.
two months later, the project was totally stuck. No one had any clear idea of what the actual goals of the product were anymore and Obie (who is essentially a lovely person) called in this guy Jeff Patton (huge name in Agile design) and he flew into New York from Utah and spent two days with me, mapping my idea. Jeff said: no way you'll build this for $10k (at this point I only had a small portion remaining). So... Obie and Zed went to do their thing... and I started again.
but this time... prepared with a very pure agile methodology, map, task models etc. I pitched the idea to some angel investors, got $100k and contacted over 80 consultancies. from there, I ended up going with Dave Hoover,  groupon bought his consultancy last year, he was the head of their dev team. So, dave was not a luminary and we worked together well because he helped me to be a good "client". He right away encouraged me to get my own local version going so I could make edits and tweaks myself. I learned HTML this way and eventually, became the interaction designer (which I am today) of the entire product.

how are you involved with the RoR community now days?
We contribute some Open Source plugins and Gems...  we also host and sponsor the South African RoR conference rubyfuza, That's us and our lead engineer, Marc, puts it together. We're interested in nurturing it here in Israel and South Africa too.

what is Mad Mimi’s success secret sauce?
Well, I think the secret sauce is that I take an interest in the execution, and I take the design and customer service design on myself. that way, Mad Mimi's product design is pure and our customer service is totally brilliant.

how do you find Israeli developers?
I really would love to see Israeli engineers getting more user centric, more customer oriented and more design focused. I'm going to try to inspire some product design guidelines that I feel made Mad Mimi a success. I think it's especially relevant to an Israeli audience because there are relatively few hugely successful, well designed Israeli web apps with massive global appeal. sure, there's Wix... but still... :)

any insights as to why?
because they're too "tachlit", too bottom line about everything - "it either works, or it doesn't". My focus is that area you can't touch, but you can feel, and how much that area matters and how to get in touch with that area.

can that felt yet untouchable place be taught?
it can be focused on and learned and given importance to... but if you don't think it matters... it won't matter. but in many cases of modern web app dev, it's all that matters (assuming you have technical stuff working). start with a question: What's MY ultimate user experience? Why do I like using my favorite apps? What do I love about my favorite companies... THOSE questions are crucial in producing good product. Not, "this is what my directive is... hopefully my tests pass". How are people using this? Why are they using this? WHO are they and how can I get them to LOVE ME. When your app dev is focused on 'getting people to LOVE YOU", that's where things start moving right.  many products have a "F#@ I hate you but I have to use you".

and who do you love?
I appreciate attractive elements of stuff.  I love CloudApp, the old Skitch, Sublime Text. Love those.

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