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AMA: Drew Wilson

over 4 years ago from

Hey! I'm Drew Wilson, a stay at home dad who makes things on the Internet. I'm the guy behind: - Pictos icons: http://pictos.cc - Valio Con: http://valiocon.com - Buffalo: http://buffalo.io - Narwhals: http://narwhals.cool - a bunch of other stuff

I'm currently building Plasso: https://plasso.co and http://filtron.co

You can see more of what I've built on my site: http://drewwilson.com


I design and develop software for a living. I built my first website in 1996 when I was 13. I went full time on my own in 2003, and have been ever since. I'm from Carlsbad California, but I'm temporarily moving to San Francisco to raise money from Plasso in September.

But enough about me. Let's talk about what you want from me! :) Ask me anything and I'll do my best to answer. A few random things about me to get you started: - I have a movie on Netflix - I have a soundcloud account: http://soundcloud.com/drew_wilson - I was homeschooled until 9th grade - I'm currently traveling the U.S. full time with my family in an RV and have been on the road since January

Ask me about design, code, movies, RVing, making money, losing money, surfing, music, apps, or whatever.

Thanks for stopping by! Drew

55 comments

  • Vince SchwidderVince Schwidder, over 4 years ago

    Hi Drew,

    I've read Execute a while back and was wondering about your opinion on abandonware. I've seen it often in your career you built a lot of products and not all get the same attention after you've built it.

    What are your thoughts on supporting the products you've built and not switching to new ones every time you have a new idea?

    26 points
    • Matthew ClarksonMatthew Clarkson, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Yeah, just last week I was testing out Buffalo to see if it'd work for my blog. But all of my photos kept disappearing and everything was bugging out. It was very frustrating, and I quickly realized it was not even supported, or even being used by a broader community... I mean, the last several posts that were created are all pretty spammy, or someone just checking out how it works. https://buffalo.io/

      6 points
      • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

        Hey! Sorry about that. You can email me with what's happening and I can take a look. Buffalo is supported. I haven't figured out what I want to do with the homepage yet, so it is just the most recent posts on the system that are over a certain number of characters. Buffalo isn't designed to be a community, its designed to be your own personal blog. If you want community there are other great alternative (Medium for example). Thanks for writing!

        0 points
    • Jason CarulliJason Carulli, over 4 years ago

      Along the same lines, how difficult is it to find users to support the new apps you create after abandoning so many past projects? Do you find this damages your reputation in the industry?

      7 points
      • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

        Well, i don't think failing to get users or produce enough revenue to sustain a product is the kind of failure that would ruin my reputation.

        The opposite is true for me actually. It is much easier now to get people to try out my products than ever before.

        Thanks!

        1 point
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey Vince!

      For me its about making things i want to make. I don't start with the question "How can i build something massive that makes a lot of money". I start with the thought "Man i wish this existed in this particular way". And I build that.

      As i'm building it I typically think up a way or two to make money off of it. In order to sustain it and enable me to keep working on it.

      This same thing happens with funded companies that have small-large teams. They build something, try and make money off it to make a lot of money. If it doesn't work out, then they shut down. Happens all the time.

      Difference here is "runway". A funded company typically will have a 1 year or more "runway". Meaning they have enough capital in the bank to sustain themselves for a year or more without relying on their product to produce revenue.

      My runway is super short.

      So you'll see my "attempt --> fail" cycle be really small.

      I have continually iterated and updated nearly all of my products. Only a couple have i launched and never touched again (and those were long ago).

      Making money building internet products is hard. I've been at it for a long time. If something I launch isn't making money, I need to figure a way to make money. I support myself 100% on my products revenue. When times get desperate (like $0 in all bank accounts) i'll take on a small client project. But i try to never do that, since it takes away ALL my time from my products.

      Often I have to move on from one failed idea to another to keep the money flowing.

      If i had the opportunity to build without the requirement of my ideas making money (i.e. getting funding) then i'd have the luxury of spending all my time on something now matter if it made money or not. But this is not my life. I must make money, or i'd have to stop making things for myself.

      Thanks for the question! Drew

      5 points
  • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew, you're a champ. High five o/

    5 points
  • Colm TuiteColm Tuite, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Are you actually a human? I don't think anyone even comes close to your volume:quality ratio.

    1. You seem to maintain a stupidly high bar for quality on most of your projects. What factors contribute most to that? Strict time management? Choosing good projects? Broad skillset?
    2. What were the terms of the Roon/Ghost deal? (Cheeky one, sorry!)
    4 points
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Totally a human. Appreciate the kind words :) There are many others doing better work than me though for sure!

      1. Zero time management or management of any kind. I think its just my experience and skill set. After having built so many things for myself and clients (in the past) i'm able to do it super quick.

      2. I handed Roon off fully to Sam. I was leaving for my RV trip and didn't have time for it. I also handed off a few other products. A month or so later Ghost contacted Sam and they made the acquisition :) Super rad!

      1 point
  • Ariel VerberAriel Verber, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Drew! I enter your website now and then to see what you're up to. You're a huge inspiration for me.

    Here are my questions: 1. you've built so many products... how do you find the time to maintain them?

    1. do you also work for clients?

    2. what's your family approach regarding your career? it always seem to me like i have to choose between building products, work with clients or spend time with girlfriend/friends/family. right now i'm in school so most of my time goes there.

    3. what kind of people do you enjoy working with? what kind of people don't you enjoy working with?

    4. what are your ambitions? what do you want to achieve you still haven't?

    Thanks!! Huge fan here!

    4 points
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey thanks Ariel!

      1. Only when i absolutely can't keep living without doing it. Typically that is 0-2 projects in a year.

      2. Some people do make that choice. You can if you want. But then you'll die with a very narrow perspective of the world. I'd rather not be a Steve Jobs or anyone else like that. Making apps/products/whatever isn't my end goal in life. So I choose to make it less important. My heart is always in it, if I were single i'd probably spend all my time building. But I can hack into my heart system and change that by setting up time boundaries. Turns out to be great, because then I can keep my other hobbies. Tough now cuz i have little kids, so there is essentially ZERO time for myself... but when they get a bit older I look forward to surfing more and getting into film acting. Truth be told, i hope to make a lot of money off the interwebz so i can make movies. Honestly.

      3. I love working with people who are laid back. Agro dev is not my favorite thing. I also enjoy working with being better than me at stuff. Its like cheating.. you get so much better so much faster. I like working with people who can laugh an just make something without spending much time worrying about it.

      4. I want to rid earth of Paypal with Plasso. I want to produce thriller and action Sci-Fi films. I want to act in said films. I want to live in a house on the beach in Carlsbad again.

      Thanks! Drew

      4 points
  • John GomezJohn Gomez, over 4 years ago

    Hi Drew!

    I scrambled through your website, and reckon you REALLY like to build stuff. Being a stay-at-home-dad, and a maker, how does your day look like, getting time for all of this?

    Cheers

    3 points
    • Ruben PlatteRuben Platte, over 4 years ago

      I bet he sleeps about two hours a night...

      2 points
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Thanks John!

      My wife and I trade off each day who gets up early with the kids. So i'm either up at 7-7:30am or up at 8-8:30am. After i'm up i'm with the kids and making breakfast. I like coming up with recipes, so i have my own delicious waffles or pancakes i make from scratch. yum! Back when i was not living in an RV i made Acai bowls every morning. Hang with the kids until 10am and then start working. Work until 5pm. Hang with the family until bedtime. Put the kiddos to bed around 7-8pm. Then get back to work at 9pm or watch a show with the wife. Repeat.

      Was a bit different when i WASN'T living in a RV. but this is a typical "at home" day in the RV. The other typical day is when we are out sight-seeing or exploring.. which has no schedule to it at all lol.

      thanks! Drew

      3 points
  • Thomas OffingaThomas Offinga, over 4 years ago

    Hi Drew, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Your work and especially the way you has been really inspiring to me when I was working on side projects. You're really awesome, man.

    As to my question: When I'm working on something on the side I typically run into smaller and bigger problems along the way. This is of course completely normal when you're working on a project no matter how big or small the project is. However, I find that with side projects it's sooo easy to give up. What advice do you have that might help me combat what is probably a lack of motivation to push through all the small problems?

    Thanks!

    3 points
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey thanks Thomas!

      My advice would be not to have any "side-projects". Rather just "projects". Just by calling it a "side-project" you're giving it a low importance value. Which is fine if that's what you want to do. But finishing things takes more than just the will to do it. You need to help yourself along by: - keeping the vision in mind always - shipping fast - keeping the V1.0 scope small, even smaller than that. Even smaller.

      If you only do "side-projects" then they will always just be that. Instead go full out. Consider it your main thing until it's done. The day job can just be the "temporary revenue stream" :) see it's all just a mind set.

      Drew

      1 point
  • Max LindMax Lind, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew! I'm curious about your life on the road!...how has it been living out of an RV?

    • What's your solution for internet?
    • Where do you work / setup shop? (i.e. in the RV, coffee shops, etc)
    • Did you sell everything before you took off, or do you still have bulkier possessions somewhere?
    • Would you recommend the experience to others?

    Literally what you're doing has always intrigued me, thanks!

    3 points
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      wow.. i just did a super long answer, and the comment button failed.. so i have to re-write :| but i will re-write

      1 point
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      So before we started this trip I thought "man, it will be great to disconnect and have tons more time to focus just on a couple work things and really dial them in." LOL however, reality is very different. I have vastly less time on the road than before. But traveling the US has been absolutely amazing. I get to do it with my wife and 3 little kiddos (ages 5,3 and 1). We've had a lifetime of adventures already.

      Internet on the road is horrid. I pay for the 40GB plan with my normal ATT iPhone service. I almost always have to tether. Wifi at campgrounds and RV resorts are a joke. Typically they are sharing a 6mbps connection for the entire park, you either can't connect, or get a fraction of a mbps in speed. I've had good wifi twice. Useable but horrid wifi a decent number of times.

      My desk is exactly as wide as my 27in iMac. It is just a bit deeper than my iMac foot + bluetooth keyboard. It is NOT an ideal setup at all, but who cares :)

      We did sell pretty much everything before leaving. But we've sold most all our stuff twice before. We love it. Everything I own fits in the RV and a partially full 8ft. storage unit.

      I would 100% recommend this to anyone and everyone. Especially if you have no kids (or your kids are old kids). It would take on a whole new level of brilliance if that were the case. You can do anything, go anywhere.. i can't even describe its awesomeness. We are parents of small itty bitty kids.. so the normal rules of "YOU ARE PRISONER OF YOUR HOME!" still applies. I used to think America was rad, but wow! America is AMAZING! Every place has its own vibe and unique coolness. Its just so much better than I ever previously imagined, and I have done my fair share of traveling in the past.

      There is never a perfect time to uproot and do something completely different. So just do it. It's amazing!

      6 points
  • Jordan KoscheiJordan Koschei, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew!

    Everyone's asking about the positives (or about your clones), so I'll counter that with something different:

    What's been the biggest disappointment in your career?

    3 points
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      First: how dare you!

      Second: Thanks.

      Third: Hard to answer. I always have this feeling with me that "if i just had more time, i could really make this awesome." But that is 100% my work brain. My personal brain is like "no drew, remember all these other things you want to do that have nothing to do with 1s & 0s?? ya, thats right, you need to stay scald back to keep those alive." So I guess my biggest disappointment is that I cant be locked away in a small dungeon for a year with just an iMac. I feel like I would emerge with an entire new internet system and free electricity for all earth lol. I guess i have no idea what my biggest disappointment is. lol

      thanks jay-jay! Drew

      3 points
  • Rodrigo TelloRodrigo Tello, over 4 years ago

    Hello Drew.

    Big fan of your work. A lot of questions here, but how many hours do you put into a new project when you don't have clear if it's going to be profitable and how do you measure if it needs more time to make it or if it just have failed?

    2 points
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey thanks Rodrigo!

      I generally spend all the time I have available on a project until I launch. Then I spread my time between my projects. The goal is to make things I want to exist. If enough people end up also wanting it, then I know I have something potentially sustainable. If it starts to generate income then I can spend more of my time on it. It definitely isn't the easiest way to go about building things. But it's what I can do without having to raise money for each thing. Because I don't believe in that.

      I don't want to push all the risk onto someone else. Risk is a great teacher. A tough master. Assuming all the risk myself will make me even better. I like it that way. But I've done it enough. Time to try something new and take Plasso to the next level. So I will raise money and build a team.

      Thanks! Drew

      1 point
  • Braden HammBraden Hamm, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew!

    In a way, I'm like a much less productive and much less talented version of you; I'm a designer, trying to start my own company, and I'm a dad (and I don't get a lot of sleep like you too!)

    What are some productivity tips for me, and other parents out there juggling so much with so little time?

    1 point
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey man!

      Do or do not, there is no try ;) You ARE starting a company :)

      I think the best productivity tip I can give is to not use productivity tips ;)

      You have a family. What do you want to accomplish there? How do you want to be seen as a dad by your kids in 10 years? Figure out how to make those aspirations happen. Then use whatever time is left to bust you butt and get crap done!

      It's hard. There is no easy way. It's painful, you'll want to quit. Don't.

      Drew

      2 points
      • Braden HammBraden Hamm, over 4 years ago

        This is response is great, and much better than what I was looking for. Thank you!

        You also gave some good "tips" in other responses, like taking turns with your wife for sleeping in, and splitting up your work day between day and night.

        0 points
  • Kuldar Kalvik, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew, your relentless building has been an inspiration to me.

    You've no doubt experienced first hand the difference between building an app and building a business. As makers of things, we have a natural tendency towards building whatever interests us at the moment, but we don't always have it in us to ask ourselves if the idea solves an actual pain point or if the product has a demand on the market.

    Do you go through any process of figuring out if an idea solves an actual problem and it has potential for growth, or do you just thrive on passion for building things and see what has legs once it's out in the wild?

    Cheers and best of luck with Plasso!

    1 point
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey Kuldar!

      Thanks for asking.

      I usually at least consider if there would be an audience for what I'm building. Not every time, but mostly I do. ive always considered building a skill building excercise. I love learning new things and getting better, so that is my main benefit for building. Usually I try and solve problems for myself. That way I don't have to bother with market research AND (most importantly) I am automatically passionate about it. I don't have to try and be passionate, or only be passionate about the money. I'm passionate by default because I'm building something for myself. If it has legs in the wild, all the better. Then I can try and build a business around something I am passionate about :)

      Drew

      0 points
  • Zoltán HosszúZoltán Hosszú, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew,

    You've always seemed like a nice guy for me. I think of you as an inspiration when I start learning something new (thanks for Execute!). You always seem to come up with a lot of awesome stuff.

    My question is WHERE DO YOU KEEP YOUR CLONES and how can I get some of me as well?

    Also, thanks for doing this AMA! :)

    1 point
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

      Hey thanks Zoltán!

      Truth is I have no clones. Even though i possess the technology to clone an army, i think its more pure and hippie to build things as a single entity, rather than a distributed entity ;)

      Drew

      3 points
  • Carlos MCarlos M, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew,

    You've got such great projects. Your style is impeccable. My question is: can I haz your talentz?

    I kid. I really admire you though. My real question I guess is, what's up now with The Industry (http://theindustry.cc) — I really miss that site, and it's got such great momentum! Would love your thoughts.

    1 point
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey CJ!

      Thanks :)

      You can have my talentz if you figure out how to download them to disk. I'll open source them in that case :)

      Not sure what's up with The Industry. I created it because i wanted it to exist. In my opening post on launch day I said that I never intended to run it, but wanted to build up a team that could.. i simply wanted something like that to exist. But the steam just want there after i stepped back from day to day at The Industry.. so it just kind of fizzled out I guess. :|

      Drew

      4 points
  • Mubashar Iqbal, over 4 years ago

    You clearly have a lot of ideas, and are able to move on them quickly ... I'm curious as to how you came to the decision to pursue Plasso, over your other ideas you've had.

    0 points
    • Drew WilsonDrew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey Mubashar!

      Plasso is where all my income comes from. So it's doing really well compared to my other projects. And it's recurring revenue, unlike my previous best success Pictos. And unlike Pictos, I'm just barely at the tip of the iceberg... There is still soooooo much more to do on Plasso to make it even better.

      Thanks! Drew

      0 points
  • Afnizar Nur Ghifari, over 4 years ago

    Hi Drew, I have a question, hopefully you answer :)

    1. What tips for students who want to learn about design?
    2. I'm a student, but I am confused will focus on the design or code. Can you give me an advice?
    3. Last question, who is your favorite designer?

    Thanks!

    0 points
  • Fatih TuranFatih Turan, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Drew,

    I've been watching you and your projects. You have designed and developed lot of projects. So, I just want to ask you to how do you keep yourself as motivated and productive?

    0 points
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Hey Faith!

      Motivation is easy for me in the beginning because I only build thing that I want, for me :) so it's easy to be motivated and inspired when you build something for yourself.

      After its out in the wild staying motivated can be easy if other people are into. If no one else likes it it can be harder to stay motivated. But that's why I don't put all my eggs in one basket. I'm not trying to make Google with each product. I'm just trying to make :)

      Drew

      0 points
  • Jonathan YapJonathan Yap, over 4 years ago

    Wow, that's insane a lot of good work you have under your belt.

    • What's your toughest challenge in designing/building anything?
    • What did you do to tackle that challenge?
    0 points
  • cliff nowickicliff nowicki, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew,

    Cruising around in an RV doing what you do sounds epic awesome. I caught your podcast with the episode "Nintendo Hard" which leads me to this question. Super Mario World or Super Mario 64?

    0 points
    • Drew Wilson, over 4 years ago

      Ha awesome!

      hard one... but i'm gonna for sure go with Super Mario 64. You?

      Drew

      0 points
      • cliff nowickicliff nowicki, over 4 years ago

        Tough one indeed, but I go with Super Mario World. There's sadness going back to Super Mario 64 to realize how bad cameras were back in the day. :(

        0 points
  • Cesare Rocchi, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Drew,

    many kids and work from home/RV. How is your typical day like?

    0 points
  • Mac PankiewiczMac Pankiewicz, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Drew,

    1) I love your Pictos icons, but when we can expect Part 2, 3 & 4 ;)

    2) How you're able to be so consistent with each project? Lots of designers having this on/off thing working on projects, where sometimes they just want to finalize it asap and this leads to dropped quality of final result.

    Thanks!

    0 points
  • Bruno MarinhoBruno Marinho, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew,

    By coding a lot of stuff, you probably have a good foundation framework in order to start and finish new ideas quickly. Could you talk a bit about it (language, technology and structure) and if you plan to open source it in the future?

    thanks.

    0 points
  • Eugene RossEugene Ross, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew! I enjoy your work very much!

    My question:

    How do you manage to keep learning the new in-and-outs of the industry while creating many different products/services/designs?

    I can never find a good enough balance for both!

    0 points
  • Wentin ZWentin Z, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew,

    A big follower of your work, twitter @DesignJokes, remember me? I too build a lot of stuff on the internet, but very green in the field. I just started to get in the community last year. I have built a few open source project, underlinejs, typedetail.com, and my own product profession.is. My biggest problem is how to stay on track and get the sense of finish. Being honest, none of these project are finished, and it is just in a state of frozen for a while. I am usually passionate about it for a few weeks, and would work on it like a mad person, every day after work, sometimes every pull all nighter. but then once I get somewhere, a MVP or a prototype, I lost the momentum. I was wondering how do you manage to launch so many project, and when do you stop working on a project (or maybe you never do)

    0 points
  • Moaaz SidatMoaaz Sidat, over 4 years ago

    Hey Drew! Thanks for taking out the time for doing this today, I've followed your work for quite some time and have always been inspired by designer/developers like yourself who build products.

    1. As someone who builds products on his own, what do you think are some of the essential technical/non-technical skill sets and experiences required to do this in the way you've done?

    2. What are some of the key lessons that you've learnt along the way that you feel are essential for someone wanting to start out in the world of building products?

    Cheers and all the best for Plasso!

    0 points
  • Matt ModrowskiMatt Modrowski, over 4 years ago

    ::high five::

    What's your secret to focusing/getting in the zone and maximizing productivity?

    0 points
  • Camilo SanchezCamilo Sanchez, over 4 years ago

    Hi Drew, Do you freelance? Do you make a living just by building your own products or you do both freelancing and your own projects?

    0 points
  • Jake Hawkes, over 4 years ago

    What are your thoughts on open sourcing (with a bit of marketing) some of your fizzled projects? Firerift comes to mind.

    0 points