Samsung’s Superbowl Ad, the Galaxy Note and the Dreaded Netbook “Zone of Suck” [Updated]

Update: Newsy have put together a piece summarizing the tech news’ reaction to the Samsung Galaxy Note ad. It’s at the end of this article – check it out!

i believe in a thing called loveEven if you missed the big game, you can still catch the Superbowl ad for the Samsung Galaxy Note. Directed by Bobby Farrelly (one of the Farrelly Brothers, creators of high-larious films like Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and unfortunately, the upcoming Three Stooges Movie), it’s a continuation of the series of ads that poke fun at Apple fandom. It opens with a scenes from lineups outside Apple stores. The bored Apple fanatics are tethered to their white earbuds and awaiting their next gift from the gods when one of them sees a passer-by with a Samsung Galaxy Note.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa – what is that?” he asks.

“Here,” says the passer-by, walking towards soon-to-be-ex-Apple-worshipper. “It’s the new Samsung Galaxy Note.”

samsung galaxy note

Then comes the kicker: “It’s got a pen?” That’s right: it’s bringing back the stylus, the very thing that iOS devices put out of style.

After that, the Apple fans break free of their self-imposed imprisonment in line – a line that Samsung probably wishes they had – and partying, powered by The Darkness’ hit I Believe in a Thing Called Love – ensues.

It’s a little hard to tell from the ad, but the Galaxy Note is bigger than your standard phone; in fact, it’s bigger than even the biggest of the notoriously oversized Samsung phones. Size-wise, it’s in Newton territory: smaller than a tablet, a tad too big to fit into most pockets. Perhaps they’re also trying to bring cargo pants back:

samsung galaxy note vs iphone 4 size comparisonPhoto from TechInferno.

I’m reminded of this promotional photo, where Sony tried to convince you of how portable their smallest VAIO was:


It sits somewhere in the “Zone of Suck” from my 2009 article, Fast Food Apple Pies and Why Netbooks Suck (I’m going to have to revise the graphic to include tablets as well as the Galaxy Note):

As for what it’s like to use the device, consider this review in TechInferno. The reviewer loves the Galaxy Note and says he’s never going back to an iOS device, but he damns it with his faint praise:

  • “Is the Galaxy Note as smooth as an iOS device? Not really, it still has the android signature stuttering when you scroll and the occasional semi-freeze here and there.”
  • “Is the Galaxy Note built as good as the latest iPhone? No, it is not, I think that a fair comparison would be to equal it to the build quality of the 3G/3Gs versions of the iPhone.”
  • Sure you can expect some hiccups here and there, not everything is so custom tailored to the device and to bring it to full functionality you need to invest some effort but in my personal opinion this phone is worth it.”
  • “Who I would NOT recommend this device to:
      • People expect the device to “just work”
      • Women or men with small hands
      • People who like to operate the phone with one hand only.

Samsung-Galaxy-Note3You know what they say about guys with big phones…

  • “Build quality is very good and the device feels solid in the hand although iPhone 4 build feels better.
  • “Out of the box with all options at their defaults the device will eat through the 2500mA/h battery in less than 10 hours of normal usage.”
  • The stylus needs a fair amount of pressure to operate, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
  • I still haven’t found a keyboard that matches the precision of the iPhone, i can’t type as fast but maybe it’s a matter of getting used to it?”
  • “I keep accidentally pushing the Back or the Menu buttons especially in landscape mode when trying to type/interact with the screen – a big design flaw.”
  • “Expect surprised looks from people around when you put it to your ear to talk. It really does look a bit ridiculous, almost like holding an iPad to your ear.

iPhone 4s Samsung Galaxy Note side by side

  • “The text to speech compared to Siri is awful.”
  • Keep in mind that Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Note is around the corner and is expected to fix a lot of issues listed here and introduce lots of neat features.” That, and the Lord Jesus Christ is due back any day now, so look busy!

I think I’ll be sticking with my iPhone 4S and iPad 2 a little while longer, thanks.


Newsy’s got a good piece summarizing the tech press’ and pundits’ reaction to the Galaxy Note ad. Check it out!


Looking For a Job at Shopify? Come to Ruby Job Fair 2012 and Talk to Me!

Ruby Job Fair 2012: This Friday, February 10th

Poster for Ruby Job Fair: Friday, February 10th, 6 - 9 p.m., Unspace HQ, 342 Queen Street West, floor 3, Toronto, Ontario.

The Ruby Job Fair isn’t your father’s (or mother’s) job fair. And why would it be? After all, it’s an event put on by Meghann and the other fine folks at Unspace, the development shop that gave the world the mind-blowingly amazing RubyFringe and FutureRuby conferences.

You may have heard or learned from painful experience that job fairs are like this:

A traditional job fair: a gym with stations made of folding tables with prospective employers at each one. It looks like bureaucratic Hell on Earth.

Unspace’s gatherings are a little more like this:

The bar at an Unspace tech gathering, with people enjoying their converation and drinks. It looks like a cocktail party!

A party crowd in Unspace's back room enjoying their drinks and conversation. A pinball machine is in the background.

The two photos above were taken at an event that they threw called Technologic, which took the typical evening tech seminar on its ear. You can read more about it in my blog entry about that event.

If you’re looking for work that involves Ruby programming and you’re going to be in downtown Toronto on Friday, you should register to attend the Ruby Job Fair. It’ll be your chance to meet prospective Ruby employers and their representatives, which will include me – I’ll be there as the Shopify Guy. You won’t be able to miss me: I’ll be the one with the accordion…

Joey deVilla works on his Macbook Pro, with his accordion and a glass of whiskey by his side.

The quick details about Ruby Job Fair:

  • Date: Friday, February 10, 2012
  • Time: 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.. Do not show up early. They’ve got work to do.
  • Place: Unspace HQ, 342 Queen Street West, just a bit east of Spadina, beside the Lululemon store.
  • Registration fee: $5 for job-seekers, $15 for employers seeking job-seekers. You need to register to attend.
  • Other details: See the registration site and read the notes carefully!

Why Work at Shopify: The Hard-Nosed, Pragmatic Business Reasons

Shopify Logo

Normally, I’d start with a description of Shopify’s hacker ethic, how it’s a great-yet-casual work environment, that everyone gets a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air as their work machine, that  and how fun and rewarding it is to work there. That’s all true, but I’m sure every software development shop has a spiel along the same lines. So I’ll give you that spiel later. How ‘bout I answer the question that might be lingering somewhere in your mind: “Are you guys still going to be around a year from now, or are you going to crash and burn and leave me looking for work again?”


For starters, we’re in the ecommerce business, and business is good. How good? In the second quarter of 2011 – remember, that’s only April, May and June – ecommerce sales in the U.S. were $48 billion. And impressive as that figure may be, ecommerce is still less than 5% of all retail.

Ecommerce is growing too, and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of how people buy and sell things; in fact, ecommerce sales are growing at over twice the rate of all retail.

11,300 shops in 2010, 18,200 shops in 2012 - up 61%. $125M in sales in 2010, $275M in 2011 - up 2 1/2 times.

Going from ecommerce in general to Shopify in particular, things are looking great there too. We went from 11,000 to 18,000 shops in 2011, and as of this writing, we’ve crossed the 20,000 mark. The 2010 total sales from all our shops was $125 million, and we more than doubled that last year, moving $275 million in products.

Cat sitting on a pile of money

On top of being a profitable business, we also have had two rounds of funding, which gave us a grand total of $22 million invested in us. That money’s being used to grow the company in all sorts of ways, from the Shopify Fund to things like our recent acquisition of Select Start Studios, a mobile dev company.

Why Work at Shopify: The “I Want to Work Someplace Cool” Reasons

Here’s what was waiting for me at my desk on my first day at Shopify. I felt like a kid in a candy store:

15" MacBook Pro, Apple Wireless Keyboard, Aeron chair, Apple Magic Mouse, Bag o' Stuff, Apple 27-inch display

Light grey Shopify T-shirt, dark grey Shopify T-shirt, light grey Shopify hoodie, $100 restaurant gift card, $50 Apple Store gift card, Godiva chocolates, Moleskine notebook, neat pen

We want to do good work, and good work needs good tools.

Good work needs a good physical environment, and we’ve got that in spades. Check out our brand-new office. Here’s the reception desk, which is occupied by Laura, our gets-stuff-done-so-we-can-get-stuff-done person:

shopify office 1

We believe that small, agile teams work best, so we’ve broken our space into offices just like the one below, and each team is free to set up and decorate their space as they see fit. They’re not normally this crowded; the photo below is from the party we had on Friday:

shopify office 2

I’m in the developer advocate/evangelism group, and we went with this pop art wall covering in our zone:

shopify office 3

Others on our team have some great illustration talents and put them to good use:

shopify office 3a

Sure, we’ve got your standard meeting rooms (and they’re pretty nice for what they are):

shopify office 4

…but one of them’s equipped with an Xbox and Kinect:

shopify office 11

And then there are little gems like this room:

shopify office 5

shopify office 9

It’s the 8-bit paradise. I spent an afternoon working on API docs in the room, a nice quiet space where you can concentrate, after which you can reward yourself with classic 1980s console action!

shopify office 6

This poster was created by our design team, a very talented bunch:

shopify office 7

We’ve got a fine collection of vintage cartridges:

shopify office 8

Ah, the Atari 2600. It takes me back to my wonderfully misspent youth:

shopify office 10

Why Work at Shopify: The “I Want to Draw the Owl” Reasons


One of the reasons that Shopify is successful is that we’ve worked out some ways of doing things. We’re all about “drawing the owl”, and the way we do things is an in the service of drawing that owl. (Don’t worry, you’ll soon know what “drawing the owl means”.)

Shopifolks – that’s what I like to call people at Shopify – are self-starters. Once given a goal, they use their skills, knowledge and good judgement to do the work necessary to hit that goal. They get stuff done. They’re what Y Combinator’s Paul Graham calls “resourceful”.

I recently wrote about how my team (and pretty much every other team at Shopify) gets things done, but it’s worth repeating:

  • Act like an owner. You don’t "just work here", you own a piece of a company and have a stake in its success. Work as if your livelihood, career and reputation were riding on it, because as an owner, it is! Be entrepreneurial and own your domain: if you have an idea and it lines up with the company’s goals, make that idea happen.
  • Know what to work on and what things to ship. While owners have the freedom to work on and ship whatever they like, they also work in the real world. 80% of what makes the company go is often achieved by doing the most important work first, which typically makes up 20% of the available tasks. Sometimes these tasks can be tedious and feel like drudgery, but if they’re what makes things happen for our customers and their customers, they’ve got to be done, and with the highest priority.
  • Done is better than perfect, or "the best" is the enemy of "the good".Perfectionism is a form of procrastination. It assumes that time is an infinite resource, that other tasks can wait while you add "just one more touch" and that "perfect" is attainable. You have to be able to make the call and say "done" at some point. A good feature that our customers use and enjoy is infinitely better than a perfect one that "will be available soon". As they say at Apple, "Real artists ship".
  • Have high standards. While done is better than perfect, good still remains better than bad.
  • It’s okay to fail; just fail gracefully. The only sure-fire way to not fail is to not do anything. Since we can’t do that and remain in business, never mind take the company to the heights we want to, we have to accept failure as part and parcel of trying. Sometimes we’ll make mistakes, other times we’ll do things right and still our best-laid plans won’t work because of circumstances outside our control. The trick is to learn from failure and make sure our failures aren’t fatal. As our CEO Tobi likes to say: "If I’m not failing every now and again, I’m not trying hard enough."
  • Communicate good news quickly, communicate bad news ever more so. The first part is easy: it takes no effort to tell the team your project is a success. It’s a good thing to do so; good news bolsters the team and success often breeds more success. However, a combination of pride and fear (and in some companies, a "cover your ass" culture) makes it difficult to tell the team that you’re having trouble or that something’s not working out. It’s best to tackle problems as soon as possible, while they’re still small and manageable, and the best way to do this is to communicate bad news as quickly as possible — remember, it’s okay to fail.
  • Understand and respect the makers’ and managers’ schedules. As Paul Graham wrote in his essay, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, makers and managers operate by different schedules. Managers’ days are determined by their appointment calendars, which divide the days into hours and even half-hours, and things like meetings fit into the manager’s schedule easily. Makers, on the other hand, do things in half-day or even full-days blocks, and things like meetings are disruptive. Some of the team operate on a maker’s schedule, other operate on a manager’s schedule, and many of us switch between the two, depending on what day it is and what tasks they have on that day. Know who operates on which schedule (and when), and understand and respect those schedules.
  • Operate lean and mean. We’re made up of multi-talented, capable, autonomous, ambitious go-getters, and that means we don’t have to operate like a big, lumbering beast. Unless the circumstances are unusual, there really should be 2 people maximum per deal or project. Meetings and calls should be kept to 30 minutes or less, not counting brainstorming or design pow-wows. And full-on meetings aren’t always necessary: you should be able to "just pop by" anyone’s office or desk or call them up on Skype.
  • Update often. Because we operate lean, means and independently, communication is vital. Keep your teammates apprised of your progress! 
  • Draw the owl. In the end, that’s what you’re trying to do…

draw the owl

Think You Can Work at Shopify? See Me at Ruby Job Fair.

If Shopify looks like the sort of place where you’d like to work, and if you think you’ve got the skills, enthusiasm and passion to work with us, come see at Ruby Job Fair. I’d be happy to answer all your questions and hook you up!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


You’ve Got Questions About Startups, Dan Martell has 189 Answers

dan martell 189 answers

Dan Martell has serious startup cred. He founded two companies that got acquired (Spheric in 2008, Flowtown last year), is working on, mentors at 500Startups and GrowLab, is an angel investor and answers questions of the startup helper organization Sprouter and blogs at Maple Butter. If you’re in a startup or thinking about starting or joining one, you’d do well to follow him on Twitter and check in on his writings from time to time.

If you’ve got questions about startups, you’re in luck: Dan has posted 189 answers to the most popular questions from Sprouter on Maple Butter. He answers such questions as:

  • I’ve heard that people need to move to a ‘Valley’ to succeed. Is that true?
  • What % of available time should I put into these: 1. Building Product, 2. Building Metrics/Usage Reports/KPI and 3. Raising Angel Investment?
  • What’s the best way to find a co-founder for your startup?
  • What are 3 things that make a startup team successful?
  • How should I approach an angel investor?
  • What is the best way to approach another startup for a potential partnership?
  • What is your advice for dealing with criticism when starting/launching a new business or coming up with an idea? Should the idea or business be kept secret?
  • How can we reward our top users without money and without appearing too big brotherish?
  • What advice can you give us to avoid the fear of start our own company and not stay working for someone else?
  • What’s the best startup advice you’ve ever received?

Important questions; interesting answers. Dan’s article is worth checking out.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Shopify Tutorial: Associating Product Variants with Product Images

shop screencap

In Shopify shops, a product can have multiple photos and multiple variants (variants are slightly different versions of a product, such as different sizes and colors). Tetsuro Takara, one of the guys on Shopify’s Guru team, has written an article showing how you can rig up your shop’s template to show a matching photo for the currently-selected variant (for example, showing a picture of the orange version of the t-shirt when the customer has selected “orange”). It’s a clever, subtle trick, but I think it’s one that your customers will like.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Shopify Acquires Select Start Studios

mobile phonesThe most recent report released by Pew Internet Research, The Rise of In-Store Mobile Commerce, revealed that 50 percent of shoppers used their smartphones to research purchase decisions over the holidays. Of note were the following statistics:

  • 38% of those surveyed used their smartphones to make a voice call while shopping in a store to ask about a product.
  • 25% used their smartphones to do price comparisons; they were comparing the price of an item in stores to prices for the same item in online shops.
  • 24% used their smartphones to research the products they were shopping for online. I do this all the time at shops. It’s how I picked out my current camera, the Canon ELPH 300HS.

“You can’t win the web without winning mobile,” I told my manager’s manager back when I was at Microsoft (and that’s how I became the Windows Phone Guy on Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team). Now that I’m at Shopify, I’m still waving the mobile flag: you can’t win at ecommerce without winning at mobile. And as of today, we’re a good deal closer to winning.

super nintendo controller select start

Shopify has just announced that it has acquired Select Start Studios, an award-winning mobile development company based in Ottawa with over 35 apps in Apple’s App Store and the Android Market. This acquisition brings over 20 new people and a helluva lot of mobile app skills and brainpower into the Shopifold.

[Update: Here’s TechCrunch’s coverage, and here’s Mashable’s.]

Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke has this to say: “The S3 acquisition brings in top talent that will rapidly deliver on our mobile strategy, and produce several new mobile product offerings this year.”

Tariq Zaid, Select Start’s cofounder and CEO, says “We’re thrilled to be joining Shopify to execute on the company’s mobile initiative. Their focus on mobile, deep understanding of technology, and overall culture make this a natural fit. We’re already cooking up some really exciting innovations that show just how game changing mcommerce will be.”

Welcome aboard, Select Start! I’m looking forward to working with you guys.

horse head cake

Select Start were in the process of building a mobile app for our friends at Toronto-based startup FreshBooks, so technically, they’re now clients of ours. In response they sent us this lovely “horse head in the bed cake” inspired by that classic scene from The Godfather. The message that came with the cake reads: “Nice selection for the start of 2012…you bastard!”

185 rideau street ottawa

Here’s an interesting observation made by Adam McNamara: Shopify was once based at 185 Rideau Street in Ottawa, and that’s where Select Start were based until they joined us. That’s an office with killer startup karma. The question Adam asks is: “Who’s next"?”

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.