What’s up with smart TV ecosystem

Posted by Aleksey on


My first Smart TV was a 55” Samsung. I bought it in 2012, because my old Vizio Plasma was getting too old and flaky. The Samsung was new and shiny, and I thought I might use it for Skype video calls if I add a USB camera, and I planned to watch 3D movies, because Avatar was still fresh in my mind. The TV came with a keyboard that looked like a good idea to simplify browsing, and typing.

Let’s see how it all worked out.

First, the 3D hype has faded out quickly. I watched several movies, and I actually enjoyed them in 3D unlike many other people who complained about it. It was good, but somehow, it got boring, and I haven’t watched anything in 3D at home for a long time.

I tried connecting a USB camera to use Skype when I bought my TV. It did not want to work with a generic webcam, and I never bothered to buy one from Samsung. Just recently, Microsoft decided to pull the plug, and killed Skype on TVs. It did not get traction. I guess I was not alone.

The TV keyboard was only slightly better than using a TV remote control, because it would only work in some apps, and not others, and it was hard to know if it would help or not. It’s a hard choice between using a remote control to type my email and password, or a keyboard that may or may not work in a specific app.

Speaking of apps, Netflix is the king. I watch it a lot, unless I watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones on HBO. There is an issue with audio feed when a TV is connected to a Samsung soundbar over HDMI ARC, but I think that one is specific to the TV model and soundbar combination, which is surprising since I’d expect them to fit and work well together. I also use Pandora – it’s a nice and quick way to get some music played over the soundbar in the house. It would be nice to have an HBO NOW app, but it’s not available on that model, probably since it was released after Samsung stopped allowing new apps on that model year. Though, there is an HBO GO app in case if you already have cable, and you are not a cable-cutter like me. Youtube is a blast to use when it’s paired to your mobile phone. I put it on and play video clips when I host a party, and it starts getting a bit boring.

I can’t think of useful apps that do anything else than streaming video or audio. What is going on with the smart TV ecosystem in general?

The apps are still clunky, and the user experience is not great with anything that tries to go beyond streaming audio/video. Newer, higher-end TV models have “magic” remote controls that are much easier to use than traditional remote controls, but it’s still very painful to type an email address and password just to login to an app, or go through an online checkout process. There is no HBO NOW on my new LG TV with WebOS 2.0, and I believe LG has the second largest market share after Samsung in US. Thankfully, there is an app for Amazon Prime Video, yet they did not bother to develop an app for music, or their E-commerce marketplace. It doesn’t seem to be a priority for other online retailers either.

Is it going to change, and take off? I don’t think it will change or get significant traction without some type of a catalyst. Apple, Google, Amazon are good at making things happen. They all developed devices to complement TVs, and it seems like casting media content from a mobile phone on a TV is widely adopted by users now. Observing my kids, I don’t really see them abandoning their tablets or smart phones in favor of a TV, no matter how smart that TV is. Perhaps, the future is in embracing that trend, and getting the best out of making a TV to be a companion device for a mobile phone, but not the other way around.

How can I create my startup blog?

Posted by Aleksey on


As Ara T. Howard pointed out in his blog post, Static is the New Black http://dojo4.com/blog/static-is-the-new-black . Startups need to establish their web presence as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to register a domain, get a few variations of the name to get more traffic, and point all of them to your landing page. There are many ways to build that landing page. There are pretty good services that you can use to make your first one, there is also WordPress that I discussed in my previous blog post (URL). There are also trade-offs for every approach. Do you really need a full CMS system for a simple thing like that?


Remember that your goals are probably:

  • to have something to put on your business card, and point people who want more information about your startup
  • to drive traffic to your web site, and convert visitors to users
  • to get beta users, or subscribers to your newsletter


I tried several approaches myself. I used WordPress, then turned 180 degrees and did everything manually by hand. It felt great: manually created pages, complete flexibility, sweet freedom! Well… almost. If you create a few pages, a dozen of blog posts, and then decide to add a new tracking feature or change the layout consistently, it means you will do a lot of searching-replacing in your HTML files, and make some bad mistakes. I realized I did not like that side of the spectrum either. I decided to go for something in the middle, which is called Jekyll. It’s a tool that provides a framework for creating a basic structure, layouts, styles, and simple features like Google analytics for your web site. It’s not very complex, but it requires basic web development skills to setup. Once it’s setup and deployed, anyone else can add content as long as they know basic Markdown syntax and have some Github skills. What are the advantages of this approach? In my opinion, it’s still flexible, almost as flexible as a fully hand-crafted solution. It’s really fast, because there is no extra overhead processing PHP or other code on the server side. It’s better than a manual solution, because changes can be done in one template and applied to all pages generated using that template.

As an example, I forked a public Github repository with an open source theme as a starting point, and modified it to make it work for me. The code is fully available here https://github.com/admitriyev/agency-jekyll-theme

Can I build my MVP using WordPress?

Posted by Aleksey on


I’ve heard this question several times. What if I just build my startup MVP using WordPress? It’s a simple question, and a tempting idea. As a startup founder, you have to move as fast as possible. If a paper sketch helps you move forward, you should do it. If you can build a click-through mockup in Balsamiq or Keynote, show to potential customers, and sign a deal, that awesome.

Realistically, most software startups need a software prototype pretty early in their lifecycle. A paper sketch may be useful a few times, a click-through mockup can work for a couple of weeks until you get your feedback. Then you realize that you need more than that. What should it be? That’s when WordPress comes up as a choice. It’s one of the top platforms for building all sorts of web sites, and has a huge eco-system of design themes, plugins, marketing tutorials, and more. Yet, keep in mind, it’s a content management system (CMS) first, and everything else is second at best. It may serve as a bridge-loan between your mockup and fully functional web application. It will probably serve you for a couple of months.

Yes, it’s possible to use it as a multi-tenant system for thousands of users, but it may easily end up as a disaster similar to Burning Man registration site that goes down for an hour or longer when burners are eager to register, just like it happened today on February 11, 2015.

There are more problems too. Let’s say for example, you picked a shiny new WP theme, paid $35 for it, and it seemed reasonably good. Then you decided to add a subscribe button that should integrate with Sendgrid. You noticed that your team member profile pictures would look better with round corners. You got lucky, because you got a Sendgrid widget customized to match your theme. You found a great plugin for team members, but it turned out to have an outdated design that did not match your theme. The issues keep piling up, and eventually just like any mature project, it’s a nightmare.

A web application will have similar problems, but usually if it’s well architectured, it’s much more flexible, and can live for “startup months” (years in big corporations). Here is a chart for deciding what and when you should consider using:

  • Paper sketches, a few days of lifespan
  • Click-through mockups, a few weeks
  • WordPress (or Joomla/Shopify/etc) – a month or two
  • Web app – months between significant revamps