Interview with Jason Jacobs of RunKeeper

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runkeeper with jason jacobsiPhone glued to your hand? Here's another application that will help keep it there. RunKeeper is a groundbreaking application that uses the iPhone 3G's built-in GPS to track movements. If you like to run, hike, bike or just walk RunKeeper keeps track of your moves. It provides instant feedback on speed over time and distance. And get this – the application is now yours gratis!! Yes, that means free!! We recently had the opportunity to play 20 questions with Jason Jacobs of Fitness Keeper one of the developers of RunKeeper.

1. When did you start developing applications for iPhone?

Jason Jacobs: The day the device was released. That was one tired day after camping out the night before outside of the Apple store!

2. Where is your company based? How many people are on the RunKeeper team?

Jason Jacobs: Based in Boston, there are 8 of us involved in various capacities.

3. Is this a team of best friends with the guy who's the extreme extrovert as the "mouth" of the organization?

Jason Jacobs: Actually Issen, I am very shy.

4. Where did you get the idea for this application?

Jason Jacobs: I am a big runner and I know that people love tracking their outdoor fitness activities. But standalone GPS devices are expensive and many people can't justify the cost. Now that mobile devices like the iPhone have GPS built-in, we saw this as an opportunity to bring GPS fitness tracking to the masses for much cheaper (or now free!) on a device they already have in their pocket.

5. Why did you decide to make it free?

Jason Jacobs: Although thousands of people have paid for our application, we ultimately wanted to get the community to massive scale so we decided this was the best way to do so.

6. What's an approximate number of applications you've sold?

Jason Jacobs: We don't disclose, but I can tell you it is in the many thousands. I can also tell you that we had just about as many people download our app yesterday (the first day it was free) as we did in the entire two months before that.

7. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Was anything missing?

Jason Jacobs: As a user, there are a few weird constraints the SDK puts on the app (such as the top-lock disabling GPS tracking), but overall we are happy, and we have no doubt Apple will continue to improve it over time.

8. Do you like any other iPhone applications?

Jason Jacobs: Texas Hold'em is great, and I just downloaded one of the bowling apps, which is pretty cool.

9. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?

Jason Jacobs: Our users seem to think third party apps should be able to run in the background, and we tend to agree.

10. What's the development cycle for iPhone apps like?

Jason Jacobs: Depends on what you are building and how complex it is. For us, the initial development went very quickly, but the constant tweaks and new features add up over time, especially if you pay your developers hourly.

11. Are you public or private owned? Is there a huge venture capital company behind you?

Jason Jacobs: Private, boot-strapped, Ramen noodles and Red Bull only.

12. Do you use RunKeeper?

Jason Jacobs: All the time! For a while before we released it, I was the only tester worldwide. Maybe that is why I got an overuse injury in my foot!

13. Do you have an exercise or physiology background?

Jason Jacobs: I have always been a big fitness guy as a participant, but no formal training other than being active all my life.

14. Can it breakdown your speed by miles? Or is it always total?

Jason Jacobs: It graphically shows your speed by minute over the course of the run on the device, and the website as a detailed elevation vs. speed chart, so you can see how your speed trended over your entire run.

15. What trends do you see with popular apps?

Jason Jacobs: The guys at Pinch Media would be better suited to answer that one than I am as they see lots of apps, I mostly see just one. But from what I have seen, the popular apps keep shifting as new apps come into the App Store, mostly due to the way Apple ranks them. I think there is also downward pressure on the prices of these apps as each category gets more crowded. If I were a betting man (which I am) I think you are going to see apps move towards being free and make their money other ways or you are going to see apps gain in robustness so they can continue to justify their price point. One trend we haven't seen yet that we hope Apple will help rectify is the trend away from one-time downloads towards more of a recurring revenue stream.

16. How has your experience been working with Apple?

Jason Jacobs: It hasn't been perfect, but you take the good with the bad and there has been far more good. I mean, where else could we go from concept to popular application generating revenues in 35 countries in less than 2 months? Apple has really changed the game that way, and if we were still charging (which again, we are not), we would gladly give them their 30% all day long. They earned it!

17. What do you think Apple could provide to App developers to make things smoother for them?

Jason Jacobs: I think the biggest thing is communication and accessibility. Oh, and I'll add transparency in there too. Apple is a phenomenal machine and they are great at what they do, but I wish they were a little more accessible so we and others like us could work more closely with them to make the system better overall. They will get there though, you are already seeing them being responsive to the groundswell and making changes, and we are confident that trend will continue.

18. What do you think of the forthcoming opportunity for app developers with Android and RIM?. Do you think developers are ignoring these new platforms?

We are fascinated by what is going on in mobile right now, and we are watching very closely. It is much more interesting than watching TV! But seriously, Apple built a great device, it is here, it is now, and the App Store distribution model is an incredible game-changer. We believe there will be lots of opportunity on these other devices as well. The biggest challenge for us and a lot of developers right now is that they have a lot of work to do on the device they started on (iPhone) and no matter how exciting other platforms are in the short-term, they want to get this one right first. Ever heard the expression 'jack of all trades, master of none'? We don't want that to be us.

19. What do you do other than design apps? Do you hike, bike, snowboard? Play chess? Football?

Jason Jacobs: I don't design apps, the guys at Raizlabs did a great job designing ours. Lately, I spend a lot of time focused on building web/mobile companies, but in my 'free time' I build web/mobile companies. Just kidding, Could be anything really---running, biking (surprising, I'm sure), travel, reading, and motorcycles to name a few.

20. Thanks Jason!

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  • wunderkind

    appcraver should review this one

  • runner4life

    Has anyone heard of similar apps for phones other than the iphone?

  • ironmanx31

    ....ya, CardioTrainer, for the google Android! Works really well! The GPS tracking is awesome and I share my runs on Facebook! here's a link to the site: http://www.worksmartlabs.com/cardiotrainer