Interview with Fueled Co-Founder Ryan D Matzner
INTERVIEWS

Start-up success and mistakes, Fueled Co-Founder Ryan D Matzner gets candid about it all

August 08, 2019

Fascinated by the difference between human emotions and rational behavior, Fueled’s Managing Partner Ryan D Matzner spills the beans on what mistakes do most startups make and the key-ingredients to a praise-worthy app. With over a decade of experience in product marketing, design, and business development, Matzner speaks of his journey with Fueled and personal motivations.

Full Interview

Tell us a little about Fueled its purpose, the vision that drives it.

Fueled’s vision and purpose is really about creating a better user experience for the world. So how do we take technology that people interact with, and create the best experience for them possible through design, software, and what platforms we deploy on, etc.

So, for example, working with a hotel chain, it's all about how do we create the smoothest check-in experience so that people can stop spending time at the front desk and start spending time in their vacation destination instead of forcing families to wait at 20 or 30 minute long line to check-in. How do we let them do it themselves through an app and just move straight to their hotel room? And you can kind of replicate that out to all sorts of experiences in the world, whether it's renting a car, or buying clothes, it's how do we create the best experience for humans.

And the way that we've done that has evolved over time. Our central goal of organizing information and displaying information in a way that's easy for users to engage with, has been the core of what we've done since the beginning.

What are the decisive moments that have shaped Fueled's journey so far?

I think the most decisive moments along Fueled’s journey is when we realized at various points, the additional services or offerings, or directions that we need to go in order to realize our vision.

So when we first started, it was about just development, it was about bringing these visions to life. And we quickly realized that a lot of the designs clients were bringing us didn't really align with our goal or vision of a good user experience, which ultimately makes it a bad product, which means as a business, those startups are going to be challenged and in terms of servicing users, it also wasn't gonna work. And so we then had to bring on a design team, which also meant bringing on a product team as we started to scale and work on bigger projects. It meant more specialists, different kinds of product managers to be able to handle these super large scale projects for hundreds of thousands or even millions of users. Second, because those were kind of the key pivotal moments, historically.

Startups and Big Brands- your clientele has quite the extremes. Startups lend disruptive creativity and new ideas, what contribution do big brands make to Fueled?

I think we've really been pushed to grow by big brands that we've worked with. They're demanding, they have often very special needs and so it forced us over the years to really stretch our muscles and push our boundaries in terms of how we can service these types of clients. And I think we've always come away even stronger, with even more capabilities, sad new ideas, anytime that we engage with a big brand.

You’ve often given fine commentary on wood-burning fireplaces, fighting corporate waste, and adverse weather to the New York Times. Do you have any projects/apps catering to these interests?

We have built a weather app for a Japanese client that's all about figuring out what the actual weather is, not through radar or some convoluted technology that ultimately lets people down, but instead is user-generated micro weather that tells the user what's happening right now around you.

I don't know that we've had the opportunity to necessarily work on an app about fireplaces or corporate waste, but we would love to and always looking out for interesting ideas people bring to us.

What major differences do you think AI will bring to the mobile app ecosystem in the near future. Is fuelled involved in any AI-related products?

I think that AI is a technology that is going to have a wide array of benefits. In the near term, I think those benefits will tend to be relatively niche or specific within an app, from dynamic interfaces to trying to guess what a user wants to do next.

Incorporating AI effectively into the products we build means an opportunity to make the interface and the experience even better for our users.

We've worked on chatbots, we've used AI to identify potential fraud, and to make product recommendations within a shopping app, so they're definitely some use cases. And it's something that is always part of the consideration of how to bring the best product to a user.

Besides people in your professional life, who has been the biggest influence on you and why?

I think my dad's probably been one of the biggest influences on me. He's a big question asker and likes to figure things out to solve hard problems. He's a builder and as a kid, he and I built elaborate model train systems, and I think that was definitely influential in my formative years. I enjoyed building things, make parts fit together, and figuring out how to create an experience within a space.

Although I doubt you would undo any step in your journey, yet what mistakes would you recommend startups to avoid based on your experience.

I think that they're probably a ton of mistakes we've made along the way.

I think from hiring practices, getting good at interviewing people and figuring out who would be a good fit for your team and being smarter about having a good accounting system, so we can really understand what's going on as a business.

I think a lot of startups just jump in and figure out those sort of back-office things later, and it's always painful when push comes to shove and you have to deal with them. So, I think that's probably one of the areas that I would recommend people paying more attention to early on.

What’s your marketing advice for a startup and should they focus more on their marketing budget or spend more on the product and let the product do the magic?

I think it's pretty difficult for a product to do all of your marketing for you. There's generally a need to create awareness, but you can't just build a product and then market it.

There’s no clean process of build then market it, you have to ensure that you have the right product.

So I would build something and then do a little bit of marketing, get an initial group of users on it and see how they react. If they aren't engaging deeply enough or frequently enough all the marketing in the world isn't going to do much for the business.

First, we need to know that we have the right product, knowing we will probably constantly be iterating on the product, but there should be some minimum threshold of product success before you unleash a full marketing budget.

React native and flutter like cross platforms are growing rapidly. Dart has been the most followed language in Linkedin survey. How do you see cross platform app development future and who do you think is winning between native vs cross platform battle?

I think Native is always going to be the strongest platform to build on. The best technology will generally run on it.

The reasons to use something cross-platform are that you might not necessarily have the development skills to write native code. So if you don't have access to developers who can code natively, then your next option is something cross-platform, like React Native, but ultimately, that holy grail of one code base that runs in many places is still very far from reality.

And so a lot of the benefits of cross-platform development are more hypothetical than real. You also limit the possibilities of what the technology can do, you're sort of pulled into a third party platform that might take a while to get updated, it definitely won't take advantage of the latest iOS developments right away, so you're always going to be a little bit behind. It can often introduce bugs that are complex and difficult to understand because there's a sort of extrapolated layer of technology that you're running on.

So I think, in general, there's always something being sacrificed when creating a non-native product, and ultimately, time-wise or price-wise, it's usually not a meaningful difference to go native.

When a new app is being launched, targeting smaller demography to see how it going versus when it’s releasing it into a bigger market, what marketing strategy difference do you think matters the most?

When you launch a new product, there's always a subset of users who you are going to go after as your first initial user base to see how they receive it, how they engage with it, and the key part of that marketing strategy is experimentation. You don't necessarily know what works yet and you don't know how people are going to react at first.

So having lots of ideas to test rapidly in terms of how you're going to drive engagement, and figure out who your different user groups are that are actually going to engage with the product. I think that's critical rather than deciding upon one marketing plan and running with it.

Besides problem solving, what impact do you think app ecosystem has on today’s world?

There are plenty of mindless time waster apps, I think there are also apps that drive real connection between humans.

People get married from meeting through dating apps, and there are apps that make people's lives easier. Being able to get a cab in some neighborhoods through an app is just a luxury and a time saver versus finding one down the street. But in other neighborhoods, it's the difference between essentially being stuck somewhere and having a proper freedom movement. There are a lot of neighborhoods where it's impossible to find a cab, or it's extremely unrealistic, and maybe at night, it's dangerous.

So technology in lots of different ways has created new freedoms of movement. It's empowered people and it connects people. I think it's not just about solving little problems, It's about creating new opportunities for connection for ideas, for thought, for entertainment.

Any new projects/products you’re releasing soon which you may want to discuss?

We are currently working with a world-renowned self-help guru and one of the challenges right now is that a lot of the content is hard to access. Either it's not available in a modern digital format, or it's only available through a little bit of a wonky, existing product.

And we're really excited that later this year will be able to give users a really brilliant, easy experience, to access this deep library of content from an individual that people have really found to be revolutionary in their lives. And so that's something that we're really excited about.

And lastly, the most important question- in 2017, you aked Twitter- Why do ice cream shops charge the same price in winter as in summer? Did you find your answer?

I have always been interested in this idea between how humans behave, and how perfect economically rational individuals would behave. It's a big part of product thinking and how can we get people to take actions. Is a $3 coupon enough or is it a $10 coupon?

A perfectly economically rational actor will make a different decision about how they react to those things than an actual human. And so that difference is something I think about a lot. And so this is sort of partially joking about how market forces should make ice cream a lot more expensive in summer than in winter when demand is drastically different.

And I think ultimately, like Richard Taylor, who won the Nobel Prize in economics last year, and he kind of thinks about the topic of human emotions versus rational action.

In humans, it's totally non rational thinking. It's very emotional, the idea of charging different amounts at different times, while would make totally sensical to a perfectly rational economic actor, it doesn't make sense to the emotional actor, because it comes down to a feeling of unfair versus fair of being price damaged. And that ultimately hurts a brand more than it helps by having differential pricing.

Resy, which was acquired by American Express recently, one of the first things they launched on its restaurant reservation platform, was the ability to pay more for reservation at prime time, which makes total sense. It makes total sense in an economically rational world, but in an economically emotional world, which is where we actually live, people found that unfair, and so restaurants were forced to be more sneaky about it. So instead of charging more when it's busy, they charge less when it's not busy by having happy hours or during specials, but even that doesn't necessarily go far enough. And I think ultimately, it just comes down to the fact that humans are super emotional, rather than super-rational. But that's what makes us human.

Key Takeaways

1. For better user experience, organize and display information that’s easy to engage with.
2. Think beyond development. Invest in design and product strategy in terms of servicing users.
3. Big brands are demanding making your company stronger, with newer ideas and more skills.
4. AI in apps will be relatively niche- from dynamic interfaces yo guessing user’s next move. 
5. Hiring practices and accounting system, two areas where start-ups often make mistakes.
6. Start your marketing with an initial user-base, before unleashing a full marketing budget. 
7. Native is the strongest platform to build on. But React Native is the next best option. 
8. Once you launch a product, experiment with different user subsets. 
9. Mobile Apps don’t just solve problems, they create new opportunities. 
10. Humans are super emotional, rather than super-rational. Consider that in product strategy. 

So instead of charging more when it's busy, they charge less when it's not busy by having happy hours or during specials, but even that doesn't necessarily go far enough.

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