Nancy Hua: Apptimize

“Anyone should be able to innovate and express themselves at any time. The barrier to them is going to go down to almost zero. That’s what all of technology is for.”

Nancy Hua is the CEO of Apptimize, a company developing software which equips developers with A/B testing and analytics for their Android and iOS applications.

Coming out of school, Nancy pursued algorithmic trading.

“When I was at MIT I interned at Merill Lynch. That’s when I got interested in finance. I could tell that it was the kind of thing I would like.”

“With algorithmic trading I could tell that it had immediate feedback. When I was a kid I always wanted to do science. I didn’t acknowledge other options in the universe. The minute I tried research, I instantly realized it was not what I could do. I need something that is instantly competitive and gives feedback in what I’m doing.”

That type of quick feedback was the same feeling that users of Apptimize would later be empowered by.

“I left finance because I knew what the future was going to look like if I stayed, and it wasn’t exciting to me.”

“When I think about the people who are having the most impact in the world, I don’t think about the richest people. I think about the scientists and the innovators.”

Nancy disagreed with the unsubtle condemnations of algorithmic trading, exemplified by Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys.

“There are different types of algorithmic trading. The type that we were doing was really good for the world. Most people don’t know why capital markets or financial instruments exist. But to have a really good first-world economy, you need this kind of structure.”

“It’s automating things that people are doing on the floor. Nobody actually trades in the pit any more.”

There is a distinct contrast between the cadence of algorithmic trading and that of running a web 2.0 company.

“I had no idea what starting a business meant. Algorithmic trading is about challenging yourself, and it’s isolated. You have your team, and all the data that’s coming in from the exchanges, but you don’t have customers. It’s much more insular.”

“People definitely get addicted to it. There’s a tighter feedback loop than in my current business, so in that sense it was easier. But I like that [operating a business] is harder. You have to make a bigger bet on the future.”

Nancy described the origin story of Apptimize.

“My co-founder and I were working on a lot of different projects when we made our AB testing framework. We prematurely made this thing because we had an app that needed AB testing.”

“We had some friends that had an app called Robot Invader, who put our framework on it. And all of a sudden we were installed in tens of thousands of users.”

“I liked that we could let people innovate better and faster.”

“We let anyone change their apps in real-time for AB testing and optimization and targeting. It’s how all of the top apps in the app store work.”

“Think about your favorite app. Do you know how many product iterations it took to make it so good? It’s probably hundreds or thousands. The average product does not have time for that.”

“It can take a start-up on average two dozen iterations to get users. If you are waiting for 24 product iterations, your product is going to die before it gets off the ground.”

“A lot of the AB testing that our users are doing is to free up developer time.  The apps that don’t have AB testing infrastructure set up are in a period of constant redesign. They push out an app, and then they don’t work on it any more because they are building a new version of an app. That’s kind of crazy because you aren’t learning about what you have done.”

“It’s much more efficient.”

“The main thing I learned from The Lean Startup is that you want to instantly validate what you have done. As part of the development process, you have to instantly see that it affects metrics, and that you can test a hypothesis.”

“You need to see your users using your product, and you need to know what they do. What are they doing the first three minutes they are using your product? What were they doing before they used your product?”

Apptimize supports developers who need this sort of speedy testing and validation.

“I like the idea of eliminating developer time as much as possible. The vast majority of what we think we need developers for are not what we need developers for.”

Anyone armed with Apptimize can alter functionality of an application despite not having a technical background.

“Anyone should be able to innovate and express themselves at any time. The barrier to them is going to go down to almost zero. That’s what all of technology is for.”

“All you will need eventually is your own creativity and a web browser.”

The current culture at Apptimize is ideal to Nancy.

“You start a company or join a small company so you can have a big impact the culture. To only work with exactly the people you want to work with you have to start a company.”

One theme at the company is self-improvement.

“I’m aggressive about making sure I’m getting better. If you don’t improve dramatically in an environment like ours over time, you are going to get crushed. The environment gets more competitive over time.”

I asked if she agreed with the Peter Thiel philosophy that competition is for losers.

“Comparisons are odious. But you need to always think about comparative advantage. When I think about competition, it’s a signal if we are losing a competition, that we are doing something wrong.”

Nancy quoted Box CEO Aaron Levie when describing how she thinks about Apptimize’s existential risk.

“I want to be the one disrupting other industries, not being disrupted. The only way to do that is to know more than everyone else, and to not be disrupted. I’m always worried about something coming out of left field and disrupting my industry.”

“I want to make sure we are a driver of that change, and not just a passive recipient.”

While she doesn’t believe that Silicon Valley is in a bubble, she does point to certain thematic fundamental risks among some companies.

“A lot of these companies don’t have a vision. Some start-ups have a product, but then they need to manufacture a vision. In those cases, they should really think about whether they want to pursue that into a whole company.”

In closing, Nancy provided a piece of wisdom that aligns with her two primary goals in life: to enable and empower people, and to connect with people.

“There’s more that you have in common with anyone in the human race, even if you really hate them, than you would with someone who is not a human being. We’re really programmed to think we aren’t like each other and won’t get along. That’s just not true–it matters what happens to someone, even if they don’t have the interests or privileges of your situation.”

“We are all responsible for those random people that we never see.”

“It’s hard for people to think on that level. Fifty years ago, there’s nothing you could do to effectively help that suffering. But now, that’s not true. We have a lot of wealth and a lot of resources and we can all help each other if we can change how we think about it.”

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