Industry updates and news from the ad tech world

Highlights from MWC15

Fyber_MWC15With over 93,000 attendees from 200 countries, Mobile World Congress 2015 was a record-breaking event. We spent the whole week at MWC exhibiting at the App Planet hall, welcoming visitors and giving them a tour of our products and platform. We also gathered some great market insights from discussions with our customers, partners, and visitors, as well as from the conference sessions – here are a few of the highlights!

Programmatic continues to gain strength: The automated buying and selling of mobile advertising is largely data driven. We’ve heard from demand partners that unique data is becoming more and more relevant for targeting. Accessing first party data to segment and deliver a personalized experience is essential for DSPs, not only to engage their audience, but also to achieve higher ROI. We took the opportunity of our presence at MWC to announce our open beta for Fyber’s Programmatic Exchange. We’re excited to offer a transparent, OpenRTB-based exchange that enables advertisers to bid directly in real time on premium in-app inventory.

MWC-Recap-Blog2015 will see continued growth in mobile video advertising: eMarketer projects an increase of 70% in digital video ad spending on mobile. As advertising budgets shift, this growth will be bolstered by improved audience targeting, retargeting features, and programmatic buying capabilities. Measurement standards, such as viewability metrics, will also give advertisers the transparency they were once lacking to measure the performance of their buying strategies and identify the best-performing channels.

User acquisition strategies are evolving as advertisers shift focus from volume to quality users: By using retargeting features and valuable data collected from tracking providers, the focus is on running optimized campaigns to drive strong ROI.

Developers also had the opportunity to gain an overview of the latest tools like Yahoo! Mobile Development suite and Fabric by Twitter. These developer suites include tools ranging in focus from  ad monetization and advertising solutions to app monitoring & reporting tools.

In case you missed our team at MWC, we hope you’ll keep in touch at an upcoming event. Our team will be attending Programmatic I/O and sponsoring ad:tech San Francisco, so if you’d like to set up a meeting, please contact us at [email protected].

Top 10 Grossing Ad Categories & Campaign Types

With the majority of apps falling into the gaming category1, it should come as no surprise that gaming held onto the number one spot amongst the top-grossing mobile ad campaign verticals in Fyber’s Ad Marketplace two years running. Travel also maintained a top position, ranking second in both 2013 and 2014.

While there were subtle shake-ups throughout the top ten, the primary shifts took place in health & fitness, entertainment, and utilities, all of which demonstrated impressive growth in ad spend: 250%, 175%, and 118%, respectively. The boost in these particular verticals reflects overarching usage trends for apps in corresponding categories. For example, from 2013 to 2014, the number of user sessions for utilities and health & fitness apps grew 121% and 89%, respectively2. In addition, the growth in entertainment ad spend is reflective of overall industry projections that digital advertising for the media and entertainment vertical will increase more over the next three years than for any other US industry, thanks namely to the rise of video ads and other high-impact formats.3.

Also of note was that campaign spend through Fyber’s Ad Marketplace went up across the board between 2013 and 2014, with all of the major verticals gaining, even if they dropped in the rankings. This growth trend reflects the shift taking place in the advertising world, as marketing budgets are allocating more and more towards mobile to catch up with the growing time spend dedicated to app use.

But of course, it’s important to not only examine where the ad spend is coming from, but also how advertisers are engaging users after the initial ad view. So we took a look at the most popular campaign calls-to-action, both in 2013 and 2014. These CTAs are presented to the user post-impression – or in other words, after they view the ad. During the past two years, the most popular CTAs remained relatively consistent, with the only shifts taking place at the very bottom of the rankings.


With demand for app distribution campaigns rising, it’s no surprise that download/app install dominated the leaderboard with a growth rate of 73% in ad spend between 2013 and 2014. Free trials and mobile subscriptions also clocked impressive hikes, with year-over-year growth of 63% and 40%, respectively.

Sources:
1http://www.pocketgamer.biz/metrics/app-store/categories/
2http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/06/app-usage-grew-76-in-2014-with-shopping-apps-leading-the-way/
3http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Digital-Ad-Spend-Rise-Fastest-US-Media-Entertainment-Industry/1010865

How to get started in mobile: Juan Vidal, VP Engineering

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In this blog series we will highlight how members of the Fyber team got started in the mobile tech industry.

As Fyber’s VP Engineering, Juan Vidal defines the processes of the engineering department and pioneers new methods for the team to optimize its talent. He leads the execution of every product Fyber launches, and structures the workflow of dozens of engineers who test and implement new features to enhance Fyber’s platform.

Before joining Fyber, Juan founded two software companies and worked for 8 years as an Open Source Software Consultant for the University of Murcia in Spain. Outside of work, Juan is passionate about reading up on the latest trends in technology, management, and entrepreneurship.

KO: What first made you interested in joining the mobile technology industry?
JV: My first induction into the mobile tech industry wasn’t technically a conscious decision. When I started working for Fyber (Sponsorpay at the time), we weren’t initially working in mobile. We saw a huge opportunity for innovation within mobile, and once we moved into that market directly we saw really great results. We were lucky enough to find good engineers for mobile development at a time when it wasn’t a very popular career path.

KO: How did you manage to break into such a competitive industry, and what helped you do so?
JV: I worked for almost eight years for the Spanish government, but found that that type of work was very slow-moving and it was hard to grow within that space. After I had reached a certain level of seniority, I wanted to put more of a focus on my professional and personal growth. So I moved to Berlin, to shake things up a bit, and reached out to Fyber. Those early days were quite an adventure, as I was actually the first non-German speaker in the Berlin office (in the Tech Team).

I am of the opinion that rather than first asking “please”, you should just do things and then say “sorry” if necessary. I think my passion has really helped me excel in mobile. I’ve grown a lot at this company and have become much more patient, but keeping that passion is important. The first time I heard the word “monetization”, I was confused and had no idea what it meant. My strategy was to read more than anyone else and work extremely hard so that I could be as valuable as possible.

KO: In a high-paced industry that is always changing, how do you stay on top of the latest trends and industry news?
JV: For me, I’m very interested in product. I’m always staying connected with the product team to hear their feedback. Also: Reading, reading, reading. I feel that there are insights from other industries that are very valuable to the mobile industry. It’s important to draw from all different sources and keep an open mind. To keep up with the pace of the industry, it’s important to experiment. This industry is still relatively new, and creating and implementing experiments is important. We need to define what we believe success is and what we believe failure is and work within those constraints. I’m constantly pushing my team to improve and share their ideas on how to better the company.

KO: What do you feel is the future of mobile tech?
JV: Wearables are very interesting to me. Connected devices will begin to contribute real value, rather than just a novelty. Wearable and mobile devices do, and will continue to work together. When you look at FitBit and the Apple Watch, they aren’t necessary an industry within themselves at this point. In the future they may be, but I feel as though mobile devices will one day be inseparable from wearables. It’s going to be interesting to see how that sort of mobile technology will monetize.

KO: In your mind, what makes the mobile tech industry the place to be right now?
JV: From a numbers point of view, the mobile industry is growing at a staggering level. You should already be in mobile one way or another. Everyone has a mobile device at this point, even my grandma. I think this is a good key performance indicator, because if my grandma has a mobile device…everyone does! Also, we don’t know everything that there is to do in mobile yet. We are the ones that are shaping the mobile space. This generation of workers were the first to own a smartphone. We will laugh about our mistakes in the future, but that won’t weigh down the pride of being the trailblazers in such an important space.

If you are looking for an opportunity to get your foot-in-the-door of the booming mobile space, check out Fyber’s career site here.

Q & A with Laura Laugwitz and Magda Frankiewicz: Rails Girls Berlin

The importance of having more women in tech positions is a much discussed topic and there are plenty of projects in Berlin, Europe, and the rest of the world dedicated to helping women learn to code and join local dev communities. Rails Girls Berlin is just one of them, but its achievements are notable. We caught up with Rails Girls Laura Laugwitz and Magda Frankiewicz at their latest workshop hosted at Fyber’s Berlin HQ. The women are members of the organizing team and we were keen to hear about their journey to becoming Rails Girls and learning to code.

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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you found out about and joined the Rails Girls project?

Magda: I first joined Rails Girls Berlin as an organizer. I heard about the project, but had never attended a workshop. I thought I could just help out on the organizational side since I didn’t know how to code and had no engineering experience at all – this was November of last year. In December, I participated in a workshop, as there wasn’t much to do on the organizational side. I was in a group with two other girls and two coaches – it was a great group, so we started to meet outside the workshop. After meeting for two or three months in a row, I decided to give coding a chance. I started by learning at home and then heard about the Rails Girls Summer of Code. I met Ute, who became my partner, and we applied and got accepted. We participated in the program for two months, which was amazing and we learned so much. Now I work at DaWanda as a Student Web Developer for their dev team.

Laura: I didn’t have coding experience either, I used to study anthropology. I wrote my bachelors thesis on how women create their own spaces in IT. When I stumbled upon Berlin Geekettes and Rails Girls Berlin, I decided to write my thesis using the Rails Girls as a case study. An overarching theme in my thesis was that more women should be involved in IT, so when I was done with my anthropology BA I thought, “why don’t I just go into IT?” So then I started studying computer science, which I’m still working on. I have reached the level where I could coach the Rails Girls but I’m busy with organizing for the group. I have already done a project in Rails for Uni.

 

How long does it take to get to the level where you’d be comfortable to coach at Rails Girls Workshops?

Magda: Actually there are two girls here today that started not so long ago; they came to the Rails Girls Beginners Workshop and then attended Ruby Monsters and they’re coaching for their first time today.

Laura: I think if you’re really into it, half a year to coach is sufficient. Coaching at Rails Girls also doesn’t mean you have to know everything, you just need to go through a tutorial and be willing to try.

 

Can you tell us what the main objective of Rails Girls is – not just the overarching idea behind the project, but also what it means to you and what you’re trying to achieve by participating?

Laura: Rails Girls started out in Finland in 2011 as a one-time workshop, but then turned into a recurring thing and spread to other cities. Each chapter is different due to the varied people involved in different cities – they make it their own. The idea behind Rails Girls, for me personally, is to take away the “magic” from programming because it’s not “magic”, its a tool you can learn in order to do things. Its a language you can learn, just like any other language. Women can do it and men can do it and its not confined to nerds and people with no social life, as is popular belief. That’s the other great thing that the workshop does: It shows that people who are coders are not anti-social, they are great people with normal social lives.

Magda: It’s about breaking stereotypes. In every aspect, the project is focused on women, as they don’t commonly participate in IT in Europe. Rails Girls is definitely empowering women through learning, which is absolutely free.

 

So the project is completely voluntary. How difficult is it to find coaches to spend their Saturdays or evenings coaching Rails Girls?

Laura: We’re very lucky here in Berlin that there’s a large scene of Ruby developers, many of whom are eager to help out. It’s therefore quite easy to find coaches. Finding organizers is a little bit more difficult due to amount of work involved in organizing an event of such magnitude, but we always have new people joining.

Magda: We also have many attendees that after a while turn to coaching and this is the real success indicator.

 

What would you suggest to a girl wanting to learn to code as the best way to get started? Maybe you can tell us about your favorite meetup groups or working spaces in Berlin?

Laura: There is co.up, which is a coworking space in Kreuzberg. It’s generally a place for freelancers to work, but you’ll probably find a few people who will help you out there. I would also suggest joining a Rails Girls Project Group because they meet more often, about once a week, so you can learn continuously. These groups are self-organized and they work on projects such as creating apps. In Berlin there’s also a project called PyLadies, which teaches girls to code in Python. Open Tech School Berlin is a mixed school with plenty of interesting events for any gender. In addition, there is the monthly Ruby User Group Berlin where you’ll always find new input, even as a beginner, and very supportive people.

 

In closing, could you tell us how your life changed since you started coding and joined Rails Girls project? Why is it worth it?

Magda: It’s definitely worth trying to code, even if you don’t like it and don’t continue with it at a later stage. Maybe you don’t end up changing your career, but do a project on the side. You’ll definitely enjoy being part of an exciting project group and learning something new. It’s also incredibly educational, you learn a different way of thinking and problem-solving which you can apply in other domains of life.

Laura: Society tends to tell women and girls that they’re not able to do technological jobs or that they’re not able to do math. Firstly, I learned you don’t need to know mathematics to be a good programmer – maybe to be an awesome programmer, but you can be good even if your knowledge is not exceptional. I actually enjoyed math for the first time once I started learning computer science because I saw how I could apply it in day-to-day life, unlike school algebra where you just did it for the grades and hated it – at least I did. Society tells you that you can’t do it, so prove to everyone that you actually can!

 

GDC Spotlight: Mobile advertising beyond the day-to-day dollar

Blog_Image_Grid_March11In addition to the fireside chat, A Glimpse Into The Future of Game Monetization, with DeNA’s Barry Dorf, Fyber also hosted a panel at GDC15 discussing how mobile advertising can be used to benefit game developers beyond the day-to-day dollar and become part of their overall strategy. Fyber’s VP Developer Relations, David Diaz, moderated the conversation between thought leaders from Sunstorm Games, Ninja Kiwi, Hothead Games, and PikPok.

The “mid-tier squeeze”
A common challenge for mid-tier game developers that sit in the space between AAA and indie is balancing the risk-versus-reward ratio of including IPs within their games. According to San Francisco based consulting firm Digi-Capital, the issue is that “mid-tier games companies have no hit IPs yet, no scale advantages, but infrastructure and marketing costs.” Due to their general lack of IPs, surpassing the mobile top 100 becomes a real challenge for mid-tiers that are trying to make a name for themselves.

PikPok’s Mario Wynands shared that he initially came from a console background and that they experienced similar challenges there. “It’s hard to be nimble in this space. To be successful it’s important to have organic growth and it’s more important than ever to create really solid games.” While it’s more difficult for mid-tier developers to break-through with an IP, Ninja Kiwi’s Scott Walker said “it’s by no means impossible”, as his team created a smash hit with their title, Bloons. Walker emphasizes that “it’s important to have a variety of strategies under your belt. You don’t need to do what the ‘big guys’ are doing if you don’t have the resources to scale in that particular way.” The panel agreed that all games are different and some strategies are more successful than others based on the game vertical and target audience. Due to these inherent differences, it’s important to implement a certain amount of trial and error to perfect your monetization strategy.

“Advertising is a real part of the business”
For example, Sunstorm Games’ Reid Sheppard recalled that when they first sought to monetize their games, which are targeted towards a younger audience, they initially “tried video interstitials, and kids hated it. We got really bad reviews, so we removed them and instead moved to deep integrations of rewarded video content.” For developers, the top priority is high-quality game play, but in order to ‘keep the lights on’, ads are a necessary tactic for mid-tier developers. Reid continued by stating that in his experience, “most people are not going to spend real money, so advertising is a real part of the business.” While some devs fear that ads could cannibalize IAP (in-app purchase) revenues, the panelists were in agreement that higher revenues are generated when ads and IAP are implemented hand-in-hand. Hothead Games’ Kenneth Wong emphasized that devs shouldn’t be afraid that including ads will hurt their game and that it’s important to “have faith in your game. We see as much as 10x ARPU with players who engage with ads, versus players who do not.”  Wong also believes that it’s possible to create more engaging games through the use of advertising, and that ads should not be seen as an obstacle to great game play.

Wrap-Up
A big thank you to Kenneth, Reid, Scott, and Mario, and to all those who attended the session – it was a great turnout! In case you missed us at GDC, we hope you’ll keep in touch at an upcoming event. Our team will attending SXSW and Programmatic I/O, so if you’d like to set up a meeting, please contact us at [email protected]

GDC Spotlight: DeNA & Fyber Discuss the Future of Game Monetization

Last week at the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC15) in San Francisco, we were excited to be featured on three different panels alongside other industry leaders to discuss key issues surrounding monetization and app business development. During the first session, “A Glimpse Into the Future of Game Monetization”, DeNA’s VP Partnerships and Alliances, Barry Dorf, took the stage with Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch and Fyber’s VP Developer Relations, David Diaz, to discuss what the gaming landscape may look like in 2017: How will business models evolve over the next two years, and what role will ad monetization play in the mix? In case you missed the talk, here are a few highlights:

Premium: The next wave in gaming?
Today, 90% of the market uses the free-to-play model and monetizes from in-app purchases or ads. While this approach clearly appears to be working for now, the landscape will very likely change over the next five years. Given that markets tend to be cyclical in nature, Barry hypothesized that next wave of monetization may be the premium pricing model – in other words, spend $15 or $20 and play forever. We’ve seen this model work for console games, and it could take off in mobile.

The role of ad monetization
Barry noted that ad monetization has already come a long way. He shared that even a couple years ago, DeNA would have shied away from using ads. But now that the market is more mature and options exist for making them less intrusive, ads are a good complement to DeNA’s monetization strategy. In fact, DeNA didn’t see any drop-off in in-app purchases after implementing ads into their games – their addition simply added to overall returns. In Barry’s words, “you can easily double your revenue if you’re smart about placements. Our ARPDAU (average revenue per daily active user) is 10 times the industry average.” However, both Barry and David agreed that proper placement and quality integration are key. “Ad success has so much to do with placement,” said David. “With the right strategy, you can boost engagement and retention, as well as revenue.” Barry added, “you can’t just throw ads into your games. You have to do it right. Work with your designers on the right kinds of placements.”

Bitcoin & the potential of micropayments
The panel also discussed the impact that bitcoin, or a similar payment system, might have on mobile gaming. David hypothesized that bitcoin may unlock the potential of micropayments, as it would allow gamers to make purchases valued at less than the current App Store minimum, which is 99 cents. However, he noted that bitcoin would have to stabilize before we’ll see gaming companies seriously consider using it as a part of their monetization strategy. Barry echoed that sentiment, stating that DeNA “certainly wouldn’t lead the charge” when it comes to bitcoin, but that this type of payment system has the potential to simplify the process of making international payments.

Wrap-Up
Many thanks to Barry and Alex, and to all those who attended the session – it was a great turnout! In case you missed us at GDC, we hope you’ll keep in touch at an upcoming event. Our team will attending SXSW and Programmatic I/O, so if you’d like to set up a meeting, please contact us at [email protected].

DeNA Selects Fyber as Leading Ad Monetization Partner in US

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We’re excited to announce that DeNA has selected Fyber as its leading mobile ad monetization partner in the United States. DeNA is a global Internet company that develops and operates a broad range of mobile and online services including games, e-commerce, and other diversified offerings. Founded in 1999, DeNA is headquartered in Tokyo with offices and game development studios across the globe.

Late last year, DeNA began working with Fyber to test the effectiveness of various mobile ad monetization strategies including rewarded video, interstitials and offer walls. The test was deployed on two apps – Super Battle Tactics and TRANSFORMERS: Age of Extinction – in both the iOS and Android gaming environments. The implementation immediately drove strong results in terms of increased engagement, video views, and revenue growth, resulting in Fyber being selected as DeNA’s chosen monetization provider.

  • Super Battle Tactics saw an overall ARPDAU (Average Revenue Per Daily Active User ) lift of 2 cents, with several days peaking at a 4 cent increase
  • The top 25% of players watched 6 or more videos a day and the average player watched at least 3 videos per day
  • Fyber’s implementation on TRANSFORMERS: Age of Extinction drove a surge in engagement through rewarded video. More than 17 years’ worth of free gameplay was delivered to players and approx. 15,000 free characters were rewarded

“The early successes we have seen from our partnership with Fyber prove the tremendous potential behind mobile ad monetization,” said Barry Dorf, Vice President of Partnerships and Alliances, DeNA. “Fyber has become a trusted partner that provides high-touch guidance and counsel around viable, practical solutions to better monetize our portfolio. Fyber will be instrumental in helping DeNA achieve our aggressive goals.”

“It’s our mission to empower our partners to discover and execute smarter ad monetization strategies,” said Janis Zech, Co-founder and CTO, Fyber. “We are thrilled to be supporting amazing companies like DeNA and helping to engage and delight their users in new and authentic ways.”

This announcement comes on the heels of Fyber’s GDC Fireside Chat, where Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch, DeNA’s Barry Dorf and Fyber’s David Diaz will share and discuss their thoughts on the future and trends of game monetization and the role that advertising will play as part of the monetization mix. If you’re attending the conference, we invite you to join us for this or one of three other sessions that we will be hosting!

If you are not able to attend one of the sessions, but would like to meet with a member of our team, click here to set up a meeting. Look forward to seeing you at the show!

 

Introducing Fyber’s RTB Exchange


We’re excited to announce the open beta of Fyber’s Real Time Bidding (RTB) platform. Through RTB – a programmatic technology – Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) and their advertisers can bid on app developers’ inventory in real time and apply fine-tuned targeting on the inventory most relevant to them. With this launch, Fyber now brings together a mediation layer across Interstitials and Rewarded Video with an RTB exchange.

For DSPs, Fyber’s OpenRTB-based exchange enables access to a growing base of unique mobile inventory through Fyber’s mobile Supply Side Platform, with 100% in-app placements from premium developers. Through high-performance ad formats – including Opt-in Video and Interstitials – DSPs and their advertisers can reach the segments that matter most from Fyber’s 150M+ monthly unique users and adjust their campaign budgets in real time to respond to performance. DSPs already integrated into Fyber’s RTB program include TradeMob, Mars Media Group, Ajillion, Pocket Math, Remerge and Liquid M.

RTB_Blog_Janis_Quote“With the introduction of RTB into the Fyber platform, our goal is to serve as a one-stop shop for publishers to manage all of their mobile advertising needs,” said Janis Zech, Fyber’s Co-founder and CRO. “For DSPs, we want to become the de facto platform for transacting high-value ad formats such as Interstitials. We knew this was an inevitable move for Fyber, and are thrilled to be rounding out our stack and offering RTB, especially as more budget and demand moves towards programmatic. This move enables us to provide developers
with access to all budgets available in the exchange.”

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For developers, the launch of Fyber’s RTB Exchange means instant access to more high-quality Interstitial – and soon, Rewarded Video – demand, from leading DSPs with larger budgets. Programmatic demand competes against developers’ other demand sources, including mediation, to ensure that the highest-paying ad is always served first.

“It’s great to see Fyber’s platform expand to support RTB for mobile advertising,” said Reid Sheppard, Director, Analytics Technology and Ad Revenue, Sunstorm Games. “Programmatic access to larger ad budgets and more inventory will allow us to utilize the Fyber platform to the full extent, providing efficiency and more revenue streams.”

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Ready to take advantage of the power of programmatic?

 

 

Q & A with Jens Otto Lange and Stefan Haas: Product Tank Berlin

Product_Tank_Blog_Image_GridCreating a compelling product vision is a difficult task, even more challenging is to sell the created vision. The balance between an innovative and sellable vision is elusive. “How to create and sell a great vision” was the topic of the sixth Product Tank Berlin meetup which took place at Fyber last week.

After the presentations, we had the honour of chatting to two great coaches of Design Thinking and innovation, Jens Otto Lange and Stefan Haas, and asked them about incorporating Design Thinking ideas into the product management and daily workflow of a tech company. Both have great experience and knowledge of agile methodologies and facilitate co-creation workshops to train teams on their thorny path of digital innovation and product creation.

The blogs of Jens and Stefan are full of useful information about agile product creation and make for an educational and fascinating read.

So first of all, for those who have never heard of Design Thinking, could you explain how you would suggest to apply these methods in the real world, in the day-to-day operations of a company?  

Jens:

I know, for example, you have this room here in your company, it’s a creative space without desks, and this different environment causes another mode of working. The room is one of the three main factors of success, it’s the physical environment. You should create these varied kinds of environments in your daily business. The other important factor is changing the culture so that the corporate culture is favourable to incorporating this mode of thinking into daily routine.

Stefan:

Creating a room is not that hard, it’s much more about creating a mental room. We organised a creative room at our own office. Firstly, we evaluated and discussed what we wanted in the room, and what we wanted to see left out. This really created a working groove over a few days. It was really fascinating to see, when we opened it up again in the end to the rest of the office and held a presentation – well, it went horrible. They expected finished shiny prototypes, but instead were shown postits and scribble notes and flip charts. One of the team members went to the list and demonstrated it to the team, our mental room description. To construct the creative space favoring innovation you don’t need much architecture, only a sheet where you write down things that you can relate back to. It’s that easy – with simple tools from an office supply shop you can build a room for more creativity.

Another thing of course is that you have some people on the team that are trained, that can facilitate these kinds of meetings and train the others. The basic thing here is to open your mind to new options and possibilities and then close your mind again, be aware of the new options, then open, close, etc. People who are trained towards a certain mindset are needed to promote these methods within the team.

You talked a lot about mindset, is there something about organizational structures that you think needs to change or be adapted to allow for this?

Jens:

Design Thinking is based on three factors: the room, the process, the team – and furthermore, a team that is cross-functional. In big companies it’s often the case that people have to get permission to work together across functions or departments and resources must be available – so one day of work together, it might have to be planned months in advance. This limits the kind of work possible because when you only work with people from your own department, you get no new perspectives or new ideas because you are always stuck in your own project.

Stefan:

When you want to be innovative and fast, you want a quick feedback cycle. The decision path has to be shorter and to shortcut that path you have to make changes in your organization. Evaluate how long the distance is from you to the customer who provides final feedback on the product. If that path is long, then you have to start experimenting and changing things. That’s why we work with cross-functional teams in the sprint, because there has to be a very close connection between general strategic decisions and final designs.

Jens:

There should be a balance between the strategic level decision makers using tools such as “proposition canvas tool” and the people working on the product and the tangible prototype of the final product. There must be an iteration of the product with input from both levels.

Stefan:

When you take the sprint method, it shortcuts the horizontal making a cross functional team for the building process. What we further added to that is having the strategic dimension, which is dependant on the hierarchy in the organization. Having more people who are making strategic decisions part of the group. This way you have two feedback cycles; one going in one direction and the other in the opposite.

You mention the strategic level and the day-to-day operations. Is there a specific cadence of how to make use of these tools? How do we get from the vision that we thought up in a week long workshop to really making use of it on an ongoing basis?

Jens:

There are different ways of doing this and there is still a discussion about which way is the best, but of course you should make it a sustainable part of how you work. Different companies do it in different ways. Some do these kind of sprints every week, then every four sprints they do an innovation week and work with new ideas and try to push something into the development cycle. Others try this dual-track setting where they have an innovation or a product team working two sprints ahead of the production team. All of these setups have benefits and have problems, but they do try to make a sustainable ongoing activity of innovation. We strongly recommend to these companies to implement some testing cycles which facilitate the move from more qualitative testing to data-driven testing, because now they can execute the idea in a sprint and see whether it works or not while the idea is still just a hypothesis. It’s crucial to implement this test-driven innovation cycle in your company, because without it you’ll lose your path again.

When you’re conducting these workshops, how do you guarantee or facilitate buy-in from stakeholders that were not part of the workshop? For example, those that didn’t see all of the ideas that were voiced at the workshop but didn’t make it to the final presentation?

Stefan:

We’re pretty sure that you don’t get buy-in unless people are really convinced. If the stakeholders are not part of the creation process, they miss the story. They have no clue what is behind this little paper prototype, they can’t relate to the experiences, they haven’t been outside of the building doing interviews. Even as part of the creation team, some people go outside to conduct the interview and some stay. Those who stay in the room do not have first-hand experience, they have to join. I know companies where every single person has to do interviews. One thing we recommend is to set up a regular user testing lab. It’s something that’s very cheap and easy to do. Every week for an hour, invite users to the office. You can either do a proper interview or show them fun usability tests. Your customers are right there, so make use of that. It has a huge impact.

Jens

If management is not part of the innovation or creation process, the workshops are a good way of making them a part of it. Maybe not five days, it can be a shorter thing. The only constraint I found here was the hierarchy and the understanding of one’s role. I found it easier to put managers into a team together, instead of mixing them up with employees of other hierarchical levels. When you mix the levels up, you can observe that some managers push their ideas quite strongly and the workshop is less productive.

What do you think is the best way of getting used to using these methodologies if you weren’t part of this school? For example, if someone says: “I have no idea about Design Thinking, but I’ve heard about it and I think it sounds great. I’d like to make use of these methodologies at my company or in my work “.

Jens:

Our team counts on a mix of training and applying the tools. You should experience the methodologies in two key focus areas: The first being training and the second being problem solving. The best way to learn these tools is to experience them through application in your specific context. Otherwise you’ll have the tools in place, do a nice setup exercise, and then come back thinking, “how will I match this with what I do?” So it’s best, when people come to the workshops with their own challenges in mind, to learn how to solve these issues while  they train with the tools.

Stefan:

We follow two paths. One is taking people out of their job context and having some tool training through simulation and games. However, then they can have a hard time transferring what they learned into their daily job. I think what’s more effective is using an action learning style. People get to solve a problem that they’re experiencing in their job, at the same time that they’re learning more about the tool.

Is there a favorite introductory tool or workshop technique that gets people excited about Design Thinking methods? And what would you suggest for people who don’t have the time or money to spend on proper training, but just want to find out if this is something for them?

Jens:

Participate in a Service Design Jam! It’s a global activity, like the Product Tank, and it takes place for an entire weekend twice a year. There are all kinds of locations where you can participate in this creative workshop. The next one is at the end of the month in Berlin, and it’s a volunteer activity where anyone can join and carry out a design thinking process to develop services. The methodology is Design Thinking and it’s a really easy way to practice and get into the methodology, while having fun.

What would be something that four to five product guys in a company could implement, without knowing all the in-depth methods Design Thinking offers? 

Stefan;

I think the easiest and most fun way is when you start prototyping. Bring in clay or Legos and spend half an hour prototyping. That moves your mind from the more rational to the productive and intuitive thinking mode and you’ll explore new space in thinking. So prototyping is the first thing I would introduce.

Jens:

The basic idea is to first define your problem and then define your solution. Always think in options and then come to a decision. Another helpful method is working with tangible things – for example, drawing the problem instead of writing it down. My basic premise is to introduce intuition into the business again and not to rely only on rational deductive thinking. Rather, bring some emotion into what you do. Start incorporating things that give you a more holistic view, like drawing, observing people, or analyzing bits of data from different interviews.

On the whole observation and user interview topic: It works great for companies that are consumer-focused. Do you have tips for companies whose customers are other businesses? You can’t easily bring them into your offices, for example.

Jens:

One way is indirect. Bring in salespeople who speak to customers and make them your interview partners. Another way is to just select a few customers and have a phone call or Skype call with them. If you  already have an established B2B customer base, just visit them or organize user groups – many software companies do that to create a forum for discussion.

Q&A with Mathias Doenitz: Scala User Group – Berlin Brandenburg

Scala has been a much talked about programming language since its adoption in such companies as Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and many others. It’s based on Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and the main principle is to be a SCAlable LAnguage which means it’s good for both small and huge projects and also a tool of choice for scalable applications to accommodate growth in the world of Big Data. Scala’s syntax is concise to the point of resembling a scripting language and yet, while being quite conventional, it is a feature rich language with strong object-oriented instruments, first-class functions, a library with efficient immutable data structures, and a general preference of immutability over mutation. At the meetup of Scala User Group – Berlin Brandenburg at Fyber’s Berlin headquarters last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Mathias Doenitz, lead developer of spray.io and an outspoken, passionate Scala-ist. Mathias presented a talk on “Reactive Streams & Akka HTTP” as part of his European tour of Scala user groups. We caught up with Mathias Doenitz during the break and asked some questions about Scala usage in general and Reactive Streams & AKKA HTTP in particular. scala1

Could you tell us about how you started with Scala and why you created Spray? How do you feel about Scala constantly evolving in the years you used it. What did you like in the beginning, what do you like now?

I started using Scala in 2010, so that’s almost five years ago. I was in some way frustrated with using Java for many projects for many years. I felt like I wasn’t moving forward anymore as a developer. It was the same thing over and over again; you know the patterns, apply them. There wasn’t really any learning happening anymore. So I was looking into new stuff and saw Scala and really liked it, because of the conciseness of language. Of course, in the beginning in 2010 the ecosystem wasn’t as mature as it is now, the IDE support was a lot less mature and that was sometimes painful but the benefit of being so concise and expressive immediately outweighed the problems by far. After 2 or 3 months I decided that my next project was going to be completely in Scala, just to learn it, from then on it was a huge learning curve for me. I entered a completely new world with very interesting things that I hadn’t seen before, the whole functional aspect was completely new to me. I was slowly seeing all the benefits of immutability, purity and so on. What I like about Scala is that you don’t have to use all of its features right away, but instead use more and more features as you grow as a developer. So in the beginning you might use “Option” instead of “null”. Very easy to understand and with immediate benefits. Then you realize that there are many cool methods that can be found in “Option” but also in collections – so whats the common path here? You can slowly teach yourself completely different ways of programming. On the other hand, you don’t have to adopt the idiomatic Scala style, you can write the exact same code as before but in 10% of the lines. I really like that. What I also really like is the fast pace of innovation in the Scala ecosystem. That was something completely unheard of in Java. New features coming out every half a year, developed by incredibly smart and innovative people. The conferences were small, they felt like family gatherings, you could really get to know the people who would have great influence on Scala’s development. You could talk to them at a conference directly, Martin Odersky was right there with 50 other people. It just felt like a nice world of highly motivated and very talented people to be working with.

As somebody who has moved from Ruby to Scala, what are your tips for Ruby developers to get started with Scala?

The nice thing about Ruby is that it is very concise, too. You can say a lot in a few lines. With Scala, it’s the same. Also, because of the type inference, you don’t have your types in your face all the time. You can actually leave them out when you don’t need them. So that’s also something that makes it easier for Ruby guys. In the beginning you don’t need to know all the rules of where exactly you need to put in a type annotation. You just let the compiler figure out if it doesn’t do it. One main benefit when you come from a dynamically typed language like Ruby is that you can just catch so many more bugs right before your program is actually run for the first time, that takes a lot of the pressure out of your tests. Its actually quite easy for Ruby guys to move on to Scala – especially compared to, say, moving from Ruby onto Java, which must be a complete pain.

Many companies in the mobile space who process large amounts of data – for example, Twitter – made the transition from Ruby to Scala. As a company who is in this this transition right now, what advice would you give Fyber’s Developers, Architects, and Programmers who used to program with Ruby as they roll out Scala and Akka?

It depends on the goals that you want to achieve. If its mostly performance, I wouldn’t immediately do a full migration. I would try to chop up your architecture and concentrate on small chunks, and then attempt to put in a parallel version that does something similar to what your existing system already does. And then bring that up, try to integrate it, have it run in production. Once this is successful, you can apply this technique to other components. Depending on how micro-service architectured Fyber already is, you can do this transition step by step. Of course you would want to first concentrate on the components that are most critical to performance.

What editor or IDE do you use?

I have always been an IntelliJ IDEA fan. I still use it. I know JetBrains makes a Ruby IDE, so when people already use that, the transition to the Scala plugin for IntelliJ is probably not gonna be that hard. In the end I don’t really think it matters, – it’s a matter of taste and what you feel most connected to.

Akka introduced persistent storage so that messages can be sent in a more reliable way, can you tell us more about it?

One thing that is great if you use Scala is that you are on the JVM and you have full interoperability with everything in the Java ecosystem, which is huge. Whatever database you choose, there is probably going to be a binding from Java that you can use for Scala. Scala itself is a language. So there is no direct connection to any type of storage system. Akka on the other hand is a library that tries to give you everything you need in order to be able to work with highly concurrent, distributed applications. One major aspect that is becoming more and more important is Event Sourcing. If you want to go down that new way of organizing your application, then Akka and the Akka Persistence module might be something that you want to look into. Its not a relational database, it’s a completely different way of organizing your applications. If you are looking for a new kind of more message driven compatible storage solution, take a look at Akka Persistence, which is great but it would require you to adopt something like Event Sourcing, which is something you can’t roll out immediately across your whole system. But starting with smaller bits of your total architecture and realizing what benefits lie in something like Event Sourcing might help you gradually accept it and transition into it, which I am sure is going to be very exciting. So the next application that I want to build is going to be completely event sourced because I think it’s a nice approach and I like the idea of not throwing away data that I have and having a log containing everything that I have ever seen. Why should I delete stuff – hard disk space is cheap, and being able to roll back at any time to anything is great. I don’t want to overwrite anything in an immutable database.

What about fault tolerance for reactive streams? TCP has an algorithm to deal with the loss of messages or duplication of messages. Is there anything like that planned with Akka Streams? Because fault tolerance is like one of the cornerstones of Akka and it would be strange to not have it.

Absolutely, there needs to be something there. If we talk about the network and the TCP protocol, it makes sure that we won’t lose intermediate messages. We can still lose the connection, but that’s just going to end up in an error in the stream, and there is no way that you will ever have a dropped message on a TCP stream. So that’s good and inside of a JVM we can also assume that we have not lost an element. But you you are right, the question of “Fault Tolerance” in terms of “what happens if a stream stage dies?” is a good one. Currently that just means that an error is going to be propagating through the stream and terminate your stream. In the future, we will probably have something like the equivalent of an Akka Router, where you have automatic scaling of one stage across several threads or actors. If they are implemented with actors, then there is going to be supervision there, meaning crashed things shouldn’t bring down the complete stream. You can just restart that component.