Interview: Meet the Folks Behind Rowi

Twitter clients are all the rage with app developers. One visit to the Anroid Play Store will prove that. Surprisingly, most of them have decided to stay away from Windows. Rowi is one of those first wave of apps which broke the barrier and embraced Windows with zero compromise to the user experience.

Today we’re going to talk with the wonderful people at Rowi to find the story behind Rowi, their experience with the ecosystem and much more. Join us after the jump to find out.

Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and Rowi?

Rowi

Rowi- The Best Twitter Client for Windows

I’m Erik Porter (@HumanCompiler on Twitter and @Erik on app.net). I’ve worked at Microsoft for almost 7 years now as a developer building web applications and most recently as a program manager on the ASP.NET team for the last two and a half years.

I’m Nathan Heskew. You can find me over on Twitter (and app.net) @heskew. For the last 6+ years I’ve been doing web development at Microsoft and just recently moved to eBay’s Seattle office to give eBay’s affiliate program, eBay Partner Network, a little UX love.

Rowi started as a Twitter app on Windows Phone 7 that Erik and I created in the the off-hours soon after WP7 was launched. We jumped at the chance to get Rowi on Windows 8 early and worked with Vectorform’s design team to conjure up something awesome for a Twitter experience on (especially) touch devices (e.g. Surface) that we’re working towards with these early Rowi for Windows 8 releases.

What’s your work environment like at Rowi, and what keeps you motivated every day?

Nathan: I’m usually at the Kitchen table or on the couch when working on Rowi. Occasionally I’ll meet with Erik at a local Starbucks when we really need to push and work collaboratively. We don’t have an office or anything formal. This is just your typical, in it for the fun and the love of the platform and community, type of projects.

Erik: After the kids are in bed at night and I’ve hung out with my wife, maybe watched some TV or checked work mail, I’ll sit on our living room couch, grab my laptop, put up my feet and start writing some code, IM’ing with Nathan and answering questions on Twitter or email. I don’t get to write a whole lot of code in my day job anymore and working at a big company there are always lots of other people I work with on projects. With Rowi, Nathan and I only answer to ourselves and can do any cool, crazy thing we want with the project on our own schedules as we have time. I love seeing when people love what we’ve built and use it every day. That really gets me going to build something even cooler.

In today’s world where everyone seems to be focused on Apple Store, what inspired you to build an app for Windows Phone?

Nathan: As Microsoft employees our employer was kind enough to let us have side projects targeting WP and Win8 for some reason. 😉

Erik: In addition to what Nathan said, I think there’s a really great opportunity to get in on the ground floor for these new platforms that will be big in the long run. There’s a personal opportunity for us and we really do love the platform and want to help it, as both developers and consumers.

Which apps keeps you more productive at work, all day?

Nathan: Pandora on any platform (usually their browser app) is what almost always keeps me going day and night. Usually have The Chemical Brothers, RJD2, Deadmau5 or Calvin Harris station on.

Erik: As a program manager at Microsoft, I live in Outlook. Obviously, I use Rowi nearly every day for either my personal account @HumanCompiler or @rowiapp for Rowi itself when I have time. Facebook, Texting, Weather and Music round out my usual collection. I am actually extremely boring when it comes to the apps that I use. Maybe that’s actually typical? Oh and I have every single one of our competitors’ applications on my phone and laptop. I like to know when they have updates and play with them from time to time to size us all up.

Running a startup can be a nightmare, especially in the beginning. How did you manage to keep the pressure off the bay.

Nathan: The community keeps us going, really. Having this as a side project also helps to keep the pressure off quite a bit too since we only need to make enough to pay for any service we use to support Rowi (e.g. UserVoice, servers for notifications, etc.).

Erik: As Nathan mentioned, we’re lucky enough to have full time jobs and build Rowi in spare time so our expenses are fairly low. One of our goals when we started Rowi though was to make sure we didn’t lose money on it. Makes for a fun business experiment and also ensures our wives won’t kill us. We’re both still happily married after almost 2 years of this.

Windows 8 as an ecosystem looks a lot brighter than ever. What’s your thoughts on the new ecosystem?

Erik: Windows 7 is up to something like 650 million licenses out there right now in just a few years. While it’s, of course, still to be determined if Windows 8 will follow in Windows 7 footsteps, if in the first year it gets even just 20% of that, because of the app store, developers have an opportunity to sell their software to 13 million potential customers. That is huge! Not to mention all the cool new devices that will be coming out at the same time to grab the attention of even more people. On a bad day, that’s still pretty fantastic.

As an early adopter of Windows 8, how was your experience? How different was it from working with WP7?

Erik: It was a really great experience for us out of the gate. Because of our Windows Phone app, we were asked to build Rowi for Windows 8, but had a very limited amount of time (2-3 weeks). We had been thinking about it anyway, but wanted to start from scratch to “do it right” this time around. So we took a week’s vacation off from our day jobs and built Rowi from scratch. You could tell there were a lot of things they ironed out in Windows 8 vs. Windows Phone 7. Async coding is much cleaner than how we did it on the phone previously. Some of the APIs and controls were familiar though, which was great. I’d say the experience was pretty great given that we were able to build something in such a short amount of time. We’re looking forward to Windows Phone 8!

Windows 8 has received a lot of rave reviews from all corners, but many developers are keeping away, even with MS’s aggressive push. What makes it unattractive for developers?

Nathan: Not sure really. Windows 8 *will* be everywhere. Maybe they fear a massive user base. Not iOS large. HUGE! 😉

Erik: I think most are playing the wait and see game. The problem with that approach is that we who aren’t waiting will be way ahead of everyone else that comes in late to the game. More opportunity for us, I guess. :)

Are you planning to migrate Rowi to other platforms as well?

Nathan: Nope. Windows Phone and Windows 8 is all Rowi needs.

Do you have plans to make any new apps, or are you cooking up new features for Rowi right now?

Nathan: Maybe and…maybe.

With Windows 8 slated to come out in less than a month, how is the mood at Redmond?

I don’t know but I heard there’s a big tent being put up for some large and important sounding event that’s coming up 😉 – Nathan:

Erik: Everyone is PUMPED! Ballmer tells us that this is Windows 95 all over again. For Hidden Pineapple, we sure hope that’s the case.

Thanks Guys!

Well we’re thrilled too, Erik. :) We thank Erik and Nathan for taking some time out of their incredibly busy schedules for talking to us. We wish them all success in their upcoming Windows 8 apps. If you’re looking for a perfect Twitter companion for your Windows Phone, we’d strongly recommend you to check out Rowi.