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Plasq - Creating Software Applications for Mac and PC

Today we showcase an exciting and successful technology business co-founded by Keith Lang, from Canberra, Australia. plasq - Best known for “Comic Life”, is a software company that creates applications for Mac and PC. It’s a bit over 3 years old and gained recognition in the Mac community when Comic Life was bundled with all-new Macs for a year. plasq has also won various awards for its software and works hard to design fun, intuitive and creative visual applications.
In a recent email-based interview with Keith, he gave insights into his venture and how he is progressing with it. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
Keith Lang, Co-Founder of Plasq. I’m a musician by training, with a Bachelor's Degree in Classical Music Composition. I was involved in audio software for quite some time, on the musician's side of things, before getting involved in the software side.

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
Robert Grant, Cris Pearson and Keith Lang founded Plasq – based initially around a project to release software developed by a community of people. Musolomo was actually the first release, an audio application plugin built for live performance – coded by Airy AndrĂ© who would join Plasq officially at a later stage. The next release was Comic Life -- an application that lets users turn their digital pictures into comic strips and share the fun results.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
The first released product Comic Life had been in production for about 3 months prior, with the original idea by Robert Grant. Then Cris Pearson and Keith Lang joined Rob to improve the user experience.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
To create intuitive, meaningful software that lets people express themselves.

• What services it provides for consumer or customers?
Fun Software!

• What type of customers you are targeting?
Anyone with a reasonably modern computer. And now also iPhones and iPod Touch’s.

• How many people are using your services?
Millions.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
Some Google Adwords, and some online sites. We’ve never bought magazines or other traditional media ads.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
We have various ad tracking schemes to follow the initial click on an ad, to download.

• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
We are mostly traditionally shareware-based. That is, download the software, and trial it for 30 days, if you like it then purchase a serial number or the software has its features reduced after the trial.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
We have many excellent competitors, from large companies with overlapping applications like PowerPoint with its callouts/balloons, to online sites which offer some of the features of Comic Life.

• What are the main technologies used behind this venture?
Most of our applications are coded in Cocoa, which is an Objective-C based language that Mac applications usually use. The PC ports (versions) of our software use C+, I believe.

• What has been the easiest to use, out of box and helpful technology?
Most of the Apple technology has really improved in leaps and bounds over the last 7 years, and so now offers a really pleasant and efficient development space.

• Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?
Only for our website, and occasional ‘generic’ things in the applications.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
I’m not sure what kind of database actually – we have various things for different needs. We use Mac OS X primarily.

• What’s your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
plasq is an unusual company in that we work across continents. Only a small part of Plasq is in Australia, and the company itself is an LLC in South Carolina, US. We have people in Norway, France, and both sides of the US and work with artists in Austria, Japan and South America.

My personal thoughts on starting a venture in Australia is that people think locally too much. We set ourselves up using free online services like Skype and have functioned for years using online collaboration tools. Of course, this does not suit every industry, but there are many functions of a company where better talent could be found around the world, or in another part of Australia.

• What’s your thought on the start-ups culture and innovation coming out of Australia, especially in media and telecom?
There are some startups in this country in the media and telco space – but to be honest I believe a lot of them eventually leave for the US because it’s a hub for this kind of work. Another factor is that this country has such poor internet access. The fact we don’t have affordable broadband for everyone is hurting Australia, in my opinion.

• The conventional computing model is shifting to Cloud computing which is comprised of SAAS, PAAS and IAAS (infrastructure). This has resulted in changes to the conventional monetising model? How do you see the future of business in terms of technology and revenue model?
Cloud and desktop/Mobile applications will continue to blur – but I’m not sure how the infrastructure will affect it.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation and the telecom industry?
Subsidise broadband for everyone.

• If you are given an opportunity to change the nation, what 3 things you will do?
  • Subsidise Broadband so that everyone has access to it.
  • Get kids involved in computer development early on, not just users
  • Put serious money into Solar Power research
• You are a prolific and well-established blogger and podcaster. How do you manage this with work?
Well, I’ve just changed my blog to UIandus.com, which is focussing much more on User Interaction design than my previous blog. The resulting overlap should help both my work and blogging.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
I’ve recently moved to Canberra, from Melbourne for personal reasons. Melbourne has quite a good technical community, and they often meet for social lunches etc. under the umbrella of organizations like tequp.com Canberra has a much smaller community, and tends to focus on Government work, rather than entrepreneurship. I get to San Francisco about twice a year and really enjoy meeting all the movers and shakers there.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Don’t think you have to spend money to get started. Beg, borrow what you need and start making customers early on. Listen to what they say, and measure your results to improve your strategy. Trust yourself when designing – build the things you want to use and then also ‘eat your own dog food’. We have found Government grants to not suit us, sometimes it seems better to just build something small you can sell, then scale up to the final idea. Software is great for this because you have very few material costs during the startup period. Build a team of positive, realistic people who are not too similar to one another. Try to find a business-minded person with some experience. Scale up slowly and always have a plan B. Talk to the people who have been successful in your industry as they’re often happy to share their insights. Remember that the customer experience is the main focus at all times. Whenever you spend effort or money, measure the results afterwards. Make sure you are enjoying it most of the time!

Thanks, Keith for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, and tech trends check this out our coverage on interviews can be found here

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