There are plenty of to-do list managers out there, but Any.do is one of the best. It's easy to use, nice to look at, and quickly syncs to-dos across all of your devices. It also offers features like sharing, reminders and folders. Beyond that, Any.do has a bunch of really cool extras, like turning your emails into tasks, sending quick text messages, and reminding you to return missed calls.
We caught up with Omer Perchik, Any.do's founder and CEO, to find out the story behind one of our favourite apps.
Where did the idea for the app come from? Were you trying to solve a problem you'd experienced, or did the inspiration come from somewhere else?
I was trying to get a Visa to the US so I could visit a friend of mine who was studying out here. It was a long and arduous process, and I think anyone who has gone through it can tell you what a pain it is to deal with so many moving parts, each with its own deadline and sub-tasks. I couldn't help but wonder why something that is so common and has been done millions of times before has not been streamlined yet — and for that matter, why was there no tool for any big task that took organisation and focus? I had looked but I didn't find anything… so like most inventions, Any.do was borne of necessity.
That was the initial inspiration, but the more I thought about it the more I realised this wasn't simply about getting something done. This was about shifting valuable time and focus from the things we don't like (filling out legal forms and travel planning) to the things we do like (actually spending time with your friends in new countries). There needed to be a suite of tools that didn't just simplify things, they literally changed how you spent your time, and that notion really got me excited.
After you came up with the idea, what was the next step?
Drafting up the idea. On one level, it was a very straightforward utility, but on another level, it had to be something naturally woven into your life. We didn't want to solve the burden of process by adding more process, so designs and mockups were crucial in capturing our original thinking.
At the same time I started my research, and it took me everywhere. I found myself reading books by productivity gurus, behavioural scientists, interviewing user experience experts, catching up on modern graphic design, searching for competitors and substitutes, you name it. You have to remember we were in the early days of smartphones and we were still learning how people interacted with these devices and respective apps. The personal connections were being formed and new social norms around mobile were starting to emerge. All of them clued us into how we can leverage the nature of the platform into what we were hoping to accomplish with the app, and a lot of that led us back to human habits and patterns.
When we couldn't find the research, we conducted it. Many of our family and friends were recruited to record anonymised task lists and show us how they approached their to-dos and how they went about prioritising, organising, and completing.
And of course there was the team. This was critical. You can see how Any.do (or Taskos as the first version was called, and is still active on Google Play) could easily be reduced to a simple to-do list, but at the same time be a very powerful tool for helping you accomplish more in your day-to-day. I searched until I found my co-founders Yoni and Itay who shared my vision. Since then, I've truly only sought out people who see the bigger value to what we're doing and are the best at what they do. I'm a good marketer and leader, but there are plenty of people at Any.do that do other things much better than I can. Everyone is an expert in their category.
How did you choose which platforms to target and which to ignore or wait on?
We really just looked at the landscape and figured where we'd have the best chance of gaining immediate traction. At the time Android was a lot more open than iOS, and there was a lot of opportunity to build a great app that stood out among the rest. It was a better environment for us to shine in with more demand for well designed apps. Later we brought Any.do to iOS. For our second app Cal, we mixed it up and went with iOS first and the Android version is coming out really soon. We realise our apps are integral to people's everyday lives so making them available in the formats and platforms people prefer is a top priority for us.
What was your biggest roadblock and how did you overcome it?
We've battled a couple things, the first of which is perceptions in the tech community, especially in our hometown of Tel Aviv. People have always had this perception that a task manager is simply that — a task manager. When we raised $US1 million it puzzled a lot of people who couldn't understand why a simple to-do app would be valued so highly by VCs and investors they respected.
Again, Any.do and Cal are an entirely new way to focus on the important things in your life and enjoy those things that matter to you but you rarely have time for. It's a lofty vision for something simple, I agree, but I take pride in that. It's often times the simplest things that cause the biggest shifts in our lives. We're approaching these tools with a totally different mindset and our investors understood that.
The second, and perhaps real roadblock for us has always been engagement. How do you get people more involved and active with the app? How do you keep a task management app that's supposed to make you feel good from turning into a list of shame when you've had a sub-optimal day? Those are the questions we're always digging at. They drive our new features and design.
What was launch like for you?
Awesome. There's the sheer pride of launching something you've worked on, and then there's the thrill of seeing people use it. The first version of Any.do, Taskos, got 250k downloads in three months which was unheard of back then. As an app developer, you work on your product in a bubble and no matter how clever you try to be, it all kind of goes out the window when you launch the app and wait to see what happens. It was a great feeling to see it actually working the way it was supposed to.
How do you handle user requests and criticisms effectively?
By simply taking each one seriously. When Taskos went live, it had a big feedback button on the homescreen so we got a lot of feedback with the app. We made it a point to respond to every message within a few minutes and that became a major part of the user experience. People loved it and we quickly learned how important it is to make that connection with them — to let them know there's a team listening. We have millions of users now and our support team is small, but we still aim to respond to everyone. If you send us a good idea or useful criticism, it will not go unheard. Often times we'll forward those comments to the entire team.
Now, how do you split time between developing new features and managing existing ones?
We vet everything against our primary goals of user adoption and growth. If a feature will directly affect new downloads or user engagement, it makes it to the top of the list.
What advice would you give to others that want to take on a similar project?
There's so much to say! Most importantly, be excited about what you do. Seriously. If you don't feel it in your bones, you're not going to make the long haul (and believe me, no matter how awesome your product is, you're embarking on a long journey). Your attitude and enthusiasm greatly affects the people around you. If you have talented people on your team, then you have an especially important responsibility to embody the vision and values of the product/ company, so don't fail them. The spirit of an entrepreneurial team comes from the top, and spirit can fill in the gaps when money, resources, or timelines fall short. It's a huge asset that should not be underestimated.
Behind the App gives an inside look at how some of our favourite apps came to be — from idea to launch (and beyond).