Securing your online life is no joke, but many people still use the same password across different sites for the sake of convenience. Of course, that’s bad practice and the most secure password is one that you can’t remember. Which is why you need a tool to manager your online security like 1Password.
The app generates random, complex and unique passwords for all of your logins and then manages them for you. It’s one of our favourite password managers, and it recently adopted a freemium model to coincide with new features and integrate with iOS 8.
How did this security tool come about? Like a lot of software, it started as an internal tool without any real plan to become a consumer product. We caught up with the 1Password team at AgileBits to learn more about the story behind the app.
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?
Like many of our favourite products, we set out to solve a problem. Dave Teare and Roustem Karimov, our co-founders, were kicking around product ideas back in 2005 but started getting annoyed at how many services they had to sign into and all the passwords they needed to remember. They wanted a tool that would create unique passwords to protect all their accounts, and also remember those passwords and log them in automatically so they could spend less time typing into login forms and more time on what they wanted to do.
After you came up with the idea, what was the next step?
The funny part of this story is that, originally, there was no next step. It was supposed to be a three-month project, and Dave and Roustem were just using what eventually became 1Password on their own, internally. It wasn’t until they started showing it to friends in the field and blew their minds that they realised they had created something truly special.
How did you choose which platforms to target and which to ignore or wait on?
Right around this time, Dave and Roustem had both just left the corporate world and discovered the Mac, so it was incredibly serendipitous. Apple was on a roll with OS X and the iPod, and the community was taking off like a rocket ship. Dave and Roustem were tinkering with new projects, getting to know OS X and Cocoa, so it just made sense to try the initial beta version of 1Password on the Mac and see where it went.
What was your biggest roadblock and how did you overcome it?
I wouldn’t say it was so much of a roadblock, but exploring and understanding the context and deeper details of making a security product was an essential element to getting 1Password right. It stores people’s passwords, credit cards and utmost personal info — we have to know our security chops, we have to be mindful of our customers’ privacy and concerns. It is a uniquely personal responsibility that we do not — cannot — take lightly.
What was launch like for you?
Launch blew us away. It really did. We thought we were building an internal tool that mostly nerds would care about, but we quickly learned we struck a nerve. A few tech sites found out about it (“1Passwd” back in those days), started writing about it, then made “how to do this and that” tutorials. When people start telling other people about this thing you made… that’s one of the best feelings in the world.
Another great part of the launch was users coming to talk to us. Some had suggestions, some complaints, plenty of praise and thanks, but it all boils down to the same thing: people care so much about 1Password that they want to be a part of it and make it even better. Again, best feeling in the world.
How do you handle user requests and criticisms effectively?
Our co-founders and CEO built a great culture obsessed with human-to-human interaction for all our social media, criticism and general feedback. We have a thorough support staff that spans continents and languages, and we use collaborative services like Cerberus, Google Drive, and Respond.ly to talk with our customers and organise feedback. For actual bug reporting, discussion and deciding what to improve and build, we use Jira and Basecamp.
Now, how do you split time between developing new features and managing existing ones?
Between all the tasks already on our list and all the ideas we get from our customers, there is absolutely no shortage of places to take 1Password. As for deciding when it’s time to build and when to improve, that’s a fairly complicated dance. If something isn’t working right and we hear from a lot of customers, it gets top priority; we’d be nothing without our customers.
We also have (and are grateful for!) a surprisingly active beta program. Those customers have a huge voice in what we add to 1Password, including both fixes and new features. Our Mac program, for example, includes over 25,000 customers.
Sometimes external elements can factor into our plans as well, including OS release schedules. It’s no secret that our customers love to see our updates ready by day one, and we try our best to hit that. But sometimes that leads to discussions over whether we need to push Feature Y to a free X.1 update.
What advice would you give to others that want to take on a similar project?
Solve a personal problem, something that affects you or your closest friends. Find that thing that keeps you up at night, or that you always catch yourself complaining about with friends but might not give a second thought. Look at that problem, see if it might already have a solution, then think about how you can solve it better. It’s the best way to make sure you can do great work and stay passionate through both the good days and the bad, and there will be both.
Lifehacker’s Behind the App series gives an inside look at how some of our favourite apps came to be — from idea to launch (and beyond).