James McCarthy's App Design Tips Can Create 'Faster And Better' User Experiences
by Mark Hogan, 01st September 2015
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Flipdish - Elevator Pitch:
"Fast food just got faster with Flipdish - the two tap food app launching in Dublin this year."

Hi James and welcome to our inspiring startup talks with entrepreneurs! Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up being an entrepreneur. 

I studied architecture and graduated in the middle of the recession. Not the best timing. Even my friends who had gotten jobs in London were in a perpetual cycle of being let go and then back on the job hunt.

As if my 26-year-old self worth couldn’t get any lower, I was bed ridden in my parents basement for 3 months in the autumn of 2011 after having surgery on my back for a sports injury. I was very lucky to have family to support me during that time but I kept thinking - what if I didn’t? What if I had a mortgage and a family to support? I spent those days working on ways to become free from ‘security’ of a 9-5 job.  

I spent the 3 months working on business ideas and taught myself how to build a basic website. It was almost Christmas at the time and Christmas jumpers were everywhere. There was obviously a big market for festive clothing, but I wondered why Christmas shirts weren’t available. Most guys wear shirts to work, and socially, but when it comes to the festive season they have to suffer in hot, itchy jumpers? It didn’t make sense to me.

I put together some designs and ordered my first samples. They weren’t great but it was rewarding seeing something I’d envisaged actually come to be. It wasn’t until Christmas 2013 that I finally launched the finished product and the response was overwhelming. People loved them. Ryan Tubridy even posted a photo of himself wearing one and it trended across all the online news journals. I launched www.ChristmasShirts.com in September of that year and have since sold 1000s of Christmas-themed shirts to over 40 countries worldwide. Last year our pop-up shop in Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre was very successful. It was great to meet my customers and see the happiness that the products were bringing.

Between you and your Flipdish co-founder (and brother), Conor McCarthy, you have set up a number of already successful startups. What is it about being an entrepreneur that keeps you from seeking the security of a regular job? 

I can’t speak for Conor who started his first successful company straight out of college but I learnt very quickly after graduating that there is not much security in the architecture profession. When you’re relying on someone else for a pay cheque any day of employment could be your last.

What have been your key learnings as an entrepreneur so far? 

I don’t claim to be an expert by any means and I’m always trying to learn new things. Sometimes when you’re new to something you expect that everyone else is an expert but I’d advise people not to underestimate their own instincts and not to overestimate the expertise of others.

Relationships are key. Learn to filter the negativity. Get out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. Lofty long term business ideas are great but it’s easy to lose motivation so at first I’d recommend people start a business where they would be able to start making money immediately, like sourcing a product and just selling it. There’s nothing like getting revenue to make things real, and to keep you interested.  

Talk us through the current stage you're at with your new startup, Flipdish. Maybe you could give our audience an idea of how many hours and months you've put into the app before you can even bring it to the market?

Flipdish will be hitting the app store this year with over 1,000 restaurants stored in the app. It’s been in the works for the last 12 months with a huge amount of attention being paid to creating a slick user experience from opening the app to ordering food – which can happen in as few as 2 taps!   

What will make Flipdish disruptive when it hits the market?

At the moment there is no mobile-first food ordering company that connects people with the best restaurants in Dublin and lets them order in two taps.  

Users can start using the app 10x faster than they can with the current market leader and geo-location functionality means that they don’t even have to enter their home address.

Every design decision was made to streamline the process because people are busy and their time is their most valuable asset - anything that gives people back their time is very valuable. 

Why did you choose to launch Flipdish in Dublin and not a larger city like London?

Dublin is the perfect-sized city to test the product and service. Once it is running smoothly we have plans for expansion to the UK.  

Conor has said he wants the app to be "a pleasure to use" and not something that "just works". In your opinion, what could other startups/businesses do to make their apps more enjoyable to use?

The  most important thing to do is simply decide that they want to make their app a pleasure to use and not something that just works. It would be crazy to start building a hotel not knowing if it’s to be a 2-star or 5-star experience. 

Once that’s laid out on the table, people will be enabled to speak up when they feel a design decision isn’t going in the planned direction.

Apps design and development becomes very complex very quickly so it’s imperative to keep feature count to a minimum until you’ve got your first version out the door.  

A couple of UX pointers to bear in mind:

1) You should design for what you expect to happen under normal circumstances.  In the case of ordering food via an app, if someone presses the Place Order button, 99% of the time the order will go through and 1% of the time there’ll be an issue (the restaurant unexpectedly closed or there was a network issue etc).  

So just go ahead and display the next screen instantly instead of showing a loading spinner while waiting for a response from the server. In the 1% of cases where there’s a problem the user sees the wrong screen for an instant, but it’s a much faster and better experience in most cases.

2) You should predict the next move and prepare for it. As an example, in Flipdish we know it’s likely that people viewing a list of restaurants are going to click on one restaurants displayed on the screen to view their menu. It doesn’t make sense then to wait for the user to click the restaurant before loading the menu.  

Instead we load all the menus in the background and have the next screen ready for when the user clicks through to the menu screen. You only have to write code to do this once but you give a better experience to people thousands (or millions) of times.

CPU cycles are cheap, customers are expensive. 

The app will be available on the Apple Watch. What advantages do you hope bringing your app to this new technology will bring?

We want to give people back time so they can spend it doing things they enjoy. If Apple Watch helps us make it that little bit easier to order dinner then that’s a good thing. 

In relation to that, what do you think is the future of wearables?

In the long term, wearables are going to completely replace smart phones. When we no longer need to carry a screen to type on and instead can tap on a projected keypad the back of our hand I certainly won’t want to lug a phone around with me. It’s much harder to misplace a wearable than a phone too, which will be a nice fringe benefit. 

It’s going to be a rocky road to get there though. The current set of wearables, Apple Watch included, just aren’t useful enough to become as ubiquitous as smart phones.

Finally, what do you hope the future brings for Flipdish? How do you plan on balancing life with it and your other startup, ChristmasShirts.com? 

We plan for Flipdish to help a billion people discover delicious meals in their area and we plan to build a team of people will love to help us make that a reality every day. As for the ChristmasShirts.com, it’s a seasonal business and doesn’t take much upkeep. 

Before we let you go, where can we find you online? 

I’m usually on Twitter @mcjamescarthy or @flipdish. If, like us, you believe amazing food deserves an amazing ordering experience visit flipdish.ie and sign up to be notified when the app is available.


What is your experience with developing a mobile app? Any tips for other startups?

What is the best advice you would give to other entrepreneurs?


Mark is a current journalism student in DCU and has covered a range of topics across print and radio. Having taken a class on entrepreneurship, he found startups were the most exciting thing happening in Ireland and developed a keen interest in them. Apart from technology, Mark has a love for biographies and Woody Allen films. You can contact him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Author: Mark Hogan

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