June 3, 2014
Tiny Piano ❤ Kamcord

We just launched Tiny Piano version 1.9. Get the update here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id477014214

The biggest new feature is the ability to record & share songs. You can upload videos to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We did this using the Kamcord SDK.

Over the past week, Tiny Piano players have shared over 10K videos!

Here’s a video of someone playing Heart & Soul, the song from the iPad mini commercial:


See more videos: http://kamcord.com/games/tiny-piano

One last thing. We’re running a giveaway of $75 iTunes gift certificates. If you want to enter, check out the following link. No purchase necessary!


June 29, 2013
Things I Never Learned in School

I recently came across this post on reddit: Why Aren’t High Schoolers Taught How to File Taxes.

It made me think about what American children are taught in school, and whether that education actually prepares them to become adults. (I grew up in Los Angeles, so your K-12 education may have been different than mine.)

One of the most important things that Americans need to deal with – personal finances – is rarely taught in school. Why do we trust someone to just “figure things out” as they go along? I spent a long time in school, and when I got my first job, I still didn’t know much about topics like taxes and mortgages.

It turns out that Americans are pretty bad at finances (e.g., building up personal savings). My own parents didn’t understand how to manage credit card debt and car loans, so I wouldn’t expect that the average American has good enough financial habits to pass on to their children.

Why aren’t we doing something about this? Here are some topics that should be mandatory in K-12 education:

  • How to build up savings in a bank account. Make sure you earn more than you spend, and that your bank account statement generally goes up. This topic can be addressed after the child has a firm grasp of addition and subtraction. We can also show children this great skit from SNL: Don’t Buy Stuff You Can’t Afford.

  • How to use credit cards properly. Learn the devastating power of compounding interest, and why you should avoid credit card debt if you can. This can be taught after students have mastered multiplication and percentages. It can be revisited after students learn about exponentiation.

  • What are taxes? How do I file them? You can’t avoid taxes, so you might as well learn about them.

  • Mortgages and auto loans. Learn about monthly payments, compounding interest, and amortization schedules. Did you know that on a 30-year loan for a house, you could pay two times the cost of your house over the lifetime of the loan? That is, for a 30-year $400,000 loan at 4.5% interest, you would end up paying ~$330,000 of interest on top of your principal, for a total of $730,000!

I actually learned more about finances from video games than I ever did in school. SimCity taught me how to manage a budget and take on / repay debt. A-Train, a sim game where you set up a railway system, had a mini game where you could invest in stocks. I would buy stocks and try to sell right before a crash. If I ever messed up, I could always reload a previous save file…. but I know this is not possible in real life. :-)

I will definitely teach my children good financial habits. But I would be much happier if all American kids were prepared for the moment they “grow up” and receive their first credit card offer in the mail (0% APR for your first 12 months!!!).

May 3, 2013
Giveaway: $50 iTunes GC

We’re proud to announce that Tiny Piano has reached 10 million downloads! To celebrate this milestone, we are giving away $50 iTunes gift cards to FOUR lucky fans this month.

To enter, please visit: http://www.tinypiano.com/giveaway/

April 8, 2013
Tiny Piano 1.6

Tiny Piano was just updated with 40 awesome new songs!

Get it here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id477014214

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March 12, 2013
Tiny Guitar 1.6

We’re proud to announce the newest update to Tiny Guitar!

Get it on the App Store.

Version 1.6 comes with three new song packs, and lots of popular music, such as Fun’s “We Are Young.”

February 26, 2013
One Year on the App Store

Tiny Piano recently reached 8 million downloads, after one year on the App Store. In this post, we’ll look at how the app gained traction, and make some guesses at how we might improve.

Tiny Piano launched on February 26, 2012. Here are the numbers:

  • 8.1 million downloads
  • 25,000 downloads per day
  • 56,000 five-star reviews
  • 3 million monthly active users
  • Above average user retention, when compared with other music apps.
  • Justin Bieber’s “Baby” is the most popular song. This gives you a sense of the user demographics.

Here’s a graph of weekly active users:

How We Got Here

The app hovered at 5,000 weekly users until we added support for iPad (in addition to iPhone/iPod). We then improved App Store SEO, adding 钢琴 as a keyword. The app climbed the charts and eventually became the #1 iPad music app in China. Since then, Tiny Piano has reached the #1 spot for iPad music apps in 41 countries. In November 2012, Apple launched an iPad mini commercial featuring a piano, and Tiny Piano got a lucky boost.

Looking back, my first code check-in was on Nov 14, 2011. So I was able to create a hit app in 3 months. Awesome, right? Of course, this overnight success actually began in 2010, after I left my full-time job and bought an iPad. That summer, I locked myself in my office and watched lectures on how to make iPhone/iPad apps. I put together a guitar app prototype and showed it to a few friends. Over the next year, I shipped two virtual guitars, an ear trainer, and even a Japanese learning app; all have been commercial failures. But with each failure, I learned a lot and was determined to do better the next time.

Tiny Piano actually shares a bunch of code and graphics with my aforementioned guitar app. It even has code that I wrote back in 2010. Looking back, I realize that this hit was created in 3 months plus 2 years.

How Successful?

At first glance, 8 million downloads sounds big. But for startups these days, “10 million is the new 1 million.” True success might even be measured in hundreds of millions. For example, the Temple Run team announced that their first game achieved 100 million downloads in one year. The Angry Birds franchise has generated a billion downloads! While we may never hit 100 million, just knowing that the mobile space is so huge is comforting.

Take a look at Tiny Piano’s USA iPhone Ranking over the last 90 days:

It is #18 in the Music category, and has never broken #300 in the overall charts. There is much more room for improvement.

The best thing about traction is: success begets success. The Temple Run team gained lots of media coverage from achieving 100 million downloads. They parlayed this publicity into a successful launch of their sequel, which earned 50 million downloads in only 2 weeks!

If Tiny Piano had never gotten its first 10,000 downloads (with favorable reviews), I might have abandoned the app. Luckily, early success encouraged me to continue working hard. At 1 million downloads, I felt comfortable pitching it to people I met at conferences like Startup School. At 3 million, I started blogging about Tiny Piano’s traction. Each milestone gains the app more publicity, which in turn makes it easier to hit the next milestone.

What’s Next?

Where do we go from here? Would I be happy in a year if the app is still hanging out at #18 in iPad music? With hard work, I am sure we can do better. Perhaps Tiny Piano can even work its way up the overall iTunes charts?

At the moment, I am improving Tiny Guitar. After that, I have a bunch ideas for making Tiny Piano better. In addition to adding more content, it would be nice if users could author their own songs, or share their performances. Of course, there is also a huge market segment that I haven’t yet addressed: Android. If only I could clone myself!

As with any startup, it is always too many ideas, too little time. I have learned that you just need to pick one and do it well.

Back to work!

Wanna chat?

January 17, 2013
Interview with Temple Run’s Keith Shepherd

I’m a big fan of the Temple Run team. They are a huge inspiration for indie developers like me!

Check out the interview here: http://allthingsd.com/20130117/interview-temple-runs-keith-shepherd-on-freemium-staying-small-and-new-games

January 5, 2013
Learning from Mark Cuban

As a first-time entrepreneur, I love reading about successful business people. There’s always something to learn. You can be inspired and hopefully avoid mistakes as you start up your own business.

One of my inspirations is Mark Cuban. He made his fortune by selling his company to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion in 1999. If you follow sports, you’ll know him as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. You may also recognize him from the Shark Tank TV show.


Recently, Mark hosted an AMA (ask me anything) on reddit. Here are my favorite snippets from the Q&A:

Cuban has written an e-book filled with advice for entrepreneurs. I found a summary here: http://www.bradaronson.com/mark-cuban-business-lessons/. One of the best quotes is about perseverance in business:

It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.

If you are interested in his back story, you can check out the Success & Motivation posts on his blog (here and here). It’s a long but interesting read, with nuggets like:

  • I remember driving down to pick up some hard drives that I was going to put into my customers PCs….[The vendor] had just moved from the owner’s dorm room into a little office/warehouse space. I was so impressed by this young kid (I was a wise old 25 at the time), that I actually wrote a letter thanking him for the great job he was doing, and…I’m embarassed to say now, I told him that if he kept up what he was doing he was destined for far bigger and better things. I kept on doing business with PCs Limited, and Michael Dell kept on doing what he was doing.
  • Long story short, I went to the bar to get some drinks for all us, I come back, they aren’t there. Come to find out the next day, Bill [Gates] stole my girls. As I would learn later in life, money does make you extremely handsome.
  • It doesn’t matter how many times you strike out. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once.

And one of the best comments on his post was from an early acquaintance of his:

I remember asking you to come with us to drink some beer and play water volleyball on a Sat Summer afternoon. You were in your bedroom reading some of those computer books you talked about – you just looked up and said “the sun will shine another day” I will never forget that. True story – I bet I have told that to 100 people who know nothing about you.

Mark Cuban has been a big inspiration for me. I hope you enjoyed these tidbits!

December 25, 2012
Tiny Piano 1.5

We’re proud to announce the newest update to Tiny Piano! Get it on the App Store.

Version 1.5 comes with two new song packs, with popular music (e.g., Call Me Maybe & Gangnam Style) and holiday songs. After you install Tiny Piano, click this link to get Song Pack #7 - Holiday Music for FREE!

And of course… you can now play Heart & Soul, like on the iPad mini commercial.

We hope you enjoy Tiny Piano. Happy Holidays!

December 20, 2012
OS X Utilities I Love

I spend most days sitting in front of my laptop, writing software. This means LOTS of typing. Here are some Mac OS X utilities that make me much more efficient and happy. (I’m sure there are similar tools for Windows users.)

BetterTouchTool: http://blog.boastr.net

This allows you to create custom swipe/tap gestures for your trackpad. Here are some I use to help me quickly manage open windows:

  • 5-finger tap => Show Desktop
  • fn + 4-finger tap => Maximize Window
  • fn + tap [left|right|top|bottom] edge of track pad => Resize Window to [Left|Right|Top|Bottom] Half of the Screen
  • fn + tap a corner of track pad => Resize Window to Corresponding Quarter of the Screen

Keyboard Maestro: http://www.keyboardmaestro.com

This is my Swiss Army knife. It allows you to create hotkeys for anything your Mac can do. It also does text expansion, and maintains a clipboard history for you.

  • Hot Keys: When I’m working in JavaScript, and hit CTRL + L, it will insert console.log(); If I am in Xcode, CTRL + L inserts NSLog(@"");
  • Text Expansion: MyClass ai is automatically replaced with [[MyClass alloc] init]; I have lots of these little abbreviations. For example, #i becomes #import "" and @p turns into @property (nonatomic, retain).
  • Clipboard History: Everything I copy or cut goes into my clipboard history. I can safely cut multiple items in one area of my code and then paste them into another file. Editors like emacs have a similar feature, but this works system wide. That means I can copy snippets of code from a browser (e.g., stackoverflow) and then retrieve them later in the day.
  • Menu Items: You can add macros under the Keyboard Maestro menu item. My incoming tech support emails will frequently ask the same questions. So, I’ll go to my menu item and pick the appropriate canned email response!

Alfred: http://www.alfredapp.com

This is an app launcher & desktop search tool, and also comes with lots of shortcuts. I no longer use OS X’s Spotlight (Alfred is faster). For example: I use it to put my computer to sleep: alt + space, s, enter instead of slowly moving my mouse cursor up to the Apple menu.

f.lux: http://stereopsis.com/flux

This tool adjusts your computer’s display at night to remove the blue part of the spectrum. The first time you use it, you’ll notice that your display looks “warmer” (more orange) at night. But you’ll quickly get used to it! It turns out that sitting in front of a computer screen late at night may make it hard for you to fall asleep. This tool reduces eye strain and improves your ability to get to sleep on time.

Do you have any software tools that you love? Let me know in the comments!