Lessons from Broadway
Quotebook isn’t our first app. In fact, it isn’t even the first app we released.
Rewind two years. In the summer of 2009, we started working on an app idea that had never been done before. Our first app, Broadway, would be a show times application for theatergoers who wanted to quickly find theatre and ticket information about current and upcoming shows from their iPhone or iPod Touch as well as purchase tickets on the go. It would be the Fandango of the New York theatre scene. The only problem? We had no idea where to get that information.
After weeks of searching for any public database or API to access Broadway show time information, we finally stumbled upon a publicly accessible, albeit hidden, RSS feed from TheaterMania.com. Thanks to Evan Doll and Stanford’s freely available CS193P class, we learned Apple’s tools and built our first iOS app, before it was even called iOS.
Little Kids, Big City
Then came the fun part. After we finished developing Broadway, an app that we were using and loving for weeks, we knew we desperately needed to find a partner for our content. After submitting what we had to Apple in order to secure the name “Broadway” in the App Store, we knew it was time to contact some Broadway companies. Of course, TheaterMania was at the top of our list. Our app was already engineered entirely with their data in mind, so it would be a painless process to work with them. Or so we thought.
Soon after, we saddled up and contacted a host of different Broadway companies. Soon, the meeting requests started pouring in, as every company seemed to want an iPhone app. A trip to New York City and a bunch of meetings later, we were feeling pretty confident about an acquisition.
The discussions with TheaterMania were especially exciting. They took a lot more notes and asked a lot more questions than we expected. Fresh out of our senior year of high school, we were inexperienced and unwittingly indulged their probing curiosity. After demoing the app in depth, they told us to see what other offers we could drum up. They explained that they were a small, privately held company, and that a web app was probably all they needed, but that as soon as they needed an iPhone app they’d give us a call.
Lesson 1: Compliments Aren’t Contracts
That call never came. After the initial flurry of interest, all the other companies slowly backed out one-by-one. For Broadway.com, it was their proprietary ticketing system. For Playbill, it was their dead tree business model. For Telecharge, it was their new website (with 3D modeling), which still hasn’t launched. For TheaterMania, it was the cost. After Darren Sussman and Gretchen Shugart spent hours telling us how impressed they were with our work, they disappeared. We thought our luck had run out, so we simply put the project on hold.
When TheaterMania released their app on the App Store, we were blindsided. We had no idea that they had changed their minds. We downloaded the app and to our dismay, had strong case of déjà vu. They had copied interface elements and ideas wholesale from the document and demos we provided them. But, we were the ones without a contract, without a clue, without any legal recourse whatsoever. Even though we shared no source code with TheaterMania (although they did ask), they had managed to [badly] emulate our ideas.
With our app idea “borrowed”, no content partner, and little hope, we walked away from iPhone development.
Lesson 2: Constant Vigilance
Like all college freshman, we got busy. Not like that. Well, not as much as we would have liked. We didn’t forget about Broadway, but we did forget about its App Store approval. Having initially set the app to be released in the distant future, we failed to notice that the future had actually arrived…Oh shit. Unfortunately, TheaterMania had noticed.
The feed that TheaterMania’s CMS automatically generated with all of the Broadway show information, was suddenly, curiously gone and so too was all of the usefulness of Broadway. After thousands of downloads and some nasty reviews, we finally realized our mistake. Needless to say, Broadway is no longer available on the App Store.
Lesson 3: Keep Moving Forward
We learned a hell of a lot making Broadway, and when we stumbled across the idea for Quotebook, we knew we could do it again. It might seem trite, but there is something to that famous quote: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” (That’s going in my Quotebook). Quotebook’s success and all of your kind emails, tweets, and reviews have reminded us to keep moving forward. We can’t wait to show you what we’re working on next.
We’d love to resurrect Broadway, but the data still isn’t public. If you have the contacts or resources to help us make Broadway a reality, say email@example.com.
Here’s an old video if you’re interested: