When you jam a bunch of ex-Apple designers and smart engineers into the same company, the outcome is usually pretty good.That’s still true with MAZ, a New York-based startup that’s building a way for publishers to quickly roll out iPad applications for their publications.
That includes the likes of magazines like Inc, but it’s also expanding to other kinds of publishing — like books, internal documents and even websites.
We caught up with co-founder Paul Canetti to find out what they’re working on. Here’s what we learned:
- MAZ is stacked with ex-Apple designers and Adobe engineers. All of them have experience in design and publishing, and it’s literally a bi-hemisphere team — with a big group in India.
- For publishers, it’s easier to get spotted on the App Store than the web. If you search for a magazine on Google, you’re likely to get a ton of results. You might find exactly what you’re looking for on the App Store, and publishers have a higher chance of getting spotted.
- MAZ is entirely bootstrapped. Like most startups, it began with just a random idea — the founders weren’t really thinking of it as building a startup.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the interview:
BUSINESS INSIDER: So what kind of a background do you have? Why did you get into publishing?
PAUL CANETTI: I was always into technology as a kid. I was lucky enough to be essentially home-schooled in design by my dad, who was an industrial designer and a professor of graphic design. He would teach me about design and was buying the latest design software. We had a Mac in the house early on but he had no idea how to use the computer. I learned all the design software and would teach it to him and he would teach me the old-school principles of design. Arguably, he was a much better teach than I was.
From there, I did a lot of freelance graphic design work. Mostly corporate identity stuff and a lot of web design. Really I found I took a liking to magazine design and layout design. I was at Apple for a few years and saw the whole app craze happen from behind the curtain, and then left into the private sector to see if I could make a go of it in the app world from the app side. It’s amazing the attention that Apple pays to even the smallest thing, like all its employees using the same terms for everything. When the iPhone came out, we had to create the material so everyone started using the term “tap” instead of the term “click.” That’s very purposeful, all of that comes from the top and they really pay attention to that stuff.
BI: What made you want to start MAZ?
PC: After leaving Apple, I was doing some freelance app development with a good friend of mine who ended up co-founding with me. As soon as the iPad was announced, we started to get inquiries from publishers. We were not especially well known, we were just guys in New York that make apps. But everyone wanted to publish on the iPad. We quickly learned that there wasn’t a good way of doing that short of hiring a developer to code every piece of content. There was no good system that existed to manage digital content.
The iPad was released in April 2010 but we started in July 2010. After a couple of months of talking to these publishers, we decided to create this platform. Now we work with book publishers, magazine publishers, catalogue, B2B, even in our own minds the definition of publishers is constantly expanding. We aim to be the go-to platform of any publisher that wants to publish on a Tablet.
BI: What does MAZ actually do?
PC: Basically, MAZ allows the publisher to create a native iPad app and update or add new content over time, including interactive and multimedia content, without coding. That’s really the main focus, there’s no programming, there’s no technical knowledge involved, the tools are aimed at content creators, creative people, the same sorts of people that would make content for any other medium. We take the programmers out of the equation. The way it works, you upload a PDF and you use MAZ to make it dance.
‘We take the programmers out of the equation. The way it works, you upload a PDF and you use MAZ to make it dance.”
The PDF is designed in advance exactly how you want it to be, our publisher will dress it up or dress it down. You might have a PDF that is identical to a print product, that’s one end of the spectrum. But you also create a design that has tons of buttons, we call them triggers. A play icon that triggers a video, a buy now button that triggers a point of purchase. That’s all baked in to the design using whatever design software you prefer, and you let designers stick with their normal workflow. Then you use MAZ to activate those buttons, that play button can actually create a video — and you can decide, is it a video in the page, is it a fullscreen video, or if you want to include a game that can be pulled from the web, but for the end-user it doesn’t appear to be a website.
We allow publishers to use their existing design tools and integrate that with things from the web. You get the experience of a well-designed page with the power of the web, and we have the analytics side tracking how people actually read these pages — including downloads and views and also navigation patterns.
BI: What kind of team are you running with? PC: Simon, my co-founder, and I were friends, we met in middle school and formed a friendship based around our shared love for early web development.We were two sides of the same coin — I was the design guy and Simon was the coding guy. I went on into a career more centered around design, Simon was doing back-end web infrastructure. After I left Apple we ended up teaming up, from there we met our third partner, Shika Arora, and Shika was at Adobe at the time. She was a lead engineer of the inDesign team — most magazines and books, the layout designers are using inDesign. She had a lot of experience creating software for designers. She was working right outside Delhi at Adobe and we met on LinkedIn, which is pretty amazing, and started a relationship from there.
The three of us really put together a whole platform and now we’ve built out the team. We have another designer from Apple, more people form Adobe, as we build our team we’re just trying to bring together the best possible people to create the ultimate reading experiences on tablets and mobile.
BI: What kind of traction have you seen so far?
PC: It’s been great, the first nine months or so were spent underground sitting on the floor with large beards coding in a dark cave. We launched the product in April of last year. We had a few brave souls that used it at first but the traction has really taken off in the last six months or so. Everything they say about getting a minimally viable product out into the market, it’s really true. We do it by accident, when every startup launches they think the product is finished and that is definitely never, ever true.
“When every startup launches they think the product is finished and that is definitely never, ever true.”
When you finally launch that product, that’s not the end of the tunnel at all. We’re very lucky that so many publishers have taken notice, we’re now working with hundreds of publishers in 40 different countries around the world, ranging from Estonia to Brazil and China.
We publish Inc magazine, that’s probably our most well-known title. We also work with some international titles, like an Iranian architecture digest. We’re really across the board and it’s amazing to learn about some of these titles. I could list them forever: City Journal, Ju-Jitsu magazine, a UK magazine that’s only about alcohol, Free Surf… you can really get ultra-niche.
What’s so cool about the App Store, if you search for surfing on Google, you’ll get billions of pages. But if you look on the App Store, you’re likely to get Free Surf magazine. They have an equal chance of being found. That’s something that’s really unique about the App ecosystem, there’s an evening of the play field in a way that the web once promised. The App Store is bringing that back a little, especially these niche brands and they’re finding some new content providers.
BI: So what’s next?
PC: One of the things that is new, I don’t think of it as new, but we just released it last week is a new feature called clippings — it’s a social-media based feature that allows you to clip an area of the page much like a magazine and share it via twitter and Facebook and email. You can cut out any area of any page with two fingers, whether it’s a quote or a face or a block of text and share it via social media. That’s an update we just submitted to Apple.
We’re working on a lot of stuff, mostly cross-platform compatibility and integrating more with web content. We’re interested in expanding our definition of publishers, exploring how the web is gonna integrate with the world of apps and that’s a big opportunity for us and publishers as well. When there’s a physical separation of a paper product and a web product it was easier. But now that we’re dealing with digital print, there’s a lot less distance between a web product and a digital print product, that’s an area we’re looking to explore.