12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012

Whip myself–and Path–into fighting shape

By Dave Morin, Co-Founder and CEO, Path (As told to Colleen Taylor)

Dave Morin is the CEO and co-founder of Path, a social media sharing site that emphasizes privacy controls. Morin is also an investor in and advisor to a number of startups. Before Path, he was involved in the launch of Facebook’s Connect platform. We wanted to know what he has learned from going from a web platform to a mobile product, and how this influences his plans for 2012.

I think 2012 will truly be the year of mobile Internet. I think Path and Flipboard and a few others are leading the way. We don’t even have a website. And the growth we’re achieving through the second version of Path is like nothing we’ve ever seen.

I mean, it’s so big. I get the GigaOM Pro reports on mobile, and I see these numbers: The amount of mobile display inventory, the fact that Apple’s paid out $2 billion to app developers, there are something like one million Android phones being activated daily. It goes on and on. The industry as a whole hasn’t come around to realizing how big mobile is just yet. But I think this will be the year where we focus on building companies that solely address the post-PC era.

Products you build for the Web, which people access with a big screen and a keyboard and mouse while sitting at a desk, need to be completely different than what you build for a mobile device. You can’t just hire one mobile developer and take the interface you’ve built on the web and cram it onto a mobile device. I can say this with some confidence, because we just spent two years failing at a bunch of interfaces and doing better with some other ones. Most of us at Path worked in desktop and Web software before we started this company, and we learned the hard way that you have to approach the platform with a “beginner’s mind.” It makes me think of something that Steve Jobs said: You can’t serve two masters. Well, the Bible said it first, but I think it applies to product design as well. You can’t serve both the Web and mobile with the same product. You have to choose.

The one big lesson I’ve learned from the past year is that every entrepreneur goes through really hard times — periods of time where people don’t believe in what you’re doing, or the numbers don’t look good. Entrepreneurs always have a vision: You wouldn’t have started a company if you didn’t. But the first implementation may not be getting you all the way there.

Find the users who see your vision and talk to them. Find out why they love the product and what they’re trying to do with it. Often, they’re trying to do something that you haven’t designed it for. You need to unlock that potential. Take away the things that don’t matter, and unlock the stuff that does — remove the complexity. That’s what will make it catch on with everyone.

Here’s another thing Steve Jobs said: “If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” So, we’re happy that Path 2 [http://gigaom.com/2011/11/29/path-launches-path-2-journal-app/] has been successful. We did it, we made a good new product. But now it’s on to version 2.1.

We also want to innovate in terms of employee health this year, whether that’s having a yoga class here in the office, or forming a company cycling team. I think being in shape makes everyone function better at work, and from a leadership perspective it’s incredibly important to be healthy. Dylan Casey just joined us from Google, and he was on the Olympic cycling team. He’s Director of Product Management here, but I’m also making him sort of the head of health.

I grew up in Montana, and I was on the Junior Olympic ski team as a kid. Personally, in 2012 I want to get back into athletics at a competitive level — either by signing up for a running race, or getting back into ski racing. When I started working on the Internet, I gained a bunch of weight. This past year, I got a personal trainer and started focusing on nutrition, and now I am in the best shape I’ve been in 10 years. I’m now of the opinion that everyone should have a personal trainer. You can get a pretty good one for 40 to 100 bucks an hour. You can buy four fewer drinks over the weekend and put that money toward a really good, personalized workout.