Episode #470: Putting context and Donna Moss in your pocket – with Donna co-founder Kevin Cheng

Episode #470

If we are indeed entering into the age of context then it is without doubt that the calendar is the new operating system and here’s why.

The real power of the devices we carry is the connected computing power it holds. Forget the form, the screen size and resolution and even the processor speed for now. These are all features – enablers if you will. Instead, let’s focus on the things that happen as a result of the device, the things stored in the cloud somewhere that we refer to often during our day. In this context, that of our day, the calendar rules for most of us. We have appointments, we have places to be, calls to make and people to meet.

A number of years ago it was just a challenge to get your calendar in a format that was easy to carry, now we take its portability for granted. Some innovative young companies with very experienced leaders are now looking at how context, the cloud, your calendar, your location and the 1000 other things that contribute to a single point in time can converge into an action. This is where Donna, the new mobile assistant service by Kevin Cheng and his team is launching from.

Donna isn’t really an app at all, in fact it is a service that is delivered through the mobile device – mostly because that’s what is available. It takes its cue from your inputs (where you need to be and when) and combines it with the auxiliary factors that contribute to our arrival time and jams them into a simple, elegant solution. The outcome? Donna (named after the uber assistant/chief of staff/runner of the Bartlett Whitehouse of the West Wing) simply tells you when to leave. All those inputs, 18 months of development time and the outcome is a simple time to leave message that pops up on your screen. THIS is the power the device has. The simplicity is precisely it’s power.

This episode is about Donna and the reasons Kevin decided to land here after his exit from Twitter but it is also about the age of context, his beliefs in the importance of culture, the slow march of massive change and even what he wished he had invented. Kevin’s contributions and the impact of something like Donna are both in their embryonic state but there is no doubt that we are starting to witness the true power of pervasive, distributed, cloud-based intelligence.



Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. Is Donna an App? 2:20
2. Why name the app Donna? 5:08
3. About Incredible Labs – makers of Donna 10:48
4. Why the sudden groundswell in personal assistants for mobile? 12:26
5. What trends led you to build a mobile personal assistant 14:07
6. What was the first feature you started building for Donna 18:44
7. What is Donna’s main use-case? 23:55
8. How far do you go with cognitive off-loading with Donna? 25:15
9. What revenue opportunities are you thinking of? 28:25
10. What is the right time to turn revenue on? 30:20
11. Is charging for a product about confidence (or lack thereof)? 34:20
12. What is the “to app vs. in app” experience? 35:40
13. What did you bring with you to Donna from your Twitter experience? 39:00
14. How do you find inspiration? 45:00
15. How important is it to surround yourself with your brethren in the business you choose? 47:35
16. What do you see that you wish you had invented? 51:40

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About Kevin Cheng
Kevin Cheng DonnaKevin Cheng is the founder and CEO of of Incredible Labs, a startup that’s trying to keep up with super assistant Donna. Previously, he was a product manager at Twitter where he lead the #newTwitter website redesign, the Director of Product and User Experience at Raptr, and the designer of Yahoo! Pipes. He is also the author of See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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