Tibor Schiemann, co-founder of TuneUp, recently spoke with system-log.com journalist Thomas Sekkingstad about the company’s fortuitous start on a ski trip 16 years ago and how it has since evolved to a global entity with 100 employees. Read the full conversation below for previews on what to expect with TuneUp Utilities 2013 – and to see pictures of our first-ever office and Tibor working the hotdog grill!
I bet many mechanics appreciate this then!
1. Thomas Sekkingstad: When, where and by whom did it all start? What was your first product and initial business-plan?
Tibor Schiemann: It all started on a school trip in 1996, where Christoph Laumann and I were supposed to ski. However, we found out during breaks that both of us were a lot more interested in reading the “tips & tricks” columns of PC magazines. We became quite busy going through a bunch of magazines and highlighting interesting configuration tweaks we wanted to apply to our PCs later. Back in these days, Windows 95 had just come out, which was a big change compared to Windows 3.x and a very interesting new ground to explore. The optimization possibilities seemed endless, because the factory settings of Windows 95 were really bad. For example, Windows 95 was waiting several seconds during every boot for you to press function keys to open the boot menu, and you could get rid of this delay by tweaking the settings. Also, there was a noticeable delay before sub-menus of the newly introduced start menu opened, and you could change this delay to make it feel more snappy and responsive. And much, much more.
Although those tweaks were very desirable, applying them was usually quite complicated and sometimes even dangerous: In all the PC magazines, there was a big warning next to such articles, stating something like “if you do anything wrong while editing the registry or configuration files, you can totally ruin your OS”.
Basically, this was the trigger that led to our first product idea: We wanted to make all these optimizations available to everyone with just one click, without the risk of damaging the OS. The first (user interface) UI sketches were created during the ski trip, and we started coding right afterwards. The final product was called “TuneUp 97″ and took us almost two years to create.
The business model was a simple shareware model: Allow users to try the software without obligations for a few days, and then ask them to buy if they want to keep using it. And when the first PC magazines wrote about our software, our sales went through the roof, without any marketing expenses up to that point. That’s how it all began.
We can’t all start our businesses in the garage, can we? TuneUp’s first one-room office!
2. Today, how big is TuneUp and what areas are you covering with your software?
Today, TuneUp has grown to about 100 employees, and our flagship product, TuneUp Utilities, is available internationally in 12 languages – with more to come! The areas we are covering are performance optimization, cleaning, problem fixing and customization.
Where TuneUp is cooking up great ideas today!
3. What are TuneUp’s advantages relative to other optimization software?
On top of the functionality you can find in most optimization software, we offer a combination of innovative features that you won’t find elsewhere. For example, our Program Deactivator visualizes the performance impact of all installed programs on your system and allows you to get rid of this impact with one click, without having to uninstall a single program. Our Turbo Mode squeezes out those extra FPS that might help you win your online games. Our Economy Mode gives you those extra minutes you need to finish surfing or writing a document when you’re on the go. Our Live Optimization prevents background activity from interrupting your work by reducing its priority. Whenever an advanced user tells me “hey, I can do all your software can with MSCONFIG and Windows tools”, this is my response. And then they usually start to realize that we offer a real benefit, even to advanced users.
Buy a hundred licenses of TuneUp and get one hotdog for free! This is from TuneUp’s 2010 opening BBQ!
4. TuneUp 2013 is development, so what’s new that we can expect in the new version of TuneUp?
Let’s put it this way, I cannot disclose the new features in detail today – except to say something big is happening in the area of cleaning. On top of that, we will introduce a new, very transparent way to visualize possibly unwanted background activity when it happens and stop it.
5. Since your software runs on Windows, I guess you have some thoughts about the new Windows 8?
Of course! I’ve been personally using Windows 8 every day since the first builds came out and I really like it. Although there are still some bugs, even in the Release Preview, I expect the Windows 8 RTM release to be pretty good and stable. From a user experience standpoint, the switch from the Start Menu to the new Metro Start Screen is a big change, and it took me several weeks to get used to it. I don’t appreciate that Microsoft is forcing users to adopt the Metro Start Screen – while the first builds allowed you to switch back to the Start Menu, this is no longer possible. I’m also not a big fan of the Borg-like “use it, resistance is futile” principle.
However, I think the Metro concept really starts to fly on touch-enabled devices, and it will certainly help Microsoft to grab market share in the tablet segment. I’m especially keen on getting my hands on Microsoft Surface (the portable device, not the table), because it looks like a great hybrid between a tablet and a notebook. The idea of using one side of the screen cover as a keyboard is genius.
6. You have succeeded in the software industry, which is tough, any advice to the young hackers and software developers out there wanting to create the next revolutionary application?
Firstly, spend as much time as you can talking and listening to your users. This helps lot to understand who the users of your software really are, what problems they want to solve with it, which terminology they use and understand best, how they explore your software, what the key benefits and weaknesses of your software are, and much more. Sometimes your user’s view of things differs dramatically from your assumptions, so use this opportunity to learn about the perception of your product and the problems it solves (or doesn’t solve).
Secondly, keep focused. Narrow your scope down to the 3-5 most important changes and get them right. I know it’s hard, but your time is limited and the competition doesn’t sleep, so invest your time wisely in the changes with the best effect instead of getting lost in hundreds of little changes that nobody might notice.
Thirdly, reserve the time to “polish” your product before release. Yes, it DOES matter if your windows open in the right place and size under all common screen resolutions, if all the controls are well-aligned, if the icons look professional in all sizes, if the texts are free of grammar and spelling mistakes, and so on. Users will subconsciously feel the difference. Unless you’re writing Open Source software, they can’t see how great your code is, so you have to create the perception of quality and trust with the look and feel of your product.
7. Why should people buy TuneUp?
See my response to question 3.
8. You and TuneUp started in the software industry in 1996 – any particularly good memories from the computer world in these 16 years?
I could list the release dates of Windows 98, XP, Vista and 7 here (intentionally omitting Windows Me – what were they thinking?) – all of them provided us with great opportunities for optimization and tweaking.
Other random memories that come into my mind:
- Installing Windows 95 on a friend’s PC from 13 (!) floppy disks because his PC didn’t detect the CD-ROM drive. The particularly good memory is that I could successfully finish the installation despite a read error on the 12th disk.
- The time of shareware CDs packed with tons of software to install, try and (hopefully, for the author) buy, before the Internet became really popular. There’s even an archive of old shareware CDs on http://archive.org/details/cdbbsarchive
- The silent end of the floppy disk. Several years ago, I was surprised that my newly bought PC didn’t come with a floppy drive. At first I thought I had to install one, but soon noticed that I didn’t need it anymore.
- The change from dialup connections to DSL and cable lines. Suddenly, you were online 24/7 without extra cost, and it was blazing fast. Combined with a static IP or a dynamic DNS service, I really got into Internet programming at that time and created my first personal Internet services.
- One of the funniest things for me during that time was to explore the field of artificial intelligence – or at least the simulation of such: I created a chatbot (much likehttp://cleverbot.com), gave it a female nickname and placed it into flirt chat channels on IRC. Instantly, lots of private chat requests came in, and the bot of course accepted them all, learning from the chats and automatically improving its responses to become more and more human-like. Of course, the bot posted all of those “private chats” in real-time in another channel for my friends and myself to watch. It was hilarious. And even though I explained to everyone afterwards that they just got fooled by a computer program, many of them didn’t believe me and kept on flirting with my bot. I’d call that a success.
Every successful company must have their own lounge, and TuneUp does have a lounge! No sharp corners to injure the employees here, everything is thought of!
9. What PC do YOU own (hardware and software please)? Any software recommendations, other than TuneUp for readers?
My main PC is a MacBook Air (13-inch, mid 2011, Intel Core i7 @ 1.8 GHz), which I love because of the design, battery life and portability. I’m currently running Mac OS X Lion and Windows 8 Release Preview (through Bootcamp) on it and will soon install Windows 8 RTM. I have too many programs, apps and games installed to list all of them, but here are the most important ones:
Dropbox & BoxCryptor, Google Chrome (including the extensions Adblock Plus, LastPass, Google Quick Scroll, Gestures, New Tab Redirect), Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2012, WinRAR, TuneUp Utilities 2013
Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Beta for Windows 8, Embarcadero Delphi, UltraEdit
Adobe Photoshop CS6, Steinberg Cubase 6, MediaMonkey
I’m currently playing more on my consoles (PS3, XBOX360, Wii), so on my PC there are only two games: Diablo III and Deponia. The latter reminds me of the good old times with all those fun and crazy LucasArts adventures. Monkey Island, anyone?
10. How many icons and what is the wallpaper on your desktop right now! It’s a picture of a desert island, isn’t it?
I’m a purist! There are no icons at all on my desktop. My current wallpaper is “Californian Hills” by deviantART artist Balderoine:
I also had a desert island once, so good guess!
Do you have any questions that you’d like to ask Tibor? Leave them in the comments and they might be selected for a follow-up conversation! In the meantime, you can also read the interview with Tibor directly at system-log.com.