zerogate interview: The Father and Son of MeterRead

Screenshot of the updated MeterRead from zerogate

Screenshot of the updated MeterRead from zerogate

On 11 January, 2009, TouchMyApps got an exclusive sneak peak at the great new features of zerogate’s iPhone/iPod Touch App: MeterRead. On the same day and just 22 hours or so later, we got to speak a spoonful with the  wise, humorous and sassy father/son duo who make MeterRead. It is long, sometimes convoluted and extremely biased, but I think you will find this team to be witty, clever and ready to storm the app store with more unique ideas.

Legend:

Black and beautiful: Shigzeo of TMA
Blue - Father (Leonard G. Barton)
Red – Son (Mark E. Barton)

So how would you describe zerogate as a company?

L: Mostly a moniker for marketing

M: That’s a good question.

So who would you say is the headman?

L: zerogate is his company, I wrote his web site in hand-coded HTML after leaving my previous employment.

M: Dad is the headman of zerogate. He’s the brains and the workhorse.  I just rake his leaves every now and then. LOL. MeterRead was my idea, but it just wouldn’t have ever happened without him.  We’ve worked together pretty well so far as a team.  My sister, Lisa is also part of the team. She helped out a lot with SDK details when we got stuck trying to get the product officially launched.

Are you a family man?

L: Been married to the same lady for 45 years.

M: I’m married to an amazing woman with a big heart and we have a beautiful four year old daughter.  What’s funny is that my daughter used to run to me when I’d come home from work and say “Daddy! I love you!”… Now she says “Daddy!  Can I play a game on your iPhone!”  Sad but true. I wonder if that’s why she sometimes cries when I go to work. Ha ha, she misses my iPhone.

So what is the story with the drop to .99$?

L: Mark did this in response to several mentions of the price in a recent video review (it was $2.99) as he did not want to disappoint new customers. The review seems to have brought up sales to where there was no loss, even an improvement.

M: I’ve found that a temporary price drop has some benefits.  Apps like AppSniper or websites like 148apps.com will give you great free advertising as soon as you drop the price. Free advertising is the best. Thanks for the interview by the way.  Also, we were recently  featured on www.LivingGreenChannel.com and the hostest, Elizabeth Chambers mentioned that the price was ‘just 99 cents’ a couple of times so it only seemed fair to her viewers to put the price at her quote for now.. Another independent review quoted our initial price (search “meter read application” on YouTube). A a price drop also brings in more units sold and the hope is that they tell their friends about the app..

We did give the app away for the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, but it did have some drawbacks.  We had a 4.2 star review rating at that point, but that same weekend Apple changed it’s review policy to “review on exit”.  Our app is for people who have access to their electric meters and the truth is that it’s not for everyone since so many iPhone users live in apartments or don’t have access to their meters.  This knocked our review rating down to 2.5 stars over the weekend, not because our app is a 2.5 star app, but because people who didn’t use it or need the app just deleted it and gave it a low rating.  We had a write up on TUAW and it did catch fire over that weekend.  We gave away 8,000 units.  The feedback we get through emails and review has been all positive.  We did see a boost in sales after the giveaway and people may be more inclined to purchase and app that has 450+ reviews, so it was a give and take.  In retrospect the give away was not the best decision because of the lowering of our 4.2 star review rating down to 2.5.  In my opinion it’s a 4 star app now and with our huge update for Gas, Water, Multiple Meters, Point to Point feedback feature, etc. it should be soon a 5 star app. I believe the ratings and sales will go up with the two part update.

You reckon our prettiest touch editor could persuade you with a price change?  Tell me why you cannot raise the price to over 2.99$?

L: I leave pricing up to Mark. He is pretty firm about not trying to exploit the installed base with an upscale SKU.

M: I would say that anyone could persuade us to change the price.  I try not to let beauty or my own dashing good looks get in the way of reality. Joking. The price could go up to $39.99, but we’ll probably keep it around $2.99.  At this time we would like more people to try the app and actually help the environment, tell their friends and grow the business. We have found based on feedback from our users that our primary customer base is people who already track their energy use and they totally love our app for it’s ease of use and the 30 day estimated kW-h feedback.  We could make more money by concentrating on this customer base with a higher price but again, we want more people to try it out and help the planet.  We feel that $2.99 is our best price point at this time for this reason.  We’ve never had a customer say that it didn’t save them money.

Do you use MeterRead?  If so, how often and has it changed your habits?

L: I don’t need it, I have been reading my meter since I installed solar PV in 1998. It was Mark who said that he needed this tool.

M: My family used it every day for two weeks at first, sometimes 3-5 times a day and as a family we figured out what we changes we need to make and found all sorts of ways we were wasting energy. Now we use it about once a week to make sure we’re on track.  We moved into a new average size home in June of 2008 and I was floored when we got a $436 energy bill.  We were throwing money out the window with the A/C running at night, no CFL’s, lights, T.V.’s left on, refrigerator set to freezing cold… it was a lot of small things, but I didn’t really see the impact until we started making changes and getting the feedback from the app let us know what that these little things made a huge difference. When I first started checking the average 30 estimated kW-h usage from the app, we were running at about 1000 kW-h and then it just started dropping and dropping and the biggest thing is that it changed our habits all around. We try to keep our average kW-h usage under 700 now. My little girl caught the fever and she actually goes around and turns off lights before she goes to bed.  She doesn’t even think about it anymore and neither do I.  It’s just something we do.  It’s like putting on your seat belt.  If you just do it every day for  a while, then it just becomes a regular part of your routine and you don’t think about it until you get your Power Bill and it’s exactly what you want and expect to see.

Are you a greener or a cost conscious guy?

L: Green in the sense that I put enough solar power in to drive my house and my electric truck, cost conscious in that I love not paying PG&E or Big Oil and work on “plugging the leaks” (phone, cable, etc.)

M: When I toss an aluminum can in the garbage instead of the recycling bin I feel worse about what I just did to the environment than the 5 cents I lost in recycling money.  I’m going green.. It’s in my heart and mind.

Dad is the green king: He has solar panels that track the sun and power his electric truck.

What is important about MeterRead?  Why do users need this app?

L: Analog meters can be difficult to read for a first-time user. People putting in photovoltaics for the first time do lots of meter reading. Some users need it to read sub-meters for condos, but the app currently is not set up for multiple meters (coming this year)

M: Besides the environmental and financial impact the app can have, I feel that it’s important as being a groundbreaking application.  Their are some great apps out there but few that do something completely new. You can go to your local store and buy a level or a flashlight, guitar tuner or a graphing calculator (these are all cool apps by the way), but you can’t buy a device that allows you to decipher the confusing dials on your electric meter in 10 seconds and then get an estimated usage for the next 30 days… it’s really something new and original.  Of course the real genius is the iPhone/iPod Touch.  What an amazing device. This is the future, now..  I love the creativity of apps like iRulerPhone, CricketSong, Private-I, etc.

Why do you need this app?  You can make positive changes on your home energy use without the app, but I can virtually guarantee that you will save more money, have a greater impact on the environment create lifelong habits if you use our app every day for just one week.

I’ve mentioned this before but it’s true: Studies show that motivated people who monitor their electric use will save 10-20% on their energy bill. Google ”The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption”.

What are the demographics of meterread?  if you don’t know, can you hazard a guess?

L: Seems to be people that are already reading their meters, according to Mark.

M: Primarily homeowners and renters of single family homes.  I used to pay a $30 Pacific Gas and Electric bill when I lived in a small one bedroom apartment, so I wouldn’t get the same benefit of the app back then as I do now living in a detached house.

Do you get stats of what countries download Meterread most?

L: 50 to 60 pct US,  8 to 10 pct each Australia, Great Britian, Canada, 5 pct for Eurozone. Multi-language support may help this.

M: Daily reports are provided from apple.  Most of our business comes from the U.S., but we have a growing interest in markets such as Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and Australia as well as other parts of the world.

How do you think this app could impact the app store?  What may be holding it back?

L: It seems that one needs to game the application update/pricing to get posted high in the list of apps. Also hard to place in the app store catagories. You use it to help track your utility use but it is not really a “utility application”, nor is it a “financial application”, even though it helps with finances.

M: I really just hope it inspires developers and people with out of the box ideas to take a chance on something new.  I hope developers keeping pushing the Green Movement and look for ways for apps to make a positive difference in the world.

What is the most important feature of meterread and why do you think so?

L: Dial matching with automatic notching for analog meters is the unique feature that makes it easy to use. New feature in the next release is to mark any recording as “key” and other readings are relative to that item. Next version will have language-neutral buttons and built in help for English and Spanish, more languages to come.

M: The 30 day estimate energy use feature.  The app makes it simple to read the confusing dials on your meter in a super intuitive manner but the feedback you get on your current energy consumption is what will save you money and the environment.  You can check your meter 20 minutes later or 10 days later and get the feedback that will help you understand your energy use and help you change your habits for the positive.

Who is your hero?  Don’t be shy, it can be anyone.

L: Obama, so far.

M: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, MY FAMILY, Barrack Obama (so far, so good), Fire Fighters and so many more…

Do you read touchmyapps.com?  Regularly?

L: No.

M: What’s touchmyapps?  I thought this was for Maxim magazine.

What do you think we need as a website?

L: Nothing to suggest.

M: YouTube instant videos and money making links through CJ.com or Linkshare.com.  You gotta make a buck to keep it going.

How do you use your iPhone? (Music, video, phone, airmouse?)

L: I use an iPod touch for testing, took it on a tour and used the international clock app. Only games I enjoy are Topple and Jellycar – these games are both fun to play even though I have not got beyond 5 on Topple.

M: I just stare at it in awe for the most part. GPS, Learning tool, internet, money maker, phone, email, game system, music, … the thing is so amazing.  Soon it will replace the big screen t.v. and just beam a 10 ft high defintion screen up on the wall. It’s already begun. It blows me away.

Are you a Mac guy, a Windows Guy or a Lindows guy or a *nix guy?  Are you something else?  What computer do you have?  Is your dad’s computer better than yours?

L: I am totally a Mac Developer since 1984, before that Tektronix 4051, and way back to other computers.

M: I will have to call myself a Mac, but PC’s aren’t as horrible as real Mac Guys like my dad will tell you. He would give up computers if there where no Macs.  I don’t even think he uses them when he goes to the library.

Why do you like (Mac/Windows)?

L: You don’t need a manual to try out an application on Mac if it is properly written.

How long have you been Xcoding?

L: Since August 2008 on MeterRead.

Why did you choose the iPhone platform?

L: Mark had an iPhone and suggested developing some application. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas, each seemed to come out the next day, or next week.

Have you other projects currently under your belt?  Any for OSX or Windows?

L: I wrote the original MacDraft. Have an ongoing drawing/drafting product but I got sidetracked with iPhone or it would be in better shape by now.

If you had a windows computer, would you consider tossing it to the pavement to break the case and get to the files inside? (zoolander reference).

L: I only use a Windows XP Pro machine for one application – printed circuit board design for a client. That computer has never been on the internet and never will be. That is how much confidence I have in Windows.

If you use it as a music player, what headphones do you have?

L: I have an iPod that I mainly use in an iHome player in the kitchen. Headphones for travel use are Sony MDR-V600 (these are heavy muff type).

M: The headphones don’t stick in my ears so I use it in the car.  I don’t pirate music so I don’t have that much music on it!  I love all types of music, from rock to rap. I’d rather buy a new app everyday than a song, but I do sometimes play iKoto and Pocket Guitar in the car.  It sounds great hooked up to the car stereo.

How much would you consider spending on a good headphone?

L: Certainly not more then $200.00, but my ears are no longer golden..

M: Are you a headphone sales person?

I am eyeing a pair of 500$ audio technica inner ear monitors, the ck100, do you think with Enough use of meterread and pleading with my wife, I could have the dosh to get them?  If Not, what other steps in conservation must I take?

L: Offing your automobile will save much more than you think but is so hard to do. Your phone + internet + cable TV + NetFlix should not be more than $150.00 per month total, preferably $130.00 per month.

M: If you are an audiophile than you have no choice. You gotta get it.  We only live once. You must buy your wife something for $500 that she likes, so those headphones will be $1,000, but remember, “happy wife, happy life”.

Are you married?  If so, what are some good steps for pleading?

L: See above. You would have better luck getting high end audio for the houshold – say a Bang & Olifson.

M: First break out your new headphones then use this one when she says “WHAT?!”: “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is uncertain.  But right now is a gift.  That’s why they call it the present”… then give her those diamonds.

Thank you Gentlemen!

TMA will be looking forward to more apps and updates form zerogate and maybe another chance for banter with Leonard and Mark Barton.  Cheers guys; hope the best.

Next ArticleApp Price Drop - January 12th, 2009