Why two engineers left Apple to build a Flash alternative: The Hype (YC W11) story

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Hype is an HTML5 Animation Builder for Mac OS X. It allows you to build interactive sites in HTML5 that rivals Flash. Hype launched last Friday and they are already the top grossing app on the mac app store.

Earlier today I had a chance to catchup with one of the cofounders, Jonathan Deutsch, to talk about his experience leaving a safe job at Apple to launch a startup, where his inspiration came from for Hype, and his experience with Y Combinator.

Where did the idea for Hype come from?

At one point after a trip to Europe, I wanted to make a photo website that would be as nice as a beautifully bound photo album, and use lots of effects.  Coding this with HTML5 would have been a nightmare.  There had to be a better way, and that’s how the idea for Hype was born.  It stuck with me, and eventually I realized this was going to be a great opportunity for a business.

Where did you work prior to launching your own startup?

I worked at Apple. I was the engineering manager for the Mail.app back end (Mac OS X), but also worked on software updates, automation technology, SJ keynote demos, and other engineering projects.

I met Ryan at Apple as well, celebrating after a successful WWDC kickoff. He was working as an engineering project manager for Mac OS X. It was a really central role; he (and the team he was on) were responsible for coordinating the entire release of Mac OS X. Sometimes at bars we’d run into people who were Apple or ex-Apple, and Ryan would introduce himself, and they’d reply, “Oh, I’ve gotten emails from you!”

What made you decide to leave a “safe job” at Apple and build a risky startup?

I had always wanted to have my own company; I suppose its “in the blood.”  It was getting to be pretty clear that there was a new wave coming to the web, much like “Web 2.0” but instead of it being called “Web 3.0” it was called HTML5.  It’s a marketing term really, generally referring to new HTML5 tags, CSS3 styles/animations, and better JavaScript performance.  It also refers to being able to have the full web on your phone.  It was always in the back of my mind that for any technology shift you’d need tools to help out.  I’m really a tools guy, though we tend to call them “apps” nowadays.

I was faced with the decision of continuing to work with the great people on my team on a clearly high impact project, living with the “what if” syndrome, or trying to forge my own path.  “Regret Minimization” is what should win out in life, so it did.  I had done a lot of different projects at Apple, and felt I made my mark both internally on the company and externally on Mac OS X.

I had established a fair number of relationships at Apple, and felt if my startup failed I could always go back.  At Apple the question is often “how many times have you worked here?”  When you’re hired, you get new hardware… so I like to joke that the worst case is I’d end up with a new Mac Pro out of the deal.

Walking away is bittersweet, and there’s definitely a social and professional net that you leave behind.  That’s one of the main reasons we decided to pursue Y Combinator.  We didn’t want to be on an island by ourselves.

Apple is publicly against Flash. Did this have any influence on your decision to build Hype?

Not specifically.  While Flash enables some really great content on the web, there’s lots of people who aren’t favorable on it due to its lack of accessibility, CPU usage, or crashes.  It isn’t appropriate for mobile.  To Adobe’s credit, they’ve been more active lately in trying to address these issues.

What perhaps had more of an influence is Apple’s driving the web forward.  WebKit is really a great project.  I think a lot of people forget that innovation in the browser was basically dead until Safari.  The canvas tag, while controversial at first,  showed that new standards could be made and adopted by other browsers.  The JavaScript performance wars have moved the world forward.  Now WebKit is on almost every smartphone.  It’s great to see HTML5 as a new platform, and Apple deserves a lot of credit.

How did you get into to Y Combinator?

We got in through Y Combinator through the normal interview process. Ryan and I both found the questions from the initial application were great for helping to clarify our business plan, realizing our target markets, and helped ensure the two of us were on the same page. I’ve recommended to everyone I know that even if you’re not going to apply to YC, fill out the application.

What has been your experience with Y Combinator?

YC is definitely worthwhile. The network effects are staggering… it gives any YC company an advantage in making the right contacts, finding investment, and being in a support net with others in the same boat. And if you’re starting a company, why wouldn’t you want every advantage available to you? Paul Graham, Paul Buchheit, and Harj Taggar all give great advice with brilliant ideas sprinkled in. The dinners are fun, and there’s a lot that we learned from the speakers. Most founders would come early before each dinner just to hang out and discuss their startups or demo their products. The atmosphere is electric and contagious.

Y Combinator is also heavily focused around finding additional investment. Startups always need more cash! Finding funding was not a major concern to our us, as our “old school” business plan was to sell Hype from the get-go, and we had confidence it would be able to generate revenue. In that regard, we didn’t take as much advantage of YC as other companies are able to. We did make several strategic connections through investors to other companies and individuals in our space that have already been of benefit.

As an aside, during the YC timeframe we were so focused on developing our product that Paul Graham actually emailed us and was concerned that we hadn’t gone to enough office hours!

Don’t forget to checkout Hype!

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  • Oshlagger22

    I really hope Hype takes off. Flash makes my Macbook’s fans go CRAZY! Good luck Jonathan, thanks for sharing your story!

    • Lucky Luke

      HYPE also make your macbook fans go crazy…

  • ReWrite24

    I started playing around with Hype on Saturday and by Sunday I had a decent animated landing page. Easily worth the $30.

  • The thing is, this is great as a tool for animation, which is like 75% of what Flash is used for on the web. Unfortunately, the other 25% is all that Flash is actually good for. No matter how great the animation tools for canvas and html5, f you have to write interactivity into your animation or godforbid try to write an app or game for a browser that’s generating its own graphics on the fly and takes over most of the page, you’re still stuck with getting into dirty, dynamic typed, not-namespaced, no-proper-inheritance, poorly garbage collecting, IE-unfriendly, slow-as-hell Javascript. How do you square the fact that JS runs so much slower than the AVM2 with Apple’s decision to ban Flash-generated apps from the iphone? If a client’s on a limited budget to turn out a casual game that will function on a majority of platforms in-browser, is it appropriate yet to turn the tap off on the 35-40% of users who still are with IE8 or lower, just to access the 5% who’ll try it via iOS? Of course as a dev you want to reach the most cutting-edge market for your work, and those are iOS users… but I think a lot of this html5 hype, pardon the pun, is driven by blunt necessity to work with dumber tools just because Apple can’t play ball with Adobe. And until a new JS specification cleans up and speeds up heavy client-side processing, AS3 is still going to be the goto language for delivering a consistent UI in data driven apps and casual games that require more than predefined animations.

    • Jon T

      No. Adobe’s Flash cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history quickly enough. The quicker and the more decisively it happens the faster those left behind on older browsers will upgrade.

      90% of Flash content is unnecessary, useless, or just more advertising. 

      Good riddance to it.

      • Yes, well…now with the release of tools that make it easy for people to animate on canvas, 90% of HTML5 usage will also be unnecessary, useless, or just more advertising. Prior to this it was mostly just experimentation and a couple of apps that could have been written in Flex. But you won’t be able to block HTML5 or turn those animations off. And the graphics will use 3x as many processor cycles as they would with Flash.

        Meanwhile, you really can’t write a game with HTML5 that’s playable at any speed. Casual in-browser gaming is probably not going away, and users will still need a platform for that. What would you suggest, o wise one?

        • Barry

          Very good point Josh. The reason why there’s so much rubbish flash out there is due to how easy it is to produce it. As soon as it’s easy to produce rubbish html5, it’s going to be all over the shop. What will the flash haters have to say then?

          • As someone who hates rubbish Flash, I can assure you I’m fully prepared to hate rubbish HTML5. Annoyance is cross-platform.

          • As someone who hates rubbish Flash, I can assure you I’m fully prepared to hate rubbish HTML5. Annoyance is cross-platform.

        • What about Angry Birds in Chrome? I understand that is done completely in HTML5.

          • And it still uses Flash for a couple of things as a core mechanic because HTML5 couldn’t do it. I believe it had something to do with sound. Try uninstalling Flash and running it and you’ll see it will require Flash.

            Btw, Josh is 200% dead on. 

          • Tomas

            Angry birds is a good example how hard is to make a game in html5. Flash for sound. Officially they have to say it’s for chrome. It’s buggy, quite slow and use a lot of CPU. Html5 should be final like 2022?? When are people going to talk about the real problems instead of saying that html5 is the answer of everything before testing it?

    • Anonymous

      Josh, you think the only thing stopping a fabulous iPhone Flash runtime in 2007 or 2008, or 2009 or 2010 was Apple’s obstruction?  Seriously?  It wasn’t until 2011 that Adobe finally started improving Flash on Mac OS X, never mind a mobile version.  If when the iPhone was announced in 2007, Flash was fast, non-resource hungry and rock solid on Mac OS X, maybe Apple would have had a totally different attitude.

      Instead, every review I’ve seen of Flash on Android says it is a terrible experience as a whole. In 2011 Honeycomb/Xoom shipped without Flash installed even though it was one of the main selling points of the Xoom! And even since Flash materializing its poor sales, along with the poor sales of the Flash happy RIM Playbook should tell you how much consumers don’t care about Flash.

      And as for writing games for iOS, why would anyone bother with HTML5 when they can write amazing games, or at least elegant casual games using Xcode and the native API?

      • Flash never should have become the default solution for video on the web; that was a failure of standards. But the issue here is cross-compatibility in casual games. And HTML5 isn’t up to the task.
        Of course if you’re targeting iOS, you’d want to (or have to) build your games in native code. However, consider the resources available to most of the small companies building games. And consider the question: If they have to build games twice, why not three times? Why not write native code for Windows, native code for OSX and iOS, and Java for Android while we’re at it — that is, why not release it as a multi-platform desktop app? Remember, of the platforms above, iOS is the smallest market. 
        If that were still the requirement to produce games, stuff like Angry Birds and FarmVille wouldn’t exist at all, let alone be viral, because the infrastructure, platform-specific knowledge and code time required would necessitate much more up-front investment and production overhead.
        That is why something cross-platform is required. AVM2 isn’t the perfect solution; that would be something like Javascript 2, that’s truly ECMA5 compliant, kitted out with screen graph tools, a display chain, asset loaders, page embeds, sockets, filters, sound, an open video standard, etc. The thing is, that’s basically all stuff that Flash has right now, and JS won’t have for a number of years.
        A lot can be done with HTML5/JS — look, I wrote this: http://strikedisplay.blogspot.com as a pretty-decent toolkit for interactive manipulation of objects on a canvas. It’s relatively lightweight for JS. But compared to the same code right now in AS3, it runs like a pig. 
        Our first consideration is finding the best tool for the job that works best on the most devices. Right now, like it or not, that’s still Flex/Flash/AS3 for casual games, and it likely will be for several years to come. And the next thing to replace it might well be Unity or some new plugin script, if JS2’s performance doesn’t live up to expectations.

  • The thing is, this is great as a tool for animation, which is like 75% of what Flash is used for on the web. Unfortunately, the other 25% is all that Flash is actually good for. No matter how great the animation tools for canvas and html5, f you have to write interactivity into your animation or godforbid try to write an app or game for a browser that’s generating its own graphics on the fly and takes over most of the page, you’re still stuck with getting into dirty, dynamic typed, not-namespaced, no-proper-inheritance, poorly garbage collecting, IE-unfriendly, slow-as-hell Javascript. How do you square the fact that JS runs so much slower than the AVM2 with Apple’s decision to ban Flash-generated apps from the iphone? If a client’s on a limited budget to turn out a casual game that will function on a majority of platforms in-browser, is it appropriate yet to turn the tap off on the 35-40% of users who still are with IE8 or lower, just to access the 5% who’ll try it via iOS? Of course as a dev you want to reach the most cutting-edge market for your work, and those are iOS users… but I think a lot of this html5 hype, pardon the pun, is driven by blunt necessity to work with dumber tools just because Apple can’t play ball with Adobe. And until a new JS specification cleans up and speeds up heavy client-side processing, AS3 is still going to be the goto language for delivering a consistent UI in data driven apps and casual games that require more than predefined animations.

  • Anonymous

    reduce the number of characters from the share plugin, exceeds twitter limit (140) by 4.

  • WebKit may be great and Apple is doing a great job taking it forward. However, whether Apple wants to accept it or not, it is not a complete replacement for Flash. There may be several problems with Flash (as there are with any technology), but “it works”.

    I feel more than the merits and demerits of Flash, Apple’s decision to ban flash are economic and egoistic. Why not just give users an option to enable or disable flash.

    Meanwhile, wish you all the best with Hype!!

  • Anonymous

    No loyalty at all in silicon valley is there lol.

    http://www.privacy-online.us.tc

  • Interesting project, however it doesn’t work in ie8 and below. For a landing page to be unsupported in downlevel browsers is problematic especially when those browsers constitute majority market dominance. 

    Perhaps in a few years this will not be a problem, but right now I cannot understand the hype or rush to use such a tool.

  • DevDev

    I think the actual implentation is not yet brilliant but the idea is. Nice work!

  • Hype Framework

    love their originality in the naming of their product… *sarcasm*

    http://www.hypeframework.org/

    HYPE has been a year long open-source Flash based animation framework… that these guys clearly stole the name from.

    • I don’t think you can base that on a single word name. No matter what name they chose, I’m sure you find a Flash related product/site with a similar name.

      • Hype Framework

        HYPE has been in use since 2009 and is copyright and under license by Joshua Davis and Branden Hall according to the website – https://github.com/hype/hype/blob/master/license.txt … and I KNOW that you will NOT find a product with the similar name. I know many of us have tweeted and facebooked to Joshua and Branden the confusion this product name creates.

        and what adds insult to injury is these guys are former Apple Employees… where one the Creators of HYPE is featured – http://www.apple.com/pro/profiles/joshuadavis/ I wouldn’t be surprised if they took legal action to have them change the name.

        I know I would

  • Well, I use Flash since 1998 and I developed really complicated interfaces. Hype is interesting but I have not yet seen HTML5 advanced animations. All the stuff I have seen is quite simple, really basic. I think it will be necessary a lot of time for HTML5 to compete with Flash.

  • outsider

    You guys think that this is a Flash alternative? for making banners yeah!, but flash is not only annoying banners with multiple animations. And I still believe that all this HTML5 vs Flash, silverlight, JAVA war from apple’s point of view is just a business position, not technological at all. But nice that you do a tool like this!!!

  • Anonymous

    “What made you decide to leave a “safe job” at Apple and build a risky startup?”

    2 words: Stock Options.

  • Guest

    “HYPE has been in use since 2009 and is copyright and under license by Joshua Davis and Branden Hall according to the website -https://github.com/hype/hype/b… … and I KNOW that you will NOT find a product with the similar name. I know many of us have tweeted and facebooked to Joshua and Branden the confusion this product name creates.

    and what adds insult to injury is these guys are former Apple Employees… where one the Creators of HYPE is featured – http://www.apple.com/pro/profi… ”
    ha ha ha – way to do your research GUYS !!!

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