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Stories Behind the Apps

Stories Behind the Apps – gWhiz

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Tell us about gWhiz, who is on the team and what are your roles?

gWhiz LLC was founded in 2008 by Kevin Reville and Mike MacDonald, both of whom had enjoyed success with prior startups.  Early on, they recognized the potential for mobile technology to revolutionize learning so they built a team of dedicated professionals including project managers, technical architects, developers, graphic designers, and marketers to build the company.

How is gWhiz different from similar apps?

The company’s first and most popular educational app is gFlash. This app was the first totally free flashcard app on the app store. It was also the first flashcard app to offer auto-generated multiple choice, adaptive study, flashcard content from brand name publishers (McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and others), Google Docs integration, the capability to share flashcard sets with other users via email, and a matching game. It allows users to study at their own pace and on their own time, wherever life takes them.

What was the inspiration for the design of your app icon and user interface?gflash70

The icon and user interface are a result of gWhiz’s design goal for a fast, mobile flashcard solution. Creating paper flashcards is labor intensive and time-consuming. To create cards directly on a mobile device can have its challenges too.  So co-founder Kevin Reville came up with the idea of creating flashcard content using a Google Docs Spreadsheet.  This enabled users to quickly create flashcards and upload them to their iPhones and share them.  This innovation is one of the app’s greatest features and a differentiator from competitors. It was also the inspiration for the “g” in the icon and the name.

What tools, people, or communities were particularly helped you in creating gWhiz?  The original inspiration was a stack of paper flashcards that sat on cofounder Mike gflashscreenshot2 (1)MacDonald’s kitchen table.  When Mike got the idea from his seeing his daughters flashcards in late 2007, smartphone use had yet to take off.  The first release of gFlash on BlackBerry was met with moderate success.  In 2008, when Apple released the iPhone and iPod Touch, adoption took off.  Our user community has been a great source of feedback.  We obtain feedback directly or through App Reviews.  This has helped greatly and many gFlash features are a direct result of customer feedback. Our publisher partners, McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Wiley, and others have been very helpful.  They have been in the business of education for a long time and have helped greatly by providing high quality content, advice and guidance.  We have also been fortunate to benefit from close relationships with people working in education – from pre-k to college professors; and naturally our students too!

Most importantly our friends and family have provided immeasurable support throughout the process.

What did you learn?

Our users are absolutely the best students. They excel and get good grades, usually beyond the expectations of their teachers. They are often Advanced Placement (AP) students; law school graduates; studying for the EMT exam or pilots undergoing recertification. They have high expectations and demand reliability, customization, and features that help them learn faster with better results. There is no question they have made our apps better.  For development tools we have used Xcode from the start. We have had a few challenges along the way but have found success learned to expect the unexpected.  With Android, we use Eclipse as part of the Android ADT package to develop gFlash and many of our other apps. With so many phone configurations, it can be a challenge.

What would you say went right and wrong with the release?

We were early entrants into the mobile education space and able to gain first-mover advantage.  As a result, we gained a large and loyal following among students of all ages and remained the number one Educational app in the App Store for over a year. 

What were you doing before launching gWhiz?

IMG_gWhiz Team (1)Co-founder Kevin Reville has managed the development of hundreds of applications. He has been the project manager for every key publisher partnership to date. Prior to its acquisition by The Boeing Company, Kevin was instrumental in the creation and growth of Conquest, Inc. — a premier provider of advanced large-scale systems and software technology solutions to federal and commercial users.

Mike MacDonald co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer has oversight for the overall design of new apps to ensure consistency and maintain the vision across platforms.  He has also led the development of many of the gWhiz apps and is a key innovation leader in the industry. Mike is former founder and CEO of Visual Mining Inc., a leading provider of data visualization capabilities. Mike has over 20 years experience developing commercial-grade software applications.

What are some apps that inspire you?

As a small company, we have turned to social media to get our message out. So Facebook, Twitter and Buffer are key apps we use on a daily basis.  We found inspiration in Words with Friends in developing one of our other apps.  We wanted to integrate gaming in a test prep app to help make studying fun!  We liked the idea of gamification and wanted to create a compelling to integrate into a test prep app.  

Head over to the App Stores and download gWhiz!

iTunes and Google Play

Hey Devs!  Want to be featured like gWhiz?  Head over to this link and apply!

Stories Behind the Apps – Trivios


Tell us about being triVios! triVios can be summed up very simply; It’s a real-time trivia game that allows players to win awesome prizes by playing one of four unique trivia game modes.  Players can also engage socially via their profile, live and offline messaging, and competing with or against each other!  Rather than giving out worthless XP points for playing a game, we are providing our players with a fun and engaging challenge that rewards them for their skill and participation.

screen568x568How is your app different from similar apps?  triVios is a real-time trivia game that allows players to compete for great prizes. There are four different game modes you can play.  Our personal favorite is Tournament mode where you can enter as many times as you want and compete for set prizes.  We even have local tournaments so you can battle friends in your area.

Last week, our players competed in tournaments and won a Vizio flat-screen LED TV, Michael Kors watch, Bose Bluetooth SoundDock, tickets to NFL games, and tons of gift cards!  Our current featured tournament prize is an Xbox One.

You can also play Single player on your own and rack up Gator Bucks incognito style, or play against other triVios players and win Gator Bucks with each victory.  Then there’s Team Battle, where you can team up with a friend and compete against another two-player team (in real-time of course) and win Gator Bucks.  Rather than winning worthless XP points like every other game, players redeem their Gator Bucks in our Prize Store for prizes like headphones, TV’s, jewelry, and Amazon, Lululemon, and Nordstrom gift cards just to name a few.

triVios truly is a unique app.  When you take a look at our competitors – other games as a whole, and specifically trivia games – no other game or app rewards their players with real prizes simply for playing.  Everybody can truly win in triVios!  QuizUp and Trivia Crack, which are widely regarded as the biggest trivia games in the world, only have one game mode – Versus mode – while we give our players the option to play individually, play against others, team up with others, and play against many people at once in tournaments.

Our trivia question database contains over 3 million questions ranging from history to sports to education.  No other trivia game in the world has even close to this many questions.  Players can test their math skills or play word games in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.

Another great and unique feature of triVios is our local/regionalized games.  We offer tournaments that are only available to certain areas to offer local prizes and provide an exciting social aspect for players to compete against others from their same area.

Although triVios is free, we still do not have any advertisements in the game because we want our users to have the best experience possible when playing.  Rather than having to worry about being spammed with annoying ads, triVios players can simply enjoy playing trivia while winning great prizes.

Lastly, triVios is a true real-time game.  If you’re matched with another user, the game is taking place at that exact moment for both users.  QuizUp is in real-time for some of its games, however, not all games are actually played in real-time.  

iTunesArtwork@2xWhat went into the design and UI? When creating the triVios user interface, we started off with competitor research in the space to learn what others were doing well and not so well.  We then broke our app down into a wireframe and established the focus of what we believed was most important.  By offering four game modes, it's one of the features that makes us more unique, as most games have only one mode.  For this reason, our home screen emphasizes these various types of game play in a colorful, simple, and easy to understand layout.  Of course, being the first and, as far as we know, only app to offer the ability to win prizes, we wanted to highlight that.  Our prize store is modeled after some of the most successful mobile shopping apps, providing the user with only information that is most relevant for a streamlined user experience.  Removing unnecessary product information allows for a minimalist appearance while providing an engaging experience so the user can focus on what is most important, winning the prize!  Our app icon attempts to encompass these two main ideas as simply as possible, play our game and claim your victory with a prize. The arms in our icon depict a player who just won their game, and is expressing a joyous victory pose with his arms in the air, just like when Rocky makes it to the top of those famous steps. Last, our icon’s purple aesthetic is inherited from the apps background design and our company’s sacred royal color, Purple. The tools used in the creation of triVios include: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro X, and Rhinoceros.

trivios-10201-1-s-307x512What tools did you use in building the app? The main tool that helped us develop triVios was StackOverflow.  It’s a great resource and community to turn to when stuck on a problem or looking for a good way to approach something you haven’t done before.  Other than that, we really relied on ourselves to work through the challenging issues.  There’s something to be said for grinding it out and figuring out what needs to be done without giving up right away and looking elsewhere for a solution.  We also attempted to use some third party plugins and frameworks but that was fairly short lived.

What lessons did you learn during this process? We especially learned that relying on third parties is not a good idea in the long run.  While it may seem like a good solution early on, it usually ends up coming back to bite you.  It’s important to work the issues you face on your own, even if that means it’ll take a little big longer to get done.  In the end, it’s worth putting the extra time and effort to build your own tools.  While this isn’t always the case, it certainly was for us.

What went right and wrong with the release? Early on in the development cycle, we were struggling to come up with a solution for architecting a massively scalable, real-time backend.  We brought in someone to help us solve the issue and ended up building a system only to find out it didn’t work at all.  This was a great learning experience for us because realized that we needed to test better before moving forward with a plan.  It also was the best thing that ever happened to us, because we ended up figuring out a way to architect our own proprietary system that works beautifully rather than rely on a third party.  With our release, thing went smoothly and we didn’t have any major issues on launch, which we can attribute to a two month beta testing phase that helped us work out all issues – at least for the time being).

teamWho is on the team and what are your roles? Andrew Nadhir: CEO & Founder, James Bell: CTO & Co-Founder, Yiyang Yang: Lead Developer & Co-Founder, Sam Zoll: UI/UX Designer, Josh Xu: Intern this past summer and now part-time intern while in school, Henry Spindell: Intern this past summer.

My role has me bouncing around a lot of different areas.  In many regards, I am a ‘project manager’ working with everyone on what needs to be done and how we should approach it.  I also carry the responsibilities of Purple Gator’s finances, accounting, marketing, networking, customer support, and many other odds and ends.

James and Yiyang worked together early on to build our backend from scratch.  After they solved the complexities of creating a secure, massively scalable, real-time backend, Yiyang took over building the front end while James remained working on the backend.

Sam came on board right as we were beginning to start working on the front end.  He worked with Yiyang to create a beautiful design and layout for the game that evolved as we progressed forward and ultimately decided on a final design during our beta stage.  Sam is also helping me with the marketing and promotion aspect of triVios as his design role is currently not as demanding at this time.

Josh worked in a hybrid role working on the front end with Yiyang and the backend with James.  He also created some amazing database management tools from scratch to make my life much easier.

Henry worked primarily on the front end with Yiyang and the triVios website.

interior_officeWhat were you doing prior to creating trivios Andrew Nadhir: I graduated from Northwestern in 2010 with an economics degree but remained in school through 2011 to continue wrestling.  I became an All-American my senior year, taking 6th in the country, and then had the opportunity to see different parts of the world for a couple months before starting a job as a proprietary trader.  It was at this job that I met James Bell, our future CTO.  After getting out of the trading industry, I searched for a different job in finance for a couple months, but in September 2013, I came up with the idea for triVios (there was no name for the game back then) and ran with it.

James Bell: James graduated from Washington University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, spent some time in the Air Force, and then worked as a proprietary trader for a short period in Chicago.  He was working on his own projects when I approached him and convinced him to join the Purple Gator team.

Yiyang Yang: Yiyang was ruling China before coming to US in 2012 to get his Masters in Computer Science from Northwestern.  When he wasn’t ruling in China, he was getting his degree in Electrical Engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  After finishing his Masters program, he joined Purple Gator.

Sam Zoll: Sam graduated from University of Michigan in 2014 with a degree in Architecture.  He moved back to Chicago after school and we were lucky enough to come across his resume.  Although he didn’t have prior experience in UI/UX design, he was clearly the best man for the job.

What other apps inspire you?  A few apps I can’t live without are Google Maps, Spotify, and Flipboard.  I’m good at directions, but I trust Google Maps way more than myself, not to mention it’d be that much harder to find restaurant phone numbers and order food.  Spotify is just amazing.  In the past, I would spend hours organizing my music and playlist (and I’m a bit OCD about that so it was miserable keeping everything in order).  Now I just rely on Spotify to do all the hard work for me.  I even pay the $10 for premium service.  Flipboard is another one of my favorites because it makes it really easy for me to catch up on news I’ve missed in different categories.  I love reading the technology section every night before I go to bed.  Keeps me on the up in case I miss something important throughout the day. .

Head over to iTunes or Google Play to download triVios

Hey app devs!  Wanna be featured like our friends at triViosClick Here.