808STARTUP: Pas de Chocolat Gets Treed

Treed app iconProject planning and management applications, like Microsoft Project, usually don’t fall into the “sexy” category. In fact, they’re right down there with spreadsheets when it comes to visual appeal, and alongside CAD when it comes to ease-of-use. However, the “appification” of software and the explosion of touchscreen phones and tablets has forced software developers to rethink how users interact with their designs and the breadth and depth of their app’s abilities. The creatively redefined, simplified, and focused interfaces of mobile apps such as Pulse, Flipboard, and LivingSocial, have put the pressure on software developers to put the user above all else.

Salesforce.com is an amazing tool, but it does a million different things. Same with Microsoft Office. The days of the average user interacting with one or two massive software solutions, or even a  few best-of-breed solutions, are starting to wane. Emerging are purpose- or task-specific apps which users can use anywhere, on any device, to accomplish the task at hand. The average smartphone in the US has about 25 apps on it. Why? Because it’s an entirely new usage paradigm (single task, touch screen) that isn’t suited to a one-size-fits-all solution and rewards the developer who starts from scratch rather than trying to jam a desktop application on to a smartphone.

Treed app screenshotThe Honolulu-based team at Pas de Chocolat recognized the limits and potential of these new devices, then tackled project management in their first app, Treed, built specifically for the iPad.

Treed is a simple way to track projects and manage all of the underlying tasks and activities, but with a creative visual interface. The name “Treed” presumably comes from the simple tree structure of the tasks, which users can easily create, then drag and drop anywhere into the project, creating the project’s flow and hierarchy.

The light visuals bring one word to my mind: fluffy. Maybe it’s the cloud at the top of the “big picture” view, or maybe it’s the 3D look reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, but I guarantee that no one ever described a project management tool as “fluffy,” and that’s a good thing for Pas de Chocolat!

“It’s playful, fun, and designed for anyone who doesn’t like Gantt charts,” said Kyle Oba, half of the husband/wife team that makes up Pas de Chocolat.  “It follows a backwards planning philosophy and is designed to help people achieve their goals.  This playful tone continues in our upcoming projects.”

Treed’s unique design comes from their complementary working relationship. Cara Oba, the design side of the company, found that a lot of the design happens between the screens, in the transitions.

“This elevates the importance of product design in what we’re doing,” said Kyle. “So, it means I, as a programmer, have to learn a lot more about interaction design.  And, Cara’s background in industrial design and design thinking are a really good fit.  In the future, we’re hoping to do a lot more formal cross-training.  For example, Cara wants to do more programming and I want to do more illustration.

Proving that Kyle knows marriage as well as development, he’s quick to point out who’s really the boss:  “We’re equal partners in the business.  Actually, Cara is the president, but I’d say we share in the decision-making.” (Sure thing, Kyle. 😉 )

The Pas de Chocolat team has also taken a different route with respect to revenue: actually selling their app instead of giving it away or integrating advertisements. What a novel concept! At $21.99, it’s no impulse purchase, but for a well-thought-out, task-specific app, it’s definitely worth a look. Searching for “project management” returns 107 iPad-specific apps in iTunes, priced mostly in the free to $12 range and giving potential buyers a lot of options.

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t give it a full review because I use an Android tablet and my wife won’t let me come within six feet of her iPad. But, maybe Pas de Chocolat will eventually realize that there’s more to life than iOS—or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.)

Beyond Treed, Pas de Chocolat aims to create additional iOS apps for kids, a tool for role-playing gamers, and a coffee table app. They’re also developing apps on their own, plus looking to work with other teams to broaden their footprint.

“We are collaborating with other teams to produce jointly-owned iOS applications,” said Kyle. “In the past we’ve collaborated with filmmakers, writers, designers, researchers, comedians, engineers, etc. We have some projects in the conceptual phase right now.  For example, we’re starting to collaborate with an anthropologist and design researcher on a possible app idea.”

Beyond apps, they recently built a 3D interactive installation for the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and are planning to do more physical products and installations in the future.

As for the company’s name, Kyle mentions their love of all things French and that they lived in Paris, but ends with, “I should also mention that we love chocolate.”

Here’s the 808 on Pas de Chocolat:

  • 808STARTUP: “We’re a tiny design/build shop, currently producing iOS applications, exploring collaborations in the intersection of science and play.”
  • STARTERS: Cara Oba, an industrial designer and mechanical engineer originally from Hawaii, and Kyle Oba, a software developer and recent transplant from California.
  • LOCATION: Hawaii Kai, Honolulu
  • BUSINESS MODEL: App sales.
  • COMPETITION: Agile Project Manager ($11.99), SG Project ($9.99), Project Planner HD ($5.99), LiquidPlanner (free), and dozens more.
  • BACKING: Bootstrapped
  • CONTACT: Email