Q&A: Inside the Windows Phone Insider

Each month more than two million people receive email from Lisa Stratton—including maybe you.

Although you might not recognize her name, you’ve likely seen her handiwork. Stratton is editor-in-chief of the popular Windows Phone Insider newsletter and Insider app. With the arrival of Windows Phone 8 this month—AT&T’s phones hit stores today—the potential audience for this handy publication is only likely to grow. So it seemed like a good time to tell you more about her.image

Raised in Silicon Valley, Stratton arrived at Microsoft in 1997 (“I guess it’s in my DNA”) and over the years worked on products including Office, Money, Streets & Trips, MSN, and Windows Live. After seeing the “Really?” ads for Windows Phone 7 (one of Time Magazine’s top TV spots of 2010), she knew where she wanted to work next, and joined the Windows Phone marketing team early the following year.

I caught up with Stratton in her office this week, where she was just putting the finishing touches on the November issue of Insider. “I’m a workaholic,” she confesses with a laugh. Pinned to the corkboard behind her PC are a year’s worth of issues. We talked about how she’s evolving the newsletter and what it was like to be in San Francisco last week for her first big Windows Phone launch, something she was still buzzing about.

Q: What made you want to work on Windows Phone?

A: I always have to work on a product that I believe in, and that I use. The phone is really interesting because it’s become such an intimate part of people’s lives. If someone accidentally leaves it at home during the day, they’ll turn around and get it— or just think about it all day, “I don’t have my phone!” It’s like there’s a part of you that’s missing.

It’s so amazing to work on a product that people feel such a connection with.

Q: Windows Phone 8 will introduce a lot of new people to the phone—and potentially your newsletter. Why should someone subscribe?

A: The newsletter is great if you’re interested in Windows Phone but don’t have time to go look at a bunch of web sites. About once a month we’ll deliver you interesting info to help you learn more about your phone.

Q: Like?

A: We try to showcase what’s new or stuff we recommend people try out— apps and games, new phone announcements, tip videos, and other fun stuff. The goal is to teach people how to use their phone and do it in an interesting and engaging way, bringing it to life for them. There’s something for everyone.

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The Insider newsletter has more than 2 million subscribers—and offers news, videos, tips, apps, and real-life customer stories. Here’s a snippet from a recent issue.

Q: In the forthcoming November edition I noticed you’ve added a new “From the Editor” section.

A: I want to show readers there are real people here—so they don’t think some sort of robot churns these things out.

Q: Any other changes on the way?

A: The other thing we’re adding is customer profiles and photos. I’m inviting people to tweet #WPphoto or email me pictures they’ve taken with their Windows Phones and we’ll showcase one a month in the newsletter. We’ll also feature them in the Insider app as downloadable wallpapers, like we do now with Bing images. It’s really cool to see the pictures people take and how well they honestly stand up against the professional Bing ones.

People can also email me their stories about favorite Windows Phone features and why they love them. I want to showcase what real customers are doing with their phones—how they’re using it, what features they’re loving, the photos that they’re taking. So it’s them just sort of telling their own stories through the newsletter.

Q: What’s the Insider app and how’s it different from the newsletter?

A: The Insider app is for Windows Phone owners who want more regular phone-related news and content. We’re working on a new version of the app for [Windows Phone] 8 phones that will have a What’s New section linking to news articles, the blog, and different things like that.

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A new version of the Insider app with new features for Windows Phone 8 is planned for December. This is how the current version looks.

It also has tips, free ringtones—we have five new ringtones every month—and lock screen wallpapers. Like I mentioned, the new version will have Bing wallpapers and user-contributed wallpapers. The other cool thing that we do is update it every week with five new apps and five new games. I’ve had people say to me, “That’s the only app discovery that I do.” If you’re just standing around killing time, the app is a great way to learn about your Windows Phone.

Q: I hear you went to the big Windows Phone 8 launch event in San Francisco last week. Actress Jessica Alba was there. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was there. Windows Phone’s Joe Belfiore was there. What was that like?

A: It was exciting. In the morning I went to a pre-party with about a hundred Windows Phone fans and enthusiasts, many of whom were there because they’d won a contest we held asking people to tell us why they love Windows Phone. I read many of the submissions, and it was so touching to hear from real customers about why they’re so passionate about the product. Some wrote us poetry, some long stories, and some even travelled long distances on their own dime to attend the event. One guy came all the way from Belfast. I had a blast chatting with people.

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Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft corporate vice president, stands alongside CEO Steve Ballmer, and actress Jessica Alba at the Windows Phone 8 launch event in San Francisco last week.

Q: Poetry? Wow—any memorable stanzas?

A: “Windows Mobile stole me from Android/It helped me see Google’s smartphone void.”

Q: Did they seem psyched to be there?

A: Very—especially when Steve Ballmer made a surprise visit. It was awesome. He even answered questions from the crowd. Someone asked him which Windows Phone he uses, and he said he carries all of them, so nobody thinks he’s playing favorites.

Q: What other favorite moments did you have at the event?

A: When Joe [Belfiore]’s kids came out on stage and showed how they use Kid’s Corner. The atmosphere in the room immediately changed. It was a really nice, authentic moment that showed Joe the dad, not Joe the Microsoft executive. He showed some funny video clips of his kids pestering him to play with his phone—something I think all parents can relate to.

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Windows Phone exec Joe Belfiore brings his own children on stage in San Francisco to demo Kid’s Corner, a new feature of Windows Phone 8.

Q: Are you looking forward to more launch events?

A: Yes, especially if I can meet more customers.

Q: You’re not disappointed you didn’t get to meet Jessica Alba?

A: It would have been exciting to meet her, but it was really cool to hear from people who are using and loving our phone. That’s why I do my job: to help customers. So having the chance last week to meet the actual people that I’m helping? It was really rewarding.