04 10 / 2013
I attended an intensive 9 week hacking bootcamp this summer. The most obvious thing for me to document during my time there was the correlation between my facial hair growth and my coding skills. I have included some example code for each progressive week.
Week 1 (Ruby)
Week 2 (Object Oriented Design)
Terminal Flash Card Game
Week 3 (Databases)
Terminal To-do Application
Week 4 (Web Fundamentals)
Web Based Flash Card Application
Week 5 (Front End)
Week 6 (Web Applications)
3rd Party Twitter Application
Week 7 (Rails Crash Course)
Stack Overflow Clone
Week 8 (Advanced Rails)
Begin Final Project
Week 9 (Agile Development)
Full Rails App Final Project
14 9 / 2013
These past two weeks I rode a 24/7 coding roller-coaster Night and day, hacking away on an idea that flooded my mind and body. The idea came to me while driving to a coffee shop to work on a contract. That ten minute drive caused that contract to be put on hold for “the day”, which in turn put it on hold for two weeks….
The first startup I built as an engineer took over ONE FULL YEAR to develop, only to have a handful of customers. I am not making that mistake again.
I have wanted to create something for the baby boomer demographic for a while, but couldn’t quite put my finger on a product for them. Here’s my “aha” moment:
Mom and all her friends have hundreds of pictures on their smartphones and want the ability to easily get them printed to have and send to family and friends, but the idea of acclimating to another “app” is frightening. They do however, already feel comfortable sending picture messages via text. What if they could just send a picture message along with the name of the recipient and I would print and ship it? Booyah!
I used ruby on rails (obviously) to build everything out quickly. Here are the api’s I used. Each one crucial to the end result:
I used Lob to do the physical printing and shipping. They are a Y-combinator startup that has a sweet api for just that. https://www.lob.com/
I began using Twilio (which was an obvious choice for integrating text messaging for me). I soon realized Twilio does not allow MMS (picture messages) in the US, so I searched and quickly came up with Mogreet. I got pretty much what I needed from them (they also have really great customer support and nice people). http://www.mogreet.com/
Paypal had two major components I needed: micropayments, and pre-approvals. If you have transactions under $12 micropayments have a smaller fee. Pre-approvals allow me to send a pay request without the user confirming each time (necessary for a “text transaction”). I used their adaptive payments gem which was super easy to integrate.
Lastly I used AWS S3 to store my images. Prior to storing them in the cloud, I needed to trim them down to 4” x 6” which I completed fairly easily using imagemagick.
So after I launched this product I had more orders in the first 24 hours than I did in total with my startup that took over a year to develop.
I am not sure where this product will take me, but I did learn a valuable lesson so far, and that is to get your product out to your customers as fast as possible. Even if your site is buggy, fuck it! If your demographic does not like your idea and won’t use it, who cares if your login page doesn’t redirect to the correct page. Just get your shit out to customers NOW!
Here is the product. I will be happy to share source code with anyone interested.
02 5 / 2013
Ultimate solution? Have you dealt with Internet Explorer? We’re all fucked!
26 4 / 2013
“Dude, I got this new app I’m about to put on the app store thats for sure gonna be the next Facebook!” said 10 different dudes in the San Francisco bar I attended last weekend.
It was an unusually douchey crowd in a local Marina bar where the testosterone leaked from the front door as each new fraternity brother walked in. Not long after I ordering my first drink did I join my first (but certainly not last) startup conversation of the evening.
I unintentionally turned that night into an experiment that opened my eyes to HOW MANY FUCKING PEOPLE HAVE STARTUPS IN SAN FRANCISCO! I have been in the startup world for a while now, and have seen the popularity rise tremendously, but this was a whole new level!
What does this mean for all of us “starters?” Is the amount of gold we can mine from this “startup” earth dwindling? Is the gold rush almost over?
I believe (and hope) this startup space is similar to the music-space in the sense (and in the only sense) that artists are constantly able to create new songs to entertain fans. Their musical recipes include drums, guitars, vocals, etc. They constantly reformulate those ingredients to create new songs and genres that continue to thrived for centuries.
My hope is new and innovative “genres” of startups will begin to emerge as new startup “ingredients” are created. Although these analogous representations are vague, it makes sense and hopefully will help all of us “starters” to begin thinking about tomorrow and seek out new ingredients to add to our recipes. Lets pick this shit up!
22 4 / 2013
There were many factors that inhibited our startups success, but one major problem I could not resolve for the life of me was realizing what I sucked at. Was it because I thought I was better at certain things that others? HELL YEAH IT WAS! Was my personal perception of my work skewed? FUCK YEAH IT WAS!
I honestly believed my designs looked great, and were ready to be showcased to the world. My co-founder Dan (@DPolaske) on the other hand, had been working on his own designs because he hated everything about mine. He didn’t admit this to me until much later unfortunately. He just kept emphasizing his designs over mine in conversation.
I suspect the reason I thought my designs were so much better than Dans were because I built them (it was my baby!). I understood the time and effort I spent on them and subconsciously took that into account when mentally rating them aesthetically. I grew attached to my designs and became extremely narrow minded while judging alternatives (BIG MISTAKE!).
I was getting annoyed with Dan for continuously butting heads with me over design differences when CLEARLY mine were WAYYY better. To shut him up, I decided we would both come up with 3 design mockups and have 20 trusted friends from our target demographic vote on them. I KNEW mine were far superior so this was a good way to get that in his head. The votes came in and unanimously Dans designs won. Son-of-Biatch!
At first I was pissed, but I knew the battle was over. Dan was officially the companies designer. I stopped arguing with him about his work although I still had some lingering effects of WISAD (What I Suck At Denial). I was the one coding out the front-end so I ultimately held the key to whatever ended up on the screen. This allowed me to put “my sauce” into his designs while coding them.
For a few weeks following the vote I would periodically add a little dash of my sauce to his designs when I thought it improved the look. In reality I was just reverting his designs back to my down-voted designs we already agreed were flushed down the pooper (super inefficient).
It wasn’t until Dan finally bluntly communicated to me his concern with this dilemma, that I took one big step back and looked at the situation as a whole. I totally agreed with him. After that final incident it seemed as though my narrow-mindedness had gone into remission.
My design skills sucked, and I learned the hard way to stop wasting my time thinking otherwise. “Feedback early and always” seems to be an underlying message in almost every lesson I learned. The tipping point for me here was when I brought in fresh outside eyes and took in what they had to say. In the future I would suggest utilizing this technique at many stages in a startups lifespan. It will not only help you cure your WISAD but it will open your eyes up to any differences you may have between your target demographic and your personal views.
I have been joining Google Hangouts left and right with fellow entrepreneurs talking “startups”. Hit me up if you want to get in on one! email@example.com or @nemrow on Twitter.
11 4 / 2013
I finally said it, my startup failed. Fuck. I felt like I was coming out of the closet when I first stated it aloud to my co-founder. We both knew for months it was not working out, but we never explicitly defined our situation as a failed one. Now that the elephant in the room has a name, we’ll call him “Dumbo” which stands for “Didn’t Understand Markets Brain Outline”. That right there was our main problem. Our market demographic was musicians, and although a few of us had worked around the industry, we concluded recently we were not music SALES domain experts.
The product was a flash sale platform for musicians to release their music using dynamic pricing (zillionears.com). To us, this software was a no brainer for musicians to use. The artists get to engage their fans while enticing their community to share with friends. So we talked to a few artists who said they thought it was a cool idea. BOOM! Our idea had been validated! After that moment we basically stopped talking to artists for a year and built (and rebuilt) the software until we thought it was acceptable.
Our first beta test was a disaster when Amazon (who was our payment processor) suspended our account for not complying with money transfer issues. Fans were able to participate in the sale, but we were unable to capture their billing. We ended up paying the artist out of our own pocket and giving everyone his music for free (and we never told him that happened until now).
From that beta test we found out that our software needed to be rewritten to comply with Amazons terms. More importantly though, people really didn’t really LIKE anything about our product. No one that used the service thought it was that cool. In fact, some people that participated in the sale didn’t even like our “dynamic pricing” system. They were trying to support the artist, so saving a few dollars didn’t excite them. They could easily have just gotten his music for free elsewhere.
We should have packed it up early right then, but we felt like we had already gone too far to quit. We rebuilt (and re-designed) the majority of the software, got approved by Amazon, and reached out to over 1,700 artists (each individually through different platforms). We got between 1 and 10 artists interested. Again, this just screams “PUT IT OUT OF ITS MISERY!” But we kept going. Finally the day came for our second beta (which was totally gonna kick ass for sure). The artist we had on board set up his sale page and was ready to go. Only problem is he totally misunderstood what our software was all about. Once he found out about the dynamic pricing he tells us “I think I am just going to release with another platform.” FUCK! Are you serious????
After that we spent another month slowly letting it linger in our day to day lives. We went for one last ditch effort to make a press release, but couldn’t get a single artist (out of the 1,700+ we talked to) to run a sale. My co-founder called me to tell me this news. I asked him “Would you like to use my gun?” I was referring to the scene in The Social Network where Zuckerberg’s lawyer asks Saverin “Would you like to use my pen?” to manipulatively sign his shares over. I, of course, was referring to shooting this fucking company in the head and moving on with our lives! He agreed. We took Zillionears out back, and shot it in the head. It felt good.
Although our company did not succeed the way we would have hoped for, we all learned more in the past year than we had in college. Our insights and experiences have been invaluable. For each of my future posts I will go into detail about the things I learned while on this journey, and how to apply the knowledge to future startups so you can avoid ending up in a room with “Dumbo”!
Hit me up on twitter! I just got on there. I love to talk to folks about startup experiences! @nemrow
09 4 / 2013
I spent a good amount of time trying to write my entire experience only to be left with 30 pages of incomplete scattered word vomit that not even I could understand. I’ve decided blog-styled would be a much easier way to get my story across.
While writing, my mind goes in strange directions, often times getting taken over by inappropriate analogies, and abnormal examples. If this does not sound like you’re style of writing I don’t blame you if you head back to Myspace. If you are like me, and enjoy reading about startup adventures and have a sarcastic (and awesome) sense of humor, then allow me to introduce to you “My Startup Failed. Fuck.”