I am an entrepreneur, developer and world traveler that focuses on human-centric solutions. I have founded a few of my own startups, worked as lead developer for others, and won a few hackathons. Here's a selection of work I've done over the last 15 years:
I co-founded nReduce, which is an online startup incubator. It became a global community of 3000+ founders who posted weekly video updates, gave each other feedback, tips, and support on their businesses. I woud describe it as an 'experiential learning platform', where insights are spread quickly from startup to startup over weekly video updates.
My co-founder Joe Mellin (Stanford d.school graduate and UX/product designer) and I traveled to learn the challenges founders face - in NYC, Boston, Seattle, London, Manchester, Copenhagen, Singapore, and Berlin. We spent time interviewing them to learn about their businesses, showed them prototypes of features that we were working on that week, and ran usability tests to hone features that were live. I found that most founders face the same challenges: building the right product that customers need, finding those customers cheaply enough, working with co-founders, and figuring out ways to handle the emotional stress.
We also organized 15 local meetings around the world, and personally ran a SF meeting with guest entrepreneurs and mentors. Each week we prototyped new ideas of what to run through - from customer development to fundraising. After seeing if it was successful we would share our learnings with the other local leaders around the world, and get feedback from them.
We ran online demo days, where 5k people came each month to ask selected founders questions about their startup in real time over video.
I built the site (in a garage - see pic :) using Rails with various video platform integrations. Joe focused primarily on UX and design, customer need-finding, customer service, and anything else non-technical! We equally shared the process of user testing and creatively coming up with features to solve our user's needs.
EBT is an innovative method of emotional therapy that helps people better deal with stress. It uses proven methodologies of improving brain plasticity, to help people with obesity, alcohol and drug addictions, and the rest of us bring more joy to our lives and kick our bad habits. We could all use more of that, right? :D
I was the primary developer, and my friend Max Masnick also worked with me remotely; we used Pivotal Tracker for project management.
EBT is a Rails-based website that features Stripe payments integration, a Twilio-backed custom phone system, provider profiles, group management, and an e-learning platform.
I was part of team Plinq that competed on the StartupBus 72-hour hackathon from Copenhagen to Paris in December 2012. Our concept: learn to play a song in less than a minute, and share your performance with your friends. We won 2nd place in the competition of 22 startups!
We had a hunch that a lot of people aspire to play an instrument. They may have have when they were a kid, or they just want to feel more creative and competent. We tested that hypothesis by using rough prototypes in Keynote, and found that people responded happily with a smile on their faces - we were on to something!
We also wanted it to be simple and familier - so we decided to simply use the computer keyboard. We wanted anyone to be able to play a recognizable tune within a minute, so we continued to iterate on the design, simplifying the interface to simply display the keys you needed to play (not worrying about note names, timing or chords).
Our app was completely functional by the time we arrived in Paris. We had over 1000 "performances" within the first 24 hours of launching, which demonstrated the clear demand for a simple and fun way to play music.
Our team of Joe Mellin (USA), Patrick Cohen (Netherlands), Thomas Van Orshaegen (Belgium) and myself had a ton of fun - besides working hard, we literally laughed and danced the whole way to Paris. The team can make the whole experience magical :)
I built the site in Backbone JS with a Rails/Mongo JSON API, and was the co-leader of the bus dance party from Cologne to Paris :)
The Stanford d.school was launching their design thinking crash course to coincide with David Kelley speaking at TED, and wanted a fun way to show engagement around it.
I worked with my friend Max Masnick to ideate with creative consultant Janetti Chon and d.school prof Jeremy Utley. We wanted to create a live map that visually showed where people were participating in the course.
After drawing inspiration from other full-screen map app experiences, we decided to keep it simple, and represent interactions with a circle. The circle varied in size depending on how many people took the course in that location. We used vibrant, warm colors to highlight the most recent interactions. At the bottom we displayed a rotating banner of tweets with the #dschool hashtag to encourage Twitter discussion.
Max and I built the site in Backbone JS, Raphael JS & Rails.
We started talking about how to communicate design thinking, and realized that it's difficult and messy to document the process, but that's the important part.
We thought if we could create a simple interface to capture the information gathering and creative processes, it would help individuals and teams learn from each other no matter what they were working on around the world.
We decided to use sticky notes as the primary unit of information to keep a rough prototype feel. We wanted people to be able to post text, images or videos, and re-arrange them in a virtual canvas.
We also wanted people to be able to collaborate remotely - so I built in real-time updating so that someone in the field on an iPad could easily collaborate with someone in the office on their computer and see updates immediately.
To keep up to date on interesting projects or people, you can "follow" them. Additionally, you can clone other canvases so that you can quickly build on their process or ideas.
I was responsible for building the Rails backend & HTML5/Coffeescript frontend.
[ Private demo available - ask me ]
I pitched this on the 2011 StartupBus, which is a 72-hour hackathon from San Francisco to Austin. The idea: easily find where you can go on your airline miles, across all of your accounts.
Seven other people joined me after hearing the pitch. After some customer development, we worked 48 sleepless hours, and competed in the semi-finals. We made it into the final pitch competition, where I presented a live demo to Dave McClure, Naval Ravikant and Joshua Baer.
After the competition I continued to develop the idea: I did customer development, built a fully functional MVP in Rails, and amassed multiple advisors in the travel industry.
The travel industry is really quite small and close knit. Data is king. Since I couldn't pay for any, I scraped as much as I could. I had to manually copy route pricing tables from the airlines, and ended up building a quick data collection interface to make the process easier.
The airlines weren't willing to give me access to real-time award ticket availability (well some at a very high price, some not at all), which was crucial to compelling value proposition. After talking to my advisors in the travel industry I knew this was highly unlikely, and not available at any price from some airlines.
I decided to shut down the business because I didn't feel like I wanted to endure fighting the airlines and didn't see a business model that would support the data costs. I decided it wasn't worth raising the venture capital if there wasn't a compelling business potential.
It was a shame because I was passionate about the idea and I could tell there was very strong consumer demand for a simple and effective product like this.
I co-founded this site along with Stephen Gotlieb (Berkeley Haas MBA graduate) and three travel industry veterans (Expedia, Everbread) as advisors. We wanted to help travelers easily compare and find the right flight for them. I built a browser extension that would allow you to quickly search across all travel sites and pin any flights you liked to a trip board. It made it easy to compare them, get updated prices, and share the trip board to help people traveling with others to quickly communicate the flight options and make a decision. The end goal was to create a personalized travel search engine that understood a traveler's decision process and trip persona (ex: business, friends, family), to narrow down the millions of options out there.
I decided to leave after completing a functional private beta - Stephen is still running the business today.
The goal was to make news interesting to young people. Newzwag was a startup fully funded by the french news wire Agence France-Presse (AFP). I joined Jon Dillon and David Millikin as the lead developer. I hired a small, nimble team of one developer, one designer, and dev contractors when needed. We also had an in-house team of editors that wrote questions daily.
We built a current events quiz game, and decided to test it out by launching it as a Facebook app (back when it was easy to get news feed distribution). It quickly gained a dedicated (addicted!) group of followers.
Each day you could compete against others and test your news knowledge with witty text and photo-based questions. The quicker you answered, the more points you got, and you could unlock various 'cheats' that you could use in times of need.
After building a custom analytics suite to optimize activation and retention rates, we looked for other opportunities to market the product. We licensed the quiz for the Olympics to various news sites like Yahoo! and ESPN - this required considerable work in scaling the app to handle the 100k people who played it. We did lots of DB tuning, custom in-memory caching (that still enabled real-time gameplay), and tested it under simulated load.
We also built a "Question Factory" CMS which was a complete question-writing and quiz authoring Rails site for our editors.
When starting the job I hadn't practiced agile process, but after reading about it and talking to a few mentors, we began doing development based on user stories, with week-long sprints, and weekly standups. It vastly improved our accountability to create value for our users each week, and it is a process I continue to this day, with some modifications.
Newzwag: AFP Pix
While working at Newzwag, we created an iPhone app that helped you learn what was happening in the world through full-screen photo sets that editors culled from the news wire.
I built it along with Daniel Lockhart. Neither of us had ever written in Objective-C, or built an iPhone app before. We taught ourselves and released the app to the iTunes store within 4 months of starting to learn iOS development.
We also built a full backend for our editorial staff to create and publish photo sets in Rails.
Time to take the way back machine to 1997: the first website I built, at age 13. I created it with a friend of mine, Levi Reddig, as part of an international educational website competition called ThinkQuest.
As part of the contest we had to create a site that taught kids about a topic of our choice - at that point we were shooting off model rockets, so naturally we chose space exploration.
When we started we didn't know any HTML. We did our own research and writing, finding images and sound clips, and included some fancy animated gifs for flair (which have ironically made a comeback!).
This was what got me hooked on web development, and opened my eyes to the possibility of the internet as a source of knowledge, as a vehicle for education by sharing stories and insights not covered in traditional media.
I went on to compete in this challenge twice more, working with my close friend Max Masnick:
1999: A Mystery of Space: STARS Max and I created an interactive learning experience for teachers to use when educating kids about space and stars. We taught ourselves Flash and built interactive animations, wrote content, and designed lesson plans.
I worked again with my friend Max Masnick, and we did our own research, including video interviews with landowners and loggers to capture and convey their experiences. We also built community components (hacking CGI/Perl scripts), to encourage online discussion, since fire is such a personal topic among many people who live in the mountains.
We tried to work remotely with a Bolivian teammate, but a few months into the project he just disappeared. Oh early internet collaboration...
In parallel, I also designed my own scientific research project that year to test my hypothesis that fire spread at different rates among different species of conifer trees. I collected samples and created an apparatus to test the flash point across species. I presented my research, Flammability of the Needles and Scales of Seven Species of Western Montana Conifers, which proved my original hypothesis with statistically significant results. I presented at regional and state fairs, and won an invitation to the Intel ISEF science fair. There I placed 2nd in Botany and garnered a US Army award (for achievement in the field of excellence :p), which I thought was pretty awesome for completely self-designed and self-led research.