Kushal Dave, CTO of chartbeat

Tuesday night the Fellows heard from Kushal Dave, CTO of Chartbeat. Chartbeat allows an incredible volume of real-time analytics, including how many people are on your site right now, which pages, how many are commenting, etc. Basically Chartbeat is to Google Analytics as IM is to snail mail.
data rule
data rule
Chartbeat is also part of the Betaworks companies, so Fellows got to hear about Betaworks’ energetic incubator-investor environment. Kushal’s talk was called “more than I wish I knew about storing data at web scale”.
Fellows were really engaged in hearing how their technical skills can be the make-or-break difference for a data-driven startup such as Chartbeat. Kushal went through the nitty and the gritty of how organizing your data properly can enable the kind of intuitive UI chartbeat provides for viewing historical data, and how organizing data the way you might have first thought (including, in Kushal’s case, trying to write his own database from scratch) can be a total nonstarter.
there are many data
there are many data
In the end the winning strategy was to work with 10gen, whose MongoDB framework saved the day! (The fellows will be hearing from Kristina Chodorow from 10gen in mid-July, so stay tuned. Hopefully we’ll also get to hear about the projects hackNY Fellow Chris Triolo is working on there this summer!).
action shot of chris T
action shot of chris T
That said, clearly the winning skills for Kushal were fluency in multiple languages/frameworks; an ability to abstract the problem to compare the different potential solutions; and the persistence to keep hacking until the winning strategy was launched.
mongoDB FTW
mongoDB FTW
The Fellows also heard Kushal’s observations about how the role of the technologists in a startup differs from his earlier experiences at two Big.Co’s: google and IBM. Fellows were very interested to hear about the experiences that encouraged Kushal to leave Google’s NYC office after 5 years there and join Chartbeat. Many of the themes echoed what the Fellows heard from Fred Brooks about large corporations and the difficult to design and execute a beautiful creation in an large corporation. Some of Kushal’s comments also echoed those of Martin Wattenberg in our first Fellows’ lecture this summer, on the subject of how a great creation can be edited, controlled, (or, in the case of Kushal’s experience at Google, killed entirely) based on the decisions of people on the product or PR side of a large multifaceted corporation.
Kushal did a great job spanning both the artfulness of being a technologist in a startup (there were plenty of jokes about B trees and key parsing) but also the human dynamics of being part of a small team — or even leading one, in Kushal’s case — vs. being a small cog in a large machine. It was great to hear how Kushal’s transitions since his time as a student had taught him so much and how he’s landed on his feet at a great gig.
happy fellows
happy fellows
We’re looking forward to hearing what his future holds!
tal+kushal
tal+kushal
pictures: Alex Qin (thanks, Alex!!!)
chris+kushal
chris+kushal

Fellows’ perspective: Julie Dinerman on the Aprizi blog

Julie Dinerman wrote a great post today over at the blog of Giff Constable, CEO of Aprizi.com

Here’s what she said:

I feel lucky to be working at Aprizi as part of the first class of students on the HackNY program. One of my goals for the summer was to see what working outside of an academic setting would be like. Being paired up with a small startup company in New York sounded like an excellent opportunity to learn about working in business and industry.

I am discovering that startup companies have their own culture within the world of industry. My first week at Aprizi presented me with a whirlwind of new terms and concepts from business and especially the startup tech business that I was completely unfamiliar with. A taste of the ideas that came my way would include how to find ‘venture capitalists and angel investors’, what it meant to be in ‘open beta’ and that the ‘tails’ of the marketplace may be as rich in resources as its peaks. I also see that startups come with good and bad. I love the casual atmosphere in our office that is typical in the startup community. There is a lot of creative freedom that comes with spearheading a startup, but there is also a lot of pressure to make an excellent product without a lot of resources. And you can only hope for a happy ending.

On my first day at Aprizi, Giff and Liz met me for lunch and began explaining their vision for the website. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and I thought Aprizi sounded like an interesting concept. After taking a good look at the website, it was hard to believe that all of the coding and curation was done by a team of only two people. I was excited to jump in and start helping. Giff invited me to sit in on some of the meetings he and Liz had and I began to understand a little bit more about the company’s growth and development strategies for the next couple of months. They are working to build the site piece by piece. Throughout the process, they plan on making changes and additions that are guided by the feedback they get from their early users. This seems like a smart plan to me.

As Liz helped me install the necessary software and files to start working, Giff suggested that I help in the curation process as well as the coding. Being an Electrical Engineering student that doesn’t spend too much time shopping, I hesitated. Giff encouraged me by explaining that Aprizi recommendations are meant to come from lots of different styles and perspectives. I began to think of Aprizi as more than just a personal shopping website to connect users with products they already know about. Rather, Aprizi is being designed to help people discover cool things that they would love but would not have found on their own without a lot of searching. Now, when I find a cool item online, I excitedly add it to the database.

My favorite part of this internship is that I get to learn about programming in a supportive, hands-on environment. It took a little while to get my machine set up and to learn the basics of JRuby and Rails. When I was ready to begin, Liz gave me a couple of introductory tasks and I was thrilled to see my changes appear on the website. I have been working on some small improvements here and there and I am excited to get started on my bigger project which will add a search feature to Aprizi.

All in all, I am having fun learning a lot and finding cool things for the database. I hope you check back on the Aprizi website soon for the awesome new search feature!
– Julie

hackNY Fellows visit Buzzfeed and Jonah Peretti

On Tuesday night the Fellows got to visit the new offices of Buzzfeed and hear from their founder and CEO Jonah Peretti.

buzzfeed
buzzfeed

Jonah has a long history of experimental virology, developing, propagating, and studying why things go viral. What’s amazing is that Jonah has managed to take a fascination for understanding people’s psychology, particularly the way they interact online, and turn it into a business plan.


Jonah talked to us about Buzzfeed, a startup company with technology for launching, tracking, and accelerating viral distribution of content on the web. Jonah talked not only about psychology but even mathematical and statistical modeling employed by Buzzfeed.

earlier work by JP
earlier work by JP
viral math
viral math

Afterwards, we talked quite a bit about the venture model, with valuable insights from Jon Steinberg, formerly of google and Polaris and now president of Buzzfeed. It was clear that Jonah’s appreciation for the way people’s wiring influences their decisions extends to startup financing. Jonah discussed some of the rational and irrational mechanisms that drive VC decisions and gave advice to hackNY members on how to get their ideas funded.

jon s
jon s

Jon Steinberg also had encouragement for the hackNY Fellows, saying that now was a fantastic time to have their skill set.

You all are at the perfect place. Being a hacker now is like being a hedge fund manager in the late 1990s.
Your kids will tell you that they wished they had the opportunities that you do right now.

nolan's not really that trashy
nolan's not really that trashy

Afterwards we all had a chance to chat informally with each other and with Jonah.

chatting about math+mullets
chatting about math+mullets
happy fellows
happy fellows
what are they talking about?
what are they talking about?

Thanks again to Jonah and Jon for making time to talk to the hackNY Fellows!

Fred Brooks at Etsy on Software Development and Collaboration

The HackNY Fellows visited Etsy to see Fred Brooks speak about collaboration and the process of software development.


Before the talk, Fellows had a chance to catch up with each other and with Hilary, Evan, and Chris about their startups.

Clem and Anil, rappin bout clustering
catching up
catching up

Fred covered material from The Mythical Man-Month and his new book, The Design of Design.

He emphasized how projects must be organized to preserve the conceptual integrity of the design. His presentation was full of hilarious anecdotes and memorable phrases, such as “Many hands make light work: often, and more work: always.”

He also had great stories from his time at IBM and other Big Corporations about how hierarchies, like one finds in a large company, can lead to disconnect between the committee that designed the project and the people actually implementing it, who know what the real problems are.

Fred also discussed the role of telecollaboration, which can be a big part of life for some startups. He emphasized that it was important to have face to face meetings first, and telecollaborate later, a point also raised last week in the post Is Silicon Valley Dead? by Dave Troy:

Real creativity … has to happen face to face. This is where the magic occurs. If you don’t spend time with people you can’t create.

New-technology tools can help with execution, but only after the team dynamics are in place…

Love your place. Find the other like minded souls who love your place and start companies with those people. The creativity you unleash in your own backyard is the most important competitive differentiator you have.

Fred also took time to sign books and chat with the audience.

Afterwards Fellows got to chat with some other members of NYC’s startup ecosystem. Here’s Tal with Benjamin Gleitzman of Hunch.com, also cofounder of NextStep Tech!

tal (hackNY/aviary) + benjamin (hunch/NextStep Tech)
tal (hackNY/aviary) + benjamin (hunch/NextStep Tech)

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Tal was quoted as saying “Compared to a traditional job, start-up life is different.” Etsy proved them right when, after the talk, they busted out the DJ + the disco ball:

DJ Etsy
DJ Etsy
Etsy disco ball
Etsy disco ball

Thanks to our host, Chad Dickerson!

Fellows’ Perspective: Sledgehammers and Awesomeness at Tuesday’s NYTM

Tal Safran is a computer science student at NYU and a HackNY 2010 Fellow. Tal is working at Aviary.com.

I went to the NY Tech Meetup this past Tuesday with several HackNY fellows, and all I got was this lousy iPad:

Smashed iPad at June NYTM

Here’s what happened: in the middle of an otherwise ordinary presentation for Meetup.com, NY Tech Meetup founder Scott Heiferman whipped out a sledgehammer and proceeded to Jimi-Hendrix the crap out of a brand new iPad just to drive the following point home: sometimes you need to use the Internet to help yourself get off of the Internet.

And Meetup is certainly great for doing that. I live in NYC year-round and have been to a few Tech Meetups prior to this one. In fact, I was fortunate enough to present at the event back in April. With me on stage were “fellow” HackNY Fellows Ian Jennings and Max Stoller. It was a great experience.

How did we get there? We participated in (and won) the NYC Student Hackathon, which coincidentally was HackNY‘s inaugural event. At the Hackathon, over a dozen companies presented their APIs and swarms of students were given 24 hours to write the funkiest, most creative apps and pitch them to the crowd. It was a crash course in what all successful start-ups do: find an inventive, useful application that fulfills some need and show everybody why it’s the next-best-thing.

Back to the Tech Meetup on Tuesday: there were presenters at all stages of the startup cycle. Some were 50-person companies with heavy investment while others had little more than prototypes with 1-minute demos (after time expired, they got gonged). The demos were interesting, sure, but HackNY has sharpened my vision and given me perspective: while the presenters were on stage, I was analyzing everything. I noticed the other Fellows were, too, and in between demos we would discuss the products, the presenters, and how we would’ve done it differently.

We’re becoming comfortable with the process. hackNY is helping us take the tools we learn at our various schools and actually create something with them. I’ll take that any day over working for some corporation.

Sometimes you need to use the Internet to help yourself get off the internet. And sometimes you need people from academia to help you figure out what the hell you’re gonna do with yourself after you leave academia.

—–

Before I go, some standouts from the Tech Meetup:

  • ThumbPlay gave a sneak-peek of their next-generation online audio player, all written in HTML5.
  • Kyle Bragger introduced Forrst, a place for developers and designers to share their work and give each other assistance. It’s invite-only for now, but the splash screen is so damn cool.
  • Perpetually floored everyone with their super-smart tool which pairs analytics data with visual snapshots of your web site at any given point in time.