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!
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.
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 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.
Afterwards we all had a chance to chat informally with each other and with Jonah.
Thanks again to Jonah and Jon for making time to talk to the hackNY Fellows!
Before the talk, Fellows had a chance to catch up with each other and with Hilary, Evan, and Chris about their startups.
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.
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:
Thanks to our host, Chad Dickerson!
I went to the NY Tech Meetup this past Tuesday with several HackNY fellows, and all I got was this lousy iPad:
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.