Startups’ Testimonials from hackNY 2010

We’ll be announcing the next class of Fellows very soon, and ask that applicants keep an eye on their inboxes. In the meantime, our first class of fellows told us their thoughts on the hackNY experience earlier this week, and now we wanted to share reactions we received from the startups they worked with. We’re thrilled to learn it’s been a great experience for them as well!

Aprizi was honored to take part in the 2010 hackNY internship program. Our own experience with Julie Dinerman was fabulous — her work ethic and acceleration up the learning curve was quite impressive, and we have components of her code running on our website today. However, our views of hackNY transcend the literal and direct contribution of the students. We feel that hackNY plays an incredibly important part in growing the nascent entrepreneurial scene in New York. This year’s program was not about just 12 students. It was about giving a talented group of kids an in-the-trenches window into the reality of startups and innovation, which they can take back to their classmates. On the East Coast, where we lack the mythology of Silicon Valley, students are wooed by the big budgets and brands of banks and consulting firms. hackNY is helping to crack open the door by demystifying what entrepreneurship is about, making it accessible and real, but also elevating startups in the minds of these kids as a valid and exciting path worth considering.

– Giff Constable, CEO of Aprizi

Designer Pages was lucky enough to have Max Stoller as our hackNY fellow for the summer of 2010. Max is an undergraduate student at NYU with a passion for technology and startups. hackNY seems to be a perfect fit for students like Max by providing them with the opportunity to exercise their talents in a real world environment. Max was able to contribute to Designer Pages and even took the lead on a Twitter visualization we built complete with real time mood and trend analysis. hackNY is a great organization that is helping bridge the gap between academia and business, to the benefit of all. It was an honor and a privilege to be involved.

– Avi Flombaum, co-Founder of Designer Pages

hackNY was a fantastic program and we at Aviary are grateful that we were chosen to be a part of the initial program. hackNY gave us the opportunity to work with Tal Safran. Tal was a more then capable student with a great personality who helped us look at the projects we were working on with new fresh eyes. He was well versed in Linux which made him a valuable resource for us Windows folks when we started a Linux based project. He also shoots a mean game of pool and got us into the WSJ ūüôā

We look forward to working with hackNY students in the future and enabling them with new opportunities in the NY startup community.

– Michael Galpert, co-founder of Aviary

I wanted to take the time to thank you for putting together a great internship program. Today was Chris’ last day at the 10gen office — as I might have mentioned, we decided to keep him on for the rest of the summer. He made some great contributions to the MongoDB project and the team was impressed with his work, especially given that he is only going to be a junior! We’re looking forward to seeing hackNY grow in the coming years, and hope to continue participating.

– Meghan Gill, 10gen, Inc.

The hackNY program was a tremendous benefit to Business Insider this year. First, simply by identifying a qualified pool of applicants it provided a major service to us. By providing housing to the interns it provided an invaluable service to them, ensuring that students of all means could participate.

Our intern, Nolan Filter, did a great job on his key project: incorporating our video provider’s API into our site. You can see the finished work live here: http://www.businessinsider.com/video. It was an ideal project for an intern being largely self-contained and Nolan did a great job. He also learned about our CMS, which is built in PHP using MongoDB. In addition, Nolan helped out on miscellaneous tech tasks ranging from QA during peak release cycles, hardware setup, and evaluating and fine-tuning our API. His contributions to the site will live on long past the internship.We think hackNY is an important new part of NYC’s emerging start-up ecosystem. We will gladly participate in the program again.

– Julie Hansen, COO & Publisher, Business Insider

As an early-stage, cash-strapped startup, we didn’t have a lot of resources to spend on a formal, technical internship program. ¬†We focused on keeping our burn rate to a minimum (less than $3000/mo) to ensure enough runway to reach significant revenue or a financing round. We knew, though, that the highest-quality technical interns request some compensation to offset the opportunity cost of passing other, lavish internship programs that offer perks and high pay (think finance). ¬†Unfortunately, this left us with a pool of applicants that just didn’t meet the caliber we expected.

Luckily, hackNY started its inaugural program last year, and we jumped at the opportunity. ¬†Not only could we find top-notch, self-motivated technologists that were interested in startups, but we wouldn’t have to break the bank to bring them on board. Further, the combination of mentoring, cohabitation with other like-minded technologists, and special events/programs for the interns made hackNY a really great experience for all participants.

Still, while compensation for a hackNY intern was cheap, it was a bit out of the range of what our startup could afford. We discussed our issue with the hackNY organizers, and they were able to provide subsidy to help us front the cost. It was simply amazing — we landed a top-tier intern, increased output, and maintained our runway.

Our recent financing round for Parse.ly included a pitch around some of the work that our hackNY intern did over this past summer. We were impressed by the quality and dedication of our intern, and couldn’t be happier with hackNY.

– Sachin Kamdar, co-founder and CEO, Parse.ly

This past summer, bit.ly had the distinct pleasure of participating in the hackNY summer internship program. In placing students from area universities with local technology startups, hackNY provides a valuable service by solving the matching problem between bright young talent and innovative early stage startups. Typically, the organizational resources and extended time horizons required by these internship programs stretch the forecasting abilities of young companies, and require the assumption of excessive risk and faith on the part of the intern, as arrangements made in the fall could result in an opportunity at a company that no longer exists by the end of the spring semester. hackNY serves as an intermediate layer, assuming/eliminating risk, sourcing/vetting startups, and finding talented students, providing a framework that allows for a reduction in uncertainty, and a vastly increased likelihood for positive outcomes.

Nowhere was this more exemplified than with our personal experience over the summer. Our intern, Ian Jennings, came to us via Rutgers University. A talented, creative, independent worker, Ian immediately stepped into a productive role and made substantial contributions to a new product under heavy development. Without hackNY, however, Ian never would have made his mark at bit.ly. hackNY adroitly matched us with Ian, and provided free university housing in Manhattan, a service which rendered the internship logistically feasible.¬† Furthermore, given the plethora of value-added hackNY benefits (mentorship, interviews, talks, and social events), I’m certain Ian’s experience exceeded that of the typical summer internship. We couldn’t be more satisfied with the outcome of the inaugural hackNY summer internship program, and are looking forward to continued involvement with the organization.

– Todd Levy, Co-founder and Director of Engineering and Product, bit.ly

hackNY matched us with a tremendously talented student named Tengchao Zhou. We brought him in, showed him the ropes, gave him some projects, and he was off. He did fantastic work, took great pride in what he was working on, and formed lasting bonds with his coworkers — we will be eyeing his graduation date! As a small tech focused business, we always need help on the engineering side and it is often very trying to get reliable interns. The hackNY program does a tremendous job of vetting both students and startups. The program is a critical resource for encouraging the otherwise unorganized talent pool of budding NYC technologists. As more and more startups are founded in NYC, we need better recruiting and placement of students into innovative and exciting companies, to compete with the talent suck from big finance. New York small business needs hackNY.

– Nihal Mehta, CEO and co-founder, Buzzd, Inc.

Knewton Inc., had the pleasure of hosting an intern through the hackNY summer program. Stuart, the intern matched with us, was incredibly bright and immediately began work improving our internal tools. Stuart then worked on customer-facing software that allowed Knewton to support customers who wished to purchase more than one course. We were so pleased with Stuart’s performance that we continued his internship at our own expense.

I can say first-hand how difficult it can be to find talent as a small company. Every effort to create awareness between students and New York’s growing tech community makes it possible for start-ups like Knewton to grow. hackNY helps start-ups establish a presence on campus that larger companies enjoy but start-ups lack the time or funds to create. HackNY gave us an intern we would not have found otherwise; one who made a demonstrable contribution to Knewton’s health and profitability. I look forward to next year’s crop of motivated and talented interns.

– Ashley Miller, Software Engineer, Knewton

hackNY brought Anil Raj and OkCupid together this summer, and the results were stupendously awesome for everyone involved. OkCupid is an innovative free dating site that uses answers to user-generated questions to match people from all walks of life based on who they want to meet. The core of this system is the question answering process, and this summer Anil laid the groundwork to customize the questions we show a user during the process based their personality traits. The project was a difficult one, inspiring Anil to learn new statistical techniques on the bleeding edge of research. We believe his work will have a significant effect on the quality of matches we show users. The impact is this: millions of users will have relationships that are even more successful, for free. We would never have taken on a project this ambitious in terms of research nor found an expert as experienced as Anil without the help of hackNY.

– Tom Quisel, software engineer, OkCupid

hackNY did an incredible job matching us with a candidate, and we benefited greatly from the relationship. What hackNY did particularly well was find someone who was smart, motivated, reliable and a good fit for our environment, which can be pretty unstructured at times and needs someone who will fully take charge of their tasks.¬† Andres made lasting contributions and improved some workflow tasks that had ripple effects throughout our cost structure, allowing us to grow much more efficiently this summer than would have been possible otherwise. I’d say that we disproportionately benefited, but I know Andres appreciated being able to dig into a variety of tasks, have some autonomy with just enough support, and was especially pleased that the work he did was put to use immediately and proved to be very valuable to our business.

– David Steinberger, CEO, Comixology

BuzzFeed, Inc was a participating company in the hackNY fellows program for the summer of 2010. I, in particular, worked directly with hackNY, and managed a fellow from the program for the summer as a software developer for our team.

Our experience with the program was overwhelmingly positive. The candidate hackNY paired with our company was both smart and enthusiastic. He quickly became an active, contributing part of our team for the summer.

At the end of the summer we made a full time offer to our fellow, and he has since accepted a position as a software developer at BuzzFeed, Inc.

We couldn’t be happier with our experience working with hackNY and the fellow they provided. The experience was nothing but positive, and we are excited at the prospect of becoming a participating company in the hackNY program again next year.

– Mark Wilkie, Lead Developer, BuzzFeed, Inc.

Testimonials from the 2010 class of hackNY Fellows

We’ve been blown away by the quality of the applications we received for the class of 2011 hackNY Fellows, with over 100 applications from over 30 schools, from Palo Alto to Portugal! We’ll be informing admitted students soon, but wanted to share some of the experiences of the 2010 class. The following are testimonials the students provided at the end of last summer, uploaded with their permission. Stay tuned!

hackNY is responsibly for ridding the intimidation I once experienced when considering startups. I am grateful to hackNY for accommodating me with a fantastic group of people at Comixology — very young and high-spirited — who never once were reluctant to answer my questions and look over my work. During my tenure there, it was demanded of me that I produce very different work every week, affording me new skills that I suspect will be sought by many future employers. Additionally, the hackNY fellows were a group of very bright kids. Many evenings were spent discussing projects and sharing ideas and techniques. These sessions provided me with at least as much knowledge as the daylight hours spent at work. To top it all, Hilary, Evan, and Chris coordinated weekly to bring us very accomplished men and women in startups, investment, and social media; their insight, once again, is a rare gift, and it’s wonderful that the hackNY moderators had the ability and contacts to bring us close to these speakers. The moral of the story: hackNY facilitated the process of finding a compatible startup, and provided the perks of a small community of hackers and the lectures of very wise people.

– Andres Campanella, NYU

As the hackNY program draws to a close, I would like to reflect on the past 10 weeks I’ve spent working at Aprizi. I have really enjoyed my time here for a number of reasons. I appreciate the atmosphere that Giff and Liz have created here. I feel comfortable asking questions about both the business and technical sides of things and really about any other topic as well. I feel like I have joined the programming community. I don’t get stuck at the small bugs in my code- I know how to research errors online and I’ve even posted specific questions on different troubleshooting forums. Coding for Aprizi is more exciting than the projects I have worked on at school in that my changes will actually be used on the website to provide a better user experience. I wondered how I would do it, but I am happy to report that I have successfully configured a search feature onto the website! I have also had my fair share of bigger, more frustrating bugs that I have spent a lot more time on. In a more general vein, sitting in the same office as Giff and Liz, I see how exciting it is when steps are made in the right direction, but also how frustrating the process of getting there can be. I see that during the rougher times it is important to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and think about the best way to fix a problem or where leave off and look for the next step. I have had some good times out of the office as well. Liz and I went together to visit Google where she introduced me to some of her friends and they showed us around the (very funky) office. We also went to the Girl Geek Dinner, an Internet week event. At the dinner, I was introduced to the world of networking and we met some cool women involved in different kinds of startups. Liz also came with me to one of the hackNY events, a hackathon at bit.ly, where we started a project that would take advantage of some of the bit.ly features listed in their API.

I have learned a lot about the way startups work from the weekly hackNY events which featured knowledgeable speakers who were related to the startup world in various ways.

Overall, I am really happy I was able to join the Aprizi team this summer as a hackNY fellow. I have discovered some great products, learned a lot and met some great people.

– Julie Dinerman, Columbia

I found hackNY to be a valuable experience because it provided me an entrance into the New York startup community. Before this summer, I didn’t realize how many startups existed in the city and how closely their founders were knit; I feel that hackNY created and will help foster a community of computer science students to join, and eventually take over, the ecosystem of startups. I learned a lot about the intricacies of founding and funding a startup from the guest lecturers, and also about the benefits of working in a small company instead of a large one. I also got experience working in a startup. My mentors at Business Insider helped me learn the basics of maintaining and upgrading a successful website, skills necessary for work at any startup. Being a fellow in the hackNY program has given me valuable connections to the New York startup community and computer science students as well as a new programming skill-set to enhance my resume.

– Nolan Filter, NYU

I cannot say enough good things about this program. The least of all of it is the technical aspect. Everything else that comes with being a hackNY fellow provides insight that cannot be gained passively and experience which cannot be had without the careful planning and structure of the summer as designed by the organizers. Spending the summer as part of hackNY has been a pivotal event in my life; it has instilled in me direction, motivation, and focus, all of which my generation seems to so frequently complain about lacking. The experience is invaluable.

– Jacob Hickey, NYU

I met my current employer through hackNY! That is how valuable hackNY’s summer program was to me. I currently work full time at Buzzfeed.com which was the startup with which Hilary, Chris and Evan paired me for the summer. But that’s not all. On top of finding a job, I met inspiring entrepreneurs and key figures of the industry, from whom I gained an incredible, priceless insight on how to create, manage and fund an Internet startup in New York City. Besides being employed at one of New York’s most vibrant (viral) startups, I have been introduced to the many aspects that will one day allow me to start and successfully manage my own company.

– Clement Huyghebaert, Columbia

Spending my summer working with startups in New York City has proven to be an extremely rewarding experience. New Jersey leaves little opportunity to be involved in the rising startup scene of New York. Housing and work arrangements provided by the hackNY program allowed me to become a part a very exciting field in a very exciting time. My startup, bit.ly, put me to work designing and prototyping new web applications for their company. By the end of the ten weeks I completed my prototype and now bit.ly is preparing to push the product to a production level. I did not ever expect to work on a product for such a large audience. The program provided me with great work experience and incredibly valuable connections. In addition to the web celebrities and insightful professors, I met 11 other like minded hackers of whom I still keep in touch with. I spend most of the summer trading business cards and was offered numerous opportunities for work in the future.

– Ian Jennings, Rutgers

The hackNY program was an incredible opportunity. Chris, Evan, and Hilary were all talented organizers. I had not received much exposure to the startup scene beforehand, so it was very eye opening to learn how both startups and venture capitalists operate from the major players themselves. Working for Knewton was a great experience, both in learning real world skills in current technology and teamwork, and in getting a first-hand view of startup culture. After this summer, I would love to continue being a part of the startup scene.

– Stuart Partin, Columbia

The hackNY fellowship was a very different and awesome learning experience for me. The visits to startup companies and chats with entrepreneurs were eye-opening (given I knew very little about the startup industry), especially the talks by Chris Dixon and by Jonah Perreti. The most exciting part, however, was working as part of the data team at OKCupid. On my first day, my mentor discussed with me the problem I had to solve and the overall goal of my project. After this, I was free to research and develop the best solution to the problem with minimum interference and maximum access to any help I needed — I was very impressed by this. I also thoroughly enjoyed the spontaneous and rapid exchange of ideas on data visualization and site improvements that could been brought about by inferences made from the vast amounts of data they have. The opportunities offered by the hackNY fellowship definitely introduced me to new career choices and exciting possibilities for me to explore.

– Anil Raj, Columbia

What can I say about HackNY that hasn’t already been said (in the Wall Street Journal)?

Before the program, I had vague dreams of graduating college, moving to Silicon Valley, and starting a web company, but had little real-world knowledge of how any of that actually worked. The HackNY program taught me not only what the necessary tools were, it gave me the opportunity to meet leading people in the field and ask them anything I wanted. HackNY placed me in a “hot” NYC startup, where everyone was eager to give me real programming tasks (I prototyped a new product) and real responsibilities I would never find in my undergraduate curriculum.

HackNY also gave me pizza. Lots of it.

But most important of all — it taught me to value my talent as a “hacker” and realize that hackers, not MBA grads or investment bankers, are the true innovators and should realize their value.

– Tal Safran, NYU

I think of hackNY as an incubator for talent. An investment in hackNY is an investment in the future generation of technology entrepreneurs. The hackNY fellows will fuel the next generation of startups. The value of that should not be understated. The proliferation of startups is invaluable to the city and to innovation at large. I’m truly proud to have been a part of the inaugural class of hackNY. I’m more excited than ever to graduate to the real world — not as a code monkey, but as a business savvy hacker.

– Max Stoller, NYU

hackNY has opened my eyes to the startup and tech community in New York. We had talks by many different startups and entrepreneurs who all taught us a little something different about being a tech entrepreneur and managing both small and growing companies. We also were educated on the financial side of tech startups by hearing from investors who each invest at a different stage in a startup’s life. I gained invaluable knowledge about tech entrepreneurship from the speakers. Actually working for a NY tech startup was also a very big learning experience. I received first hand knowledge on how a tech startup functions, and during my time there also learning a bunch of programming practices and a bunch of computer science. I also really enjoyed interacting with all the other hackNY fellows as well. We were able to discuss the talks and what we were doing at our respective startups. Like I stated before, I am now aware of a completely new option for my career, and it is one that is looking increasingly more appealing the more I learn about it. I am very grateful for the hackNY Fellows Program.

– Chris Triolo, Princeton

Enrolling in the hackNY program and working with a startup in NYC helped me make sense of my studies in both the Stern Business School and the Courant Institute of Mathematical Science. I appreciate hackNY program because it brought me into silicon alley, under the influence of which, I have started to think about working with or establishing a startup in NYC or in any place around the world.

– Tengchao Zhou, NYU