AlumNY Spotlight: Lisa Luo (’14)

Welcome to our AlumNY Spotlight blog series! This winter, we’ll be profiling some hackNY AlumNY who have continued to do great things at the startup where they spent their hackNY Fellowship summer. In our last post, JS Tan (hackNY ’14) told us about starting a creative agency with his friends and going viral with speculative marketing – check it out.

In this post we interview Lisa Luo (Class of 2014), who interned at Kickstarter and has since impacted several important teams there. Lisa’s mentor, Dan, is impressed with her work as a Fellow and as a leader on the Android team. “Lisa‘s quickly become an important part of the Kickstarter family. During her summer here, Lisa helped build our site’s internal permission system which has evolved into a fundamental part of our application. After her exemplary work, she was invited back over her winter break, and was offered a job starting this past June, after her graduation. She’s now a core member of the team working on the Kickstarter Android app. In addition to cranking out Java, Lisa can be found hanging tote bags on lamps to ‘create the right mood’ at her desk, and creating Slack icons for all of her team members.”

Lisa at her desk at Kickstarter.

What are you up to at Kickstarter these days?

I am currently a junior android engineer on the native team (2 iOS and 2 android engineers including myself), working on our first android release. Since we’re currently building the app from ground-up, I work on building and fixing whatever we need to build and fix!

What did you work on when you were a hackNY Fellow there?

When I was an intern, I was a back end ruby/rails developer. I spent the beginning of my summer actually learning more in-depth rails and how to develop with a professional team. By the end of the summer, I shipped a simple admin roles and permissions internal tool that assigned roles which filtered admin permissions on the admin side of our website. After that I tinkered around with some android prototyping, inspired by some scratch work I did during a company hack day.

Lisa presenting a demo at Music Hack Day in 2014.

What was your favorite part of being a hackNY Fellow?

My favorite part was waking up every morning and not always knowing what I would be doing for the day: after work I often Google-mapped my way to a cool office somewhere in NYC for our HackNY Speakers Series event, where I listened to and chatted with some of the most influential New York tech figures. I also loved living with and getting to know my brilliant HackNY companions, many of whom I consider great friends today. Having the opportunity to spend time with influential people who shared my interests in technology, whether they be CEOs or dorm mates, really motivated and inspired me to explore my potential as a coder and creator.

How has your company grown or changed since your hackNY summer?

Kickstarter has changed quite a bit in the past year. The engineering team itself has nearly doubled in size, the company as a whole growing by about a third. This calls for a little more company structure, i.e. specifiying teams, rearranging the office, etc, but the supportive, open, and brilliant culture remains the same. I find it exciting to work with and know a variety of people with colorful backgrounds.

IMG_20151111_234148

What did you learn as a hackNY Fellow, and what have you learned since then?

As a hackNY Fellow I learned quite a bit of rails on the job and how to git like a pro. Since then, besides all of the philosophical self-learning through life and growing up, I’ve picked up a little bit of Swift through SpriteKit game development and have started to learn reactive programming paradigms through RxJava. In my last year of undergrad I learned a fair bit about computational fabrication (e.g. 3D printing), which was cool, and how to make cameraless films.

What do you enjoy doing away from the keyboard?

In a list, I like making films, traveling, collecting things, running, drawing, writing, wandering around New York, and surprisingly, cooking.

I’ve been into making weird little films and animations since I was a kid and have been in the process of putting together a short film based on my family and travels in China in 2013. I’m a music enthusiast who plays guitar, bass, and Chinese hammered dulcimer, have been to at least 20 concerts so far this year, and have a budding record collection ranging from Motown to Mac Demarco. I think I’m also a compulsive collector; I’m currently in a phase of collecting business cards because I love the quirks in their designs. Staying fit keeps me sane, running long distances clears my mind, as much so as writing, which I regrettably have much less time to do these days. Finally, I am surprised by my enjoyment in cooking because I believe that is my first step of accepting adult life.

TL;DR I love the keyboard, but I enjoy doing many things away from the keyboard.

IMG_20151111_235354

Applications for the Class of 2016 hackNY Fellows are now open. Do you have any advice for the hackers who are applying?

When I applied to hackNY for the Class of 2014, I thought there was no way I would get accepted. But I did, and quickly learned that I was silly to have so much self-doubt at that point. I say, believe in yourself and be confident, but most importantly, be thoughtful in writing your essays and expressing yourself — your written words are pretty much the one window we have as reviewers to get to know who you are, behind your Github stats and LinkedIn skills and tweets and whatnot. If you’re worried about your code, experience, or projects, just be genuine about sharing something you care about!

AlumNY Spotlight: JS Tan on Art, Viral Marketing, and Founding a Creative Startup

Today we’re featuring a guest post by JS Tan (hackNY ’14). Along with two classmates, he founded Hello Velocity, a creative agency in New York. In this post he shares the story of Hello Velocity’s founding, some of their strangest and most exciting work, and what he’s learned about art, viral marketing, and working on a team. 

My name is JS and I was part of hackNY 2014, where I interned with Buzzfeed! I graduated this past May from the Brown+RISD Dual Degree program where I studied Computer Science at Brown and Furniture Design at RISD. After graduating, I founded Hello Velocity, a digital marketing agency X creative studio, with my classmates, Lukas and Kevin. We’ve been working out of NewInc, the New Museum’s incubator since September.

Being a part of hackNY was an invaluable experience. It not only provided me with the technical competency and confidence to take on any of our projects, but also exposed me to a community of talented and incredibly generous people. Coming into hackNY, I didn’t expect the community to interested in the kind of work I, as part of Hello Velocity, was doing – making marketing campaigns for celebrity meat (bitelabs.org), trying to buy McDonald franchises to put in churches (mcmass.com), making fake Chinese artists for political commentary (godplayground.com). But my hackNY class flipped those expectations; throughout that summer, I ended up having many fun and useful conversations about each project.

BiteLabs' homepage looks surprisingly believable.

Hello Velocity began in 2014 with the creation of a project: Bitelabs, a satirical marketing campaign advertising meat grown from celebrity tissue samples and made into artisanal salami. At that time, the three of us, Lukas Bentel, Kevin Wiesner and I were still 4th year students in the Brown | RISD Dual Degree Program. Having already collaborated on many art projects, from making large scale installations to building in-browser art games, we already had years of experience working with each other. But unlike those other projects, we knew Bitelabs was different.

Within 2 weeks of launching the campaign, we were tweeted about tens of thousands of times and had been picked up by Wired, Vice, LA Times, Huffington Post, USA Today and many other international publications. We even got written about in the hardcopy of Time Magazine. Shortly after the campaign, we created “Hi Sorry We Died”, an anonymous art collective who would claim Bitelabs, which would eventually grow up to become Hello Velocity.

What began as an art project about celebrity culture in the social age led us to larger question that we spent our final year of school trying to answer: how do ideas spread in the social age? After Bitelabs, we went on to create The McMass Project, an indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising 1 million dollars to buy a McDonalds franchise to put into a church, as well as Genecoin, a startup that wanted to store customer DNA into the bitcoin blockchain. Like Bitelabs, both these projects went viral.

JS with the Class of 2014 hackNY Fellows. His internship at Buzzfeed helped him something something

In the midst of these projects, I had joined hackNY 2014 and been paired with Buzzfeed. Aside from having a wonderful experience as a software engineer and a fantastic mentor at Buzzfeed, I was also immersed in an environment obsessed with the mechanics of sharability, and discovered that it was a great space for me to explore how ideas spread in the social age. By the end of that summer, the hacker-centric environment of hackNY had given me the confidence to be the technical spine for Hello Velocity, and Buzzfeed’s sensibility for sharable content had became part of Hello Velocity’s everyday practice.

Today Hello Velocity works out of NEWINC on 231 Bowery, an art incubator hosted by the New Museum. We spend half our time doing client work, creating brand identities and marketing campaigns for customers. And we spend the rest of our time developing our own research projects, where our topic of research has shifted from how ideas spread in the social age to more specifically how do brands command identity in the social age.

The Hello Velocity team at BYU, where they were invited to speak about digital marketing.

In February of 2015, we were invited to Brigham Young University, Utah, to give a lecture in a bio-tech entrepreneurial seminar series about bringing emerging technologies into the media’s attention and the power of the speculative image.

Having only graduated 6 months ago, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to run our own digital marketing agency / creative studio. We’ve grown from a small group of 3, to a slightly bigger team of 5, and do projects that range anywhere from developing toilet seats to web services. In the coming year, we plan on working with bigger and more exciting clients, as well as working more closely with startups.

Five years down the road, I think Hello Velocity will be completely different. I think that my founding partners and I will continue to challenge what it means to be working as a creative business, and will continue to explore how brands exist an increasingly social world. I’ve also been thinking about what it means for Hello Velocity to scale – but unlike software startups that typically have a user base, there isn’t a clear model for how digital marketing startups or creative studios should grow. Do we scale out by get more customers and hiring more people? Or do we scale up by becoming more selective and charging higher premiums? No matter which it is, I’m sure Hello Velocity will continue to grow.