An Intro

Hello! My name is Zeina Amhaz, and I am a Computer Science and Economics double major at Amherst College. After wrapping up my sophomore year, I started my summer internship at Showyou, a platform for crowd-funded video channels. Being a part of TEC has given me great insight into the venture capital and startup world, and I’d love to share the lessons I learned and my overall experience with you!

At the beginning of this summer, I stepped off the plane at San Francisco International Airport with one simple goal in mind: figure out everything I ever want to do with my life and exactly how to do it. Ok, a little not-so-simple, right? Maybe. But have I made progress in achieving my ultimate, not-so-simple goal? Absolutely.

In the fertile grounds of what I like to call ‘My East Coast Education’, my seeded love for Nietzche, New England Maple Syrup, and the liberal arts flourished. And yet these passions were only shrubs compared to my prized, taking-number-one-at-the-state-fair picking: A Career In Finance. While Wall St. is a noteworthy destination that is only reached through troughs of hard work and miles of determination, I was never sure if I had arrived at that objective organically or whether it was a mere assimilation into east coast culture. Being at an institution that preaches agency in intellect and responsibility for worldly engagement, I decided that I needed to explore. With three letters I began that trek: TEC.

The vibrant world of tech entrepreneurship had me at the words “unlimited swag and free snacks.” Looking at the unbeatable view of San Francisco from my company’s office in the heart of the Mission, I knew I made the right decision being in the fellowship program. More profoundly, I was blown away by the enthusiasm and fortitude these entrepreneurs and engineers had in impacting the world — tirelessly working to create change through business deals and lines of code.

The TEC experience thus far has been exceptional in any way imaginable. I’ve loved getting to know the other fellows, meeting extraordinary speakers, and taking in every unforgettable moment.

eCommerce as an Industry for Disruption

Two companies that immediately come to mind when I think of companies in the eCommerce space are Amazon and eBay. Justifiably, these companies are one of the earliest companies that tried to disrupt the eCommerce industry. In the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of startups attempting to disrupt the eCommerce industry as well as an increase in the amount of funds invested in these startups. Examples of these startups are Warby Parker, Casper and the company I worked at this Summer – Madison Reed.

Commerce models at that point of time were based primarily on flash sales and social commerce. These companies needed to raise a lot of money and had high burn rates and because of this phenomenon were rather unsustainable. Some of these companies survived and are currently thriving – like Amazon or Zalora.

The growth model of today’s eCommerce companies seems rather different from that of eCommerece companies when they started back in the late 90s/early 2000s. These new models prove to be much more sustainable in the short term and the company’s growth is driven largely by the technological advances in the mobile industry and the increased usage and reach of social media. With existing analytics tools today it is becoming increasingly easier to acquire customers at a lower cost and also alter strategies to ensure the most efficient method of increasing the conversion rate on websites.

With the increase in the demand for analytics tools and social media advertising, the cost of marketing is getting driven further down thus making it cheaper for companies to access and communicate with their customers effectively. Even then, conversion rates for multiple eCommerece startups still hover around 5%. Therefore, there is an increasing need/trend for startups to develop disruptive models and strategies to grow. After a brief insight into how Madison Reed went through the process of choosing their own model, I realized there are some common strategies used across multiple companies:

Subscription eCommerece

There is much skepticism on whether this strategy would be effective in eCommerce startups but in the past few years, there are some startups that have been able to execute this strategy fairly well. Companies such as Dollar Shave Club and Birchbox follow this strategy and Madison Reed has this strategy as an option when a user wants to purchase a product from their website. This model allows for recurring payments from users which helps to drive a strong revenue model.

Direct to Consumer

Warby Parker is one of the few companies that follow this model where the reduction in the number of necessities gives them the power to push savings to the customer. Another company that follows a similar model is Casper

Peer to Peer eCommerce

This sub-industry has long been governed by eBay and Craigslist – the tool that all of us probably used at some point of time in our lives. With advances in technology, particularly those that allow for people to be connected via different mediums, have allowed for this strategy to thrive. It is becoming easier for people to sell/exchange/buy things from one another by hosting it online.

Rental eCommerce

This space of eCommerce had been relatively untapped until the startup Rent the Runway decided to disrupt the eCommerce industry by adopting the rental strategy. Since then some other companies such as Black Tux (tuxedo rentals online) and Eleven James (luxury watch rentals for men) have emerged.

Clearly, there have been multiple emerging startups with different strategies and often a combination of strategies to establish and build their brand. Madison Reed strives to do that today by mainly adopting the Subscription and Direct to Consumer strategies to establish themselves as the superior hair care brand. There has been a recent rise in the number of investments in eCommerce startups and I hope to see this industry flourish to explore how companies have carefully made use of these strategies or even come up with their own unique strategy to disrupt this industry further.

Entrepreneurship and Technology in Singapore

Being in the centre of entrepreneurship and technology hub of the world for the past 3 months as well as Summer last year, I have gained a few insights into how entrepreneurship differs from that of Singapore.

I grew up in Singapore most of my life (I moved to Singapore when I was around 2 months old) and studied in the local schooling system all the way up till the final 2 years of my high school education which consisted of the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB program did teach me tons of skills that were critical to the workplace but also introduced me to the entire idea of innovation, particularly teaching me about where it stems from and where to go from the inception of it to the execution of it in various forms. This did lead me into working with 2 Singaporean startups which are now decently successful and are making a significant impact in their respective industries.

That is where I learnt where a significant chunk of the money that flows into Singapore goes to: Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Given the strong financial stability and solid infrastructure in Singapore, it makes sense – let’s start a business here. I was not surprised to find out that multiple True companies were either in talks of being funded by the Singapore government or had successfully expanded to Singapore.

I understood the reasoning behind this from a economic perspective but having grown up in Singapore and having worked with 2 local startups, I realized there are two key differences between the startup world in Singapore and San Francisco. Entrepreneurship does work in different ways around the world:

Source of funding/capital

I quickly came to realize that majority of the funds running startups here in the Bay Area originates from private funds. In countries like Singapore and Israel, it is the complete opposite. Only around 50 out of the 301 VC firms based in Singapore are interested in local investment. Even then, around 70-80% of the investments made in startups originate from the Singaporean government. Singapore is not the only country going through this phenomenon. Other good examples of countries where governments are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in local startups are Finland and South Korea.

Why this big difference?

This might have to do with the small growth and demand for funding from startups in Singapore given the relatively tiny number of startups operating in Singapore compared to San Francisco. When is the last time you have heard of a Singaporean startup in the news?

However, on top of all these possible explanations I feel that the biggest difference lies in the mindset of investors.

Culture and Mindset

Purely speaking from an economic perspective, all it takes is one day and $260 to successfully register a business in Singapore. Even then, there is a struggle to attract international investment money for local startups. The founder of the company I had interned at claimed that investors in Singapore, and generally Asia, are less inclined to put investments into startups until they show a truly promising product. And by that time – it is often too late. Some companies do not have the necessary resources to proceed with necessary R&D or have to make certain compromises on the quality of their product to deliver.

The concept of entrepreneurship in technology is definitely expanding across the world and the entire process of how it works in each hub of entrepreneurship is different due to many reasons. However, I feel that most entrepreneurs often share similar ambitions and have shared interests. Because of this, I believe entrepreneurs around the world should work together with one another in order to help make their solutions to everyday problems impactful and effective on a global scale. After all, aren’t we all in this to innovate for a better future for all of us?

Intern Best Practices

Running a startup is difficult. Day to day tasks aren’t laid out and being adaptable is the name of the game. Hiring more employees increases the stability and degree of specialization, but there are still points at which everyone is hacking at things not in their job title. This makes it difficult to take on an intern and use them effectively. Why not address this problem by culling together some advice from the source?

I spent a bit of time talking to my friends in TEC—asking them about their pain points and trading success stories. The following bits of advice have grown rather organically from these conversations.

Onboarding
Onboard the intern like you would any other employee, but make sure they’re given the opportunity to learn more about every department in the company. Interns are not only there to gain valuable work experience in their area of interest, but to see how a startup functions as a whole.

Communication
Be up front about best practices in terms of contact and communication. Even simple topics should be covered: does the manager want to be cc’d on emails regarding their work or is this considered annoying? What is the best way for an intern to set up a meeting with a coworker?

Establishing routine check-ins destroys potential bad habits like procrastination and excuse making. Include interns in stand up and round up meetings—their project should be important enough that it needs to be shared with the rest of the company. Accountability increases once their work on the project begins to reflect on their performance within the company.

Make all employees as easy to reach and communicate with, as possible—especially the CEO. It makes an impressive difference for an intern to feel like they have a direct pipeline to a founder. We are still at a stage in our life where learning is a priority. Giving us the opportunity to talk to you is invaluable.

The Project
The project needs to be important and difficult enough to warrant a ten week treatment. Give interns options for which project they’d like to take on and listen to the types problems they enjoy solving. Be open to restructuring the project in accordance to their strengths.

Give them a project that allows them to air the skills they have, but encourages them to learn more. Give interns the tools and accessibility to really manage this project themselves and avenues to advance the project that don’t require consistent check-ins from managers, or additional work so that they don’t sit idle when waiting for feedback.

In the final weeks, celebrate the completion of the project and review its effectiveness.

Mentorship
Good mentorship is key. This mentor need not hold the title of intern manager—Christiaan fulfills this necessity such that the startups need not—but it is important that interns are given a direct manager to check into that can function as a role model. Ideally this person is in the field the intern wishes to enter, and either far enough along to serve as a source of professional advice or young enough to really be relatable. Giving your intern a great mentor is a simple way to reinforce the mentality of learning, foster a culture of inclusion, and increase the utility of the summer for both the intern and the company.

While distributed workforces aren’t uncommon, it is best if the mentor can be in office for the majority of the internship. If no one regularly checks in on the project and the project is not part of the stand up, interns can feel estranged or underutilized.

Culture
Maintaining good office culture begins on day one. Have your talent lead/HR head/Office Manager greet them warmly and send out an email to the whole team introducing them, like you would any new hire. Create an inclusive environment and an atmosphere of respect in which the intern is not any “lower” than the employees in company structure. The little things matter—interns should have similar desk space and setup as other employees, and access to supplies. Interns should be invited to external company events.

Respect your intern as if they are a full time employee and take their suggestions seriously. Turn down misguided ideas gracefully and foster an environment where asking questions is not perceived as foolish. Empower interns on take on additional company responsibilities during the downtime with their project. A majority of interns from 2015 stated that they’d wished they’d had less down time—creating an action plan to erase “useless time” will make the summer better for both parties.

Share the “big picture” of the company early, and give interns intrinsic rewards, when possible. If your company interacts with people (most do) give them idea of what a happy customer looks like. Remind them that behind the software exists a consumer base that derives real emotional value from your product.

Closing
At the end of the internship, ask the interns how they feel the company could improve. Take this feedback seriously. The interns have more distance from the product than long time employees, and provide a fresh and educated point of view that is often highly valuable. If possible, attend the “final presentation” at True regarding your company. It will make the intern feel validated and it will give your company valuable feedback. If possible, give the intern constructive criticism on their time in the company, and how they can be more valuable employees in the future.

Additionally, clearly articulate whether there are hiring opportunities for the intern. Some of them are seniors and will spend their next year looking for gainful employment. If you think they are a good fit, let them know.

Stop Mythologizing the Valley, Your Creativity Will Thank You For It

It’s only over the course of my time here at TEC that I’ve realized the extent to which I had built up an almost unconscious mythology around what happens in tech in San Francisco. The news that comes out of this place seems to always contain the word “billion” somewhere in the headline. TechCrunch tells there are now over twice as many unicorns as there were one and a half years ago. In this context it’s really easy to mythologize the startup world – none of this seems entirely real. Everything that happened in the Valley seemed to be happening not just thousands of miles away but on an entirely different planet. These myths feature legendary designers, visionary founders, and venture capitalists with a far-seeing Delphic Oracle on staff. They also make it much more difficult to see the everyday reality of this place. Mythical figures are blessed with preternatural abilities to perform feats unthinkable to mere mortals.

People are people

Since coming here I’ve begun to see how wrong I was – the people that I’ve met here have been just that: people. I’ve learned a lot from the speakers that we’ve had at TEC so far, not only from their advice and experience, but also just from seeing them in the flesh, living and breathing, with their own speech patterns, habits, personalities. They’re actual people! They’re more than the pull quotes on a  Wired article. And it’s so much more inspiring to actually hear the conviction in their voices when they talk about their dreams for the future, and how they’re going about making them a reality than it is to read it on a website. They’re both more impressive and more human in person. That humanity is critical to remember. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of tech journalism and build people up to myths, and myths are always just out of reach. But coming here and seeing these undoubtedly brilliant people has changed how I think about them; now they’re real people and more than ever becoming one of them seems like an attainable goal.

People have ideas

Talking to these founders and influencers about their ideas has, in an odd way, given me permission to be excited about my own. There’s something very galvanizing about listening to someone like Om Malik talk about how excited he is that every industry is being revolutionized with the application of technology, about how the world is changing at an ever faster pace, and about how teams of dedicated people are completely changing the landscape of tomorrow. The people in those teams aren’t myths, they’re not somehow cut from a different cloth, they’ve just had the courage to start something, and stake their time and effort on the chance that what they’ve started can become something huge.

People are approachable

Another benefit of this de-mythologizing is that it makes it much easier to build a network. When people are people, you can be friends with them, meet up with them for coffee and talk about your ideas and your problems. Networks are important – not only is business conducted largely along lines of social contact, but they’re also one of the best ways of sharing information. A network can store much more information than a single person ever could. According to Rohit Sharma “You don’t really have to learn something to know it, you just need to know where in your network to look for it.” He goes as far as to say that a network can and should be built up before you have a fully fledged idea – networks make excellent testing and refining grounds for young ideas, and if they can’t survive there then they aren’t worth pursuing further.

People like to help

Jared Kim, the founder of Forge, spoke to us about how he started WeGame, his first company. He talked about the value of having a supportive network of people, and that all these big names in the startup world are just that; people, who are more than willing to give advice and help others who are in positions similar to the ones they were in when they started out. There are any number of people here in the Valley who can be persuaded to have a quick coffee meeting and answer a couple of focused questions. An invaluable resource and all it costs is a cup of coffee. People are more open and approachable than you think and though they’re busy, a passionate young person with an idea is a refreshing break. People like to talk to passionate people, especially when they’re passionate about similar things. They get value from these meetings too remember (even more than just the free coffee). They get to help someone out and feel your energy and passion, and maybe even get inspired themselves (or at least gain an insight into that lucrative millenial market…).

Go!

Make no mistake, there are legends here in the valley, but for the most part they’re friendly and willing to help a young upstart get started up. Nothing that happens here is superhuman, regardless of how easy it is to believe the opposite. The barriers to entry are not quite as insurmountable as you think and who knows; in time you too could become a myth…

An Interview with John Sheehan, CEO and Co-founder of Runscope

rs-logo-color-400x100

My summer at Runscope has been the best internship experience that I’ve had in my three years of college. Runscope provides a suite of API monitoring and testing tools that help developers build better apps and better businesses. When Christiaan from True sent me an email that I would be interviewed by Runscope, I was a bit puzzled—how could I contribute to a dev tools company as a designer? However, once I spoke with John Sheehan, Runscope Co-founder and CEO, and Matthew Ginnard, Principal Designer, I was really moved by their sincerity in not only helping developers grow, but also in helping me grow as a front-end developer. It was the people at Runscope who made me want to work there. Throughout the internship, they have also made me realize how important product design is in creating development tools, which is often distilled from fancy visual elements to pure functional design. Apart from design, I learned a lot from simply experiencing the company culture of Runscope under the great management of John and Co-founder and CTO Frank Stratton.

I recently had the opportunity to ask John more about his life as an entrepreneur, which taught me a lot about being resourceful and the factors that have influenced his practices that make Runscope a great place to work.

About John Sheehan

John is the co-founder and CEO of Runscope with more than 15 years of experience working in various IT infrastructure and tech roles. As an early employee at Twilio, John led the developer evangelism program and managed the Developer Experience. After Twilio, John became Platform Lead at IFTTT (If This Then That), a service that allows users to make conditional actions across different apps like Gmail and Pinterest, and worked closely with API providers to create new channels.

Q: How did you get into technology and entrepreneurship in the first place?

Interest in Software from as Early as Eighth Grade

I started to learn programming in eighth grade after joining a computer club after school. We learned BASIC on old Apple II computers that had a black background with green text. I started by writing a little bit of BASIC, but I didn’t understand any problems that could be solved with programming, except silly games like random number guessers and tic-tac-toe.

Shortly after that, on my birthday, my family and I went to a computer software store where I discovered Visual Basic 3.0. I convinced my parents to buy it for me. When I got home, I couldn’t figure out what to do with it—but what I did figure out was how to make fake error messages pop up in a dialogue box telling you that your computer had crashed. I started uploading this as shareware on CompuServe, the first major commercial online service in the United States that was later acquired by AOL,and would mail people a disk with the shareware on it. The shareware was completely harmless and the free version was called Joke and Prank, but I also made one that I charged people for called Error with 10 or more error messages. I was 14 years old at that time, and although I didn’t get a lot of money, I did get featured in PC Computing Magazine’s 1001 Best Downloads.

Transitioning into Self-Taught Entrepreneurship

After that, I went back to fixing computers because that was what people were mostly willing to pay for. I started attending college, but hated it, so I decided to quit after a semester and start my own company making websites. That was during the dot-com boom, so I figured I could make a bunch of small websites doing various things, but it didn’t go well. I went broke, moved back home, and then tried different jobs like pizza delivery and working for a health club.

When I was 19, I got a job doing website development and computer repair for a company in the Twin Cities (Minnesota). For a few years, I worked at various similar jobs, mostly doing web development. I was working with a lot of sports organizations (Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota State High School League), and that’s when I decided to start another business in 2005 (yes, the third one!) to make software for recreational sports groups to manage their leagues.

When that didn’t take off, I joined another creative agency called Treefort. While I was there, we started a side product called Screenfeed that produced content for digital signage. You can actually see Screenfeed content in the Montgomery Street BART Station in San Francisco today! It was essentially content being delivered via an API. I liked working there, but right around this time I got particularly interested in working with APIs, especially in what Twilio was doing.

From Employee of Twilio and IFTTT to Co-Founder of Runscope

I was getting pretty involved using Twilio’s platform, so when I ran into a few early Twilio employees at a conference, I introduced myself and quickly got a job offer to be its first Developer Evangelist. When I started, there were only about 10 people in the company. For the first year, I worked remotely, based in Minnesota and then Colorado, but I was flying all around the country promoting Twilio to developers at conferences and hackathons. I later became a Product Manager for Developer Experience, making sure the day-to-day tools developers used with the Twilio APIs worked well. After two years with Twilio, I headed to IFTTT where I worked on helping partners integrate their APIs to the IFTTT platform. I found that a lot of these APIs had performance issues that other tools weren’t helping us solve. I got together with Frank Stratton, with whom I worked at Twilio, to build tools to solve those problems, which became Runscope.

It’s been a long road to get to the point where I felt ready to start a company like Runscope. I’ve had a lot of companies in the past, but this is by far the most successful. All of my previous experiences really built up to this, and it’s nice to have found my calling. It’s the one thing that I want to focus on for as long as possible—I want this to be my last job. I want the company to be so successful that none of us have to work anywhere else ever again. That’s my goal.

Q: How was your experience at Twilio and IFTTT?

They were both really great experiences, both really small when I started. At Twilio, there were about 10 people when I started back in 2010. Twilio now has more than 500 employees and has raised over $230 million in funding—it’s worth over a billion dollars. But back when I started, I would have been excited if we were acquired for $10 million. Over the two years I worked there, it grew so quickly that you had no choice but to learn as fast as you could to keep up. There was no opportunity to be lazy or complacent because if you did, the machine would grow past you. Even now, I get impatient when I feel like we’re not moving as fast at Runscope.

It was also interesting to see the progression within Twilio and IFTTT. Twilio was very different when it started at 10, versus 20, versus 50, versus 100+ when I left. There were different challenges at each stage, and being able to watch that progression has helped us prepare for similar changes at Runscope and avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with growth.

Q: How has your experience at Twilio and IFTTT impacted your present work?

There’s probably not a day that goes by that these two companies haven’t influenced how Runscope works. Runscope shares a lot of philosophy with Twilio, which is prioritizing features and products to be focused on developers above all. Our goal as a dev tools company is to help developers become more productive and successful at work.

From the IFTTT side, I took a lot of inspiration from the IFTTT product design. For example, we use a lot of whitespace, and IFTTT uses whitespace probably more than anybody else on the Internet. Trying to keep things simple and distilling everything down to its essence is core to Runscope’s design and is definitely a carry-over from IFTTT.

Q: How is it like to manage Runscope?

When the team was small I didn’t have much of a management strategy. We hired smart, self-directed people and let them do their thing. We still do that, and I mostly just coordinate among all the moving parts. My goal is to distribute as much responsibility as possible so that people can have enough autonomy and authority to be responsible for the outcome of their decisions. I do not want people to fear making mistakes. As a startup we have to try new things and many of them are not going to work.

Everyday I am trying to push decision making and responsibility to other people. I want other people to be as responsible for as much as they are willing to be responsible for. My goal is to get people who can recognize a problem, determine a course of action and implement the solution—even when things might not be very well defined.

Q: What do you see in the future of Runscope and the API economy?

There are a lot of problems left to solve in software development. There will never be perfect software, so as long as we keep coming up with tools that can bring value to developers and the companies they work for, we have a bright future ahead of us.

As for the API economy, the industry is standing on the ground floor. The world is becoming more and more connected via APIs, and there is going to be no shortage of devices or pieces of software talking to each other. It is really just the beginning of anything related to APIs. It’s a big opportunity now, and it’s going to become gigantic.

Free Mac Apps to Improve Productivity: nvALT

Everyone should have a digital place to dump/store information and capture thoughts. For me, that place is nvALT. It’s a fork of Notational Velocity, a minimal, efficient, fast note taking app. Yes, I just listed 3 adjectives to describe a note taking app and I could go on. nvALT’s strength is its simplicity.  It lets you write text, it automatically saves that text, and it lets you search for the text. Here’s a screenshot of the app:

nvalt

It consists of a search bar, a list of notes, and a place to type. You can actually navigate anywhere in the app without touching the mouse; for example, hit cmd + L to navigate to the search bar. In nvALT, everything works from the search bar. Type a title or a word in the bar, and it automatically searches all text as you type. You can hit enter to create a new note with that title.  You can use nvALT for a variety of purposes:

I do a lot of writing in the app; in fact, I’m using it to write this post. It tends to be the first place I go to write because I feel less pressure writing in nvALT than in a word processor; I wrote the first draft of my TEC application in nvALT.  Last year, I kept a note with a list of significant quotations and page numbers from books I was reading, which helped when I was writing papers. When I have an idea for a YouTube video, I make a new note and brainstorm. I have a note called “ideas” so I can quickly record any type of idea. Ultimately, nvALT is the most convenient tool for storing text, especially spontaneous information. It’s faster than a pen and paper and definitely more efficient than keeping many short text files in a folder.

I also use it to keep lists. I have lists of inspiring women in tech, links to programming resources and brief descriptions of them/why they are useful, books to read, tv shows and movies to watch, and more. If you’re a TEC Fellow, I recommend using nvALT to:

  1. Keep track of places to visit in San Francisco. Come up with a naming convention, like SF: to-eat for restaurants. Alternatively, you can make a note called SF places and categorize them within the note. Include restaurants to visit, neighborhoods you want to explore, museums to visit, hikes, etc.
  2. Keep a list of people: We have weekly discussions with entrepreneurs, and in addition to any handwritten notes you might take, it’s useful to keep a digital record containing the speaker, their contact info, and what you learned or appreciated about their talk. Sometimes, speakers recommend books or resources; you can add these to lists in nvALT as well.

If you’re using the built in Notes app on your Mac and iOS devices, I urge you to download nvALT (and Simplenote, which it syncs with). Like Alfred, it’s one of the first apps I install on a Mac, and I feel less productive without it.

A Day in the Life – TEC Thursday

The first time I talked to Christiaan, the coordinator of the TEC program, he mentioned as one of the features of the fellowship something called TEC Thursdays. I asked him what that meant, and he gave me a decently vague description of a combination of food, speakers and group activity that would excuse us from the office for half a day, every Thursday of the program. Now 8 weeks in, I want to share one of the best days I have had this summer: a TEC Thursday.

5:30am:

My alarm went off. I thought simultaneously “Why did I set this alarm?” and “Ughhh.” Then I remembered that today was the day; 6 weeks in with 0 blog posts completed, today was the day to, in the words of Peter Thiel, go from 0 to 1. Spent the next few hours writing, hit submit, and headed to the True office.

9:30am:

Work. Opened my laptop and started working on my project for about.me. Working in the True office is one of the coolest places I have found to work in the city, second only to our regular about.me office in Mission. Between the coffee machine, snacks and always-welcoming Amy, it is just a great place to be.

10:30am:

Meeting. One of my favorite parts of this program is how willing the True team is to help, and this morning I got the chance to meet with Om Malik (@om). With over 1.5 million Twitter followers, 20+ years as a journalist, and a strong affinity for coffee, Om found time to meet with me, and in the course of our chat across a coffee table in the blazing sun, gave me some very timely advice. He told me: the fastest way to find your path is to look back, identify the 6-8 month cycles in your life, and think hard about why those occur. Once you can figure that out, chase it. It is not easy, it is not fast, but it is essential. At this point in my life, to be able to pinpoint those areas of passion and craft my plan to pursue them is a huge advantage.

12:00pm:

Lunch with the whole crew. Every Thursday all of the fellows come to True for an afternoon full of food, camaraderie and speakers. The good food and ice cream (thanks Will) prepared everyone for the afternoon of speakers ahead. And by prepared, I mean prepared with at least one coffee in hand to avoid the impending food coma.

1:30pm:

“The Making of an IPO.” I study Computer Science and Finance, so getting to hear about the process from venture investment to IPO from someone who has been through the process 5 times is surreal to me. We learned about the entire process: who the players are, what the timeline looks like, why lawyers lick their chops at the chance to be a part, what forms are required, what rules and regulations to abide, and still afterwards it felt like we had just scratched the surface.

2:30pm:

“Bitcoin 101.” Some would think that by studying Computer Science, a student would understand most technical things. Code is code right? Well I quickly came to understand how different Bitcoin truly is. The protocol is remarkable; powerful enough to replace the antiquated ownership system of paper deeds and titles, nimble enough to be spent anywhere around the world with a WiFi signal, and simple enough to secure billions of dollars using only two 64 character strings, one of which is publically available. While a one hour presentation did not make me an expert, it did infuse me with the desire to learn more.

3:30pm:

“Crowdfunding a Story.” Entrepreneurship comes with many hills and valleys, and hearing candidly about someone’s journey through the process can simultaneously inspire awe and fear. I know that I want to be an entrepreneur, and stories like these give me a glimpse of the battles at the front lines. All of those victories and defeats, the daily decisions from which crowdfunding website to use to which manufacturing plant to choose, can make or break your entire company. These stories are some of the many things that excite me, and one of the many reasons I feel that I am in the right place.

5:00pm:

“Going to jail.” Alcatraz, that is. Our group tried to book tickets to visit “The Rock” a month into the program, only to find them booked solid for the next three months. Little did we know, True had beat us to the punch. The ferry ride was beautiful, there and back it provided entirely different views of San Francisco, one of a bustling city in rush hour and the other of a skyline illuminated by those burning the midnight oil. When we were not politely bothering other tourists to take every possible combination of a 14 person group picture, we had a chance to take in the incredible view. The prison itself was no less impressive; hearing the history of inmates, riots, and prison breaks, seeing the grenade blast marks forever etched in the stone floor, and feeling the cold, relentless wind blowing across the small island. It left me with a daunting feeling of what it must have been like out on that rock in the bay and happy to (hopefully) never find out.

9:00pm:

Dinner time. We got off the ferry and walked almost immediately into a nearby restaurant. With a group of 15 people stretched around a huge table, conversations cutting across, a hilarious waiter who happened to be a successful country farmer, and some of the best food I have had in SF, it was a great end to a long day.

11:00pm:

Bed, finally.

 

If not yet made obvious by the consistently enthusiastic tone throughout my summary, I enjoyed this day immensely. Not every day this summer has been this jam-packed – nor started with a 5:30am alarm – but it is indicative of the experience I have had here: a dense amalgamation of unique experiences. So in response to my original question of “What is TEC Thursday?” the answer Christiaan gave me was as accurate as it could have been. It varies. But a blog post, partner meeting, IPO lesson, bitcoin lesson, entrepreneurial lesson, Alcatraz trip and group dinner later, I would describe it simply as one of the best days of the summer.

 

Subscription (Box) as a Service

Nature Box. Ipsy. Stitch Fix. There’s a new SaaS sheriff in town, and it’s not software. Since 2010, with the debut of beauty service Birchbox, subscription box services have popped up in a frenzy. It’s easy to see the allure of subscribing to a box service: for $10-$40/month, consumers will receive monthly surprises at their doorstep, filled with curated goods that they’ll enjoy and often exceeding the value that they paid for the box. Today, boxes have entered nearly every market vertical from groceries to pets to fashion. Subscribe to Blue Apron and you’ll receive a weekly delivery of fresh, easy-to-cook meals. Bespoke Post ships a monthly themed box of men’s lifestyle gear, while Julep Maven offers nail polish and beauty products. Simply name a need, and you can find a subscription for it.

One of beauty service Birchbox's monthly offerings.

One of beauty service Birchbox’s monthly offerings.

It’s easy, however, to be swept away in subscription box mania. While new services seem to launch every week, running a subscription service is more than collecting products and shipping them away in boxes. Here, BVP’s Kent Bennett outlines the five criteria for subscription service success: entertainment value, enrichment, quality of product curation, cost efficiency, and consumer convenience. Even when these five boxes are checked, however, running a successful subscription business is no easy task. Profit margin is key, as always. Gross margin per box must be carefully calculated through a sustainable pricing model that attracts customers but covers COGS. Fixed costs can pile up through labor, product selection, and advertising, while customer acquisition must be effective enough to generate traction yet cheap enough to be offset by revenues. Logistically, orders and subscriptions must go off without a hitch, and services such as Cratejoy now offer software solutions to manage a service’s shipping, design, and more.

Unsurprisingly, subscription boxes have not flown under the radar of VCs. Birchbox, Nature Box, and Dollar Shave Club, among the most successful services, have raised $72M, $60M, and $150M in funding, respectively. Such funding is not misguided. As mentioned previously, given a unique product that attracts a loyal customer base, subscription boxes offer a reliable source of recurring revenue. Given the myriad services that exist to help manage a subscription business, overhead costs are often low, and some industries, like beauty products, boast killer margins. What’s not to like?

The question that remains for VCs is whether or not the subscription box model can generate acceptable ROIs. Little press has been had regarding exits; the first that comes to mind is Nordstrom’s acquisition of Trunk Club but little else does beyond that. As a unique business model, the subscription box faces unique challenge on its path to greater success. While there’s nothing wrong with subscriptions springing up in every industry, it’s unlikely that boxes in niche markets like wine and intimates will ever see levels of traction that takes them to the next level. Furthermore, the subscription-based service allows customers to cancel their purchases at any time should product curation not meet their standards; unlike a software package that simply sits in a computer, boxes are physical products that take up space and will be held to a higher standard.

Even the most successful boxes are vulnerable to these risks. Heavy emphasis must be placed on product branding, so that when a package arrives on the doorstep, its arrival is like that of a welcome face. Boxes must ingrain themselves into the lives their customers and become commonplace items in a household in order to achieve long-term success. And while companies like Nature Box have gained widespread popularity, it’s hard to see the merits of a public company built solely on boxes of healthy snacks. Profitable box services looking to exit should instead look to the M&A markets where they would fit nicely within larger marketplaces like Amazon. Either that, or don’t raise capital and stay private as solidly built business.

How to Build a Slackbot + Deploy an App to Heroku for Absolute Beginners

Back in ye olde days of the internet, there was IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a chat network with channels and servers for every microcosm in the world. Folks would make these little bots or services—they’d greet you when you joined a channel, played trivia, Uno and other chat-based games with you. Unfortunately, if you wanted to make one yourself, you likely needed some knowledge of Perl, client-server architecture and a handful of Unix commands.

Today, most will opt for a more aesthetic alternative to IRC. Namely, Slack—a chat-based team communication tool. The best part? You can create a Slackbot with substantially fewer roadblocks.

I’ll try not to make assumptions on the technologies you may or may not have on your machine here. So let’s go ahead and start from scratch. If you already have any or all of following downloaded, you’re ahead of the game!


Setup

1. Install Node.js and npm

Mac
Go to nodejs.org, Click ‘install’, and run through the install process.

Ubuntu
You should be able to use the following:

curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_0.10 | sudo -E bash -
sudo apt-get install -y nodejs

More at https://github.com/nodesource/distributions#deb

Windows
Go ahead the download the Windows binary

2. Create a Github account (https://github.com/) and download git (http://git-scm.com/download)

3. Clone this repository https://github.com/ceejbot/LOUDBOT-SLACK by using the following command in your terminal:

git clone git@github.com:ceejbot/LOUDBOT-SLACK.git

4. Create an account and download Heroku on your machine https://toolbelt.heroku.com/

Pheew. Now that we have all that installed, on with the tutorial!

 

Add Slack Tokens to App

1. Go into your Slack group, click on the caret and then “Configure Integrations” in the dropdown

slack-screenshot

2. Under ‘All Integrations’ → ‘DIY Integrations & Customizations’, click on ‘Outgoing WebHooks’

slack-outgoing-webhooks

3. The next screen should look like the following. Go ahead and click on ‘Add Outgoing WebHooks Integration’

slack-webhooks-add

4. Set the channel to the specific channel you would like your slackbot to be active on, and copy the corresponding token (Rest assured, we’ll be able to add our slackbot on multiple channels. We’ll get to that in a bit)

token-slack

5. Open a terminal and navigate to the directory you cloned and use the following command to create your own file to store environment variables. You should note that your .gitignore includes this .env file.

cat .env.example > .env

6. Next, using a text editor of your choice, open the loudbot directory

7. Open .env and replace the contents of TOKENS with the token you copied from slack. Now I’d promised you could add loudbot to multiple channels. To do this, repeat the above steps to add outgoing webhook integrations for as many channels are you would like. Just remember to copy the corresponding tokens into the TOKENS list in .env.

8. To complete the SLACK_TOKEN field, we’ll have to revisit the Slack ‘Configure Integrations’ page. Under ‘DIY Integrations & Customizations’, there should be a service called ‘Bots’

slack_bots_section

9. Create a new Bot, name it ‘LOUDBOT’ and copy the ‘API TOKEN’ under Integration Settings into the SLACK_TOKEN field in your .env file.

 

Deploying Slackbot to Heroku

1.Next we need put loudbot on a server so it can constantly be listening and responding to our Slack messages.

2. Create a file entitled ‘Procfile’ without a file extension. This is the file that tells Heroku what commands to use to run your application. The contents of the file are a single line that should be the following:

Procfile

3. Finally, in your terminal, within your loudbot repository, run the following Heroku commands.

heroku create

This will create a new heroku app (note you can only have a max of 5 heroku apps on the free plan). Git remotes are references to remote repositories and this command will also create a git remote you can reference as ‘heroku’ on the command line.

git add
git commit -m "my commit message"

These are git commands for that’ll help track your changes to the app. They will commit your changes to your local directory, in preparation for deploying your app to Heroku.

git push heroku master

This will actually push your app to Heroku.

And there you have it—your app is live. LOUDBOT learns from your shouting and you can talk with LOUDBOT in any channel it is active in using all-caps. Enjoy!

loudbot-better-screenshot

« Older posts