Month: July 2010 (page 1 of 6)

Getting down to the nitty gritty

Hey everyone,

Life has been super hectic! I will take more time to ruminate on the past year in my blog post next week, which should be a doozy considering everything that happened this summer. It has definitely been one of the best two months of my life and I am very grateful for everything the True Ventures team has put together.

It is comforting, however, to see that other people are as busy as I am.

I have also found that like me, SendMe Mobile valued the people over the deal in choosing its venture capital firm. They still got a great deal from True Ventures, don’t get me wrong (True is known for having the most entrepreneur-friendly term sheets around), but what really sold them was the people and values in the firm. The True Team helped SendMe long after the deal was done, assisting them in tasks ranging from hiring to raising their next round. SendMe Mobile is now a company with significant revenue and four great brands: SendMe Mobile, SoLow, WT411, and mBuzzy. Considering the company was only founded in 2006, this is a tremendously successful business and their product offers will only get better with time. It is hard to say what they will be doing in five years or ten years, but over the next year, SendMe would like to focus on building out mBuzzy in order to expand its dominant position as one of the top mobile social networks. I think this is a great direction for them and I am excited to see what they do to build the product.

This week’s track is from what I find to be a promising new avenue of electronic music that combines aspects of deep bass with aggressive electro strings. “Dubstep” is finding its way into the minds of countless people online and many of the best dubstep artists are remixing tracks from other genres. It is easy to see why dubstep has such appeal: it’s got a totally new sound and sonic frequency that goes very well with heavy bass while being slower and more manageable than hard-style or drum & bass. This track is a fantastic remix of “Prituri Se Planinata” by Stellamara by the very talented NiT GriT. Based right in our backyard in San Jose, NiT GriT has gained most of his notoriety and following from Soundcloud.com, which should be an indication of how the future of the music industry is going to be dominated by services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, not record labels.

See you next week,

Tyler

Breakfast

I had breakfast for the first time this week- at about 9 PM.  Don’t get me wrong, an early meal is important- I generally consume a good amount of fruit and cereal on my way out the door- but it’s not the same as breakfast.  Breakfast means waffles or pancakes, maybe orange juice, but always bacon.  Rocket fuel for an arduous day of working at a computer screen.  I finally had my first real breakfast after a meetup of people interested in web metrics.
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I’ll say one thing for the Bay Area- despite its inexplicably terrible weather, depressingly severe homeless problem, and occasional riots, there are always plenty of geeks organizing events.  Any given night, denizens of the web are congregating to learn new skills, talk about new trends, and mooch free food off the host.
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Epic Fail.

Chatting about Failure.

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I attended two such events this week.  The first was a FailChat- an event focused on entrepreneur’s failures rather than their successes.  After all, it’s tough to replicate that combination of insight, luck, and talent that creates success.  But it’s easy to avoid something that doesn’t work.  True’s own Hiten Shah contributed insights from his company KISSmetrics as a panelist at the chat.  The next night I was busy learning C with a few other wannabe coders in the Mission district.  The best part about learning C?  Late-night Mission calzones.
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You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Except maybe Tenderloin.

The Mission district.

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This week in TEC we heard from True partner Jon Callaghan and Sponge founder Krutal Desai.  Jon took us through True’s investing philosophy and gave us a rundown of his twelve tips for entrepreneurs.  A few highlights:
  • tell everyone everything
  • take risks, since there will never be certainty
  • say NDA, get excommunicated
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Spongey.

Krutal's new venture: Sponge.

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Krutal’s story was another impressive tale of young entrepreneurship.  Similar to Jared Kim’s origin story if only because of their age, it began with basic website building and started getting exciting when Snoop Dogg and BMWs entered the picture.  He offered advice on topics ranging from domain real estate to commission sales to employee recruiting.  His latest venture, Sponge, spent a week in the True offices this summer while waiting for a new office.
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The TEC interns got acquainted with the Great Outdoors in the Marin headlands over the weekend.  Despite some experiments with traveling the white roads in the spirit of Gary Erickson, most made it back to the Golden Gate bridge safe and sound.
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Hi-ho, hi-ho...

Intrepid explorers.

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JP
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TEC Quote of the Week: “When you’re on the drug, you’ll know it… You’ve got to be all in.  Otherwise it’s a hobby.” – Jon Callaghan on making the leap

Can You Smell what The Rock is Cookin’?

It is Sunday afternoon and I’m staring down my final week of TEC. Feelings: mixed. On one hand, TEC really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How will I ever be able to replicate the level of access to the people who are making change, and turning ideas into progress? On the other hand, I’m very excited to take my first flight out of the nest. I’m not sure how soon it will happen, or what variety of entrepreneurial exploits lay on the horizon. However, I do know that my time at Voxpop and with the True team has given me a leg up. It’s more than the connections and knowledge gained; it’s about a positive attitude and knowing when not to compromise. I know that sounds vague, and it is. I guess what I’m trying to say is the ‘Why?’ is always paramount to the ‘How?’ Sometimes there is noting to do but figure out how to locate and source thousands of images of vegetables. Without a view of the bigger picture, tasks like these would be slow and painful. Working in a high-energy startup environment forces me to pick my head up and see where all my work goes. Walling myself off to complete a job is almost impossible.

On Thursday, TEC got locked up. We trekked  to Alcatraz aka “The Rock” for some jailhouse fun. As a San Francisco native, others were surprised to find that I had never been to the island. This is a prime example of how True has opened new doors, and changed my experience of a city I have called home for 21 years. I throughly enjoyed seeing the old cell blocks and listening to the audio tour, complete with expert narration and exciting audio dramatizations. I really did not expect to appreciate Alcatraz like I did. Listening to the many founders talk about their experiences with San Francisco has revealed a new side of the city, and redefined my San Francisco experience forever.

Word of the Week: Proximity. From being in the true office, the offices of Bloomspot of Voxpop, being close to the action creates a total experience. Living and breathing the bay area tech scene has changed me more than any new skill, fresh idea, or amazing speaker ever could. With that said, I’m very interested in how the remote interns connected with their environments, and what impact not being in the Bay Area made on their summer.

Song of the Week: Deadbeat Summer by Neon Indian. not at all descriptive of my summer, I’ve been working really hard. In fact, I did not go to see Neon Indian perform in Northbeach (a neighborhood in SF) this evening because I am working on my various projects.

Tick of Time.

Time is an interesting thing.

When I was younger, I never use to think about how time passed or how much time went by. I just use to be and live in the moment. I use to lie out in the grass for hours looking at the sky. I remember building a Lego structure for days only for the purpose of immediately destroying. I didn’t care about computers, unless I could play a game on them. I had no idea what the Internet was, and I didn’t really care. I lived a different life.

I can’t recall the exact point that my life changed, but I’m sure it will be one of the most important changes to happen to me. I began to feel guilty about just being and lying on the grass for hours looking at the sky. I had to be doing something that had an end in sight. Not just an end like destroying a Lego building, but an end like one that will help someone in the future. In other words, time began to mean something to me. It began to have value. It began to control and define almost every aspect of my life. Time was no longer a luxury, but a necessity in my life. I still haven’t decided if that was a good thing…oh, and I discovered the Internet.

As I grow older, I begin to feel weird about how fast time really does go by. It feels like yesterday that I decided to go two-thousand five-hundred seventy-eight miles away from my home; It feels like yesterday that I moved into this new city; it feels like yesterday I met the people at True and Vodpod. And now, there is only a week left? I’d bet that it has something to do with the significance that the mind places on the beginnings and ends of something and blurs the middle, less significant parts, but I have no real idea. All I can do is make sure that the time that I have that flies by so quickly is being used as best as I can use it. I think about if I have extracted sufficient value for my time. I ask myself: could I have been doing something more valuable?

To be completely honest, the answer is almost always a yes in the short-term. I probably shouldn’t have watched that last episode of Mad Men, spent that hour on Reddit, or coded that random website that no one else will ever see. I’ve come to the realization that I’m inherently a time-waster, probably like most of you.

But when I ask myself about TEC this summer, I don’t really think I could have been doing something that would have been more valuable. I learned invaluable information from the great people at Vodpod and True. I heard from some of the greatest people I have ever met every week at True. I made features for a site that is bigger than I could of ever imagined working on. TEC has been a great experience. I don’t say it enough, but I really appreciate everything that everyone here in San Francisco has done for me. You made it a home away from home for me, and I couldn’t express enough gratitude for that.

The week at True was really action-packed with Alcatraz, dinner, commercial, Berkeley and great speakers. I was inspired to write this post because of Jon Callaghan’s presentation to us; he really got me thinking about people, time and value. I have come to some pretty interesting conclusions since then, and to be honest, I would of done this program just to hear that presentation.

Vodpod has been great this week, as usual. It’s been interesting starting to develop an iPad application, because the iPad is still such a new device. There are no interaction paradigms set, like there are with mobile, desktop and cloud. Everything is still up in the air, and I feel like I am on the forefront of that wave trying to develop something that will hopefully set some of those paradigms for the future. We’ll see how it turns out.

There’s one week left in TEC. It’s pretty odd to think about that. I’m repeating myself. That’s a waste of time.

Hello. Ali. NYU. I have a roommate there whose name I can’t remember. I’ll try to remember and get back to you next week. I like calculators, watches, calculator watches, pizza, Feynmann diagrams, quarks, Planck’s length and dark matter.

Cooking up a Good Startup

Wow that went quickly. If my calculations are correct, this will be my penultimate blog post for TEC, so I thought I would have a little fun with this one (not that I don’t usually try to make my blog posts fun).

One of the recurring activities I’ve mentioned in my blog posts this summer is my attempts to take up cooking. As the summer progressed, I gradually got more into it and tried fancier dishes moving from simple pasta and tomato sauce to stir fries, homemade Chinese food, and…more elaborate pastas. I’ve really started enjoying the whole process, not just consuming the end result, which got me thinking about how my culinary experiments relate to my professional experience with TEC this summer.

In many ways, learning to cook is like starting your own business. You start off by observing what’s going on around you and saying to yourself, “Hey, I think I can do that,” or “I bet I can do that better.” You begin gathering the resources you need to make your idea a reality. For cooking, it’s going to the store to find the right ingredients. For startups, it’s learning about your industry, finding the necessary skills, and obtaining funding. In a way, VCs are like a supermarket for entrepreneurs because they can offer numerous resources like funding, advice, and networking. It’s usually wise to shop around for the best deal, but unfortunately, there are no reward card specials.

Once the pieces are in place, it’s time to start executing. At first, it’s hard to know if what you’re doing is right. Is this chicken fully cooked? Does my website draw in new customers? You can read books or seek out advice from others, but ultimately it’s about trial and error. There’s no right or wrong way to do things, it’s all about finding your niche and style. Things may not work out perfectly the first time, but you can learn from your mistakes. You can’t be afraid to fail. You just have to get your product out there and iterate. If you stick with it and adapt, you will slowly get better and build your culinary repertoire and revenue streams.

Picking up cooking or starting your own business is easier than ever. With globalization and improvements in technology, costs are lower than ever. You can get cheap utensils and ingredients if you go with generic brands. You can also get cheap computing power and software using cloud computing services. You can’t always do everything on your own, so sometimes it makes sense to outsource tasks. For example you might buy a sauce from the store or hire a developer for a project. You’re never alone either. Millions of recipes can be found online for free while sites like Odesk are good places to find cheap outsourced help. You should be careful though, as Tony Hsieh advised, not to outsource or cut corners on your core competency. This could be the quality of beef in your stir fry or Zappos’ warehouses.

There is a sizable psychological barrier to entry into both cooking and entrepreneurship. If you’ve never done it before, it can be intimidating because you don’t know where to start. It’s tempting to take the safe route and eat out or work at a stable job. Once you dive in though, it can be very rewarding. Even though your dishes may not be restaurant grade and you may be taking a pay-cut at your startup, there’s something innately rewarding about creating something with your own hands and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Plus you can have more fun goofing around in your kitchen or your startup office.

I’m sure it takes a certain type of personality to enjoy cooking or entrepreneurship. However, for that select group of people, it’s very exciting and a lot of fun when done right. Fortunately, I think I fall into both categories.

Come back next week for my final post! In the meantime, here’s some photos of dishes I’ve made this summer. Comments welcome!

Culinary Experiments

Chapter 7: Scrumdiddlyumptious

This week, I was lucky enough to be invited by my bosses at Assistly to a Lean Startup talk, featuring IMVU’s Brett Durrett.  I was delighted when Mr. Durrett credited Continuous Deployment, Scrum, and IMVU’s Hack Weeks as a large part of his company’s success.

Agile development and developer freedom are being increasingly used by tech companies to maximize their productivity, so I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around them all summer.  Scrum in particular fascinates me in how it sets up an environment for a team to work like a well-oiled machine.  It’s also utterly cool.

Brett Durrett, Vice President of Engineering at IMVU

Continuous Deployment

Continuous Deployment, part of the Lean Startup philosophy, advocates releasing smaller updates more often than in the traditional model. At IMVU, this can even mean releases being added multiple times in an hour. Continuous Deployment has drawn both praise and skepticism, mainly because many developers are wary of the quality of such updates, and whether it is possible to test them rigorously at a whirlwind pace:

“Our tests suite takes nine minutes to run (distributed across 30-40 machines). Our code pushes take another six minutes. Since these two steps are pipelined that means at peak we’re pushing a new revision of the code to the website every nine minutes. That’s 6 deploys an hour. Even at that pace we’re often batching multiple commits into a single test/push cycle. On average we deploy new code fifty times a day.”

– Timothy Fitz on IMVU’s use of Continuous Deployment

Mr. Durrett explained that IMVU runs continuous testing on its updates, and always stands ready to retract them should problems or negative customer feedback arise.  For now, the consensus seems to be that Continuous Deployment shows promise, but may not be appropriate for every company.

Scrum

Scrum is a framework for agile software development; in other words, it’s a formalized way for teams to quickly develop software by working as a unit, while being flexible enough to roll with changing circumstances as they arise.  Scrum is named for a move from rugby, in which all the players on a team interlock bodies in formation with the shared goal of gaining possession of the ball.

Scrum in software development is named for a move from rugby, in which all the players on a team interlock bodies in formation with the shared goal of gaining possession of the ball.

Rugby is insane.

Each product has a product backlog, a wishlist of features that the customer would like to see.  Obviously, it would be overwhelming to hand a backlog for a product with a lifecycle of years to a team and tell them to “make it happen”.  Most likely, productivity would be low and progress would be piecemeal.  That’s where scrum comes in to focus the team.

The work is broken into a series of smaller periods, called sprints, each about 2 to 4 weeks long.  The team meets at the beginning of each sprint at a planning meeting, and chooses a high-priority chunk of tasks from the overall backlog to work on during the sprint.  Each team member signs up for a task based on their ability and the ability of their teammates; it’s key that these tasks are not assigned and that there is no hierarchical “boss” of a scrum (although there is a “ScrumMaster” whose job it is to remove obstacles in the team’s way).  The team works as a unit.

During the sprint, the team meets every day for the daily scrum, to report their task progress since the last day’s meeting and what they plan to accomplish before the next day’s.  Progress toward completing the sprint, or burndown, is recorded.  Daily scrums are capped at 15 minutes, and are held at the same time in the same place, in order to set a regular schedule.

At the end of each sprint, the team has completed all tasks and has a product that is potentially shippable — it’s been thoroughly reviewed and tested.  They meet for a sprint review to measure the sprint velocity, evaluate what went right and wrong, and prepare to repeat the process in the next sprint.

From the excellent ScrumAlliance.org.

Hack Week

This is an IMVU-internal week in which engineers devote 5 days to creating any (shippable) feature of their choice — developers are given free reign over what they work on, rather than the feature filtering down from management.  It’s meant to encourage innovation within the company, and plays on the same principle as the hack days Sifteo’s Dave Merrill enjoyed during his time at MIT’s Media Lab — that a group of smart people focusing their energies on one common goal can yield powerful results.

Conclusion

This Thursday, the TEC interns met portfolio company Bloomspot’s founders Jasper Malcolmson and Ashish Baldua, who said that Bloomspot’s development team uses a framework very similar to Scrum — and they’re not the only ones.  All of the Silicon Valley excitement around Lean Startup, Continuous Deployment, Scrum, and Hack Weeks ties in perfectly with True’s philosophy: it doesn’t take a lot of money to start something great.  I think that with the general trend of venture capital seed money starting at lower and lower amounts, we’ll see an increasing amount of lean, agile startups focused on iteration and responding to customer and market feedback as quickly as possible for a quality product.

The Most Important Person For Any Wannabe Entrepreneur

Your Startup’s Most Valuable Asset: People

“Ideas are cheap. People are precious.” Wise words from True Ventures partner Jon Callaghan, who is also the source of most of the other gold nuggets I’ll be sharing in this post. I can’t tell you how many times this message has been reiterated all summer: great relationships are key to a startup’s success. I’ve heard it from partners and founders alike, over and over again. And they’re not just talking about networking with influential people (although certainly that won’t hurt you!)–they’re talking about the relationships a founder has with his or her teammates. As Jon put it, entrepreneurship is about passion for life, new ideas, and people. It’s interesting that the third point is rarely mentioned in so-called definitions of entrepreneurship, but it’s an undeniable truth that people, both teammates and customers, are the reason for your startup’s existence.

The Most Important Person For Any Wannabe Entrepreneur

I think the key part of this idea is that a “teammate” is broadly defined as anyone you work with on a regular basis. So your key relationships include people beyond just a co-founder, or an employee. They might include an investor. And they certainly include the person most important to your growth as an entrepreneur: a mentor. Quality guidance is an invaluable asset for anyone trying to build something from the ground up, and if there’s one person you should try to seek out as early as possible, it’s a great long-term mentor.

What are your recommendations for key people to seek out early?

Picking Your Teammates

Work with great people. Whether you’re starting something tomorrow or in 20 years, always work with great people and you will benefit. In fact, I’ve been convinced to prioritize the people even over the product–you’ll get more from being on an awesome team in a less-than-thrilling industry than from being on a so-so team in a sexy field. As Jon put it: It’s the professor, not the class. Or in other words, the right people make any experience a great one. I’ll go ahead and say my experience at Kwedit has backed up this POV. I don’t know that payments is all that sexy a space to be in (though I’m sure some on the team would beg to differ!) but the team has been phenomenal, and as a result I feel like I’ve learned a ton from this summer.

What about your co-founders, who you’ll be spending day (and probably night and all hours in between) with? You guys are practically gonna be married, so this is an especially tricky pick. Should you pick your best friend from elementary school? Or your classmate who’s got a stellar resume and the marketing savvy you lack? When picking co-founders, choose talented people who you share values with–in other words, not necessarily your best friend (even though that model works just fine for some). And if it comes down to picking someone because they’re your friend versus for talent, go with the talent.

Do you agree that great teammates outweigh a great product when choosing your workplace? Other thoughts?

Bonus!

Check out the video that we made about TEC! We’re super proud of it. :) I love the background music. Image below links to the vid.

screenshot

–Amelia


The Seven Deadly Sins of Entrepreneurs

Hi all,

This past week has come and gone so quickly I can barely believe that the TEC program will last just one more week.  This past week our required reading was a book called Mastering the VC Game by Jeffrey Bussang.  In this book venture capitalist and entrepreneur Jeff Bussang provides readers with an insider’s view into the world of venture capital.  In this post I would like to talk about seven sins (pitfalls) that Bussang  says entrepreneurs commonly make:

  1. Term sheets:  Term sheets are tricky business for most entrepreneurs and in Bussang’s book, he talks about the importance of hiring a good lawyer and clearly understanding what terms you are accepting when you take funding from a VC.  Bad terms can really be detrimental to any startup.
  2. Getting into bed with the wrong VC:  Many entrepreneurs are eager to accept capital from any VC who comes to the table.  However, Bussang clearly articulates that this can be a kiss of death to startups.  They must choose wisely their venture partners and evaluate what they will bring to the table for the startup.
  3. Not knowing a VC’s sweet-spot:  All VCs have an investment philosophy/strategy.  Don’t try pitching your company before you know how much capital you need and what size checks the VC typically writes.
  4. Board dynamics: Spend time upfront building a transparent and trustworthy relationship with your board.  Also, do what you say your going to do – execution is critical!
  5. Transparency:  Keep your board members and investors abreast of both good news and bad new from the beginning.  Take small steps to be transparent and honest, it will pay big dividends in the future.
  6. Being in over your head:  Entrepreneurship is a wild ride full of highs and lows, at times it may feel as though you are in over your head but according to Bussang you must be honest with your self; get help when you need it and manage the board before it manages you.  Doing this things will help you survive in the wild entrepreneurship ride.
  7. Know every number and detail:  An interesting personal experience that Bussang shares in the book is when he talks about when he and his partner made pitched Upromise to Kleiner Perkins.  Bussang said that in the middle of the pitch that he was asked a questions about Upromise’s gross margin projections and that he nor his partner knew the answer.  Bussang said that from that experience he learnt the importance of knowing every financial and business detail of his business.

This will be last week and with the TEC program, I am saddened by how fast this amazing experience has come and gone.  However, I am excited for the next two weeks, because I am staying a week longer to work with  SendMe.  During this time I will be solely responsible  I have been preparing to take over the responsisbilites of one of my supervisors as they travel outside of the U.S.  This will be a challenging and rewarding  I will be responsible for

Pavarotti’s C5

Now with only one week to go, it seems we are making more progress than ever. Friday was a lot of fun. One awesome part of the culture we have here at Inventables is Free Point Fridays. Every Friday, everyone is at liberty to work on what they think is most important. Sometimes it only remotely related to the business, but it is a good way to take a step back and rekindle your creative side.

So on Friday, Zach and I revisited the idea of selling samples. As a reminder, our site currently sells sales leads to materials sourcing vendors. What I found though, is that the majority of buyers that submit inquiries are looking for samples. Furthermore, vendors say they spend too much time dealing with samples request. I think there is a great opportunity to be the middle man here.

We went through and called all buyers that posted on our site that were requesting a sample of a product we have (we keep a very small inventory of samples left over from the early days of the company). Zach called the new ones, and I called buyers that posted in the past as early as January. We actually made a comparable revenue for the day comparable to what we make selling sales leads. Now we did pretty much exhaust all our leads looking for samples in the last five months, but having said that it still may prove a viable pivot for the business. This week I’m going to look into it more procedurally as see how viable a business model it actually is.

One thing that I think that is vital about the way we operate is goal setting. More important, our goals are very explicit stated. A goal is never “improve vendors response on leads” but rather “achieve a response rate over 60%.” Something concrete. Something that you can definitely say at the end of the month either “yes, we achieved this” or “no, we did not.”

Another related point is the importance of collecting the right kind of data and the perils with it. Collecting data is important. You need to know what features are being used and how well they are working. Sometimes, collecting that data can be quite expensive (time is money). In those cases, it is useful to ask yourself “If I collect this data, what actionable steps will this allow me to take?” Say you want to look at keyword density on your pages as part of your SEO campaign. The deliverables would be a profile of all the pages on your site and the keyword densities associated with each. To me, this would be fairly interesting to look at. But you have to ask if you had this data, what would you do with it? Even the most compelling data can be useless in giving you direction.

Also, a lot of business decisions are inherently low data. Especially when looking for new markets or directions to push the business in, the data is never going to suffice. Even if you have data, oftentimes it is worthless. First rule when working with data: correlation does not imply causation. That is where true leaders step in, the ones who have the intuition to pull the business where it needs to go despite the lack of supporting data.

So in short data is great, but it can really only hint at answers. In my opinion, data can never really prove anything. It can only nudge you in the right direction and bring to view some things you have never considered. Hence in the business world the “gut feeling” is always king.

Only one week left and there is still so much to see and do. I still have to get to the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. I feel like I am leaving Inventables at the most exciting time. I wish I could stay longer. I guess there is only one option for me at this point – to end on a high note and go out with a bang (hence this post’s title)!

Until next time, I’m Jeremy Schapp, ESP – wait no. Sorry. See you all next time – for my final blog post!

A Quick Android Update

Things are starting to wind down on the actual development of the Healthset Android app. After some successful test runs, and more feedback from the rest of the team, I have been tasked with going back over the code and adding comments/documenting everything. I think just about everything has a nice Javadoc comment above it now, including some nice example code. Going back through all my code makes me realize how much progress I have made. I started with nothing, and 7 weeks and 3000 lines of code later, all the features that were originally requested are present and accounted for. In addition, I think the code is not just functional but also extensible and encapsulated enough that it should be pretty easy for someone else to come in and add new features or make changes to the existing ones ones without much trouble. Only one week left!

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