Category Archives: Personal

Good Bye Storify

For almost a year I’ve been helping social media curation tool Storify as a software engineer with their Node.js apps, Backbone.js front-end development as well as supporting Storify API, implementing Twitter API v1.1 intergration, writing blog posts and answering Storify API questions. We had some great moments and a few weeks ago I summed them up in a post.

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Startup Life Balance and My Mexican Vacation

Medano Beach - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Over the past eight months, I’ve been juggling extremely demanding startup work at Storify, exceptionally fulfilling teaching assignments at Hack Reactor, General Assembly and Marakana, and writing my books and webapplog posts. By applying Yerkes–Dodson law, stress helped me to boost my productivity and I was happier than ever. However, in the last few weeks I slightly overestimated my capacity to endure the fast-paced startup life. Happily, I was able to take two weeks off and to spend them in Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico.

The famous Los Cabos Arch at the Lands End

The famous Los Cabos Arch at the Lands End

A passive quiet leisure time seemed like a great way to reflect, and to fill up my mental tanks for the future. I opted for Los Cabos due to its proximity to the Bay Area, convenience and friendliness of the local people. Indeed, there are plenty of English-speaking staff and my favorite chain stores, like Starbucks, Ruth’s Steakhouse, OXXO, Mega, Walmart and of course (not so favorite but still familiar) McDonald’s, and Burger King.

By the end of the vacation, I’d read a few good books and stumbled upon some amazingly fantastic podcasts about entrepreneurship:

I also started reading Smashing Node.js. It’s a very approachable beginner’s Node.js book. Nevertheless, I found there some gems such as answers to why we do things the way we do them at Storify, because the tech stack described in the book and JavaScript patterns are astonishingly similar to the ones that we have.

Pirate style party cruise ship

Pirate style party cruise ship

At the end of the break, I learned an important lesson that we need to be more realistic about our present (but unrealistic about our future), and step aside for a bit to take a look at a bigger picture. In addition, I pledged to myself to prioritize my life and the side-projects I undertake.

Ship Code That Matters

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of life and our purpose on planet Earth. Just kidding! I was thinking why so many programmers are unhappy. Programming is fun and creative after all. The main reason for the unhappiness is that such engineers don’t believe in the software product they’re building. They don’t see how it can benefit end-users. Maybe they don’t even know who their end-users are.

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Day 6 of StartupBus 2013: All-Star Finals

On the sixth day six after departing from San Francisco, buspreneurs gathered to socialize and to let steam off at a happy hour organized by Twillio. GhostPost brought a projector to the bar to show their anonymous live chat. The funny story is that the projector was sold to them by of a fellow busmate (from the Grassroots.io team) whose Austin-based friend the Grassroots guy to handle the Craigslist projector ad. :-) Apparently the GhostPost team weren’t happy with their defeat (and who would be?) and hustled their way through the competition to become an All-Star wildcard — and by the evening they were indeed selected as a wildcard!

StartupBus 2013 West Coast - random stop

StartupBus 2013 West Coast – random stop

Rackspace bought out the Champions sports bar in downtown Austin. GhostPost and other teams pitched during the evening to Dave McCure, Robert Scobler, and other important startup personas. The sound quality wasn’t very good. Every now and then somebody would shush the drunk, happy and tired crowd, but that didn’t help much. Despite it being very entertaining to watch Dave McClure rip apart startups and Robert (because he saw the evolution during the span of 3 days) explain and sometime defend them — in the end the decision was the same. They announced that the winner was CareerMob, and the runner up was NextChaptr.

StartupBus 2013 — Dave McClure and Rober Scoble

StartupBus 2013 — Dave McClure and Rober Scoble

Summary of StartupBus 2013

Overall StartupBus is a great experience but I can’t say that it has changed my life. :-) There are similarities to a real startup life:

  • Scarcity of resources, balance of risks and trade-offs, ample creativity to solve problems
  • Building, motivating and selling the concept to your team while pitching your idea to judges
  • Human drama: communication issues, interactions among team members in close quarters, under stress, without enough sleep, etc.
  • Startup lifestyle: exhaustion, abundance of stress

But some things are far from the reality. Mainly, in an actual startup:

  • Founders can focus not only on consumer segment, but also on small business and/or enterprise customers. Obviously, due to the lack of time and resource constraints buspreneurs targeted consumer audience.
  • Team needs to be serious and to pick not just fun and sexy ideas to get the most buzz. Solid business models usually come from ugly and boring, though concrete and painful problems.
  • These days, anyone who wants to start up a business has full-time reliable and even speedy Internet access without having to get stranded in the middle of a desert or having your mobile hot-spot picking up Mexican cell phone carriers. :-)

My conclusion is that a StartupBus trip was a good experience, but it’s not exactly the same as building a real startup.

Real StartupBus Tattoo by @claco

Real StartupBus Tattoo by @claco

StartupBus 2013: Day 4, Semi Finals

On day four of our StartupBus hackathon we arrived in San Antonio, Texas. Unlike on the previous days, we settled in a nice Four Points by Sheraton hotel. The West Coast bus came first, then right after us came the bus from Mexico City, representing the whole country of Mexico. Despite being exhausted, buspreneurs filled the hotel lobby with loud voices and cheers in English and Spanish. In a few hours, the rest of the buses arrived:

  • Chicago representing the Midwest,
  • Tampa representing the Southeast,
  • New York City representing the East Coast,
  • Alumni bus from NYC representing people who participated in the previous years competitions.

Because semi-finals and finals were supposed to take place on the next day, after the dinner pretty much all the teams kept on working till late at night.
The next day, after breakfast in the hotel, we (over 150 StartupBus participants) were transported to the Rackspace HQ, a.k.a. The Mothership. It is situated in San Antonio, and was just a short ride from the hotel. Although our driver managed to get lost due to roads blocked by construction. The Rackspace HQ building is a huge box-like structure resembling a shopping mall. It is surrounded by parking lots and construction (they moved here recently) in a suburban area. We were met like rockstars, but were told not to explore anything outside of the huge hangar-like room. Knowing that most hackers disrespect any rules, Rackspace management wisely put lots of employees and security guards around us. The lunch food was subpar. Elias Bizannes (the founder of StartupBus) and other judges listened to each of more than 40 teams pitch individually. Here is a list of the teams:

StartupBus 2013 North Americacs

StartupBus 2013 North Americacs: facebook.com/startupbus

  • AdventureCo.de
  • BriefSkate
  • CareerMob
  • Chromatix
  • Cloudspotting
  • Coderswb
  • Deliverish
  • DrunkSpotting*
  • Dry Erase Web
  • Emplify
  • Eventee
  • ExVersion
  • Fitchallenge
  • FlightShuffle
  • Friends Judging Friends
  • GhostPost.io
  • Gifdme
  • Grassroots.io
  • InstaLodger (alumni)
  • Jobber.io
  • MyBestRx (alumni)
  • NextChaptr
  • Nomscription
  • Ovrviews
  • Payvine
  • Portioned
  • Producers
  • Readin.gs
  • RepCheck (alumni)
  • SkillMeUp
  • Storedrobe
  • TagSet
  • Thumbtrotter
  • uSupply.me
  • Wrong Credit Score
  • Yaank (alumni)

More information on each team is available at StartupBus.com LeaderBoard.

  • DrunkSpotting was formed after the main competition on the way from San Antonio to Austin.

The judges looked at a few criteria such as working prototypes (or the lack thereof) and team commitment, and chose twelve teams. Here is the list of the finalists and the descriptions of their projects/startups:

  1. CareerMob (NYC): website that helps military professionals to find their civilian career
  2. Usupply.me (Mexico): marketplace for construction industry)
  3. NextChaptr (Chicago): book publisher with a kick starter model
  4. Grassroots.io (SF): kick starter for activism campaigns (e.g., [FixTheDMCA.org]http://www.fixthedmca.org/)
  5. GhostPost (SF): anonymous chat
  6. Coders with out borders (SF): code for a good cause/experience
  7. Deliverish (NYC): marketplace for delivery tasks
  8. Portioned (Chicago): single portion food delivery
  9. Readin.gs (NYC): curated book recommendation and store service
  10. Cloudspotting (Mexico): draw on photos of clouds
  11. Exversion (NYC): GitHub for data
  12. Gifdme (Chicago): animated way to share emotions via GIFs.

Next, those twelve teams pitched on-stage to Robert Scoble of Rackspace, Nicholas Longo of CoffeeCup software and GeekDome, and other judges from sponsors such as Elance and Rackspace. That was probably the most entertaining part of the whole competition! GhostPost and Cloudspotting had killer presentations. The former had a live anonymous chat on huge screens with all the unfiltered messages from the audience shown in real-time. GhostPost grabbed everybody’s attention when Elias read a Cease and Desist email, and people fell in love with GhostPost’s beautifully crafted PAC-MAN-like avatars. The latter team spokesperson can easily perform stand-up comedy: e.g., he said that Cloudspotting is not the first company to make money on clouds (Google, Rackspace, Dropbox). To appreciate the joke, you need to know that Cloudspotting allows users to draw on pictures of clouds and share their creations. :-)

The competition was set up that there would be one winner and one runner up from the pitch competition, two winners from the alumni bus (NYC) and two winners from the score competition. They selected six out of twelve teams for the finals:

  1. Grassroots.io
  2. NextChaptr
  3. CareerMob
  4. GhostPost
  5. Cloudspotting
  6. Usupply.me

Tired but relieved (for most of the people the competition was over), we went on to celebrate. The six finalists kept on working for the second sleepless night.

Read more about the finals and the conclusion summary in my next blog post.

Look at social story on Storify storify.com/azat_co/startupbus-and-sxsw.

Android to iOS or Why Guy Kawasaki Is Wrong

I know that many of you perceive Guy Kawasaki as some sort of genius and visionary. Indeed, he’s published 11 (eleven!) books, worked with Steve Jobs, and has strong opinions. Not that long ago, I attended his talk at TheNextWeb event where he was promoting his new book APE: Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur. The book is about self-publishing woes. Although his tips and APE have come in very handy for my lean-pub edition of Rapid Prototyping with JS, I somewhat disagreed with Guy’s casual remarks about two Google products: Google Plus and Android. Mr.Kawasaki said that Google Plus is to Facebook, what Apple was to Windows: not many people use it, it’s better and everybody thinks it’ll die soon. :-) Then the acclaimed author half-jokingly said: “Android is for real men”. Seriously?! Here is my story of going from a hard-core Android user to an iOS fan in less than a year.


Guy Kawasaki about Android at TheNextWeb

I jumped on the smartphone train a little bit later than most of my type (early adopters, geeks, etc.) because I didn’t like Apple, Inc. and its products. And I also had this notion that each device should do its own distinct function well rather than try to be a Swiss Army knife of gizmos. For example, taking pictures with a photo camera, listening to music on an MP3 player, voice calls with a dumbcell phone, taking notes on a PDA and waking up to an alarm clock. ;-) Of course, my conservatism started to fade away as hardware and software improved. Slowly I’ve noticed that I’m watching videos on my 4“ MP3 player, reading books on my Dell Axim X51 and using an alarm clock ”app" in my Nokia cell phone.

I guess it was time for my first real smartphone. I’ve already used many Google web application so I went with T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G with Android 1.6. The device was slow and buggy like hell. The phone was unusable to the point that I had to root it, and to install an aftermarket firmware CyanogenMod to make the experience at least somewhat bearable. Despite all of that, what I’ve come to realize is that I really needed a smartphone in my life (surprise, surprise!). Boy, I was wrong when I thought that if I had a computer at home and one at work, then I didn’t need yet another one in my pocket. ;-)

Then, a few iterations of Android OS and a few devices later — I had an entry-level LG Optimus One and a gorgeous 4.5" display Samsung Infuse 4G — I really started to appreciate:

  • Seamless integration with my everyday apps: GMail, Google Docs, Calendar, Reader and Maps.
  • Abundance of free apps.
  • Customization done by device manufacturers and those I can do by using widgets and aftermarket firmware.

It wasn’t always roses and butterflies. Here are some of the problems I experienced using Android-powered devices (I also had a 7" Samsung tablet):

  • No Instagram-like hip apps when they’re already available at Apple App Store.
  • Phone barely lasted one day, despite multiple replacements and having an extended battery.
  • Constant “Force close” (analog of a blue window of death on Windows PCs) and the need to restart the device.

Nevertheless, I was blissful in my ignorance which was totally destroyed by my switch to Max OS X from Windows XP/7. The reason for this was that I had to sync data using 3rd party apps and adapt to new behaviors. I wasn’t happy. Because when I’m not happy I usually find way to fix it. :-) The perfect timing of iPhone 5 and sluggishness of Android 2.3 (I had over 100 apps installed) made the pre-order of iPhone 5 64Gb a no-brainer.

Things that I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate since then:

  • iPhotos, Photo Steam and Photo Roll are a simple and robust way to sync photos across Macs, iPads and iPhones. Also, seamless integration with iCloud and iTunes makes my life easier.
  • iPhone 5 battery life is amazing, on a typical day I use only 30–40% of a charge which means I can go for about two days without recharging.
  • iMessage/Messages is a superb feature with allows me to take conversations I’ve started on iPhone or iPad to my MacBook or vice versa.
  • Retina displays on both iPad and iPhone 5 are feasts for my eyes.
  • Last but not least, LTE is lightning fast compared to the fake 4G standard of HSPA+.

Again as with Win vs Mac, iPhone doesn’t make me think about unnecessary things like updating to a custom flavor of OS or about solving synching issues.

I know that Guy Kawasaki plays hockey, which is no doubt a manly recreation, but I think that he was wrong about Android. In my humble opinion, Android is similar to Windows because:

  • Android OS is loosely integrated with hardware (except for Google Nexus produced by HTC).
  • Google has a licensing revenue model which is similar to Microsoft selling a copy of Windows. By the way, Google licenses Android for $10 per device.
  • Android devices are very fragmented; there are dozens of companies, each with its own modified version of Android, and even with apps and entertainment stores, e.g., Samsung Hub.

All of these make apps development slower and introduce more challenges for developers while being less appealing products for end-users. As with Windows, the main advantage of the Android platform is its lower price and growing army of users!