Archive for July, 2009


My 2nd Twitter service idea just went live yesterday. It’s @tflix and it’s super simple: you tweet to it a movie title and your zip code and @tflix tweets back show times at 2 theaters near you.

The idea came up one day when my dad was visiting. We were wrapping up breakfast and thinking about catching a movie.

There’s no website, just a Twitter user that’s really a Ruby program running at Engine Yard.

Will be interesting to see if people use it. I’ve primed the pump a little bit, now will see if folks retweet it and use it.

Fast Iterations

I’ve been away from Engine Yard (officially speaking) since May 1, so that’s just over 2 months. The main thing I’ve done in that time is create PollyTrade – a service to buy & sell stocks by sending tweets. The service is basically a bridge between your Twitter & E-Trade accounts. The idea was spec’d out on June 3rd and the site started accepting beta users on June 26th. We got on TechCrunch on June 28th and we were in The Washgington Post the next day!

It turned out to be hard to get serious beta users, and E-Trade turned out not to like the idea of trades originating on Twitter. I don’t have any hard feelings toward E-Trade; they are doing what they feel is in the best interests of their business. I of course hope that they or another broker will give PollyTrade & Twitter a chance in the future.

But there is a silver lining in all of this that’s a more important realization.

The experience has reminded me that with the right tools (Ruby on Rails, Engine Yard, Basecamp) and the right people (an efficient developer & a free-lance website designer), it’s possible to execute an idea really quickly and for relatively little cost. QHI spent a sum total of about $9K for all the above development, plus just a little over $100/mo for hosting.

I’m developing a couple of other ideas – one Twitter-related and one not – and will of course use the same combination of ingredients above. But even then, there are elements that can be tweaked to get even better results.

Fast, cheap iteration is a really good thing! I remember when the same cycle took 6 months or a year!

Fun Stuff & Business History



I co-founded Parallax in 1987 with my best friend. We were both fresh out of high school. We grew from a bedroom operation to a $3M/yr business.

I learned a TON at Parallax! We strugged for several years to find a market we fit, but once we did, were were able to "pivot" (today's term!) into that market and then execute on manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. We didn't even know the term "VC", so we *had* to make money! We took $20K from friends & family and had day jobs to bootstrap those early years.

As I left Parallax in Winter 1996, Radio Shack started carrying our BASIC Stamp computer.

I spent a few years trying to make money in the mobile-messaging space. Unfortunately, I learned lessons about how to spend all of my cash chasing a market that simply was not yet developed enough. I wish I had known about VC :-)! I closed up shop and put up a notice saying "goodbye" to my customers.

Which led to a San Francisco VC-funded startup in 1998. They were in the mobile-messaging space and were on the normal VC route as everyone else back then. Unfortunately, it didn't end pretty, but my friends and I learned a lot through the CEO, who was nice enough to tell us how things worked with his Board, the investors, etc.

I got laid off along with most other tech folks in SF in 2000. What does one do at a time like that? Start Quality Humans, Inc. as a way to offer my programming services to clients. QHI grew to employ 8 guys working around the USA.

My friend and QHI consultant, Tom Mornini, saw Ruby on Rails coming over the horizon, so we started offering Rails consulting. Within a few months, Tom noticed that Rails clients didn't want to worry about details; they just wanted to deploy their apps.

That led me to co-found Engine Yard in 2006 with Tom, Ezra Zygmuntowicz, and Jayson Vantuyl. We built a great business and then took VC after a year from Amazon, Benchmark, New Enterprise Associates, and others. I served as CEO until Jan, 2009, when we started building an executive team who can take EY up a few more notches.

I reflected on major pain points we experienced at EY, and recurring billing was one of them. That led me to Chargify.

In Chargify, I joined great folks from Grasshopper. It's been very cool working with the team as we grow Chargify in 2011.