Author Archives: Veronica Ray

Hackers and Interns

For my reach out assignment I chose Harjeet Taggar, one of the 11 partners at Y Combinator.

Harj became a partner at YC when he was just 25. At 22 he went through YC for his company Auctomatic and sold it for $5 million. I had watched an interview with him on TechCrunch and was impressed at what he accomplished at his age. He also seemed approachable and easy going.

I asked Alex Andon if he could introduce me to a Y Combinator partner. Jellyfish Art did the previous batch of Y Combinator and still has office hours with the YC partners. He had office hours scheduled for July 20th with Harj. Before the office hours Alex briefed me on his new venture ideas and answered my questions. The video call consisted of Alex pitching Harj on his ideas. Afterwards Alex and I analyzed Harj’s reaction and shared more ideas. I didn’t talk directly with Harj myself. However, I benefitted tremendously from the experience.  I hadn’t thought to ask Alex for details on his other business ideas. I also hadn’t thought I could get face time with a YC partner, though I have YC connection through Alex. I was inspired my Harj’s methodological questioning. I aspire to similarly analyze ideas without making brash assumptions or seeming too negative. I’m learning to be a collaborator rather than just a critic.

This past weekend I attended iOSDevCamp at eBay HQ in San Jose.  I had a great time contributing to the open source mobile web framework  iUI, meeting new people and seeing the demos. I was impressed by the turnout for women and people under 20. The hackathon had a welcoming atmosphere that I hope to see at hackathons I attend in the future.

My parents flew in on Tuesday and are exploring the area. On their first day we had Italian food at Café Delucchi near my apartment in North Beach.  We have tickets tonight for Beach Blanket Babylon. BBB is an elaborate drag show and one of the major tourist attractions in SF.

Alex is hiring me part-time for the school year to work on Jellyfish Art and his early stage ventures.  I look forward to earning extra spending money, deepening my experience with e-commerce web development and continuing to work with Alex.

This summer I grew as a person and a developer. I became more curious about how things worked and open to new experiences.  Learning to program changed my life.  I have access to more opportunities and social networks. I can immediately pursue my startup ideas. At the beginning of this year I began a lifelong journey that will include numerous challenges and rewards. This fall I’m taking a classes on iOS development and web application development. I plan on returning to Silicon Valley when I graduate. Whatever I do, I know it will be an adventure.


Escape Velocity

This past week  I reached escape velocity in my work and social life.

Now that my AdWords campaigns run without constant prodding I can focus on web development. I made simple but necessary improvements to the website using HTML/CSS, PHP and JavaScript. I proposed a “final” project: a redesign of the product pages.  At a meeting with Alex I explained the changes I wanted to make and showed him the sites I used for inspiration. I want to feature multiple large pictures that a user can zoom in on and tabs that show or hide parts of the technical descriptions of the tanks. I intend to clearly communicate product information to customers in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Today I sent my ideas over to the programmer and will hopefully hear back from him tomorrow. (The programmer and I have not met in person. He works remotely and is committed to multiple projects.) The site is custom built. Many pages, including the individual product pages, are intended to be controlled through an administrative panel that is friendly to non-programmers. This may make a redesign more complex and less desirable.

Throughout this process I learned a lot about user experience design, web typography and jQuery (a popular JavaScript library.) While I enjoy writing code, I really enjoy design. One unique aspect of working in a tiny startup is that design and engineering  are not separated. I have gained skills in many areas. I could now potentially be a UX designer, project manager, marketer, account manager or developer. After my internship I want to  focus on gaining a complete skill set in one job title. I came into this summer confident in my marketing ability but open to learning more technical skills. Now the product side resonates with me more. I want to keep building things.

This past week was one of my most social. On Wednesday I met nervous prefrosh and even more nervous parents at the Duke Send Off party in Pacific Heights. On Thursday Jellyfish Art hosted the SF Hardware Startup Meetup. On Friday I attended a swanky lesbian party at supperclub with a friend from Duke and her friend from Harvard. At the party I met a Stanford Computer Science PhD student named Leslie. In typical geek fashion we spent more than an hour talking about startups and venture capital and only a fraction of that time on the dance floor. She was a TA for Peter Thiel’s entrepreneurship class and is contributing to a medical software startup. Leslie invited me to a Sunday housewarming party for her friend Lori in the Inner Mission. Lori has a public policy tech startup and needs developers.  I stayed at Lori’s apartment till past midnight asking her questions about the startup and meeting her friends. She’s building a prototype in Ruby on Rails, an incentive for me to learn the language. Leslie encouraged me to register for  iOSDevCamp, a conference and hackathon this weekend at Ebay headquarters. The $50 fee is waived for women as an effort to encourage attendance. I have no experience with iOS development but am excited to explore my app ideas and meet like minded people.

Before this weekend my social life was devoid of startup geeks outside the program. I hung out with other Duke students and people from the SF LGBT scene. I now know a group of  LGBT friendly women who are as excited about startups as I am. Putting myself out there paid off.

Turning 21

This past week I turned 21. This marked a seismic shift in my social life in San Francisco.

I chose to live in San Francisco, not the Peninsula, for a reason. For me this summer is about more than working at a Y Combinator startup, learning technical skills and meeting amazing people like Eddie Que. It’s not solely about giving assistance to other entrepreneurial Duke students and receiving help in return. This summer is also about living my life openly and on my terms. And that means experiencing the San Francisco queer scene. I went to the Lexington, “your friendly neighborhood dyke bar” on my birthday and Ships In The Night, “a queer sweaty dance party” on Saturday. I was overwhelmed by the number and types of people at these places. I was certainly not in North Carolina anymore!

This week I truly came into my own at work. While continuing to improve the AdWords Campaign I shifted my focus to web development. I began using Trello to manage all my tasks and had a second extended meeting with Alex.  I have enough to work on for the rest of the summer.

I became comfortable enough with the website ecosystem, PHP, JavaScript and jQuery to make nontrivial contributions. But I also want to strategically flex my technical skills. I have been reading about user experience design, specifically for e-commerce websites. The website changes I decide to make are often less complex and flashy than I originally expected.

I took my first Computer Science class at Duke this past Spring. Coding was always a skill I admired but never thought I would have. But I have crossed over to the technical side. I ask technical questions and engage in technical conversations, even though I have comparatively little experience. Before the summer I planned on completing a Computer Science minor and possibly shifting to a technical job at some point.  Now I’m thinking more and more that the technical side will give me the most exciting challenges and opportunities. 

Where Do I Belong?

This week was really fun and I found my groove. I focused on vital HTML/CSS changes to the website, Adwords and managing our advertising partners and affiliates. I learned a lot about design and proposed my own project:  creating a mobile version of the website.

This week I was thinking more about the future and what startup culture I’d like to work at.

The Jellyfish Art culture and environment is significantly different from what I’m used to. It’s small, mostly guys and very casual. The startups I’ve worked at previously have had older, highly educated founders less casual work cultures. When I imagine the startup I want to work at (and/or found) these aspects are critical:

-There needs to be at least one other strong female presence. The startup I worked at last summer had an experienced and well regarded woman business development lead. The startup I worked at this past school year includes a designer who works at Vogue. Courtney, who leads Customer Support, is the strong female presence at Jellyfish Art but she will be leaving soon.

-My coworkers needs to be intellectually curious and into the startup culture. I need to be able to talk with them about the latest technological and business innovations. They must push me to think critically about ethical issues and look beyond the latest Silicon Valley crazes.

-There needs to be enough people that I can work long term at the startup without getting bored or frustrated. I think at least 15 workers would work, but 50 would be ideal. Jellyfish Art has only four full time employees and no full time technical employees.

-The environment needs to somewhat resemble a traditional corporate work environment. People need to wear business casual clothing. The office needs to be generally quiet to facilitate mental concentration. This is not feasible a Jellyfish Art because we are located in a warehouse and ship physical products.  The warehouse is the office and vice versa.

Pride In and Outside Of My Work

This week I focused on improving what I already started. I want to learn so much this summer. If I was an expert at PHP, Photoshop, Excel, SQL, AdWords and Facebook Ads I’d be able to do so much more each day. If I was a pro at the command line, Ruby on Rails, R and Javascript I’d be pleased with my technical ability. But I must execute on what I already know and not worry as much about what I don’t know. My strengths are in communication and business development. When I spend more time executing on my strengths I leave work happier and less exhausted.

Jellyfish art has been featured in the New York Times and Wired. For Alex, the next frontier is luxury gift guides. I had fun looking at the strange luxuries featured in the most avant-garde gift guides and the classic luxuries featured in the tamest ones. I think Jellyfish Art would fit in a wide range of gift guides from GQ and ELLE Décor to Cool Hunting and Dwell. I customized the new community forum based on other forums for aquarium products. My next challenge is to lead the hordes of users from the Facebook page to the forum, which is easier to administer and better suited to answering customer service questions. I set up the new affiliate tracking software and contacted the old affiliates. I helped one affiliate create customized “pass-through” links for each of our products that he featured. I organized our keywords in a more sophisticated way and removed the underperforming ones based on quality score and search volume. Keywords are the foundation of any AdWords campaign. Though the process is tedious, I’m focused on getting them right before I try any other tactics. After reading a high level overview of keywords in the book Advanced Google AdWords I’m stuck on what would work best for Jellyfish Art. Many of the tips are better suited to multinational companies with vast product lines. Jellyfish Art sells only a few products to a niche group of customers. How many quality keywords can I really find?

Socially this week was filled with the old standbys: food and friends. On Friday Xiaoyang texted me to see what I was doing after work. He wanted me to meet him at the intersection of Kearny and Jackson in Chinatown. I had no idea what he was doing there. It turns out him and Jacob had a table at one of the most desirable Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood. Because we were so early we were one of the few patrons. I greatly enjoyed my duck and the conversation with Xiaoyang and Jacob. After we ate they had to run and I met a friend near Powell Station. She was hungry so I suggested we go to Tin, a Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa. It has great food, sophisticated décor and reasonable prices. I highly recommend it!

On Saturday I went to Dyke March, a women only march from Dolores Park to the Castro that occurs during Pride weekend. I considered dressing in a more alternative way for Dyke March but decided against it. Isn’t Pride about expressing yourself and feeling comfortable as you are? I confidently donned my cobalt maxi skirt and bright pink lipstick, representing the “femme” contingent of the Dyke March. My friend Roxana and her people were headed to a bar but since I’m under 21 I couldn’t join them. While waiting for someone else I ran into one of my friends from Oakland. We made plans to meet at the Bittersweet Café in Oakland next Saturday. I like Dyke March because it’s lo-fi and tight knit. I saw many memorable signs, people from every walk of life and even some queer celebrities! On Sunday I watched some of the Pride Parade. I saw floats from the Zen Center, the Zoo, The Red Cross and adoption, rodeo, labor organizing and anti-circumcision groups. The Pride celebration in SF is the largest in the world. The influx of LGBT couples was inspiring. 

Week 2

Looking back at the “Work Summaries” I sent Alex each day, I can piece together what I did this past week. Some parts were stressful and outside my comfort zone. Our part-time remote programmer was busy with another client. For some fleeting days I was trying to do what a programmer would normally do. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with software and development environments. I made a feeble attempt at system administration. I’d dip my toes in and get stuck. And then I’d retreat to the relatively comfortable world of marketing, advertising and PR. My recently acquired books on such topics as Git, Javascript, PHP, R, AdWords, Facebook Ads, PR, Vi & Vim and Ubuntu give a glimpse of the wide range of topics I’m learning about. I’m working on a master task  list and use whatever tools seem to suit each job best. To use a Silicon Valley buzzword, I’m a “growth hacker.”

The Giants game was an obvious highlight of this past week and just not because it was an extended time to bond with Xiaoyang and other DSVIP guys. Bill Schlough’s enthusiasm for baseball his job was infectious. And there was no better night to see him or the Giants. I spent another Saturday strolling up and down Valencia. The hipsters there are so friendly! On Saturday night I ate Mexican food in the Mission with my old friend Roxana. On Sunday I met a friend for a  picnic in Dolores Park, a popular place to hangout in the Mission neighborhood.

Overall this past week was exciting though filled with growing pains. I’m looking forward to Pride this weekend!

Week 1

Jellyfish Art has a laid back culture.  Four people join Shawn and I every day and a couple other people work part time and/or remotely. We get lunch delivered to us from a restaurant in the neighborhood and eat together. Speakers on the warehouse play cool rock and rap music throughout the day. The neighborhood around the warehouse is mostly industrial with some nascent signs of hipness. I get my coffee each morning from a convenience store/Asian restaurant that serves mostly male construction workers and young people.

This past week was filled with exciting moments at work. While exploring Google Analytics I noticed that the vast majority of kit (tank and jellyfish) purchases were in the Los Angeles metro area. This indicated a potential for geographically targeted advertising. I was also looking at the data from an AdWords campaign I created. I was thrilled to see over $700 in purchases from people clicking on my ads. Though Alex explained to me that we should only track the amount in tank purchases, which I’ll be figuring out how to do today,

When Alex’s computer was not communicating with his printer he asked me if I could troubleshoot it. This is outside of my usual purview, but through frantic Google searches and experimentation I was able print from the computer and scan a massive 40 page legal document. I also sent the programmer examples of my website and coding work to demonstrate my technical chops. I will be learning PHP and JavaScript so that I can build features for the website and troubleshoot minor issues.

On Friday Alex had time to sit down with me for an hour. I learned about the history of Jellyfish Art and his plans for the future. We also sketched out the major projects I’d be working on. I’m trying to learn all I can about the company, which includes looking at almost every document in the Dropbox folder. Early business plans, the Y Combinator application, press releases, financial statements- I’ve seen it all.

The Angel Pitch event was great for getting to know the other students in a low pressure way. Everyone in the program was approachable and passionate about what they were working on. Shawn, the other intern at Jellyfish Art, and I hit it off immediately. He’s funny, self-depreciating and a little weird. I has been a great partner at work and on the long Caltrain ride from Palo Alto. We have similar ideas about what kind of startups we might want to pursue. When I told him that I didn’t take my startup ideas seriously, he encouraged me to write them all down and see if they had potential before rejecting them.

I wasn’t looking forward to the commute to Palo Alto on Wednesday but it was also valuable to visit Dogpatch Labs and see the DSVIP participants in their habitat. The free form nature of the discussion informed me about so many different topics and helped me get to know the participants and program directors better.

I think the speakers will be one of the most valuable parts of the program. I am a rising senior who wants to work at a startup in the Bay Area (or my own company) when I graduate. Meeting successful entrepreneurs is one of the most difficult and important elements of doing business in Silicon Valley. And working full time and a startup right now means that I am full of questions for them!

I love living in San Francisco because it is so diverse and easily navigable without a car. The people here are serious foodies. This past week I had salt and pepper squid in Chinatown, a Japanese bento box, Rose Chai tea from a food truck, so much Blue Bottle Coffee and olive oil flavored chocolate from local chocolate maker Poco Dulce. On Saturday I rediscovered Valencia St. One of my favorite stores is Paxton Gate, a real life natural curiosity shop. While on my way back home I stopped at the Caffe Trieste on Market St. for a free jazz concert. On Saturday night I met a friend at The LAB, an art space in the Mission. On Sunday I went to Velo Rogue, a bicycle themed restaurant in the Inner Richmond. I told my mom it would be a great place to take my dad, an avid cyclist, when they visit for my birthday. My friend and I also got bubble tea at a place on Clement Street. I was overwhelmed by the flavor choices. Some of the most unusual ones were grape champagne, ginger, kumquat and wax gourd. I ended up getting kiwi.