So… this one has been a long time coming. Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to this summer and what’s coming next.
Hello, San Francisco!
This summer, I’m participating in the Duke-sponsored Summer Innovation Program. It’s the same program I did last summer in Durham, except this time, I’m in San Francisco. I’ve been here for about a month and a half now.
Speaking generally, SF feels like a more chill version of New York. There are plenty of successful people and plenty of things to do, but there’s not that stereotypical “rushed” feeling that people tend to associate with large cities. It’s easy to start a conversation with a stranger, and I’ve already met a ton of interesting and friendly people.
The only downside I’ve found is that the cost of living here is high, sometimes absurdly so. Luckily there are enough sources of funding (like the program I’m in now) to afford basic needs. Though this is no place to raise a family, as a 20-year-old bachelor, I can get by fine for now.
Where I Live
I’m rooming with two friends, Fabio and Soroush (the same friends that were with me during my trip to New York last year). We share a tiny one bedroom apartment in the Mission District, which is known for great food, cool murals, and (compared to other areas) cheap-ish living. The cheapness comes from the fact that it’s not the nicest place to live. The streets reek of the second smell of San Francisco and there’s a lot of homeless people wandering around. Still, it doesn’t feel dangerous, and the great food and night scene make it a decent place to live for people my age.
Where I Work
Every morning we take a BART to our offices in RocketSpace, a medium-sized shared workspace in downtown SF. There are about 130 startups here. Most are later stage, with at least some funding, and only about half have their founders working here. Some larger companies use RocketSpace as a satellite office. I’ve made a few friends around the office and everyone seems talented and friendly.
We work what might seem like ridiculous hours: 11am to midnight every weekday. As you can imagine, we’re pretty much beat by the end of the week, which is why we take weekends off– focusing 100% on doing something fun and forgetting about our work for a while.
What I’m Working On
CrowdCourse is abandoned but not forgotten (I may pick it back up again some day). I used the lessons I learned during my previous venture to help drive my decisions about what I wanted to do next. The idea I decided on is something I’m really happy about. The value proposition is clear. I sell to businesses instead of consumers. That means I’ll be generating revenue directly from my customers instead of bothering with annoying (and often user-alienating) indirect profit models like advertisements, selling private data, etc. The problem is really technically challenging, but I’ve realized I’d much rather have a product that leans toward being difficult to build than one which is difficult to sell. This is something I can really stand behind.
My latest project is called Turnout. We provide automatic targeting and segmentation for ecommerce sites. Or put another way, we increase conversions and sales by always presenting visitors with relevant, personalized content. After about two months of development, we recently opened up a private beta for a handful of customers. I’m really excited about the project and the underlying problem both challenges and fascinates me. I get to work with some of the latest and greatest technologies including Redis and the Go Programming Language. It really doesn’t feel like work to me, and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
I’m currently working on the project alone, and I singlehandedly built the prototype. However I am looking for at least one partner (and as I mentioned earlier, this area is a great place to look).
What’s Coming Next
The future is hard to predict, but I’m optimistic. Within a week I’ll have my first paying customers, which is a huge milestone for me personally. I will be returning to school in the fall, where I will continue to work on Turnout while simultaneously doing classwork. By the end of my senior year at Duke, my hope is to have a refined product and enough customers to self-sustain the company and cover my personal expenses (housing, food, transport). If I can’t get the traction I need, I’ll either pivot or start a new project from scratch. Either way I’ll be back here in San Francisco next summer.