Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Listen. Learn. Adapt.

I've noticed as I've grown older that I do less talking and more listening. This is a good thing. After all, I know me. I've known me for 32 years. I'm more interested in things that aren't me; things that help me to be better, do better and see things in a different light.

As the youngest of six kids, my role was often that of the listener...but I wasn't always a good one. I try harder now.  I make an effort to trim the noise and listen.  Really listen. 

It's a great way to learn; learn about other people, methods, process, insight, ideas, best practice, new practice, etc. Learning enables me to change, improve and adapt. I've found that I do my best work when I follow this formula.  

Listen. Learn. Adapt.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Winning A Rooster

Rent Pony Team: Andrew Evans, Chris Morris, Igor Kantor holding SPN Prairie Dog, Chris Lewman, Albert Tong

This is the story of how my girlfriend kicking me out (for a weekend) led to a rooster being pardoned in Iowa.  

Monday evenings in KC is known to a circle of designers, developers and entrepreneurs as "Geek Night."  Anyone who wants to join is always welcome.  We geeks meet at various venues around town to work on side projects, collaborate, ask for advice, give feedback and of course, take advantage of happy hour.  In other words, Geek Night is my poker night.  It's the night that my girlfriend lovingly kicks me out of the house and tells me to get the "geek speak" out of my system.  Oh, how I love her...and Geek Night.

A few weeks ago, fellow geek, Chris Morris, said to me,
     "Hey, let's go to Iowa."
     "Dwolla is hosting something called the Old MacDonald Hack Day and the first three prizes are a cow, a pig and a rooster."
     "You want me to road trip to Iowa with a car full of boys to win a farm animal?  I'm a vegetarian!"
     "So what!  Did you hear me?  We could actually win a cow, a pig or a rooster."

When I got home, I told my girlfriend how funny Chris was.  "Drive to Iowa...Old a cow, a pig or a rooster."  By the time I was done rambling, she said, "I just signed you up.  You have to do this!"  I know, I have the coolest girlfriend in the world, right?  She buys me video games, too...and looks up cheat codes.  I'm lucky, to say the least.

The boys and I met to discuss potential ideas and landed on a top 5 list.  The challenge was to use fresh code and build something really cool that best utilized Dwolla API.  Dwolla makes paying anyone, anywhere easy, and it's better for business.  Unlike traditional payment networks where a business is charged a percentage (2.0% or higher per transaction), Dwolla charges .25 cents for transactions over $10.  Under $10 is free.  Learn more about Dwolla, here
Friday rolled around and the boys piled into my car.  We had a 3 hour ride ahead to choose our hack and decided on Chris M.'s idea: to build something that made paying rent easier.  We all chimed in expressing current frustrations about the tenant/landlord process and the fact that rent is one of the only checks that we still write.  We discussed how cool it would be to build a messaging component for landlords and tenants to communicate that would solve everything from late notices to maintenance requests, electronic reporting options, building neighborhood discussions, and the list goes on.  It was settled.  This was our idea.

The last hour of the trip was spent annoying each other with potential names for our rent app:

Rent Rooster.  
Rent Mate.  
Rent Daddy.  
Rents Due.  
Yo Rent.  
Rent Pal.  
Rent Mart.  
Rents Paid.  
Rent Ferret.  
Rent Dawg.  
Rentwa (mashup of Rent and Iowa).  

You get the idea.  We started looking up synonyms for "Money" and "Paid" and found "Pony up."  Suddenly, we yelled out, "Rent Pony."  Maybe it was the drive, maybe it was the full moon, or the fact that we'd never said "rent" so much in our entire lives, but we all agreed: Rent Pony it is.

Friday night, we partied with the Dwolla staff, and pitched our idea to Ben Milne, Dwolla CEO.  He loved it...and that was all the confirmation we needed.
Rent Pony Team with Ben Milne and Michael Schonfeld
The hackathon started at 9:30am the next day and since we were first to arrive, we snagged a private room with a view and a door.  Twenty-four hours later, we were sleep-deprived but full of caffeine and had a pretty cool looking app.  As designer for Rent Pony, I spent my time very wisely creating some playful buzz by turning Dwolla employees into Rent Pony pictures.
Building the Rent Pony Logo

Turning Dwolla Employees into Pony Portraits
As we listened to the presentations on Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the creativity and great ideas that filled the room.  I knew how hard my team had worked on Rent Pony, but I had a strong appreciation for the work that everyone had put in that weekend, especially the Dwolla team.  Several team members stuck around and spent the entire 24 hours with us.  They emptied our trash cans, brought us drinks, fed us milk and cookies at midnight, let us wake them up at 3am to ask questions, and more.  There was a great sense of community and collaboration.  Though we felt like we could fall asleep standing up, I was proud to present Rent Pony with my KC crew, not just to the distinguished judging panel, but to everyone who was there in support of what we were doing.  At the end of the day, we were just 5 geeks from Kansas City, hacking alongside geeks in Iowa, working together to build cool stuff.
Sneak Peek: Select Rent Pony Screenshots
After much deliberation, the judges announced the winners.  Full story recap on Dwolla (here) or Silicon Prairie News (here).  "And the rooster goes to....Rent Pony!"  We also received the runner up award for the Best Photo of the weekend (here).  
We were hoping to at least get a picture with the rooster.  Instead, we left Dwolla with strict instructions for our prize: pardon the rooster and donate prize money to charity on behalf of Rent Pony.

More to come on building out Rent Pony and publishing our app.  If you're in KC, stop by Geek Night where you'll be sure to find some of us speaking geek. Just look for a bunch of people with laptops and we'll welcome you with open arms.

Rent Pony Team:
Rent Pony Links: