Monthly Archives: January 2015

Techstars: Day 68 (Three weeks left!)

Less than three weeks left

Less than three weeks left

The Techstars Clock of Doom ticked over to 20 days and 23 hours left today, which means it’s less than three weeks to demo day. Given how fast the weeks are going at the moment that’s going to be over in no time, which is quite sad in some respects as I’m still enjoying myself.

Tonight, however, I’m not thinking about demo day, Techstars, or work. Tonight I’m going out with Ben, our CEO. This is part of the reason I’m posting early today. I may drink. It may get messy.

Ben and I get on fantastically well, which is helpful given how closely we need to work. Despite that it has occurred to me that we have never actually socialised in a non work capacity. Probably the closest we got was the Rainbird summer party where everyone and their families piled round my house for a BBQ; but it was still a work do.

So tonight we’re going to have a non work night out where the discussion won’t be planning our next raise, or discussing development strategy, or indeed anything to do with work. Tonight we will go out, have fun and do whatever it is people do when they’re not working.

Techstars: Day 67 (Flow)

So things of late have been a bit flat. I’m tired. I’m swamped. I’ve been stuck since Monday trying to get a bit of code finished.

Today, on the other hand, has been brilliant. I’m not sure if it was the change of scenery with last nights Neo4j meetup, or just that I managed to get enough sleep to edge me to the correct side of exhaustion, but today just flowed.

Some code I had wrestled with for hours last night was rewritten and working within 10 minutes of getting in this morning. That put the finish line in sight and set off a cascade of little milestones and the completion of this chunk of work. This then freed me up to think about other things, and just plough through a bunch of really bitty, but important tasks. My Todo list is a little bit saner now and I’m itching to attack it further tomorrow.

The highlight of the day though was spending time with Florian from Codeship. We’ve been using Codeship at Rainbird since before I joined and I’ve really warmed to the platform. Getting to spend time with Florian meant I was able to understand how we could utilise Codeship to its absolute fullest. This has me very excited in a very nerdy way, and should also make some of the DevOps tasks I need to do easier.

More than that though, I was able to spend a good chunk of time with an experienced startup CTO and pick his brains about all kinds of stuff.

To cap it all, our demo day pitch is coming along nicely. Ben is doing a much better job of articulating Rainbird and I know we’re going to have an awesome presentation come the 20th. Things just seem to be falling into place.

It’s days like today that leave me wondering how I managed to land such a fantastic job. [Cue the Lego Movie theme tune~/o Everything is awesome! o/~]

Techstars: Day 66 (Connections)

While the Techstars network is big, it’s not all encompassing. Sometimes you’ve actually got to go out there and make the connections yourself. That is exactly what tonight was about. After publishing our Node.js driver for Neo4j and making a bit of a splash about it, it only seemed sensible to follow up by attending this months London Neo4j meetup – which conveniently happened to be tonight.

This was an absolutely fantastic opportunity to introduce myself to the guys at Neo Technology, and talk to them about getting involved in the community, as well as get some answers to some of the questions we still had outstanding about Neo4j.

I was actually triple booked for tonight as we had company dinner that I wanted to attend, and there was a London Node.js User Group meeting tonight that I wanted to attend, partly because Codeship were going to be in attendance. Thankfully I was able to use the Techstars network to get Codeship to come to me tomorrow, meaning I’ll get to speak to them one on one.

Techstars: Day 65 (15 seconds of fame)

After blogging about our new NodeJS driver for Neo4j and receiving some traction I decided today it was time to offer it up to Hacker News and see what they made of it. For the briefest of moments (probably only seconds), I made it to position 21 on the front page, before sinking like a stone to languish on page 2 and 3. Not that I’m overly concerned, it was a ‘Show HN’ post and I spent a good 5 hours in the top 5 of that page. The driver has had a number of visits and people seem to be playing with it and liking it. I’ve got a Neo4j meetup tomorrow where I’ll pimp the library some more and drum up more interest.

To actually be able to genuinely contribute to open source software, rather than just making a token effort, is one of the great things about working at Rainbird. I’ve no idea if the library will take off or not, but it’s there for people to use and it’s good to be able to give stuff back to the community.

Techstars: Day 64 (Cluster)

While at Techstars we’re in a shared space with more than just the companies from the current cohort. In the interest of fostering better collaboration and communication between the companies based there we’ve had a number of breakfast events set up for various business functions. I’ve already been to the developers breakfast, and there is a CTO breakfast in a couple of weeks[1].

Part of the discussion over the developers breakfast was the possible use of the open space we have at the office. As one of the organisers of nor(DEV):, a tech group based in Norfolk, I look at the space as the perfect venue to host speakers. This is exactly what happens each Thursday with the Techstars Founder Stories, so why not open it beyond that?

To test the theory we needed a guinea pig who’s willing to risk no one turning up in order to gauge interest in such an event. Not being shy when it comes to speaking opportunities I threw my hat into the ring. The net result is I should be running a 20 minute variant on my Ariane 501 talk[2] in the next week or two.

Keeping active on the speaking circuit has rather fallen by the wayside with everything else we need to do at Techstars. It will be nice to get some practice in before my sessions at nor(DEV):con[3], and events I have lined up at SyncNorwich and SyncIpswich.

[1] Breakfast seems to be the thing for CTOs. There is a Techstars CEO dinner this week, while CTOs are being treated to a breakfast Wednesday and Friday.

[2] As a case study, Ariane 501 is a gem that just keeps giving.

[3] Which is only a week after Techstars finishes. Not entirely sure when I’m going to find the time to write that talk

Techstars: Day 63 (The Model Commuter)

I’ve enjoyed being back in London. It turns out the reason I was getting fed up with London was the commute. Commuting in London is hideous unless you can walk.

I’ve had my family down this weekend. My wife is heavily pregnant meaning she can’t walk far, so we’ve been relying on public transport. Turns out that the only thing worse than commuting on the tube at rush hour is using the tube with a push chair, a three year old and a very pregnant lady.

The London traveling public are animals, to the point where my wife was having to offer to help another mother with her pushchair because no one else would. Unsurprisingly enough, the instant this happened a plethora of offers suddenly appeared from the throng of people pushing past us. Seems shame is a useful tool.

When I used to work in London the bile, vitriol and hatred that commuting caused grew to such extends that I ended up writing a regular (read near daily) blog about it entitled The Model Commuter. I was really quite angry back then and it provided a forum to vent. My more usual commute (when I’m not living in central London at the companies expense while doing stupidly long hours and 12 day weeks) involves seats, and tables, and trains that are usually on time. Living and working outside of London has its benefits.

Techstars: Day 61 (It’s Friday: release!)

So in theory we don’t release on a Friday. To be fair, I should have done the release yesterday, but basically forgot. Instead I punted the new version out this morning while getting ready to go to work… and then rolled back to a previous version when it all seemed to go a bit pear shaped.

Now, I know the rationale for not releasing on a Friday, however, I’m reasonably happy doing them as long as it’s early. Our infrastructure, while far from perfect, gives me a high level of confidence that I can roll back successfully. The combination of Docker and Git means I can get back to the exact configuration I was running before the release. Worst case scenario is you need to roll back and try again Monday.

Actually, technically the worst case scenario is that it breaks and never ever works again. But even then I can just hook up our staging environment to our production database and be up and running again in a fairly short time. Hell, I can rebuild the entire thing from backups in under 20 minutes if really pushed.

Basically the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Do you have time to fully test the release to be sure it’s good?
  • Do you have time to rollback the release if the tests show problems?
  • Do you mind having to log in tomorrow to perform a rollback when something you’ve overlooked is found?

If you can answer Yes to all three you’re good to go. It also helps to have a Beta tag you can hide behind 😉

Ironically enough the more worrying Friday release was my technical blog post for Rainbird which, thanks to some rather deliberate hashtags, garnered a fair amount of attention.

Techstars: Day 60 (I pledge allegiance…)

Today we had an afternoon offsite at Fried Frank[1] regarding expansion into the US. This was a bit of an eye opener for me. I was always aware that the whole tax law thing was a bit convoluted over there, but once you chuck in visas, employment law, and the litigious nature of doing business it just becomes a complete nightmare. In fact I spent most of the session thinking that it would be an ideal problem for Rainbird to solve since there is a lot of complex knowledge that you need to unlock if you’re thinking of expanding to America.

The key takeaway for me was that, as a SaaS business based out of the UK, we won’t be facing US tax implications. Apparently if we have American customers using our platform that’s running from The Cloud with the servers based in the US we’re golden, just as long as we don’t open an office out there. This is good because the changes to the tax laws in Europe are hard enough to understand without having to worry about a different continent on top of that.

Ben also did his second attempt at a demo day pitch at tonights All Hands meeting. It was definitely an improvement on last weeks, and we’re pleased we’re moving in the right direction, even if there is still a way to go. I’m filming these so Ben can review his performance, but also so that we can track the progress over the weeks towards the final pitch. I also have a rather fun idea for a quick video once we’re done that just highlights the progress being made.

[1] Pronounced ‘Freed’ not ‘Fryed’

Techstars: Day 59 (Big Knowledge)

The Techstars Clock of Doom now only has 29 days left on it

The Techstars Clock of Doom

The ever present Clock Of Doom did the inevitable today and clicked over to 29 days left. That’s a big psychological thing because the number now starts with a 2. It’s not going to a huge amount of time before it starts with a 1, and then we’re down to days before demo day.

We’re still working out how to pitch Rainbird, but made big progress today courtesy of David Cohen. David was able to understand what it was we were doing and come up with the basis of a great elevator pitch, all over a video chat while he was feeling under the weather. He’s clearly done this before.

Ben is now fleshing out a rough outline that some of us helped put together tonight so that we’ll have a workable version 2 of the deck for tomorrow. We think it’s a big improvement on last weeks deck. It still got flaws, but if we can keep the rate of improvement up it’ll be outstanding come demo day.

In the meantime Nathan has termed a new phrase: “Big Knowledge”. This has come off the back of us joking about exa-scale knowledge. It’s an utterly meaningly term, but it sounds great.

Techstars: Day 58 (1 Month Left!)

The Techstars Demo Day clock showing only 30 days and 14 hours left

Only 1 month left on the Clock Of Doom

OK, that’s a scary thought. 1 month left until Demo Day. That’s 30 days and change given sleep is going to erode that time by a few more hours.

While Demo Day isn’t the be all and end all for us, it’s still a milestone. It marks the end of being at Techstars (although, importantly, not the end of being a part of Techstars), and the start of returning to normal life.

Despite the odd off day I’m hugely enjoying my time down in London. I’d liken the countdown to the end of a holiday. You know, once the time is up, it’s all over and you’re back in the real world. I suspect that it’s precisely because there is an end point that I’m happy to endure the long hours and the hard work. I’m not sure I’d be so happy if it was an indefinite situation.

The shine is also beginning to wear off a little, and while I will always be a little saddened to leave I do suspect I will start feeling like I’ve had enough come the end. I miss my family, I miss my gaming rig, and my bank account can’t really support too much more of me being here without me becoming really careful about what I spending – something I’d like to avoid.

Meanwhile we’re embracing the build phase of the process and knocking out tons of new code. I’ve got something like five and a half thousand lines of code, tests and documentation waiting for final review which represents the last 6 weeks of my life. That’s a rate I’ll probably never match again.