Week 2 - Signup Begins

User signup begins, and Hello Money debuts on Reddit and Hacker News.

This is Lab80’s weekly journal from our trip to the SF Bay Area to soft-launch Hello Money. See all entries.

The Fifth Element

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This was one of the best weeks yet. Our release kept slipping, first all last week, then by another day, and then by another day still. It stressed me out last week, and it also stressed me out until we finally shipped on Wednesday.

However, we did a successful post to Hacker News on Wednesday night, had an extremely positive meeting with an advisor on Thursday.

And then turned around and shipped again on Saturday—-a small release that contained some improvements that helped us turn a bunch of our mailing list users into registered accounts.

Signup feature added -> HN front page -> Users!

The biggest win for the week was when a user wrote and to tell us how much he LOVED the service (in all caps!), and then proceeded to post a portfolio to Reddit for feedback.

... I love you too.

Many people commented on the portfolio and some also gave critiques about Hello Money. I didn’t feel bad at all about the feedback, even though some of it was overly harsh. I am happy that the users care, and that they are giving us opportunities to improve our product. I feel like we are making real progress.

The Week in Which We Crossed Many Barriers

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This was a surreal week, just like the movie :

  • We shipped two releases in one week – SM7.0 & SM7.1
  • We have a user registration now, a way to convert visitors to users. Yes you heard me. We have a “funnel” now. The mechanism by which startups live and die. It’s rudimentary but we’re finally at the starting line as a service.
  • We had a small success on Hacker News, an online community that seemed so elusive and impossible to get any attention from. A link to Hello Money made the HN front page and brought in about 1,400 visitors within a day.
  • I exchanged many emails with curious users who made many suggestions and gave compliments. I seem to be pretty good at being the customer service representative, which surprises me.
  • One of those users posted a link to Hello Money on Reddit – it made the front page of the personal finance subreddit, a community of 730K subscribers, and brought in as much traffic as Hacker News. We’d been wishing we could be mentioned on this subreddit, and a user made it happen for us without any prompt. One of the top contributors to Reddit investing, personal finance, & portfolio subreddits gave us a wishlist of features and improvements.
  • A highly experienced, distinguished businessperson said he wants to invest in us; he could also think of other angels and VCs who’d be interested. While we are not looking to fundraise for a while, this is a good signal to have, and I am pleased that signal is getting stronger every time.
  • Thanks to that meeting, Michael and I resumed our discussion about 1-year roadmap, and found another startup that could be our benchmark case.
  • We took a break on the beach and a dozen dolphins came and danced around.

Many things that I had only dreamed of came true at once this week: Hacker News, /r/personalfinance, and a growing user base!

When I set the goal to bring in 200 visitors to the site on the day after SM7.0 release, 200 seemed like an impossible number. But we managed to get 1,400. The day will soon come when we shoot for 2,000 and get 14,000. Keep pushing. Keep going. Believe in us as a team.

I swear, dolphins!

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

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My heart throbbed when I saw the post on Reddit saying he is helping his wife to optimize her 401(k) with our service HelloMoney.

I felt sick. Things have changed. A lot. Now I feel like graduating from our ‘prototyping phase’ of the last 2 years.

Lab80 and I have grown a lot, learning a lots of things on Finance and software development and criticizing finance industry for how they are lame and broken.

Now that we do public release and provide the service to users, letting them make a decision affecting them for the lifetime, I feel great responsibility that I’ve never had before.

The more users we have, the more frequent, diverse and urgent the problems will be. The problems will always look ugly and hard to solve too. I really want to be able to hammer ‘em out quickly… Therefore, let me make Jenkins shut up first.

Race Against Time

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Time has flown so fast that I couldn’t believe I am writing a 2nd week’s journal.

This week’s progress of my data collection project was much better than any other week. Wednesday was the most productive day since I processed more than 250 fund series. and after that, I have been processing at least 150 to 200 fund series per day.

Now I have a mixed-feeling about that. It was really meaningful but at the same time, but I started thinking ‘why did it take such a long time before?’ Should I have put more passion and effort? Even I though I did my very best at some time but looking back, I feel like always something is lacking of me.

One thing that I found out about myself is that once I concentrate on some work, I get into this tunnel vision and can’t quite multi-task. Apparently, I have been trying to push myself to the limits with work so I haven’t got any left energy in me to do something on weekdays apart from grocery shopping. But I think I must broaden my capacity to cover many things like other members in our team.

Having said that so far, it is always good to find my shortcomings, weaknesses and feedbacks of my work because it means that I can get matured and grow.

It is a shame that my contribution is fairly minor compared to the members in our team and I can’t see my work reflected on our Hello Money website. I heartily wish that the data I collect gets reflect on the live service as soon as possible.

So far, I haven’t been quite satisfied with my performance. It is very unusual experiences for me. SO !!! I should try harder to meet not only the quality bar set by Lab80 but also my own performance standard.

How Good a Developer Am I?

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We are on the brink of launching our next release, as Michael is sitting next to me spinning up the new production server.

This sprint felt particularly fast and stressful to me. I saw my limits as a developer many times during the past week. Michael had to give me hints a few times to solve simple front-end problems. Before feeling too dependent, I tried to solve problems on my own as much as possible.

The tricky part was that I couldn’t be stuck for too long on a single problem trying by myself, because the deadline was clear and all the issues on Github were waiting for me to end them. I learned how prioritizing becomes more important when I am under pressure.

Nonetheless, I don’t feel too bad about my work for this sprint and I believe I am at least a half step ahead than before. I feel more immersed in Lab80 and responsible for more parts of the product. I really want to see as I grow, Hello Money grows, and by the time I graduate there will be thousands of users already.

Palantir hackathon

Writing down the takeaways on the train before I forget how I feel right now:

  1. Working is a lot more fun as a team than by oneself. I thought having other people in this kind of environment might be more distracting than efficient but I was mistaken. I chatted with people there but I wish I had a team and worked together throughout the entire hackathon.

  2. Having a designer is a must. Styling takes just as much time as coding if not more. If having a designer is not an option, the developer must have a sense of his product’s design ahead of the event. Especially for a developer like me, creativity was not something I could easily have without preparation.

  3. Testing all the libraries and frameworks and getting used to them before the hackathon is a good idea. I hadn’t thought about what I would use, and I had to spend time going through the tutorials and documentation of several libraries during the hackathon.

  4. Writing quality code should become a habit. Under pressure, I realized I reverted to my old habits of writing spaghetti code just to get things going as quickly as possible. It eventually delayed me more than I had done the otherwise. I realized how important practicing outside of work is, and working on a side project is not sufficient. It is necessary to regularly practice coding to reinforce favorable coding habits.

In short, I couldn’t come up with something I was satisfied with, even with advice from Michael and Keywon. Nonetheless, it was a very good experience that taught me where I stood as a developer and how I have a long way to go to be confident in what I do.