1. What were you doing before you came to GA?
W: I was taking a year off from college (which I didn’t want to go back to), working at a yoga studio and in rehabilitation for my left foot.
Z: I attended Columbia University. I graduated in May with a degree in Economics and Creative Writing.
2. What brought you to GA?
W: I had always wanted to dive deep into programming. My whole world seemed to be surrounded by one language of code or another and I couldn’t find the right way to jump in myself. Like many, I was seeking something to break the ice with. Something to help me make a foothold in a field where I knew I wanted to create and explore. I went out to San Francisco where I unfortunately could not find housing, but luckily the GA brand held strong and I was invited to join the June session here in NYC.
Z: My co-founder and I were fortunate to be invited to interview with YC on short notice in May, just before graduation. Before our interview, I received an email from the partner with whom we were communicating. He asked which team members were hackers. At the time, our team had two developers and me. While responding to the email I experienced a particularly humbling moment. I realized I did not have the skill he valued most. I promised myself that if I were to enter this field, I would not let that happen again. I applied to GA shortly thereafter for their June session.
3. Have you always wanted to have your own business?
W: It’s not that I wanted to have my own business, no… but I have always felt a strong desire to share a larger vision of something with others. Some of the happiest days in my life were spent on the fields and in the woods running XC (cross-country) with my teammates. Every day was an opportunity to try harder and run faster as individuals so that the team would be stronger at the next meet. I took pride in my team and found peace in myself from being able to push others and seek their potential as well as my own. It’s a feeling I will never forget and thankfully, now feel once again while working on Shout with Zach and Henri.
Z: I am not sure I wanted to own a business but I always knew I wanted to build something. Ever since I was young, I would work on various projects. In fourth grade I built a little contraption that let someone pour a drink of water from the other side of a football field—not the most useful invention. In high school, I developed an assistive walking device and submitted a patent request; both of my parents at one point in time had used canes. In college a friend and I won a NYC Big Apps award for building a free market for parking spaces. I love building something from scratch.
4. Tell me about Shout.
Shout is a mobile application that allows any individual to place an offer on, or sell, their “spot.” These “spots” can take all forms, physical or virtual. Physical spots can include a spot in line for a no-reservation restaurant, the new iPhone, or even a blanket-sized piece of prime real estate in Sheep Meadow. Virtual spots are those that can only be reserved in advance; examples include restaurant reservations or tickets to a show.
Z: Our goal is to create a marketplace where people can exchange anything of value that they come to own throughout the day. Today, Shout might help you get a spot for SNL or a reservation to a great restaurant downtown, but tomorrow we want to enable people to walk into a museum and Shout for a tour from a knowledgeable fellow visitor. When people Shout, we think of it as a virtual flare—you are either telling the world that you want something or that you have something that you think may be more beneficial to someone else.
We hope to create a mechanism that allows people to connect with those around them and, by doing so, enable spontaneous and extraordinary exchanges.
W: If I could add anything, I would further emphasize our goal to have people connect with those around them. We are working hard to cultivate a community that would make any mom proud.
4a. Where did the idea for Shout come from?
Z: We came upon the idea at the airport. We needed to get home, as did everyone else, so we started to wonder how much we’d have to pay for someone’s spot on the plane. It seemed silly to us that, given this machine everyone has in their pocket, we couldn’t communicate with the people around us to see if we could make an exchange. We became obsessed with the fact that phones really could be a great medium for now-rare interpersonal exchanges; we kept talking about this idea and it all came back to this concept of a virtual flare.
5. How do you promote your business and personal brand?
Z&W: Presently, we are releasing the app slowly to those with an access code. In order for our marketplace to thrive, we need liquidity. That is why it is crucial to grow the supply and demand at a manageable pace. We want to ensure that every customer has an incredible experience, even if that means having fewer users, initially.
Prior to launch, we met with several thousand people on the street to see how we could best facilitate an exchange, and to encourage them to sign up for our wait list. Since launch we have released the app to a portion of our wait list and have been personally promoting it on the streets in specific areas. If you see a bunch of guys exchanging reservations for downloads in the West Village, come say hi.
Z: In terms of branding, I’ve never really thought about having a personal brand. I think there were more people at my Thanksgiving than I have Twitter followers.
W: Personal branding… hmm. I don’t try to remain active on social media but it’s just how my brain works. I don’t always feel the need to say something and broadcast it but I always feel the need to share something I find to be of importance to myself. Somedays, that may be a gif of a velociraptor at a rave and other days it is a picture I took earlier that morning. Either way, I can’t say I try to promote my personal brand but I do make it a point to have a presence of my own so people can check in on me. Also… Zach had a ton of people over for Thanksgiving.
6. Any challenges that you didn’t expect?
W: I think the most challenging aspect of this journey so far has been remaining ‘insane’. What I mean is that all the times we have been out talking to strangers or brainstorming ideas as a group… there is a voice that seems to say, “Stop, that’s going too far” or “Why would that ever work?”. And in everyday life, where people continue to wait 10 minutes for a cup or coffee or hardly ever ask those immediately around them for a spare charger, those thoughts are perfectly acceptable. But not when you’re trying to shake the cage and build something to move people forward.
Z: Our application has the potential to be polarizing. For us, we are connecting two people and allowing them to enter into a mutually beneficial situation. However, some people have responded with a different perspective. I once had someone offer to pay the person I was speaking with $50 simply to stop talking to me. This doesn’t happen often but it is a challenge we have to face as a company. During this process, we have learned a tremendous amount as a team. One important thing is how to get out on the streets and deal with rejection. But with so many fans of the app, it is all worth it. There are few better feelings than seeing someone excited as they immediately download something you’ve helped build.
7. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your own business?
W: Surprisingly, I’ve learned that I really am getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a kid I was the most hyper little daredevil around. I’d be upside down on monkey bars wearing barney PJs and a racecar helmet just goofing around with my turtles. This kind of behavior made my mother upset and actually ended up cutting my left index finger off (it’s reattached, no worries). After that… I kind of calmed down a bit. I became a bit more cautious when it came to newspaper boxes and going deep into the ocean. It was a natural reaction to the ‘real world’. I wanted to make sure I was comfortable and safe. Now, I know I’m safe within myself and especially as a team, and I don’t care so much about the comfort anymore. This is all too exciting and inspiring to worry about comfort and I’m happy to be growing so much.
Z: It sounds a bit cheesy but I didn’t know I could care as much as I do about anything I was working on. At Columbia, there were professors that were inspiring and classes you couldn’t wait to attend…but nothing that was all consuming, nothing I couldn’t turn off.
Wes, Henri, and I have a group chat on iMessage and Hipchat and it is literally constant. We are all awake at different hours throughout the night and so there is never a 2 hour span without an email or text.
To share a passion with other people so intensely is both inspiring and incredibly motivating.
8. Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
W: Transparency and communication is key. I’m fortunate to have Henri and Zach emphasize this everyday as it really is crucial to a high functioning team and start up. Without it, we wouldn’t be building exactly what we all have envisioned from the start. There have been so many times where I’m sure one of us had a thought or idea that we may have held back, but because of our camaraderie and honesty it always will come to surface and usually then to production as well.
SHARE EVERYTHING… not on facebook though, that gets annoying.
Z: Learn by doing. Eight months ago I didn’t know how to code, and now I help teach a back-end web dev course at GA. People kept asking for deliveries on Shout and I wanted to learn about the pain points of delivery, so I became a bike courier. Last Friday the Shout team slept on the street in 3 degree whether as we sold our spot in line for SNL. There is no substitute for throwing yourself in the deep end and keeping your head above water—it might be tough but you will learn quickly and more than you could have imagined.
9. Any strange requests you’ve had thus far?
W: I’m still recovering from the 3 degree weather we waited outside in for SNL tickets… but I’d love to answer this question down the line.
Z: Someone offered to pay $70 for someone to dress up in a cookie monster costume and prank their friend at work. That was pretty awesome.
10. What’s your guilty pleasure?
W: The Legend of Zelda everything
Z: Movie theater popcorn
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