Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Land of the Cooks

New Beginnings

I'm on a life-changing trip. One of my managers once told me that when reorganizations happen, you have to look at two things:
  • Is your manager still the same?
  • Is your job still the same?
If none of these changed, you probably won't feel the impact. If only one of these changed, you have a base to build from, but if both changed, you have to pay attention.

After 12 years at Sun, where I've gained most of my professional experience, I've decided it was time for, as Monty Python put it, Something Completely Different (SCD).

And so to make sure there's never a dull moment, I've changed my job, my boss and the place I live in.

SCD I - A Tale of Two Yaels

I am now living in New York City, the Big Apple, Gotham, the City that Never Sleeps...

Over the years, I've moved to progressively larger and slightly more expensive apartment, starting with the 5-people-in-a-dorm-room I had during my army service. That all changed when I moved from Israel to the US, got an apartment with one room less but 4 times the rent.

New York did that to me again - one room less, 25% more rent. Amazing!

The apartment hunting was very educational. I focused on Manhattan's upper east side for a location. The first set of apartments, let's call them "discount apartments", had what you might call character. For example, one of them had a bedroom connected through the living room. Both were about the size of my couch. The agent insisted that two
couples lived in that apartment. I can only assume some sort of open relationship. I can't imagine going to get a glass of water in the middle of the night and having to check if there's a sock on your own door and you can't leave.

I found another apartment for rent posted on a sign outside a building. Calling the number on the sign I asked if I can move in a month later. The agent said "by now, it shouldn't be a problem". A small warning light went off in my head, but still - a cheap, 2 room apartment. Worth checking, right?

We met the super (short for superintendent) later that evening and he walked us up a flight of stairs. "We" is me and my local expert, YaelG, who probably hates the public mention and won't speak to me for a week, but thank you for all the help! We walked up a couple of flights of stairs. Some of these steps noticeably sagged under me as I climbed.
A small warning light went off in my head, but still - a cheap, 2 room apartment. Worth checking, right?

We then followed the super to the apartment at the end of the hallway. I was getting a slightly claustrophobic feeling that the walls were closing in on me, and indeed by the time we reached the door, my shoulders were touching both sides of the hallway at once.
A small warning light went off in my head, but still - a cheap, 2 room apartment. Worth checking, right?

The door on the right had a sign on it and the super explained that they just evicted the tenant there since she had a pet and that's not allowed. Really? The pet was the problem?
A small warning light went off in my head, but still - a cheap, 2 room apartment. Worth checking, right?

We went into the apartment on the left. The super explained that he can't turn on the lights since the previous tenant (also evicted) didn't pay her electric bill. An emergency firework beacon goes off in my head. No light this time - there's no electricity.

The apartment was big enough for me to take a step from wall to wall. Surprisingly, the shower was bigger than the kitchen (and please remember that bigger is a relative term).

We thanked the super and emergency-evacuated ourselves out of there.

Another type of apartment is the managed property one, where a company owns he building and rents out apartments. The places are cleaner, well maintained, have a doorman and elevator, and obviously higher rent. They also have a whole bunch of rules for who can rent. For example:
- No registered sex-offenders (ok - that's good)
- No criminal record (that's great)
- Salary must be 50x the rent.

wait what?

Let's do the math. At, say, $2500/mo that comes up to $125,000/yr salary. Oh - you're staring a new company? No salary yet? No problem - all you have to show is that you have 5x that number in the bank. A quick check with my trusty calculator shows that if I had $625,000 in the bank, I might not be starting a new company.

I did eventually manage to find an apartment I liked though. And so I packed up most of my worldly belonging with the extremely helpful hand of YaelW (a different Yael, who will probably call to tell me how people saw her name in my blog and will probably also tweet about it). Thank you Yael!

So here I am. I know exactly 2 people in this city. Hopefully that will change soon.

The other big change is that I've started a company with two of my friends. Our goal is to enable small-time prepared food producers to reach customers who are looking for healthier, homier food but don't have time to cook. You can check us out on It's a marketplace for homestyle food. If you cook - you can open up a "kitchen" on our site. If you're looking for a different kind of cooking than restaurant food or frozen TV dinners, you can go there and search for whatever strikes your fancy. We are currently looking for cooks, especially cooks in the Boston area. If you know any - please please send them our way. You can even do the referral through out site, in which case we'll donate some funds to charity. For details - check out out referral program.

Why auntie? Because everyone has that aunt (or Uncle - we're an equal opportunity referrer to your childhood) or a friend of the family that used to cook that good food you remember so well. Don't you want to find that again?

This is a completely new operation for me. I've moved from working on Java environments for embedded devices, to a consumer-facing web application. There's a lot of drinking through the fire hose going on!

The kind of discussions we're having are also very different than what I was used to at Sun. For example - there's the great squiggly rift of '09 where we eventually decided to have straight lines for the boxes on the site. Or the session where we discussed the market of fresh-off-the-boat engineers craving food like mom's, or if we should focus marketing on menopausal women (we're not!!!). But I had to learn what Spanx is and what their branding strategy is. Don't ask.

We also had a lot of discussions about what our tagline should be. A good tagline is important - gets people to remember you, refer friends, etc. The one we all liked was "making food personal again". A quick google search showed that is wasn't being used by anyone else, but some similar slogans are being used. For example, what's your take on "making menstruation personal again"? It doesn't really speak to me.

And then thre's Pot. No - not the medical kind. I'd like you to meet Pot. He's a resident of auntieChef land and it took us a while to figure out what he should be. Anything from a fork to an auntie to a spatula was considered. And when we talked about femininity vs. masculinity, Swaroop (one of the partners) coined the phrase that will forever go down in auntieChef history: "Just throw a wig on it".

Pot is the creation of the incredibly talented Melissa Raimondi.

So to sum this up - I'm having tons of fun, learning lots of new things, AND if you know any cooks, send them our way.

Creativity beyond the Wall

One of the known methods for generating new ideas is to start generating a list, then when you think you've hit a wall and don't have any more, keep going. At a certain point, your brain finds avenues you haven't explored and a lot of your more creative ideas will come then.

Here at auntieChef (I so wanted to sound like a documentary) we have to test our site. There are 2 main platforms (windows, mac) and too many browsers (Firefox, IE, Safari, Chrome, Opera) each with a different set of versions. So before each 'release' we have to make sure the core functionality works and that we didn't break the UI too badly.

This implies opening kitchens on the site and populating them with fake dishes. Now you try doing that day after day and eventually you hit that wall of creativity. To give you an example of some of the kitchens we now have on our testing site:
- Eran's Lemonade Stand
- Swaroop's Frozen Food Emporium
- BlahBlahBlah kitchen
- Delete this kitchen
- The fisherman's refuge
- A to the C

Not to mention cooks that were influenced by their father in a little village by the Jordan river, or their mother in The Shire, etc. The dishes get more exotic, from pink lemonade (made from Prigat) to "An Arm and a Leg" actually referring to the price.

And in case any of my former QA team is reading this, I'd like to proudly state that we have a continuous integration server running on a 5 minute cycle with 71% code coverage (and climbing!).

Our company right now looks like the picture of the sprout at the top of the page. Hopefully, the future looks more like this. I wish everyone a year of happiness and growth!