We were interviewed by WeUseThat.com today. Here’s what we said! UPDATE 2017: That used to be a link to our interview but it seems we’ve long outlived that website. Good thing we kept a copy here!
Who are you, and what do you do?
We are Daniel Reeves and Bethany Soule, co-founders of Beeminder. We make people more awesome via the threat of taking their money. Specifically, we plot your progress on a “yellow brick road” to your goal. You enter your credit card and agree to get charged if you ever have a data point off track. It’s mostly for lifehacking quantified-self data nerds, but we’re gradually getting more mainstream. We’re over 5,000 registered users now, with 11% paying, making us just barely ramen profitable.
What is your technology stack?
It’s turtles all the way down, brah. We can say that because half of our turtles wear bras. Apparently Bethany is slap-happy. We won’t say that in the actual post. [UPDATE: Yes, this is the actual post. #yolo]
The stack is Ubuntu / Nginx / Passenger / Mongo / Rails on a Linode instance. We use Resque for asynchronous and delayed jobs, so we’ve got Redis in there as well. Our graphs have been generated in Mathematica, but we’ve recently ported to Python’s Matplotlib for now. We’re thinking d3.js is the future. Our current graph generator, BeeBrain, is a ridiculous frankenstein with its own API that involves — we kid you not — a PHP script that our Ruby code makes GET requests to which get queued up by a Perl script, which then calls Mathematica-cum-Python to make the graph images and compute other statistics about the goals.
Airbrake, New Relic, and Pingdom are serving a somewhat overlapping niche for us. New Relic is local to us here in Cloudy Portland, and it seems like they aim to own that entire section of our needs, so we’re excited to have them nearby and see how they continue to kill it. What can you do? We’re suckers for data and pretty visualizations!
What software do you use to run your business?
For internal communication and planning we use our own instance of Etherpad for pretty much everything from to-do lists to web page copy to writing this post right now. (Truly realtime collaborative editing can sometimes go slightly awry; see, for example, the turtles paragraph above.) Our blog is hosted on WPEngine, but we even wrote a plugin so we can write in Etherpad and publish to WordPress. We just love Etherpad that much.
We’re also pretty big fans of post-it note technology and have been trying out Trello, but don’t have all of us fully on board with that. [UPDATE 2013: We’re all Trello all the time now. Feel free to follow along at trello.com/beeminder.] We communicate with each other with Partychat. [UPDATE 2013: We’re now paying customers of Hipchat.] It’s nice in that it’s just google chat so non-nerds can pop in as needed, unlike, say, IRC-based solutions.
We farm out heavy lifting to various other services where we can. For payments, Stripe, of course. We want to have Stripe’s babies. (We know, get in line; we’ve totally been using them since their “DevPayments” days though!) We also give users the option of Chirpify for payments. Pay by tweeting! You can actually authorize us to make the tweet that effects the payment so that you not only get charged for derailing from your yellow brick road, we can publicly humiliate you as well.
A big part of Beeminder — unless you’ve hooked up a fancy gadget to automate the data entry — is our nosy robot that asks you every day for your number. You can reply by email or SMS, for which we use Mailgun and Twilio, respectively. We highly recommend Mailgun over Sendgrid or Postmark or others. It does everything those services do and much more — particularly if you want to parse incoming email and handle it in your app. Mailgun’s API makes that a joy.
Our solution to CRM and talking to the customers is thin. We mostly just use Gmail. Streak helps out a bit — we especially like their email snippets. We have a lot of semi-automated life-cycle and even event-driven emails where we still use a human to review and hit send. We also have custom email snoozing, based on an idea from Lifehacker, implemented using Google Apps Script. [UPDATE 2013: Dreeves packaged it up as Gmail Snooze.] If you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, we also recommend Followup.cc. Some of our support takes place on our user feedback forum, which is thanks to UserVoice.
One other necessary ingredient for doing customer support in email is Rapportive. Rapportive has a wonderful API for making custom widgets. It was very easy to make a custom Rapportive widget so that when a customer emails us we see a summary in the sidebar about all their beeminding (and whether they actually pay us).
Finally, one of the most important things we use to run our business is this amazing app called Beeminder. We track our hours spent on task, our blog posts, and it keeps us hard committed (to the tune of $1000) to making user-visible improvements to the product every single day. It’s no joke that Beeminder wouldn’t exist right now if it weren’t for our meta Beeminder goals forcing us to stick it out during the dips in the rollercoaster ride that is startupland.
What business software do you most wish existed?
We loved Punchfork’s answer to this. Payments : Stripe :: Legal Crap : [please somebody make this!]. It looks like Docracy is halfway there. Now we need an API on top of this to automate the lawyers away altogether.
Also could someone fix email please? The problem is that people keep sending it to us.
We’ve inserted various updates above. As for BeeBrain, we’ve removed the last vestiges of PHP from our frankenstein internal APIs. And Perl is now almost gone. Also, we think we’re about to sign up for SupportBee, not least because of their name.