Category: Launch

You might remember Txty Jukebox, our free to use collaborative music web app that we built on top of the YouTube Data API. We were happy to find that our original version was well received and even got some press from the folks over at makeuseof.com. Well, we’ve finally got a chance to spend some time ( big thanks to our new hire Josh who led the charge ) to make improvements based on the feedback we received and re-branded it under jointdj.com!

The main idea behind our music inspired web application is to create an easy way for groups of people to collaboratively share and listen to song (and video) requests. Any user with a smart phone or computer can enter the event code provided by the event’s host on jointdj.com and start submitting songs to the event’s playlist. The “event” doesn’t always have to be a traditional party either, for example, we’ve been using Joint DJ ourselves in our office as a Pandora or Spotify replacement.

To see how it works I suggest skimming the jointdj.com landing page which does a good job of quickly outlining how to use. Instead of regurgitating that information here I’ll highlight a few new features/improvements to get excited about:
  • One big lesson learned from our first go around with Txty Jukebox was that while it’s great when everyone at your event is engaged and the song queue is filled up you can run into awkward silences if the playlist runs of songs when people get distracted, say, doing work or playing an intense game of flip cup. In the past you had to wait until someone queued another song so it became a bit of a chore for the event host. To solve this issue and ensure there will never be a silent moment, we’ve created a new feature that lets the event host to pick a genre of music when they create an event from which a song will be randomly selected and played if a playlist ever runs out. For example, I could create an event with “Top 40 / Pop” as the auto fill genre. If at any point during my event the playlist is empty, all the sudden the latest Chainsmokerz song will magically be queued up!
  • Another issue we saw in the first version was that sometimes users didn’t get the exact song played that they were searching for. That was because we automatically selected the first result from Youtube regardless of whether it’s the desired result. For Joint DJ, we’ve added the ability for users to use an intuitive browser based UI to easily search for a song and then review the list of music video results from YouTube along with the thumbnail. Once the user finds exactly what song they want to play they can simply select it to add it to the event’s playlist.

  • Lastly, we improved the design of the live player view where events users can watch and listen to the music videos associated with the requests. You’ll see “flash” messages when songs are added that show the artist, title and which “DJ” submitted it. Additionally we show the next 4-5 upcoming songs in the queue along with their thumbnails on the left side of the player window. Overall, the new look is more colorful and crisp and should be more impressive to the events users keeping them engaged, having fun, and contributing songs to the event. Below is a screenshot of what the live player view looks like:

Posted In: AngularJS, Demo, General, Javascript, Launch

Picture the scene, it’s Friday night, you’ve got friends over and everyone wants to listen to some great music. The problem is everyone wants to jam to something different and you’re not thrilled to sit by your laptop all night. Enter, the TxtyJukebox.

TxtyJukebox lets you setup an event which creates you a unique number which users can text in song requests to. As TxtyJukebox receives song requests, it searches YouTube for music videos and then places the videos into your event’s queue. And then if you hook up TxtyJukebox to a TV you’ll be able to jam to videos on a big screen with big room sound. But wait, there’s more! If you have a Chromecast you can connect TxtyJukebox to your Chromecast via our app. The Chromecast app will launch from within http://jukebox.setfive.com/ so there’s nothing to download or setup.

So how does TxtyJukebox work under the hood? Well sit tight, technical details lay ahead. The webapp itself is a standard Symfony2 app along with the usual suspects – Bootstrap, Underscore, and a sprinkling of jQuery. Along with that, we’re using Twillio’s REST API to handle SMS along with a “webhook” from Twillio to the webapp to recieve messages. In addition, we’re leveraging the YouTube API to search and load videos which are then loaded into an iframe. Finally, the Chromecast app is HTML/CSS/JS powered by jQuery and underscore.

Building TxtyJukebox was a lot of fun and we’re thrilled that it’s been positively received. An awesome surprise was that Ryan over at Makeusof.com found it and incldued it in his post of How to Share Music from Multiple Devices to a Chromecast. As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Posted In: Launch

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A couple of months ago I ran across the lob.com API on ProgrammableWeb and was intrigued. One of the features of the Lob API is that it allows you to programmatically send postcards by just providing address details and images. I’d been itching to find a use case for the API since who doesn’t love physical mail? Following a few beers on a snow day an idea struck – why not send Valentines day postcards with lob!

Overall, the idea was straightforward, allow users to compose a message on one of a few available templates, enter some address details, and then send their postcard. Given the short timeline and relatively few features, the main factors behind picking an implementation stack were something “lightweight” that I was already comfortable with. After drawing up some options I decided to use Silex since it’s based on Symfony components, it’s lightweight, and we’ve used it in the past.

The main UI for the cards ended up looking like:

One of the “fun” features I did implement was that instead of using a big header background image, I used a HTML5 Canvas to render frames from Beauty and the Beast as the page’s background.

Anyway, we might bring this back next year so be on the lookout around Valentines day.

Posted In: General, Launch

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Last week we officially did a very quiet launch of HotelSaver.io. The concept is fairly simple: You submit your existing hotel reservation, we constantly monitor for price drops, if we find one we notify you immediately and you save money. I had the idea for this site a few months ago when I had made reservations in New Orleans for a bachelor party, then noticed the next day the prices dropped and I managed to save over 40% of the reservation by getting it price matched and discounted. At this point I thought “wow, that was incredibly easy, took little time and saved a ton of money”. Shortly thereafter and shooting it around with everyone here, it was decide we’re going to launch a MVP product and see what the reception is.

With this concept it is really easy to quickly blow it up into a massive product with complex algorithms, payment types, etc. however trying to follow our own advice to our clients we launched with the minimal features to make it useful to the end user: simple reservation monitoring and payment processing to get us paid. We knew the first version of the product would be far from finished in terms of design and feature complete, but we wanted to see if others thought the idea had legs. Here are a few things we did to cut down on the time to launch even more:

  • The initial design is based on a free template we found which allowed us to spend near no time on design. It works on mobile devices and doesn’t look terrible. None of us are great designers, so we figured this was well worth it for the first release.
  • Not over thinking user management. Over time we plan to add accounts to the site so you can see your existing reservations from a dashboard, however for this first version we opted to go with a simple “email” to link together accounts. Users submit their existing hotel reservation with their email which we use later if you need to retrieve it. From there you can retrieve your “active” (reservations that have not yet past) reservations in an email we email to you.
  • Payment processing. This one was a no-brainer for us. We wanted to be PCI compliant and also have a good user experience. Stripe we had worked with in the past and knew it was incredibly easy to use. We went with the checkout feature so we never would have any of their credit card information and it never hit our servers, making us PCI compliant.

We also wanted to get feedback from a small group of users. We posted it on HackerNews and immediately started getting great feedback. We knew posting this on the day we were traveling for the Holidays wasn’t optimal as we couldn’t respond to feedback immediately, we wanted to get this launched. We managed to make it to the front page of HackerNews for a while and instantly had 2,500 unique visitors that day, up from zero the day before! The feedback was great the main points were:

  • Everyone loved the idea and thought if executed properly it’d be great!
  • People didn’t like that we wanted to charge $19.99 regardless of if we could find a lower cost reservation. It was too risky.
  • Some of the design could use some love.
  • Pricing would be more interesting/better if it was a percentage saved or a money back guarantee.

Today we revamped our pricing strategy after the feedback. We knew the upfront cost was most likely a turn away for many users but didn’t know what percentage would hate it. After reading the feedback on the post and numerous emails, we’ve switched to a 20% of the amount saved. This makes it 100% risk free to the user. We won’t make money unless you save money. If we save you $100 dollars, you get $80 of it. We’ll be next week working on promoting the revised pricing strategy to see what additional feedback we can get as well as addressing the other parts of the feedback.

We’ll be trying to keep everyone updated on our adventures of launching our own product in house. We’re excited to try some techniques we’ve seen over the years and testing them out ourselves as well as trying some new ideas. If you have any feedback let us know!

Posted In: General, Launch, PHP, Startups, Tips n' Tricks

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We’d like to extend congratulations to one of our clients, SoonSpoon, on being acquired by Reserve, a New York-based restaurant reservations application.  Led by one of the co-founders of Uber, Reserve aims to simplify the restaurant reservation process much like Uber did for the taxi industry. You can read more about them in this recent Boston Globe article.

With Priceline recently purchasing OpenTable for a cool $2.5 billion, the online reservation space seems to be gaining momentum and piling up more success stories.  Although we’re sad to see them go, we are excited for the SoonSpoon guys and are glad to have helped them build out their beta product (you may have remembered our blog post from their launch).

SoonSpoon had a great idea and relentlessly executed on it, building a strong community of partner restaurants and users. In the day in age where many try but few succeed it’s always inspiring to see a start-up success story – as Michael Dell once put it, “Ideas are commodity. Execution of them is not.”

Posted In: Launch, Startups