How to hack like they do in Silicon Valley

Andrew is co-founder of London based startup import•io and has come to Silicon Valley to seek out his fortune. This is his diary. This week has been absolutely chock full of meetings. I feel a little bit worn out to be perfectly honest, but I have met some really interesting people and been able to work on some super cool projects.
Doing Things with Data

I had lunch with a friend the other day who works for one of the data teams at The Climate Corporation. The company was founded by two former Google employees, David Friedberg and Siraj Khaliqwhich and it is probably my favourite company that I have learnt about in the Valley. Basically, they pull lots of weather and climate data from all sorts of places all over the world using everything from satellite images to weather stations.Then they feed this data into predictive models and voila! they can predict the weather for anywhere in the world! They use these models to provide insurance to farmers who can lock in profits in case of drought, excessive rains or other adverse weather conditions.

The truly exciting thing about the Climate Corporation is not the data, or even that they are doing with the data, but that they have a real focus on their product and business as opposed to their technology. I believe that it took them a couple of years to come up with a working commercial model but the one that they have arrived at is very elegant. As a startup it is so tempting to put all your focus into what your technology can do and forget about the problems that your technology can be used to solve. It’s a lesson we’ve had to learn a few times at import•io.
LinkedIn Hackathon

On Saturday I attended an intern hackathon at LinkedIn to help a team of students who were using our technology to build an iPhone app. Their app, which they named Giftr, recommends gifts from Amazon, based on the Facebook interests of you and your friends.

Using import•io’s platform I helped them build a connector into which you could put three interests, for example 3 musicians that you like and that returns recommended items from Amazon. The connector searches Amazon for each musician in turn and navigates to the first album from each set of search results, finally it navigates to the “Recommended Based on Your Browsing History” section and returns the recommendations from there directly into the app. A custom list of gift recommendations for all your friends! Pretty useful considering how lazy I am when it comes to shopping!

The app worked great, but unfortunately we didn’t win the $10,000 cash prize! We lost out to the eventual winners (DareDvl), so can’t be too upset about it. Some of the other hack projects included: an app that takes pictures while you are on a fake phone call, an in-memory database (most ambitious hack project I have ever seen), and even an app that takes voice recordings then trains a neural network and diagnoses whether you have Parkinson’s disease. Overall I was really impressed by the quality of the projects.

A Radical Approach

After seeing the Danish government’s incubator last week, I met with Mikkel Svane founder and CEO of zendesk. Mikkel told me how he and his co-founders moved their entire team (about 8 people at the time) to Silicon Valley.

His approach was pretty radical considering that the standard advice for setting up in Silicon Valley is to open up a subsidiary office for business development and evangelism and then grow from there over time, which is essentially what I am doing here now. As much as the team back in London might love it, it would not be feasible for us to move everyone at this point….sorry guys!
Good Ol’ Fashioned Pong

Wednesday afternoon I attended a live code meetup at the Mozilla offices. Iker Jamardo, VP of Engineering at Ludei, ran us through the building of a Pong game in HTML5 in just an hour! After he showed us how, we got to try and build one ourselves; I managed to get the pong ball bouncing around the court but that was all…it’s a lot harder than it looks!


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