Friday, March 16, 2012


While in Code Academy, we were really encouraged to blog at least once weekly about what we were learning. It was a nice marketing tool for them but it also served as a great way to track my progress and improve my understanding of general concepts. It was a worthwhile exercise and something I intend to try to keep up with now that I'm working on this stuff full time, improving my skill set and expanding my toolbox. The first 6 weeks have been awesome; I'm learning a lot.

Javascript - Though we use Ruby on Rails as our framework, the mapping feature is largely built in Javascript. Besides a few jQuery effects I managed to get working during Code Academy, I didn't have much experience with Javascript and even trying to read through our .js files was difficult at first. But over the last two weeks, I really feel like I've been starting to pick it up.

I'm updating our map using the Google Maps API which I've found to be a great way to start to learn. They have a ton of examples on how to build your requests and handle the responses, and if you can start to follow those, you're half way there. It's been fun figuring this out - I'm looking forward to using CoffeeScript next.

Chargify - It wasn't planned but I've ended up getting a lot of experience with different payment processors. I've used PayPal, Stripe, and now Chargify. We use Chargify to handle our subscription service to the Picket Report widget, and I found the API pretty easy to handle. It took me a while to handle the errors that Chargify sends back (turns out to just be an Active Record resource if you're working with the Chargify can use the .errors method and print them easily). Stripe is still the easiest and most elegant solution I've found, but it's nice to get some experience with a number of them. My main takeaway - avoid PayPal.

CSS - I spent the first month developing the front end of our site. I've picked up a lot of awesome tricks on styling and can handle the jQuery effects pretty easily at this point. It's this CSS/front end area that I think I've improved upon the most and feel pretty comfortable now saying that I can do just about anything I'd like to do in terms of making something look a certain way. This is a pretty sweet improvement over the Rails scaffolding CSS!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Building While Driving

Last night I went to the GrowDetroit and DNewTech sponsored meetup at Ann Arbor's TechBrewery to hear Dug Song talk about his current company, Duo Security, and startups in general. When I first started talking to people about moving to the Detroit area, Dug's name came up in just about every conversation as a suggestion for someone to try to talk to. He's a driving force behind Ann Arbor's tech community, a serial entrepreneur with a very successful track record, and someone willing to share insight and advice to anyone looking. A couple of points that came up in his talk last night that I liked:

  • Working at a startup is like driving a car while you're building it. He mentioned this kind of casually during his talk, but it struck me as a perfect way to describe my short experience at PicketReport. We're pursuing several different opportunities and avenues for our products, and because most of them are unproven there's a constant feeling of and a repeated office refrain of "we'll just have to figure it out." And yet despite the unknowns you just continue to push ahead in a direction that, at the time, seems appropriate. You've got three tires and two less spark plugs than you need, but you figure out a way to keep driving, while building and improving as you go.
  • The westside of Michigan's history and track record in design. I tend to not think too much about the west side of Michigan, but Dug brought up a cool point last night while suggesting that Michigan has all the components of talent that you'd look for when starting most types of companies. Ann Arbor = software/tech, metro Detroit = manufacturing/advertising, and West Michigan = design. He reminded me of Herman Miller, the design company you can thank for cubicles (or blame them for your sterile office environment) and one of the most notable designers of modern style furniture (he also mentioned Steelcase). That history of design talent still exists in West Michigan and there's a deep bench of top notch digital designers to draw from.
Anyone looking to get involved with the area's tech community (or more generally, entrepreneurial community), should definitely pay a visit to the TechBrewery. They have a weekly open happy hour every Friday at their office. Also check out A2NewTech, DNewTech, GrowDetroit, and A2Geeks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Inc. Magazine - Detroit!

Inc. magazine has a great spread of articles on Detroit and what is happening here within the startup community. I like the attitude of those featured in the articles as well as the attitude I've experienced throughout the region over the last month. We're here, we're not apologizing for anything, we have a very unique and exciting opportunity, we're confident we're creating something great. But they say this much better in the articles. Read up, come visit, get involved.

"It's not 'What are we going to do?'" Tatoris says. "It's 'wow, I can't wait to see what Detroit is like in five years." For the folks who have seen Detroit rise and fall over the decades, the view from Webward Avenue is one a city on the move once again. "I just don't know where the tail end of that is going to be," Smith says. "But I'm going to like the ride."  
"I'm going to be telling my grandkids about this five-year stretch when Detroit got back its mojo."
Something Bigger: It's rare to be in the right place at the right time, but when you are, the sparks just seem to ignite out of thin air. At this moment, Detroit seems to be "right," as it's experiencing a truly fresh start through revitalization. It's not just an up-and-coming downtown center that's drawing talent; it's the chance to help change the landscape of a region that is in dire need of it and the opportunity to make a long-lasting impact.
 "When there are doubters, you work a little harder," says Jake Cohen, Detroit Venture Partners' Vice President. "Just the other day, I was on the phone with someone from Sequoia Capital and he was telling me which industries were attracting money on the West Coast--like somehow I wouldn't already know. I think a lot of us have a chip on our shoulder here. People think that our start-ups aren't real, and that we don't know what it's like anywhere else--they think we just got stuck here. But there are a lot of people here who could be anywhere else. It's a choice."

And though this isn't from any of the articles, it's one of my favorites and seems appropriate for this post (feel free to substitute Chicago with your city).
"Do you want to be another yuppie in Chicago, or do you want to make a difference in Detroit?" - Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder

Friday, March 02, 2012 relaunched!

Check out our new look and design. It's much improved from the previous version, and we're excited to start a big marketing/pr push in the next week or two. More news to come from that.

We also just moved into some sweet new digs on the ninth floor of the Compuware building with views of the Detroit River, Ford Field, Greektown Casino, and Comerica Park. We even have an outdoor terrace just past our desks. Not a bad place to spend a day.

What is PicketReport? Besides one of the top startups in Detroit and where I've worked for the past month, we're a neighborhood research tool for folks who are relocating. Play around with our map, particularly the Lifestyle information to learn more about the neighborhood you live in. Send me any feedback!