Archive for January, 2006

Trip to the Bay Area

January 31, 2006

We flew down to the Bay Area last weekend to attend Entrepreneur27 (and also to hang out with friends and family).

E27 went extremely well. We presented BillMonk to a targetted audience. We also got to meet and greet several other young entrepreneurs, and learn about their great ideas and talk shop.

In attendance were representatives from tech giants Yahoo!, Google, eBay, PayPal, and Amazon; and members from two VC firms: Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch was also in the audience, and it was great to finally meet him. He first covered us here, and more recently has a post about the event.

We also got to chat about BillMonk with Robert Scoble of Scobelizer, who did not hesitate to point out that somebody owed him money and he needed to track it on BillMonk. Great! Read all about it on Robert’s scoop.

Emily Chang of eHub attended the event but alas, she had to leave early and we didn’t get a chance to talk to her personally. Nevertheless, she has an in-depth story on the event with photos here. Her partner from IdeaCodes, Max Kiesler, recorded a podcast of the event where you can listen to all the presentations in full.

While in the Bay Area, we also had the pleasure of meeting Scott Loftessness from Payments News who first covered us here. More recently he has written about our meeting on his personal blog, and noted that his post on BillMonk was the most read story on Payments News in January! Thanks again Scott!

Overall the trip was a success. It not only helped us publicize BillMonk, but all the great feedback we received helped validate what we’re doing. Now we’re back home and focusing on what really matters: our users.

Thanks again to the E27 folks for putting this great event together.

Monk 2-k

January 26, 2006

3 days later, we have 2,000 users. We are so happy at the growth, and the encouragement from our users! We’ll stop posting numbers so frequently, but we just had to share.

Monk 1-k

January 23, 2006

11 days after launch, BillMonk has 1000 users.

Yay!

Load Balancer

January 22, 2006

We installed a load balancer late last night/early this morning. This will make it really easy for us to scale. Granted, we’ve not had any problems with scale so far (even with significant load yesterday, our CPUs stayed nice and cool at 99% idle) but we want to grow and grow. There were a few hiccups (a few blank pages served, and the wrong ssl cert) in the midst of the installation, for which we do apologize. Things appear to be peachy now – but of course please let us know if you ever have any problems.

Going international soon!

January 21, 2006

Seeing the overwhelming response and positive feedback from users outside of the US last night (after being TechCrunched), we are bumping internationalization up on our major features list.

Though several users have requested the ability to simply change the currency symbol and date format, we want to give them much more (our initial reaction was to take the easy route, but on further thought we see many problems with that). Our plan is to have full currency support. Here are our initial thoughts on how this will work:

  1. When you log in, you will select a native locale. For now this will set your currency and date format. Language will come later.
  2. When you enter a bill, you can specify which currency it was paid in. By default it’s your native currency. E.g. I live in Manchester and my native currency is GB Pounds, but I paid in Euros for the hostel for me and my buddy in lovely Nice.
  3. All totals on the site will be displayed in your native currency. E.g. I need to pay back a total of 98 pounds. Marty owes me 23 pounds.
  4. The amount of each individual bill will be displayed in your native currency, but will also show the amount in the currency in which it was reported. E.g. Hostel in Nice 41 pounds (EUR 60)
  5. Currency conversions will occur based on the exchange rate on the date of the bill, not the date it was reported. The rate will be an average over that day. E.g. You reported the Hostel bill today, 4 days after paying for it. We will take the exchange rate from 4 days ago.

Our goal is to remove the burden of dealing with multiple currencies. In general, our guess is that users want to view where they stand in their native currency – but would like to drill down and see what currency any given bill was reported in. Do let us know if we’re off the mark here. We’re still thinking this through and would love some feedback.

[Note: updated 1/30] The currencies that we are initially planning to support? All of them. At least, all actual backed-by-banks currencies. Beer as unit of currency, while a dim possibility, is not our top priority. The rule is this: if you tell us that you want us to include your currency, then we’ll add it.

TechCrunch review

January 21, 2006

TechCrunch (Michael Arrington) reviewed BillMonk this evening, and was quite positive (yay!). We are especially gratified that he found the interface for entering a shared bill to be easy , and that the breakdown for how much you owe or are owed by your friends made sense.

Pondering web services

January 21, 2006

Several of the most active BillMonk users work at nearby Amazon.com (we didn’t know them well at all until we launched BillMonk). A few days ago we decided to have lunch. A good time was had by all, and they gave us a lot of support and some great ideas.

As power users, they told us they wanted:

  • Cooler and more expressive cell phone features such as:
    • specify participants up-front when creating a bill
    • batch lots of requests into one message
    • calculate the tip with the bill (other users had requested this, too)
  • A richer cell phone interface using Java
  • Web services so they could do this all for themselves

Frankly, we were astonished and excited by these ideas, and the realization that BillMonk has users with such a strong commitment to using it that they wanted to throw their own programming muscle behind it. (It should be pointed out that these guys are ninja coders).

Adding web services makes a lot of sense. From the point of view of running the service, it’s a better interface than email or WAP, so if someone has a choice between sending an SMS or email versus using a bit of software that calls the web service, that’s a no-brainer. It isn’t very hard to add web services (SOAP or XML-RPC) to BillMonk, thanks in large part to the building blocks already provided by Ruby on Rails; the only slow-downs are that we must be very rigorous with security and carefully design our APIs. Once available, we hope lots of programmers across the world will write interesting applications for BillMonk – including Java cell phone apps – which will only make the BillMonk experience better for users, and the service adopted by more people. Everyone wins!

We’re not yet commiting to any timelines, but this will happen at some point in the near future.

Many small improvements

January 21, 2006

We pushed out a point release containing a myriad of improvements and touch-ups.

The most important of these fixes relates to entering email addresses. If you add someone as a friend but make a mistake in their email address (so it’s still a valid-looking email, but it doesn’t work) we pick up that emails are bouncing and tell you. We think that this is a neat feature that really helps the social-networking aspect of BillMonk.

Our loyal and growing user-base alerted us to several content issues, which we have fixed. Examples include:

  • The amount summary on the home page no longer tells you how much you owe or owe in aggregate, because what does do that information do you? It now tells you how much you need to pay your friends, and much they should pay you (which is actionable).
  • “Your Account” now has friendly buttons for not making changes in addition to making changes.
  • The shared-bill summaries sent to cell phones are shorter.

We really appreciate your feedback and suggestions!

BillMonk at Entrepreneur27

January 18, 2006

We’ll be at Stanford on January 28th to present at Entrepreneur27 with fellow entrepreneurs to a group of VCs, journalists, prominent bloggers, and large internet companies (*cough*).

The mission of Entrepreneur27 is to give young entrepreneurs a venue to showcase what they’ve been working on. This is going to be great exposure for our service, and we’re looking forward to it! We’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

Thanks to Noah Kagan, a product manager at the Facebook, and a founder of Entrepreneur27, for making this happen!

PaymentsNews.com coverage

January 17, 2006

PaymentsNews.com is a blog run by Glenbrook Partners. From their home page:

Glenbrook Partners is a payments consulting firm with unique skills based upon years of partner experience in hands-on operating roles in electronic payments.

Scott Loftesness has posted an entry talking about us today:

http://www.paymentsnews.com/2006/01/billmonk_social.html

Given our interest in partnering with online payment services, this kind of media coverage couldn’t make us happier.