Archive for March, 2006

Monk 5-k

March 31, 2006

We're pleased to announce that we have over 5000 users.

Our site saw explosive growth when it was first launched. After the initial glow of publicity faded, our growth settled down to a steadily exponential increase. This is great news because it means that, even without publicity or marketing, we continue to spread by word-of-mouth, like a happy virus. This validates our core model and makes us oh-so-pleased.

Of course, we love the extra growth that comes with publicity. Stay tuned, we will drop several delightfully newsworthy bombshells in the next few weeks.

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Shares

March 30, 2006

Dinner-math is hard enough when everyone is paying for themselves. It gets much harder when couples want to pay as a unit, and is near impossible when some people expect to pay an exact amount and other people want to pay as two people.

Shares make it all better. When you edit a shared bill, you can set someone’s participation amount as 1, 2, or more shares. One share is an even-split as today; two shares is an even-split for two peoples’ amount, and so on.

For example, suppose Homer, Marge, and Flanders spend $45 on dinner. They decide to split the bill evenly, but Homer pays for himself and Marge.

We considered also exposing percentages and ratios. However, we were concerned that these would require a more clunky and complex interface which would force you to set a percentage amount for everyone, not just for yourself. If people do need this advanced level of control, we can add it, but for now we’re taking the more elegant approach of shares.

Tidying up

March 30, 2006

In an effort to streamline the site, we have:

  • Moved “Groups” from its own tab to a link under “Friends”. Groups are just as important as always, but we decided that conceptually they’re really a part of friendship-management.
  • Changed the look of the home page. Instead of having a “Recent Transactions”, there is now a more general “Recent Events” that includes site news as well. You can toggle whether or not you want to see this.

Download your BillMonk history

March 14, 2006

You can now download your entire BillMonk history to your spreadsheet application of choice (“History” page, left sidebar). This lets you backup your data and make it easy to print out.

We actualy make two kinds of history available to you:

  • All your transactions
  • All resulting person-to-person money transfers

The former is the cause (e.g. dinner at a restaurant), the latter is the effect (e.g. John owes me $10, Gaurav owes me $3.50, and my share was $12).

The download format is optimized for easy record-keeping, not for extracting structured data. Note that the format may change. For all you developers chomping at the bit, please know that we fully intend to provide web services that give stable APIs for automated extraction of your data. For those of you who want better integration with your accounting software, that is a separate feature which we also intend to provide.

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Speaking at Stanford, Singaporean entrepreneurs

March 13, 2006

Gaurav flew down to Stanford last weekend to speak about the lessons learned from starting up and running BillMonk. The conference, titled RainMakers, was organized by students from the National University of Singapore Entrepreneur Association (NUSEA) who spend a year at Stanford learning about business, while also interning at hi-tech startups. Six other young companies presented at the conference. The audience included lots of students and a smattering of venture capitalists and Bay Area professionals.

This event was an opportunity to spread the word about BillMonk to students, but more importantly, it was a chance for us to have face-to-face time with some of our most ardent users and users-to-be. About 15 attenders were already regular BillMonk users, and had remarkably positive things to say about it. They also had some penetrating questions about our next steps, and some great ideas for the future. Thanks, guys!

Amusingly, 12 of us went to dinner afterwards… and of course cut through the payment headache by BillMonking it. Sweet.

The connection with Singapore is not mere coincidence. Our 3rd-largest non-US user base is Singapore (the EU and India are 1st and 2nd, respectively). There’s no doubt that the students from this organization are a big part of the reason why. Thank you for your help, and for putting together a terrific event!

Additional trivia on the BillMonk-Singapore connection: Gaurav lived in Singapore for seven years till age 13. He still dreams of delicious Singaporean cuisine. [Chuck interjects: he does. He really does, sometimes to a worrisome degree.]

Little release: remember-me, re-invite

March 9, 2006

It’s probably pretty clear by now that we prefer to make a lot of make lots of small releases than a few big ones. While we dislike spamming you, Gentle Reader, with all our picayune going-ons, we’ll pick transparency over surprises any day of the week. Today’s release includes:

  • Remember-me checkbox on sign-in. If clicked, you will stay signed-in for as long as a week between visits to BillMonk (as opposed to one hour). Note that this should only be used on your personal, home computer.
  • Re-invite a friend who hasn’t signed in yet. Some of our users contacted us and told us that certain web-mail systems (ehem.. Yahoo!) were sending BillMonk emails to the spam folder. Though we have smoothed things out with Yahoo!, our users have requested a way to nudge their friends. Click on ‘re-invite’ on the friends page to send a polite email from BillMonk saying: “Homer Simpson (email@domain) is sending another invitation for you to join BillMonk,” with sign-in instructions.

Many small steps; removing friends; digg it!

March 7, 2006

We pushed out a new point-release this evening with one big change and several small ones.

  • You can now easily remove a friend by clicking on the handy new “remove” link. You must first sweep away all transactions with the friend so there are no financial ties. When you un-friend someone who has never logged in, we don’t remove them from the system, but instead simply sever the relationship between you two. This way, when they do get around to logging in later, they aren’t confused by the system’s refusal to recognize them.
  • When you delete a transaction or remove someone from a transaction, the email to affected parties now includes comments (d’oh)
  • Fix occasional html encoding problems for receipt descriptions (caused by double-unescapes or double-escapes)
  • Make the “add more contacts” landing page after sign-in more friendly and good lookin’
  • If you view a transaction which was recently created while on the go via your cell phone, and if some people in that transaction are unidentifed, we show the bill-code (two silly words) that those people can use to identify themselves. One use case is that if you’re uncomfortable adding someone yourself, you can ask them to add themselves using this bill-code.

Finally, when one logs in, the left sidebar may occasionally shamelessly beg you to digg BillMonk. And while we’re at it… please Digg it!

A good use for all that heat

March 7, 2006

As good environmentalists, we’re of course properly distressed by all the energy that computers waste. While it’s nice that my server-room closet has been helping to keep the apartment a bit warmer this winter, I still feel vague pangs of over-active liberal guilt. What is one to do with a closet that is a consistent 75 degrees…?

Beer.

That’s right, folks, the excess power of BillMonk is going into keeping my home-brew at a nice even temperature (this time around just a simple brown ale). While 75 degrees is a bit high for ale yeast, they seem to be happy so far – the happy bubbling of fermentation provides music to code by.

The Monk would be pleased.

Cover story in MIT Technology Review Germany

March 6, 2006

A few weeks ago we were contacted by Steffan Heuer, the US correspondent for MIT Technology Review Germany. He was working on a story about Web 2.0, and wanted our thoughts on the matter. A few days ago the March edition of the magazine was published, featuring BillMonk and our views in the cover story.

Thank you Steffan! Venture over to his blog to read our what we think about Web 2.0 in English. Here is a teaser to the article on the MIT Tech Review site itself (note: the full story is available only in print).