How a 90 Minute Interview With A Designer Resulted In A Product Our Friends Love

As a small startup, we’re especially aware that people are our most valuable asset. So to make sure we bring on the right people, we try to simulate working with potential hires by doing a mini hackathon.

Here’s the story of how, in one interview, the sudden appearance of an unexpected constraint ended up being a blessing in disguise and led to us creating a cool product that our friends love. (Want a sneak peek? You can check out the product here: Get Remember When)

Our Interview Process

Our typical interview process goes like this:

  1. Hear about an amazing engineer or designer through personal connections or by word of mouth.
  2. Grab lunch with them, hang out, and have them tell us stories about their life and dreams for the future. This shows us more about the person than anything else.
  3. Do a mini 3-4 hour hackathon in which we build a real product, followed by a technical interview.
  4. Decide and make an offer. We usually do this on the spot – by the time we do the hackathon, we have a good sense of whether we work well together.

The Interview (and the surprise constraint!)

We were introduced to this designer from Stanford through a friend. He had come by our office to hang out and we liked him, we invited him to come in a few days later, on Tuesday, to do a mini hackathon with us.

Walking in, he told us he only had an hour and a half before needing to head back to his dorm for dinner. Since usually we like to build for 3-4 hours, we were caught by surprise and not sure what to do.

We decided to roll with it and do a super small, simple project so we could still get the important pieces of the hackathon in: brainstorming, building, and completing a project collaboratively.

Brainstorming

We decided to do a quick 10 minute brainstorm session (which ended up being more like 20 minutes) using a “yes and” process. Basically, it works like this: someone throws out an idea and we write it out on the board regardless of how good it sounded.

While ideas were initially kind of silly and slow to come, we came up with around 20 ideas pretty quickly and were actually excited about several of the later ones. We found that many of the later ideas built off of and refined the earlier ideas, even when the earlier idea seemed silly. Finally, we used a two stage voting system in which we used 5 votes per person to collectively pick the top 5 ideas and then 3 votes to pick our favorite.

In the end, we arrived at an idea we were very excited about. We realized we all had amazing memories with friends who we didn’t see as much as we wanted to, and we wanted to bring them back into our lives. Thus Remember When was born: show you your old Facebook photos and let you text them to friends.

Lesson: Building off mediocre ideas with a “yes and” mindset often results in really good ideas.

Building

I had built a bunch of iOS stuff before and Joe had done some a while ago, so we figured it would be pretty fast to build the app.

We were both right and wrong. We quickly had a prototype working and most of the functionality was straightforward to build. However, there were 3 things that took much longer than we anticipated:

  1. Facebook SDK – while the SDK was fairly quick to integrate, we stumbled across several bugs in the iOS SDK. (We’ve filed 3 bugs to date. To their credit, Facebook has been very responsive with acknowledging these bugs. Hopefully they will be fixed soon – shout out to Eric Osgood and Sean Liu for helping hugely with this.)
  2. iPhone 6 – making sure the app worked properly on iOS 8 and also looked good on all of the different sizes of screens. (iPhone 5, 6, 6+, iPad) The iPhone 6, 6+ and iOS 8 had just announced a couple weeks before, so all of this was new to us.
  3. Analytics – we wanted to understand how people used the product so we integrated deeply with Mixpanel. Implementing this took much more time than expected to do what we wanted and was a significant portion of the work.

Lesson: Typically you can expect some unexpected delays, however sometimes the majority of your time will be spent in the unexpected.

As we got the prototype working, I started realizing that this could actually be really fun to use. The blasting Flo Rida music was punctuated with me commenting to everyone, “Hey guys, you know, I think this could actually be really cool!”

Our aha moment happened when I loaded my own photos into the app. Even though the product was super janky and the user interface looked like a toddler had tried to use Xcode storyboards (see: using giant brightly colored rectangles for user interface placeholders), it was super addicting to see photos of myself and my friends from the past.

That evening, I went home, sat on the toilet, and just kept going through my own photos in the app on repeat.

At this time, Facebook had a bug in their API which only allowed for about 200-300 photos to be shown and the app naively showed them all in the same order every single time the app was opened, so I had already seen each of my photos 3-5 times already. And yet, I still couldn’t stop looking through all of them.

I alternated texting my teammates “OMG this is super fun!!!” and sending them random pictures through the app.

That night, I ended up staying up super late just tapping through all of my old pictures from college and even high school in Remember When.

The next day I ran around the office showing everyone the app we built for an interview. The day after that, Thursday, we finished up the product. As we were building and testing it, I constantly got distracted by looking at my old photos. In a couple hours, I binge texted 42 photos of epic memories to my friends, sparking awesome conversations with close friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time.

There were two “wow” moments for our test users in the evolution of the prototype:

  1. Cleaning up the user interface so it looked like a real product
  2. Having our friends log in themselves and see their photos of themselves

Having a real-ish looking user interface helped people focus on the content rather than asking me what the giant bright green rectangle (the next button) did. It’s one thing to understand how a product works, but playing with it yourself with highly personal, emotional content is a whole other experience.

The Real World

Ironically, the first four friends we asked to try it out had some not so great experiences.

Two of them didn’t want to use it while we were standing there; when I asked them why, they said they were embarrassed to go through their pictures while I was there. Two others immediately saw pictures of their exes, which was a total fail (hiding ex’s is actually a common request and we have a good solution coming).

Undeterred, we kept on showing it to people and getting them to install it on their phones. We were happy to find that the responses from literally everyone else sounded more like “OH MY GOD, this is awesome!” and “What is this… oh. [looks at photo] hahahah that was such a good memory! I love this!”

We were blown away when we saw that after people opened the app, they often immediately looked at several hundred of their photos nonstop (analytics effort paying off here)!

Lessons Learned

  1. When doing an interview hackathon, build something super simple. You will keep momentum up, finish it, and actually ship your product.
  2. We built something that we initially thought was almost too simple. Turns out people really like simple products.
  3. A lot of your time will be taken by unexpected things. For us this was the FB SDK, iOS 8 / iPhone 6, and analytics.
  4. If you’re excited about your product, don’t worry if the first few people you show it to aren’t as pumped as you are, keep on showing it to more people!
  5. Ship it. You’ll learn so much from the last 80% effort required to finish the last 20% of work. Also, having real people use what you build is the absolute best feeling in the world. Period.

The Happy Ending

Ultimately, we had a fantastic time building and showing our friends Remember When. By rolling with an unexpected constraint of having much less time to build a product than we expected, building a super simple product that turned out to be incredibly powerful because it was so simple.

We are super excited to let you play with Remember When, and hope it lets you relive great memories and bond with your friends in the same way it did for us.

You can play with the product here: Download Remember When

Feel free to reach out to us if you have any comments, questions, or feedback! We love to hear from you!