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Side Project to Startup: Shizzow Q&A

Shizzow is a new location-based social service, most similar to BrightKite. The bootstrapped startup is also a side project. The four team members have full-time jobs outside of Shizzow.

Ryan SnyderWebmonkey got together with Shizzow CEO-by-night Ryan Snyder. Read on to find out why he won’t make an iPhone app, Shizzow’s relation to Google Calendar, and that the original name rhymed with “kazoo.”

Webmonkey: How does Shizzow compare to other location-based social networking sites like BrightKite, or a platform like FireEagle?

Ryan Snyder: We think of Shizzow as much more of a social service than a location-based service.  The primary action on Shizzow is to “shout out” your location, but to us declaring your location means nothing unless doing so enables you to get together with people for a face-to-face conversation.  While other services have added photo sharing or restaurant reviews to their service, we’re maintaining a philosophy of simplicity – if a certain feature doesn’t help you meet new people or get together with friends, we won’t implement that feature.

 

Webmonkey: Many successful web applications start with developers scratching their own itch. How was Shizzow born?

Snyder: Shizzow is definitely one of those projects that came out of us developers scratching our own itch.  In September 2007, a number of developers here in Portland were using a shared Google calendar to coordinate meetups for coding sessions, and we found it too cumbersome to notify each of the group members when we’d arrived at that place.  Mark Wallaert approached me and said, “So… Ryan, I’ve got this idea…”, then sketched out the Shizzow concept on my markerboard.  When he told me how it would solve our communication problems, I was sold.

Webmonkey: Why are you opening in only a few cities?

Snyder: One of the difficulties of unveiling a new site or service is that of building community.  Rather than inviting random people from all over the world, we felt it would be better to invite people to use Shizzow city-by-city so that when we roll out to your city, all of your friends will hopefully be Shizzow users within the first day or two instead of straggling in over the coming weeks or months.

Webmonkey: How have the four of you balanced this large side project with day jobs?

Snyder: Whew, this has not been easy!  I’d probably call it “burnout prevention” before I’d call it anything resembling balance!  Each of us has our own methods of meeting Shizzow’s needs on top of our day jobs.  I personally dedicate the first 2-3 hours of my day to Shizzow before heading into cubicleville for my 9 to 5′er, as well as dedicating one or both weekend days to whatever tasks may be at hand.  But the real reason we’ve been able to persevere over the last year has been the patience and understanding of our friends and loved ones.  We simply could not have done this without their support.

 

Webmonkey: BrightKite got a lot of attention for its iPhone app. When can I expect to see a beta version of Shizzow’s?

Snyder: Since we’re a small team, we’re trying to remain as focused as possible on Shizzow’s core functionality.  We feel that developing  platform-specific applications will actually scatter our attention by having to support multiple UIs and platforms.  We’re currently working on an API to allow other developers to build applications for Shizzow.  Besides, there are some rockstar mobile developers that will probably build something cooler than we’d imagined possible using our API. 

 

Webmonkey: My projects always have a list of alternate names. Can you share anything Shizzow was almost called?

Snyder: All of our original names for the project were either taken or they were just lame!  Our first interface for Shizzow actually had a spelling variation, where we ended Shizzow with “ou” instead of “ow”.  People kept calling it “Shizzoo” so we quickly realized that we needed to grab the “ow” domain name before that name stuck!

[Photo by Aaron Hockley]