Attn Fellow Non-Programmers: Elizabeth Yin and Jennifer Hsieh Are Going To Help Us Start Our Internet Businesses
The story of Elizabeth Yin and Jennifer Hsieh (Co-Founders, DressMob & Shiny Orb) reads like a modern day women tech entrepreneur fairy tale. While most entrepreneurs with tech startup ideas struggle to find the proper technical expertise to turn their ideas into real businesses, both have been building websites since childhood. Best friends since they were 12 years old, Elizabeth and Jennifer built websites together throughout middle and high school. Although they went their separate ways for college (Elizabeth to Stanford for Electrical Engineering and Jennifer to Harvard for Chemistry and Physics), they met back up at MIT while Elizabeth was getting her MBA and Jennifer was working on her PhD. It turns out the timing was perfect for them to do what they said they would do years earlier – start and build web businesses together. Now they’ve co-founded Shiny Orb, a social shopping website for bridal parties that makes finding, sharing and comparing bridesmaid dresses easy and DressMob, a similar website for all other kinds of dresses. Now they’re starting Launchbit, a new venture that’s the answer to tech startup entrepreneur prayers from Silicon Valley to everywhere there’s a non-programmer with an internet business idea.
TechFemme: When did you first start becoming interested in computers?
Jennifer Hsieh: When I was in middle school, my parents sent me to computer camp between 5th and 6th grade. We were making websites, using Photoshop, learning HTML. We made fan websites. I made one for my collection of Rubix Cubes.
Elizabeth Yin: In 1st grade, our teacher splurged on some Apple 2GS’ out of her own pocket. We played Carmen Sandiego and Reader Rabbit on them and it was fun. Then we started building websites in school and my parents sent me to a computer workshop where we learned how to make desktop apps. I thought it was amazing that you could make something that could reach a bunch of different people at the same time.
TF: So your parents exposed you to computers early on?
JH: We went to an all girls’ school for middle and high school that was really interested in putting technology into the curriculum. Everyone had to learn how to make web pages. Like we would have to make a series of web pages instead of a simple book report.
TF: Would you agree that early exposure to computer and technology is instrumental in developing interest and skills in these areas later in life?
EY: The earlier the exposure, the more confidence you have on the computer. Then the more confident you are, the more comfortable you are with using it. And it becomes fun.
TF: How did the idea for Shiny Orb start and develop?
EY: I got married in the summer of 2009. All my bridesmaids lived all over the place and while coordinating bridesmaid dresses, there were too many emails and links and it became difficult to compare dresses. Weddings are social, so we created a social site to solve the problem of making bridesmaid dress shopping easier.
JH: On Shiny Orb, you can choose dresses you want to share, add them to your online dressing room and then share them with whoever you want. You can even add private comments to dresses that you can share only with people you want to share them with.
TF: How did you get the idea for Launchbit?
EY: We met Angie Chang and our initial conversations were about how we can go about encouraging women in tech entrepreneurship. We discovered a huge problem. There are all these women who really want to start Internet businesses but don’t have the tech skills to launch their ideas, don’t know how to write a technical spec to hire someone to help or can’t find a technical co-founder.
TF: How will Launchbit help address this issue?
EY: LaunchBit is a toolkit that will allow non-programmers to add interactive and dynamic features to their websites such as search capabilities, a membership login system, forms, etc. This toolkit will be geared towards people who have minimal familiarity with HTML. We’re still working on it but will begin beta testing in December. For entrepreneurs who are completely unfamiliar with how to get started building a website, we are going to begin offering an online class to get people started.
JH: We’re using the platform-as-a-service model. Different business ideas have different needs. We’re providing the magic behind the curtain, the website functions they need for their business.
EY: We’re navigating the details now, speaking to people starting Internet businesses to see what needs they have. We want to make sure it’s super easy to use.
TF: There’s some sentiment in the tech community that startups that focus on helping non-coders create websites without learning to code fail because they don’t have the customization that they need for their specific businesses.
EY: It’s true that at some point every business will require customization. Our service addresses the pain point for the very early stages of the Lean Startup model. Launchbit is for entrepreneurs to use to prove out their product. The idea is that if you can prove your product is viable, then you can hire developers to build out your site.
It’s impossible to overestimate how valuable this toolkit is going to be for those of us who don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to code things like a login function or feedback request form. Elizabeth and Jennifer are going to be saving us time, frustration and futile efforts related to the initial technical aspects of our startups so we can focus on the areas of our businesses where we can have the most profound and significant impact. It’s clear that these ladies can build any Internet business they want. And they’re choosing to help us build any Internet business we want. I plan on being first in line to thank them after the Launchbit toolkit launches.