CTOs to Know: Meet Havenly’s Gabe Hesse

by Jess Ryan
August 22, 2016

After emerging from MergeLane’s first cohort, Havenly is growing quickly, making their mark on the interior design world — and Colorado’s tech community. The company’s platform pairs interior designers with consumers looking to spruce up their homes or offices, whether by adding a few accent pieces or an entire overhaul of a space.

Prior to joining Havenly’s team in 2015, CTO Gabe Hesse cultivated more than 12 years of experience in software development and technology leadership, including nearly four years as Vice President of Engineering and Architecture for Welltok.

Here’s what he had to say when we caught up with him to talk tech:


What technologies power your business?

The technology mantra has been "keep it simple." We want the vast majority of the innovation focus to be on delighting our customers and growing the business, not technology for technology’s sake. Our language of choice is PHP for our web services and our new features are using React/Redux.

These “simple" technologies have well-understood stories for scaling and failure states, which is incredibly valuable when you're a small team with a rapidly growing business.

Additionally, we take the approach of using someone else's code when it comes to commoditized parts of our application — think CMS, A/B testing frameworks, application monitoring, etc. Again, the thinking is we want to invest our energy in the things that will differentiate Havenly and allow us to grow as fast as possible.

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at Havenly this year?

We have found React to be a phenomenal framework for building highly interactive web experiences. Composition is a software engineer's friend and React really embraces this philosophy by allowing you to compose your application with small components that have a single responsibility.

Add in data that only flows in one direction through your component hierarchy and you end up with a model that doesn't require the mental gymnastics that a lot of front-end software engineers go through to predict out all the edge cases of an interaction and debug the "how did we get here?" conundrum.

What upcoming tech project are you most proud of?

Havenly's happiest customers are the ones who forge a rapport with their designer. So that ends up being one of our guiding product design principles: make it super easy — almost unavoidable — for our customers to connect and communicate with their designer.

In-app messaging is one area of our application that we felt was sometimes getting in the way of allowing our customers to express their vision for their room and give feedback to their designer during the process.

This upcoming incarnation of messaging has truly been a team effort. Even before any code was carved out we spent a lot of time talking with existing customers, performing usability testing and reworking the design based on all of this feedback.

As we're nearing the finish line of this project, this work upfront really comes through when you interact with the feature. A lot of work went into building something that stays out of our customer's way and allows them to focus on expressing their vision and giving feedback to their designer.

What lessons have you learned about working in Colorado that can other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

The Colorado community is still relatively small so I really focus on taking care of my relationships here. It is as simple as reserving an hour a week to spend catching up over coffee or beers, emphatically saying "YES!" to anyone asking for help or guidance and generally not being a jerk to the people I interact with.

How is your team set up?

We're a small team so it isn't complex. The trick is to get every individual from every role, be it product, creative, back-end engineers, front-end engineers or test engineers, to buy in on this concept of a cross-functional team with shared accountability for making an amazing product. Good communication solves a lot of problems, and having the courage to look in the mirror from time to time to be honest about what's working and what's not, then setting a plan to do something about the stuff that isn't working, is the best way I know to keep things running smoothly.

What trends do you see happening in your industry over the next three years? How is Havenly anticipating those trends and working toward them?

The rise of personalized retail is something that's really interesting to see. Consumers are getting quite sophisticated and don't simply want an explanation, they want a tailored experience. Havenly is positioned so well for this; as a customer you get your very own design BFF. Not some algorithm dumping out "you may also like" suggestions after you peck through pages of products, but your very own interior designer who gets you and what your goals are for your space! At the end of the process you get a bespoke list of products that make your vision a reality and it all comes drop shipped to your house. It's really quite impressive and the technology that makes that all happen is what keeps me super excited.

What else do you want the Colorado startup community to know about Havenly?

Havenly's culture is really what makes us special. It is really intentional what we've got here. Early on we codified the culture and we screen every candidate using those cultural values, no matter the role. There has been more than one perfectly capable candidate who didn't make the cut because they weren't aligned on culture. Anyone who's in a hiring position reading this knows how hard it is just to find capable candidates, so our hiring cycles might be a little longer than most but the results speak for themselves. I've never been in an environment where it was easier to get alignment than Havenly, which is an important thing especially as the company grows.


Photo via Havenly. Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.

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