After five years at Google as an internal controls analyst and technical program manager for systems such as Google Checkout, Alex Haar now works “with a lot smart people to bring together Google-style machine learning with Capital One-style credit scoring” as a product manager at LA-based ZestFinance. He is also the founder of Tactilly, an app for creating interactive photo albums. With Tactilly, Haar said he is “extraordinarily excited about what’s in store for 2014.” Built In Colorado caught up with Haar to find out why:
What should the community expect to see from Tactilly in 2014?
The focus for 2014 is user growth. To that end, major initiatives will be focused on marketing, content, and customer happiness.
How do you find the Colorado startup community? What should the community be doing more of going into 2014?
I’ve found the Colorado startup community to be extraordinarily welcoming and diverse. Everyone seems to subscribe to the philosophy that Brad Feld describes as “give before you get,” and, as a result, I’ve found the community to be very collaborative instead of competitive. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the startup scene who turns down an invitation for a beer or coffee, which was incredible for me coming from out of state without knowing anyone in the startup community.
Colorado startup communities should continue to focus on providing resources to startups that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, whether it’s education, funding, advice, even a physical place to work.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned while working at Google that you took to Tactilly and ZestFinance?
There are two lessons that really resonated with me at Google: the first is to keep things simple. Google search is an amazingly complicated product behind the scenes, but what’s presented to the user is simple and intuitive, making it extremely approachable. The second lesson is that you are not the same as your user. Your intuition can generate hypotheses as to what a user wants, but until those hypotheses are tested with actual users, you won’t have any idea whether they are valid or not. Build, test, learn, repeat.
What has been your biggest struggle when founding Tactilly?
Tactilly is a labor of love and is self-funded. The biggest struggle has probably been bootstrapping, which has its drawbacks, but has forced me to prioritize and clearly identify what’s the absolute most important thing to work on. But, at the same time, the most rewarding experience for me in founding Tactilly has been hearing from people about how they use Tactilly, like the speech language pathologist who uses it with children to help work on their communication skills and language development.
How can the Colorado startup community help you in your current endeavors?
I love discussing products, user experience and UI design and I’m always up for a coffee or beer. I like these conversations so much that I started the Boulder Product Manager meetup along with Adam Tornes of Gnip and David Hoffman of Next Big Sound. As far as help, I’d love to talk to anyone who has experience with developing iPad apps for kids or with developing children’s products in general.