Ooga Labs

Ooga Labs Talent Czar

Hello world, it’s about time I posted on the Ooga blog. My name is Jon and I go by the title of Talent Czar for Ooga Labs.

I keep hearing from other companies and headhunters that there’s a talent war going on for the best engineers.  My job is easy because we offer something completely different. I probably speak with a dozen engineers from top schools a week.  I just have to lay out the facts about Ooga Labs:

  • We’re a team of super intelligent nice people that love to code and build stuff (RoR, PHP, Java, CSS, Python).
  • You get a wealth of learning because there are multiple starts under one roof with an open and transparent culture.
  • We build mission-driven companies that can change the world.
  • We’re viral experts, a successful team and proven management.
  • We’re a flat organization, working in small intimate teams in cool offices downtown SF.
  • You get equity in every company you work on.
  • We’re privately funded; it’s all about the product and our customers.
  • We’re a think tank environment with stimulating projects.

The most common comment I get from candidates is about James’ “Don’t make my Mistake” open letter to graduating seniors calling on them to come to the Bay Area and join a startup.  It’s a good (and short) read, and expresses well some of the personality and drive that you feel when you join the team here.

So contact me if you’re a software engineer or web designer/UX person and you think there is any reason we should be talking.  jwong at oogalabs.com

 — Jon Wong, Talent Czar

Cool companies, Ooga Labs

Medpedia preview site is now live


Tonight, Ooga Labs announced The Medpedia Project!

Press release here

TechCrunch here

Los Angeles Times here

This project has been in development for two years, and the site will launch officially by the end of the year.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to be collaborating with such amazing, supportive, and thoughtful people from the medical world on this.  See the list of them here.  Their vision and ethusiasm are a gift.

Medpedia is a collaborative project in the extreme, so please shoot us any thoughts you have and we’ll try to get them in before the launch of the live site.


Ooga Labs


In July 2004, we came up with the idea to create a customizable portal like MyYahoo but have it let people do some good in the world everytime they use it.  I have beliefs, values, and causes I care about… shouldn’t my Internet portal be serving me easy opportunities to make a difference?  I would feel better about myself, the world would get a little better, and my loyalty to the portal would increase. 

 While still working at Tickle inside Monster.com, we launched GoodTree.com in July of 2005.  Monster shut it down in November and I left Monster in January.  I bought the site back from Monster in the spring and relaunched in the Fall of 2006.  We quickly discovered the product and business infrastructure wasn’t ready, so we stopped trying to attract people to it.  In the last year, a small team of dedicated people added a raft of new features:

  1. A customizable homepage, the type of which is now familiar from MyYahoo, iGoogle and 10’s of other customizable homepage startups
  2. A full social network
  3. Causes which people can create, join and suggest actions we all can take to make a difference
  4. An area for charities and financial info

The goal of GoodTree is to get 10 million or more people using it as their start page and portal, to make a significant impact on people and causes, and to keep it profitable.  We have a long list of things we want to improve on the product such as the image search and news areas.  But it’s good enough that we’re going to start attracting people to it again, and we’re excited to see what happens. 

From my experience so far, building an enterprise which has a mission to make an impact while maintaining break-even or profitability is significantly more difficult than just trying to make money.  Competitor portals like Yahoo, MSN, Ask, and MyWay have a hard enough time and they aren’t even burdened by pushing a social mission.  Wish us luck and give us support if you get the opportunity. 

Ooga Labs

Hit it Hard

STIRR is a notable organization run by Dan Arkind and Sanford Barr that puts on gatherings for founders and entrepreneurs around the Bay Area.  At last Wednesday’s event they had a few of us do 5-minute “Founder Hack” talks.  It was really fun and the crowd lively.   <see video>

Ooga Labs

Speed Teams

At Ooga, where we’re building 5 separate products (with separate code bases, URL’s, business models, corporate entities, etc.) we develop in what we call Speed Teams.

A Speed Team is composed of two people: an engineer — who is responsible for programming the database, the application, and some of the front end — and a Designer — who is responsible for the look and feel of the site and most of the front end code. Each Speed Team works with me and Stan on a daily basis, and the project is held together with a simple document that lists the tasks and help us prioritize them. No Product Requirement Documents, no Marketing Requirements Documents, just talk and go. We find this gives us maximum freedom to iterate on a project as it moves along. Without a Board of Directors to hold us to a plan we might have come up with in the past, we are free to do what makes sense based on new information, new ideas, or feedback from the users without having to convince anyone, again adding flexibility.

By constantly adjusting to new information, we hope and expect that it will increase our odds of building something that works. Time will tell. In larger companies, they often have large groups of people on a project, each with a designated expertise. We don’t think this makes sense in the consumer Web space.

At our last company, Tickle, where we also were developing about 5 separate products, we got it down to 5 people per project: database, application layer, front end coder, visual designer, and product manager. This was pretty good and pretty fast, but still time consuming to manage everyone.

When you have good people, they all have an opinion, and it takes time to let everyone have a say. So at Ooga, we’ve taken it the next step, down to 2 people per project. Ideally, in the future, we will experiment with getting it down to 1 person, although finding someone who likes doing all layers is rare. (If you are one of these people, let us know.) As a website grows, we’ll add one or two more engineers, keeping the one designer. We’re not sure it gets much faster after 3 engineers + 1 designer, unless you have a business that can be easily modularized. That group of four will then tap into shared Ooga resources for customer service, IS, and revenue.

We’re confident we can grow a business to a significant size with that configuration given the right people. Some of the challenges with this Speed Team approach so far: 1) Having only two people on a team means each person must be learning constantly in several skill areas to be good enough to execute. 2) It’s pretty intense because the whole product rests on each person’s shoulders. There is no hiding. 3) Our one simple document let’s us know what to do on a weekly basis, but doesn’t yet let us break down tasks into sufficiently small chunks where we know what to do on an hourly basis, so we’re changing that.We’ll talk more about this in the future.

And right now we’re looking for people who think this sounds like their cup of tea.

Ooga Labs

SF Chronicle Article


Yesterday there was a great article by Jessica Guynn in the Chron. She did extensive research and jammed a lot into it, and it ended up on the front page, which was really cool. It’s our first public announcement of what we’re up to. My favorite parts were when she compared James to “Timothy Leary the 60’s icon”, and then called the rest of us a “merry band” and an “eclectic clan of nerds.” Heh heh. Story link.

Ooga Labs

RailsConf 2007 summary

So a couple of us engineers and our CEO went up to Portland, OR for RailsConf 2007. Overall, it was a good conference and the whole list of “Who’s Who?” was there. We attended many sessions, but I liked JRuby and Solr the most.

RailsConf 2007 had over 1600 in attendance, so its pretty clear that the Ruby/Rails community is growing leaps and bounds. This is great news for us as we’re big proponents of the Rails platform.  All of the energy and community behind Rails offers a lot of credence to the platform, and this was very evident with all of the many interesting sessions at RailsConf.

It was also clear that the number of Rails jobs is growing faster than the number of available engineers. In the foyer of the conference was a big message board and there was easily a ratio of 25:1 the number of “we’re hiring” to “looking for work” posts.   We are  looking to hire developers too, and we will teach you Rails and Ruby if you’re a great programmer in another language.

But onto the cool stuff! Adobe Apollo, and to a lesser degree Flex, was a common topic. Its very clear that the Adobe Flex/Flash platform is going to be a major player. Some engineers from Adobe did a session and showed how easy it is to connect an Apollo app to a Rails backend. Super cool!

We went to so many sessions that they are all blurring together. Here is a link to all of the RailsConf 2007 presentations.