10 March 2015

Joining Ringly: My NYC startup search

Late last spring of 2014, I decided to leave my job and look for “what’s next.” Right out of college, I was very lucky to work with an amazing team at a machine learning startup, which eventually became “Hunch.” I learned a ton from my coworkers and built a wide range of tools & experiences (first with a number of science experiments and later a number of pivots). It was so much fun to constantly solve new challenges, work at a super fast pace, and strive to combine machine learning with user experience.

After Hunch was acquired by eBay around Thanksgiving 2011, we seeded a new New York office that specialized in onsite recommendations (aka merchandising) and—over time—grew to take on more product focused projects. I ended up with the keys to a nascent project to drastically change the homepage, which made user curation front-and-center and was an entire web application within eBay itself. My team launched the project and went through additional iterations that involved massive data migrations, design changes that pushed the internal status quo, building extremely high capacity & resilient services, working with many remote teams, and lots of grunt work. We assembled a great group of old & new people as well as great hires too.

Ebay did a lot to treat us well, but I was eager to get back in the saddle, on a small team working to change the world. I started sending out feelers, asking for intros, and getting an idea of what was going on in NYC. Turns out there’s a ton going on here and it was really overwhelming. I learned to start using my calendar and I was keeping track of meetings in a spreadsheet—I now see why VCs have professional assistants. I also distracted myself by starting filming a music video (still needs to be finished…), playing chess in Washington Square Park (where I finally won my first game), and discovering Dominion online (a time-sink that is better avoided). Eager to work on something, I started contracting for Ringly to build their launch website.

Ringly was started by my friend, Christina Mercando. I got to work with her at Hunch, where she ran product for the last year and change. She was a real powerhouse and also brought a really discerning eye to anything she worked on. While the engineers were building a “Taste Graph,” she was responsible for making sure our product had taste. She also was at eBay after the acquisition, but left a year before me to scratch an itch that turned into a company. The itch was this recurring problem of constantly missing important phone calls, texts, or other notifications from family and friends while she was out. Furthermore, she was unwilling to solve the problem by leaving her phone out all the time—folding to such a solution is rude and makes one a slave to her phone. She wanted to make a “smart ring” that would let her know when important notifications were coming through and let her enjoy the real world, stress-free the rest of the time.

into the woods ring

Turns out it is extremely hard to make a simple sounding idea like this work, but she had already raised seed funding, found a cofounder with Logan Munro (a classmate of mine back at MIT), assembled a talented small team (some who were previous Hunch folks), and was ready to start putting rings on pre-order online. In the time that had passed since she started, “wearables” had become a commonplace term in tech, but still not widely “worn.” More so, a wearable that was focused on social & notifications and fashion-first was completely missing. (Btw, the logo is a Venn diagram of fashion intersecting with technology.)

Building out the website, launching it, and seeing the first orders stream in was really exhilarating. Approaching the end of the summer, I was still only contracting and I was enamored with a number of companies from my startup search, but—right around the announcement of the Apple Watch—I decided to join Ringly to head up software. I knew the team was outstanding. I knew the company would have taste and vision. I knew hardware was difficult, but the amazing hardware folks already had made great progress beyond what others said would be possible in such a demanding form factor. I also knew that I could integrate a layer of software into the product that would be critical to the whole experience, and that we would be building a full stack startup that owned hardware, software, jewelry design, product, and brand.

Over half a year later, I’ve been wearing a Ringly everyday, and despite not being the target demographic—I love it! It’s amazing how I no longer get distracted by meaningless notifications, how quickly I catch critical texts from friends or my wife when on the go, and how I no longer miss meetings. Also, the discreetness of no screen to pull me out of the real world is wonderful. We also raised a series A fundraising with our awesome investors—led by Andreessen-Horowitz—and the team has been growing with truly astounding hires. We are only getting started. I can’t wait to bring the future of this product to the world. If you’re interested in joining our team, please check out our jobs page or email jobs -at- ringly -dot- com.

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Peter Coles

Peter Coles

is a software engineer who lives in NYC, works at Ringly, and blogs here.
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