This piece was written for VentureFizz. To see the original post, visit the VentureFizz Blog.
What’s your engineering team’s background?
Despite serving the food and beverage industry, BevSpot is first-and-foremost a tech company, with a strong focus on delivering powerful software. Two of the company’s co-founders have computer science backgrounds from MIT—so we’ve had high expectations for our tech team from the beginning. And, our second full-time hire previously founded a design studio and taught interaction design, so we’re serious about investing in the user experience. Importantly, the team has a shared entrepreneurial ethos—everyone works to make a big impact on our business while ensuring that our products benefit our users in their day-to-day. It’s great that everyone likes to be out in the field learning from our customers—we know many of our customers by name, and have met with and tested the product with them, so we’re all personally invested in their success with our product.
Highlight a couple of people specifically.
Chidubem Ezeaka (Cheezy)
Cheezy – tell us a bit about your background:
I am a Co-founder and BevSpot’s Chief Product Officer. I grew up in Nigeria and was very interested in Math and Science from a young age, and even took part in a few national competitions during the time. I took AP computer science in high school, and my interest in programming grew from there because of its similarities with math.
I attended MIT where I double majored in Math and Computer Science as an undergrad, and then got my M.Eng in Computer Science. My concentration was in systems where I wrote my thesis “tournament based task allocation in parallel algorithms”. While at MIT, I worked at Amazon on their vendor ordering prediction systems and then at DRW trading on web tools to help traders visualize and perform analysis on historical market data.
Proud Engineering Moment?
In my last year at MIT, I took a popular project-based class, 6.172 (Performance Engineering of Software Systems) that focuses on building highly-performant and scalable software systems. It went through the basics of compiler optimizations, parallel programming and general techniques for improving run-times. For the final group project we were asked to performance-engineer a game engine that plays LeiserChess, a two-player game similar to Khet, and the course ends with a tournament where all the submissions play against each other in a round robin format. My team’s submission won, losing only one game in the process.
What do you like to do outside of your interests in technology?
I play a lot of soccer in my free time. While I was at MIT I played with the Grad soccer club team and since leaving school I still play a lot of pickup games on the MIT fields on the weekends and in the indoor IM leagues in the winter when it gets cold out. I’m not super into video games but I play a bit of FIFA, anyone is welcome to come challenge me at the BevSpot office.
I am also a big Arsenal fan. You can find me on some weekend mornings watching their Premier League games and enjoying a beer at one of our awesome Boston accounts.
What’s your favorite thing about bevspot?
I like how fast things move at BevSpot. There are exciting new challenges to overcome almost everyday on both the tech and the business sides. We work really hard to make BevSpot a successful company but we also like to have fun as a team.
Alex – tell us a bit about your background:
I did undergrad at MIT (with Cheezy) where I studied CS and MechE. I was pretty big on robots coming in so that’s how I ended up with that combination, but I found CS classes more compelling. I was very fortunate with my internships, I spent a summer at Facebook on the site perf team (where I got hooked on Vim, check out my vimrc) and a summer at Formlabs working on the beta model of their Form1 3D Printer. The last thing I did before BevSpot was a 4 month stint on the IHMC DARPA Robotics team where we worked with a 6’ humanoid robot called ATLAS (here’s a video of the kinds of things we were doing). I had the chance to see big-company, early start-up and academic environments then, and now I get to enjoy the start-up environment again at BevSpot.
Do you have a proud engineering moment?
My senior year I took a robotics competition course at MIT that takes place over the January term called MASLAB. Teams of three to five (shoutout to my teammates Jorge Perez and John Bowler) work to build an autonomous robot in four weeks to accomplish a set of tasks, and It’s generally considered one of the most difficult competitions courses. I was really impressed with what we were able to get done in those four weeks, and we won the competition that year. Since then we’ve all come back to teach the course which has been a lot of fun as well.
What do you like to do outside of your interests in technology?
I really enjoy building things, I do all my own bike maintenance and had a great time over the last few weekends building a bar at our new office. Some friends and I have started a tradition of building a boat to take out on the Charles for the 4th of July. It’s evolved and grown over the years, this last year it was 48 feet long and carried a crew of 40. If you’re in Boston for the 4th and you see a 48 foot canoe taking on water as an inept crew paddles it clumsily down the Charles…odds are I’m involved.
What’s your favorite thing about bevspot?
I really enjoy building something that is honestly valuable to people, and we have great customers who we can really help with our software. And, in addition to giving us great testimonials (see bevspot.com) they also make great drinks.
Plus, the team at BevSpot is incredible, and we all share a commitment to building a really talented team across the organization. On the engineering side I think everyone who’s joined has been a perfect fit—it’s a lot of work to find the right people, but we all agree it’s worth it. One of my favorite BevSpot stories is from early on when we were looking for a “Designer/Developer” unicorn. We looked at hundreds of people and gave everyone a score from 1 to 5… except one person who we gave a 6. Now Alex Turnwall’s been with us since January (though it feels like much longer than that) and it’s hard to imagine BevSpot without him.
What is your tech stack?
On the server we’re running Django backed by PostgreSQL, MongoDB, and ElasticSearc. We’re using the Jinja2 templating engine instead of Django’s for performance reasons, but we’re also much happier with Jinja’s macro and function structures. On the client side we have a straightforward HTML/CSS/JS and JQuery operation going. Mixed in with that we now have some JS libraries like D3.js for charting, but we’ve kept it pretty lightweight. We deliberately chose to start with a simple stack that formed a clean and flexible base. As our product grows and we continue to understand the challenges we face in building it, the architecture will definitely adapt to our requirements. In the relatively near-term we’re definitely looking at incorporating a client-side framework. In the long term the ‘monolith vs. microservices’ debate will be an ongoing discussion. Not that they’re mutually exclusive, but deciding where in a monolith there’s a natural ‘seam’ along which to carve out a microservice is not always easy.
What are some of the cool / interesting problems that you’re solving?
In many aspects of our product there is a big challenge to create a product that sticks really closely to our users’ existing workflows and their existing understanding of how bar processes work while taking away a lot of the work and providing more powerful insights they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to reach. What this means is that we always want our application to be easy to use/understand while being really flexible and customizable to the user’s needs without overwhelming with options/functionality. So it is a tough challenge to provide really complex functionality that is still easy to use and understand. We solve real life challenges that are impactful on our customers’ daily lives. And we meet our customers face-to-face and see their appreciation on a regular basis. We create a real tangible value for people.
We create flexible data-models, workflows and interfaces without compromising efficiency or learnability. And, at the end of the day, we can go to a bar and get a free drink from the bartender, who’s incredibly happy that he wasn’t up until 8am doing inventory because he’s using BevSpot.
Another unique thing about BevSpot is that our entire application is fully responsive. This doesn’t mean that some things move around and you can do most things on your phone with some functionality hidden. Users can really do every single thing on their phones, and absolutely no functionality is lost going from your laptop to your phone or other device.
There are new challenges everyday here. Whether it’s a customer needing to use the product in the bar’s basement with no internet, or a large restaurant needing to see 1000+ inventory products in an easily viewable and maniputable way without slowing down the web page, the team creates the functionality to make it work. And what’s really exciting is that over time, we will have real data on consumer trends and the analytics to have an even heavier impact on our clients’ efficiency and profitability. In the not so distant future, we will be processing billions of dollars worth of transactions in the bar and restaurant industry.
What is the culture of the engineering team?
Everyone cares passionately about delivering the best products. We’re very close to our customers and always try to keep them in mind in our decision making. We also always want to move as fast as possible while keeping balance with getting things done right.
It’s a complete open floor here and we have very honest debates constantly; everybody’s opinion matters. We do not operate on a silo mentality and try to encourage everyone to learn about technical areas outside of their particular expertise. No one is pigeonholed at BevSpot. Everybody has an opportunity to contribute at every level of the code base.
The whole “work hard, play hard” aspect is a bit of a cliche in the startup world, but it’s very true on our team. We work very hard, and it pays off. So, we celebrate…a lot. Everytime we hit revenue goals, or pass milestones in inventory management dollars, we pop champagne and celebrate as a team, because we deserve it. Not to mention the fact that we work with some of Boston’s coolest restaurants and bars, so obviously we have to support these customers….by drinking at their bars.
An excerpt from VentureFizz