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Chris Cardell

Interview with Stephen Starkey (Pegby)

Pegby is an online application that allows friends to collaborate using virtual peg boards.

I interviewed Stephen Starkey, Pegby co-founder to find out more. This interview is the twenty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Stephen for the interview!

How would you describe Pegby in under 50 words?

Pegby enables you and your friends to get stuff done together without getting in your way by emulating the “pegging” of 3×5 cards to a virtual board. The core principles behind the design are: simplicity, flexibility and above all, fun! And it’s tastier than chocolate, according to Matt.

What made you decide to start working on Pegby?

As a software developer, over the years I grew more and more dissatisfied with the tools that were available to my trade. They were either too specialized or too difficult to configure. Not to mention — they were entirely too expensive for what you got!

I recruited my co-founder Matt, an amazing interface designer (Matt would disagree with this description), and we set out to build what we thought would be the next evolution in software project tracking tools. We spent a few years prototyping and nothing seemed to be exactly right; we didn’t want to use our prototypes! After a couple years of on-again, off-again collaboration, we scrapped the whole thing.

Not wanting to let the energy die, we got to thinking — it’s not just people who work on software who have collaboration problems. After scrapping our prior project, we came up with the initial thought for Pegby — a tool modeled after Kanban (a concept related to Lean Engineering) — and designed to appeal to a much broader audience.

So, we got to work. Our first mockups were well-received by family and friends, and as we kept iterating over it, more and more people were getting excited. It was that energy that kept us going.

How did you come up with the name?

We noodled for a while, and stumbled about looking for a name that would be really easy to say and remember. Also, it had to reflect that this was not a tool for people who take themselves too seriously. If you’re going to use something to keep yourself organized, it had better be fun. Otherwise, it would be a drag every time you had to think about all the stuff you had to do.

It’s bad enough to have too much to do!

So I started bouncing ideas off my boyfriend, and as I described the project to him, a “virtual cork board, or pegboard,” it hit him — “Pegby!”

Instant success. I got so excited I emailed my partner on the spot. Matt loved it, and we adopted the name immediately. To this day my boyfriend still brags about how he named Pegby.

How have you got together a team of 6 without any venture capital?

As I have moved through life, changing jobs faster than I change clothes (it’s hard to find the right culture!), I encountered people that made me think, “I have to make sure I work with him/her again!” So, the people on the team are people in that group. If they’re on my team, I’ve worked with them in the past and decided they were amazing at what they do.

So, I have been doing a lot of convincing. And selling. And cajoling. And begging. And of course ensuring each and every member of the team that should Pegby turn a profit they would share in the reward. It doesn’t hurt that they all believe in the vision of a tool that can help anyone, regardless of their work or position, to keep themselves organized in a more and more chaotic world.

Who did the copywriting for Pegby? What made you decide to go with such a whimsical tone?

The initial copy was written by my co-founder, Matt. And he did an excellent job of channeling our vision — that Pegby should be a whimsical sort of collaborative productivity tool. It’s bad enough we’re overloaded with stuff to do — the tools you use to get organized shouldn’t add to that feeling. We want to be friendly and helpful — not serious and overwhelming.

When do you see Pegby moving out of beta?

As soon as the core team is working on Pegby full-time, allowing us to be committed to supporting it, we will move out of beta. Unfortunately, it is very much a part-time project. Since we have no funding at the moment, we have to rely on the generosity of our subscribers.

And Pegby has very few subscribers right now.

But once the demand rises, and people start finding it useful enough to pay for it, we’re hoping our income will eventually be able to pay salaries for the co-founders so we can quit our day jobs and spend all our time on Pegby.

How do you make time for Pegby and who has contributed the most?

Pegby is a free-time project. When I’m working on Pegby, I don’t watch TV or do my chores or socialize. My boyfriend picks up the slack and makes the apologies.

As for contribution levels, take a look at the Credits on the front page. The order in which the names appear is the order of contribution levels.

What technologies have you used to build Pegby?

Pegby is a Java web app using jQuery and Ajax on the very front end and MySQL as the very back end database. We have a bit of Clojure code mixed in there to do some authorization magic, but all in all it’s standard Java with Hibernate, Stripes, and Guice.

Has Pegby got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Honestly, we had no expectations and still have few as to its growth, and we had no idea who would pick it up or how they’d use it. As we’ve engaged a few communities and shared Pegby with friends and family, we’ve received the kind of feedback we expected: users want it to be more mobile, and they want it to be even more flexible than it is. And they’ve shocked us a bit with how they’ve integrated Pegby into their lives.

Who do you see as your target audience?

Our target audience is everyone who works in a group that has lots of things to do and needs to keep organized. We hope that programmers, for example, will find it useful (Since I am a programmer and I find it useful!), but we have been finding that:

  • Teachers love it, and are sharing it with their students,
  • College students use it to track their homework,
  • Independent movie directors use it for building story boards,
  • Parents keep track of chores and share their family board with their kids,
  • and so on.

So that’s very encouraging!

Who is your biggest online competitor?

That’s the thing. We compete with everyone who tries to help people stay organized. Which is a HUGE and diluted market. It’s going to be a big struggle to convince folks that this is the way to go.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Time. Full-time jobs keep us from working on the things we’re passionate about. We keep hoping that we’ll hit on the magic formula that makes it so folks want to give us money so we can quit our jobs and work on this all the time. But until then, we have to scrape up energy when we can get it, and get far less sleep than we should be getting.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

More and more people are using Pegby on a regular basis. Yesterday we had over 500 unique visitors. Which excites us to no end — especially when the first year of Pegby’s life our high mark was 10 — and that was all family and friends.

Can you convince the reader to start using Pegby in under 50 words?

If you spend a little time with Pegby you’ll fall in love; its simple approach to task management is endearing and we promise it is flexible enough to match the way you work. Life with Pegby is better! Plus, task lists are boring and inhumane and made by Stalin.

Finished reading? Check out Pegby!

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2011 at 9:06 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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