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Chris Cardell

Interview with Hillary Elmore Cage (Squad)

Squad is a web-based collaborative code editor. I interviewed Hillary Elmore Cage, Squad CEO to find out more. This interview is the eighty eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Hillary for the interview!

How would you describe Squad in under 50 words?

Squad is a web-based collaborative code editor, so it lets you easily work on files with co-workers even if you are not located in the same office.

Where did the idea for Squad originate?

Squad’s founder, Mike Trotzke, let the idea kick around in his head for quite awhile before he built it. He had previously started a few software companies where he always ran into the problem of trying to work on a single piece of code with various people who worked in different locations. He also figured there was a better way to get help on code than emailing or IMing bits and pieces back and forth, or posting on forums and message boards. Squad is the conglomeration of solutions to all those issues.

What does your role as CEO of Code Together, the company that created Squad, incorporate? Who else is on the team?

The Squad team is small: there’s just Ben–Squad’s developer–Mike, in his continuing role as adviser, and me. As such, my role as CEO is quite broad. I take care of updating the website to keep it current, writing blog posts, coordinating advertising and marketing efforts, doing all the administrative things required to run a business, and I’m always looking for ways to grow the company.

What is your background? Are you a keen coder?

I’m actually not what you would call a “keen coder.” I’ve always been interested in coding, and, like many, taught myself HTML back in the days of <blink> and such. I took a few computer science courses in college but I never turned into a real programmer. My undergraduate degree is actually in International Relations and French. My master’s degree in human-computer interaction design gave me the opportunity to bring together my creative nature and my love of computing and participate in software development in a way that didn’t require much programming experience. Combined with my family’s history of entrepreneurship (my father and both grandfathers started and run their own businesses), Squad is at a perfect intersection of my interests.

What technologies were used to build Squad?

Squad is built mostly on common technologies: Javascript, jQuery, PHP, MySQL. We use COMET for realtime messaging, which we implement through Orbited and RabbitMQ. That combination keeps users and files synchronized and able to collaborate in realtime. Squad is built on Zend Framework, and we use the open source CodeMirror library to create the editor interface.

Does Squad have any new features in the pipeline?

Just last week we added Dropbox integration, and we are considering adding some additional third-party integration, specifically with Git. Other than that we think our feature set is pretty complete. We want to keep Squad lean and easy to use, and to that end we are also starting work on a design overhaul.

Good to see you have special deal for students and startups going through incubators and accelerators. How did you decide on the pricing plan?

The pricing plans were actually some of the most difficult parts of working on Squad. The individual plan was the easiest, relatively speaking. We want it to be accessible to new coders just starting out as well as expert freelancers who want a reliable product but don’t want to pay too much, given the vagaries of freelance income. $3.95/month seemed reasonable on all fronts. The team plan was much more difficult to price. Initially, before I came on board, the team plan was priced at $39.99/month. At that point, however, it had only a few additional features compared to the individual plan. Last summer Ben and I spent a lot of time designing new features for the team plan, and Ben spent a lot of time building them, so we decided the increased value of the team plan versus the individual plan justified the $49.95/month price. It is still accessible to the small business teams who are the target market.

I wanted the student plan to represent a significant discount off the normal price while still charging enough to acknowledge that Squad is a service worth paying for. Charging half the price of the team plan while including all the features seemed like a good compromise between my goals and students’ budgets. The incubator plan allows teams to access Squad for free while they’re going through the program (assuming a 3-month term), and requires the normal team payment after that period.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

One of the biggest challenges of Squad as a business is that when it launched in 2009 it was really ahead of its time, and only in the past 6-8 months have serious competitors emerged. Finding a market for Squad has been difficult simply because most people weren’t thinking about a way to code together–they were content to do it the way they always have, whether that’s by walking over to a colleague’s desk and looking over her shoulder, sending snippets back and forth, or using some combination of version control, cloud hosting, and Google Docs to try to collaborate with distant co-workers. Now that we have competitors like Cloud9IDE and Koding–who have both received significant funding in the past 6-8 months–I think we will start to see the market pick up as programmers recognize their options for collaborative and web-based coding.

You became CEO of Code Together LLC, the company that created Squad, in March 2011. How challenging has the past year been?

I would have to say that the last year has been neither more nor less challenging than I expected. Squad needed a lot of work right after I took over, since it hadn’t really been touched since its launch in 2009. My first priority was finding bugs, then hiring a developer, then getting the bugs fixed. It wasn’t as neat and linear a process as I would have liked, and definitely involved a number of tangents. Once we had fixed the issues and added some crucial features to the team plan I thought there would be a lot more interest, but in reality that’s where the hard work began. Finding our potential customers and convincing them to change their workflow–even for the better–is a constant challenge that I think about everyday. Having heard the stories of my family members as they built their businesses, I didn’t expect smooth sailing from the get-go. The challenge and the fun are in putting together all the pieces that help the business run. I’m certainly never bored.

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

As I mentioned above, the biggest hurdle Squad is facing is finding our niche market, because it seems to be developing very slowly. The existence of competitors is actually a good sign, because it means that more people are starting to notice the problem and do something about it, rather than simply accept the old, cumbersome way of working on code.

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

As a programmer, you know it’s rare to work on a project totally solo. Imagine being able to work with your teammates on any document, at any time, wherever you are. Would that increase your productivity and change how you think about work? Squad helps teams do just that.

Finished reading? Check out Squad!

This entry was posted on Sunday, April 15th, 2012 at 1:13 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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