By Elissa Rose (Assistant Editor, Women 2.0)
I met Lindsay Eyink on a scenic ride back to the Bay Area on the California Zephyr train. We connected about our experiences in the startup world over drip coffee and dining car food.
She launched Drinkify, a Boston Music Hack Day project that pairs music with drinks. Lindsay and her team, Hannah Donovan and Matt Ogle, watched their work become a meme that spread across the Internet instantaneously, surprising them with significant press and partnership offers from big players.
Lindsay shares her unique perspective about work, life, and booze with Women 2.0.
Elissa Rose: Tell us a little about yourself.
Lindsay Eyink: I’m from Ohio, went to school in Ohio. I have a very midwestern family. I definitely left college with the intention to do two things, music and politics, and I’ve done both of them. I moved to San Francisco in 2003. I had no plan, I had $5,000 and I just moved because I wanted to be in the Bay Area.
ER: How did you establish yourself in Silicon Valley?
LE: Believe it or not I started in retail, which is weird. My best friend had moved to California. She was writing for AP and is now a writer for Wired. She and I worked at Banana Republic, of all places, (laughs) and we absolutely hated it. I was like, “If I’m going to work retail and be broke in San Francisco then I may as well do something that I like!” I was talking to people about clothes and I don’t like clothes. I didn’t want to dress people all day! Talking to people about computers would be way more fun than talking about clothes.
So I worked at the Apple store and I realized that I could take advantage of being behind the firewall at Apple. I could look for jobs, I could email people, I had access to all of the resources that anybody in the corporate headquarters had. There was a shift where everybody had to take turns answering the phones, so I sat downstairs picking up the phone and I looked for jobs all day.
To get by I was also teaching classes in the theater upstairs, I had a full time job with a design firm called Traction, and I still had freelance clients. I held onto the Apple store gig, but I was spread super thin. Then I got a call from a recruiter, “Hi. I want to interview you for iTunes.” I had signed up for Macworld that year, it was the release of the iPod shuffle, and the interview came at the same time in Cupertino. I changed from my green Macworld tee-shirt into my interview clothes in the car, with my friend driving, so I could just roll into my interview at iTunes. I got the job.
ER: Tell us about your Drinkify co-founders.
LE: Hanna Donavon was a designer at Last.fm. She worked there for over five years. She’s from rural Alberta, Canada. Matt Ogle is also from rural Canada and he was an engineer on Last.fm. They both started at about the same time and left at roughly the same time so they have worked together quite a bit. Now they live in London, working together at The Echo Nest. Their startup, This Is My Jam, is in beta. It’s a way to share what you are listening to, but not automated or editorial. You can upload a track, make a little comment, and can tweet it.
I mostly know them from drinking at clubs in London. The only time I really met Hanna was in the startup scene in Shortage, in East London, they all go out drinking. Everyone shows up. Actually I met a lot of people there who’d I’d met at music hack day in San Francisco.
Clearly, drinking and music are both things we all have in common.
ER: Describe Drinkify.
LE: Drinkify pairs a band with an alcoholic beverage. It really was meant as a joke. But when you listen, music evokes certain kinds of drinks. You type in a band name you hit “What Should I Drink?” and you get a drink.
ER: How was the idea conceived?
LE: I had come from New York to Boston to go to Music Hack Day. I’d been to Music Hack Day before but I was working for Apple and I couldn’t hack. It’s looked down upon if you do those kinds of things outside of work and they could possibly own the idea. They don’t necessarily, but it did cross over to possible conflict of interest with music and iTunes. It was always too complicated to participate.
So, now that I could participate, I was sitting there with Hanna. She was one of the few girls there. I asked her what she was going to hack on and she said, “I’m going to help Matt with SeaOfInfiniteLonging.com.” And we both rolled our eyes because Matt, he’s our good friend, but it’s such an emo hack and he would totally do that.
We wanted to distract Matt from his emo hack. It didn’t take long, it was almost an instantaneous realization. “Drinks and music!” We brought the idea to Matt, who agreed, but wanted to know what he should do with the Sea of Infinite Longing domain name that he’d purchased. Hanna and I said, “Put your face on it!” We laughed and Matt sneered. Jokingly, of course!
Matt actually came up with the name Drinkify. We went through all different kind of names. We were stuck on getting Libyan names for a minute, “we’ve got to get .ly!” I think initially it was going to be Boozily, Drinkify is definitely better.
ER: What was the Boston Music Hack Day like?
LE: We started hacking on it probably later in the afternoon. You know, worked until 3 o’clock that morning. At some point their boss from Echonest came in with a bottle of scotch (laughs) and things just got out of control after that. We were drinking and we were making a drinking thing. Matt was saying “this is the funniest code I’ve ever written!” and reading it out loud “Get an edible garnish,” all his method names were hilarious.
Hanna was off designing. She started drawing outlines of beer glasses and wine glasses and all this stuff so we could use it on the site. She said, “Hey guys I’m going to trace out some hops.” We were like “Hanna! No no no no, no rabbit holes with the design, we don’t have time for that!”
I was setting up the data because there’s really no data to work with, there’s no API for booze. Well, not for spirits, anyway. Untapped has one for beer and there are a few that we found for wine, but we didn’t have time to implement, anyway. We continued drinking our scotch, and the actual Music Hack Day party was going on down below us. We were still hacking but the drinks kept happening. I was pulling people aside, “Hey do you know anything about metal?” We got funny answers like blood. Matt added glowsticks and cocktail monkeys and it just got silly.
We finished it up the next day. In the morning we were testing. The code worked, and I felt bad because whenever we typed in a band name and hit enter we just started cracking up in the middle of hack day. The last two hours are probably the most stressful for everyone else because they’re trying to get a demo that works. So we were giggling and saying, “Dude, type in Bob Dylan! Why is there cough syrup in it? Why does Feist have a bottle of half and half?” We presented it and put it out there.
ER: How fast was the response?
LE: The response to Drinkify was immediate. We could see people hitting the site before we gave the presentation. The hacks are up on the wiki by then, Matt had been pulling up the traffic and he was saying, “How are these people finding us already?” We added a tweet button so you can tweet the link to the results with the band and the drink, so we were able to actually track twitter search results to see how many people were posting them. Around dinner we realized that people were posting one tweet a minute. It had gotten out of control. We just kept checking twitter and looking to see what people were saying.
I think that day some blog had picked it up already. On Monday Matt and Hanna and I didn’t know what to do because this thing that was a joke was all over the internet. Matt decided to post some stats and it was just insane. Techcrunch contacted us and it was like “URGENT: DRINKIFY” in the subject line. We were printed in the Guardian. They actually put it in print. It’s in print! (laughs) It’s really funny. San Francisco Chronicle picked it up. What we noticed is that the hacks from music hack day usually get picked up from the hacker and tech sites but it was normal people picking these up and drinking blogs got it first, before anyone else.
We still are responding to emails. We’ve been contacted by all the major beverage distributors, by huge entertainment companies, by bands wanting us to do branded versions for them.
ER: Why do you think people are responding to it so well?
LE: I think Hanna’s design convinced people that it was a real venture with money behind it. People really thought it was a business. They saw it and assumed that it was something they could partner with. If you look at the footer we definitely say it was made at Music Hack Day in Boston and we link to the wiki to make sure people really understand what that means. And still it doesn’t register, most people don’t see that or they ignore it.
ER: Do you have any advice for women who want to find themselves in your shoes?
LE: Do what you love. Do what you know. Do what you’re good at and don’t work on things you don’t like. It’s really that simple. I mean it’s funny that I worked at Apple for a long time because that’s basically Steve Jobs’ mentality and the way I’ve operated my whole life. I don’t do things I don’t like.
I studied Interaction Design, but I decided I’d only use it for music or politics and now I’ve done both of those things. I went back to my school and told a class of graduating seniors, “If you want to drink beer for the rest of your life you need to figure out how to make it your career. Because someone will hire you to do that. You might not make a ton of money but that’s not what’s important.”
I met a guy on the train who watches T.V. He worked for Comcast in Denver. He helps get the signals from the sattelites to the stations, so he really is watching T.V. all day for his job. There were people at iTunes who watch movies to make sure the quality is good enough. People at the app store play with apps for their living. That’s what they do. The music team listens to music and they get paid for it, they go to concerts.
I think most people think they have to follow a traditional job path, but people will respect you for doing what you like. Be creative and integrate what you love, that’s all that matters. You’re going to set yourself up to fail if you don’t like anything about what you’re doing!
The thing I would always ask people when they would interview with me at Apple is, “If you could do anything with your life what would you do?” Most people thought that the answer to give me was, “I want to work at Apple on your user interface team.” Which is exactly the wrong answer. The reason I asked the question was because I wanted to see what drives people. I’ve found that if you can’t ask someone that question and then have them give you an answer right back it means that they haven’t really thought about what they want to do with themselves.
The people who succeeded at Apple were the people who knew what they liked. Even if it was a hairbrained crazy idea. They knew that they loved T.V. or they knew that they loved travelling. It definitely wasn’t a fair question for most people. I’ve seen people who looked amazing on paper but couldn’t answer that question. I’ve met people who didn’t answer the question in a great way. The people who answer it at all, they tend to succeed much better.
Knowing what you want and not being afraid to say “I want to drink beer for the rest of my life,” or “I want to go to shows for the rest of my life and somehow make a career out of it,” that’s important.
Do something. Always show that you’ve done something. Most people just don’t do anything, if you think about it. Most people don’t create.
Editor’s note: Got a question for Lindsay? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the Interviewee: Lindsay Eyink is the co-founder of Drinkify with Hannah Donovan and Matt Ogle. She is consulting for Lifesquare, a Kleiner Perkins funded startup. Previously, Lindsay spent over six years as a manager at Apple working on User Interface Engineering for the iTunes Store. She worked New Media for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and has a BS in Interactive Media from Ohio University. Follow her on Twitter at @leyink.
About the Interviewer: Elissa Rose is Assistant Editor of Women 2.0. She co-founded Quillpill in 2008, a mobile story-writing platform that was written up in TechCrunch, Communication Arts and The New Yorker. She has worked as a content creator for virtual worlds, and as an Art Director for mobile gaming. She is the mother of an inquisitive six-year-old boy and lives in Oakland, CA. Elissa studied Philosophy and Physics at the University of Alabama. Follow her on Twitter at @elissarose.