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An Interview with Director of Spreedly.com – Nathaniel Talbott

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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Nathaniel, director of Spreedly, shares his story of falling in love with Ruby on Rails and coming up with this exciting billing platform.

Name: Nathaniel Talbott (@ntalbott)

Job Title: President (Spreedly.com)

Nationality: USA

Years experience: 11

Skill set:

I’m a developer by background, started out in high school with Basic, C and Perl, then moved into Java when I took my first job in 1998. In 2001 I discovered Ruby and fell in love with it, and in 2003 I started getting paid to code in it. In late ’05 I decided to really focus on entrepreneurship and so started Terralien, a Ruby/Rails custom development shop focused on working with startups and small/medium businesses.

What are you currently working on?:

I split my time pretty evenly between continuing to run Terralien and working on Spreedly. For Terralien I’m currently working on an open source library to help with tracking how people are using a web application, and then run experiments around increasing conversions and engagement. For Spreedly I’m doing a little bit of everything: sales, marketing, pitching potential investors, support, pre-sales, vision – you name it and I probably do it. I call myself the “Janitor” at Spreedly – I do everything nobody else wants to do!

Can you tell us a little about Spreedly? How did you come up with the idea for Spreedly?:

There are three basic ways that businesses make money on the web. The first way is via online retail – selling stuff. The second way is via ads – sponsored content and applications. The third way is via what we call “relationship billing” – time-based and usage-based fees for access to an application or content.

If you want to monetize via online retail you have some great options – Shopify, Ebay, Magento, etc. If you want to monetize via ads you can use Google Adwords, Yahoo Overture, or any number of boutique ad serving platforms. If you want to monetize via an ongoing paid relationship with your customers, though, the options are abysmal – at least they were until Spreedly.

Spreedly is a relationship billing platform – we make it easy for a web business to monetize whatever the amazing application is that they’ve built. You plug in a payment gateway to Spreedly, set up some plans, and hook up our API and you’re off to the races making money.

What research did you do before setting up Spreedly?:

It was almost completely anecdotal, though there were lots of anecdotes. We couldn’t find anything that did what we thought needed to be done even after digging around a lot, and we had lots of acquaintances griping about the exact issue we wanted to solve. So we just got started doing our first implementation against Weewar, which is co-owned by one of the Spreedly founders.

Who is the team behind this exciting app?:

There’s myself, I’m the CEO (read: janitor); Alex Kohlhofer who’s our user experience director; Duff O’Melia does development; and John Carlin is our systems and security guru. We’re currently a tight-knit founding team (everyone has ownership) and we’re not quite ready to grow yet.

Once we do decide to grow, though, we’ll be looking for folks who are entrepreneurial and aren’t interested in being at Spreedly for life – rather they’ll see Spreedly as a place to learn and grow while delivering great value, after which they’ll launch their own ventures. Of course we hope those new ventures will be on the Spreedly platform!

How are you promoting your service?:

A lot of it so far has been word of mouth, augmented by some podcasts and online interviews (like this one!). We’ve also been found by some folks who have put us on news aggregator sites like Hacker News, and the founders all Twitter a lot and talk about what we’re doing with Spreedly. Another great avenue has been giving lightning talks at conferences – developers in particular are always very interested in what Spreedly has to offer.

How did you get started working with the Web?:

While I’d dabbled with it before, Rails really thrust me into the web scene, since I wanted to use Ruby and Rails was turning into Ruby’s killer app. At the same time it was becoming blatantly obvious that the web wasn’t just a different way of delivering applications, it was a fundamental game changer for what could be done, and I’m glad I got involved when I did.

What skills do you think are important to be successful?:

It’s not really a skill, but I think passion is the #1 thing. You have to be doing what you’re doing because you love it, not just because it’s a job that pays the bills. That means reading books on your own time, learning new skills no one will pay you to use (yet), participating in the local tech scene, and generally finding every opportunity to get better at what you do.

In terms of technical skills, there are two tracks. For the developers, I think it’s critical to learn and spend lots of time with a well-designed dynamic language like Ruby or Python. They’ll change the way you think, and your applications will be better for it even if you’re using a different technology.

For the designers, you have to understand the standards-compliant web: you need to be able to hand-craft quality HTML and CSS, and should know your way around Javascript pretty well.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out?:

Get involved in the community. Find a few folks interested in the same things, and spend regular time together learning and building something – anything. In general: don’t hide in a hole and try to figure it all out yourself. You’ll grow so much faster if you’re regularly engaging with other people.

Do you have any advice for the students of Web Courses Bangkok ?:

My final piece of advice is this: don’t assume that you have to work for a large corporation to be successful. There is so much opportunity on the internet to work for yourself or for a small company, and it’s so much better than getting stuck in a huge enterprise. Set yourself up to be able to take the risks necessary to build one or more successful businesses that you own a big piece of – it’s so worth it.


Thank you so much to Nathaniel and if you would like more information about Spreedly and it’s team checkout the links below:

Website: http://spreedly.com

Spreedly Blog: http://blog.spreedly.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/spreedly

Spreedly Team: http://spreedly.com/info/team

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