Earbug – 2019

Earbug logo
Nice logo – only public facing asset to date

I received an intriguing email from the former general manager at Spawn Labs one day:

Hi Syd – Hope all is well with you these days! I’m writing you because I’ve formed a new startup company. It’s a really strong concept with a very high ceiling, and I think we can launch our first app in about 6 months. I have 4 engineers working on it now, and I am planning to add 6 more guys (on a side gig basis, 10 hours per week) to get things done quickly, while keeping the load reasonable on everyone as a side gig. I sincerely believe this will be big, and at the same time it’s very manageable in scope. I enjoyed working with you on Spawn Labs so I wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in learning more about what we are doing. I am allocating solid equity chunks to our core engineering team members. Please let me know if you’re interested. If not, no worries, and I hope you’ve had a great 2019!

I really enjoyed working for him at Spawn. He was as honest as he was allowed to be when the wheels start falling off; in May of 2012, he called me into his office and told me that I should probably start looking for another position, as things did not look great. Turns out I actually resigned a few months later before they laid me off, but still… Those last few months were very strange, as they paid me not to work.

I met with him at a local barbeque joint and he gave me the pitch. I can’t talk about what the company was going to do (I signed an NDA), but basically, the gist was exactly as he said. People were already working a few hours a week. No pay at this point. Significant equity instead. They needed server engineers and mobile engineers. They all worked from home. They were all independent contractors.

This sounded to me like a good opportunity to keep up my IOS skills. I said yes.

It took a few weeks to finalize the paperwork, but in January of 2020, I signed everything, and was given keys to the kingdom.

He had hired a mobile lead and another engineer to work on IOS, and he had hired out an initial design of the application. I met with the lead, and we initially hit it off. He assigned me to work on logging in via social media, as that was initially the only way the app was going to have users.

I started trying to figure out how to login using Facebook. I banged at it for a few weeks, but was unsuccessful. I really only had time to work on it on Sunday mornings, and when I ran into trouble, I had nobody to talk to at Facebook. If I were in an office five days/week, I could have found somebody to help out.

In the meantime, I discovered that I had a fundamental disagreement with the mobile lead. I was under the impression that we were trying to get a proof of concept app out into the world as fast as possible, so we would put together something with a very small feature set, ship it, and then replace it with a richer and more robust code base over time. And I thought we were going to be agile about it, doing one feature at a time, and refactoring and overhauling as needed.

The mobile lead did not want to do it that way. He wanted to develop a robust application framework that addressed the weaknesses of the classic IOS application up-front, and he wanted to use a technology framework that helped achieve that, called RxSwift.

There is nothing at all wrong with RxSwift; it is a tool that solves a fundamental problem with writing user-facing applications, namely, communicating data between the various pieces of the application in an automatic way. The mobile lead wrote a huge amount of code based on RxSwift, and as a result, there was a skeleton application.

My problem was that I had never used RxSwift before. I also disagreed that this was the way to go; I thought that if we were going to buy into a declarative framework, that we should be using SwiftUI, Apple’s own reactive framework. While it still needed some more work, to me, clearly it was the future.

I did not have time to learn RxSwift. Once again, if I were full time, and saw this everyday, the investment would be worth it. But it was going to take me weeks if not months to learn it.

On a personal level, we had challenges going on at home, and we made the decision to sell our house.

And in March, the world shutdown.

So, I talked to the president. I outlined the fundamental disagreement in the approach that the mobile lead and I had. I still though that shipping something small and fast and iterating was the better approach. I disagreed with the underlying technology we were going to use.

We agreed that the mobile lead and I were not going to resolve this, so we agreed that I would be let go.

I have not heard anything from them since; the website is still up, but it has no content except a logo. It is not even encrypted (accessed via http: instead of https:). I guess that they have never bought a certificate to do so.

I got to keep the equity had accumulated so far, but I don’t expect that I’ll ever see a penny from it at this point.

I have absolutely no hard feelings about this; I learned a lot, and would try it again. But it has to be an approach I can get onboard with, and I don’t need to be learning entirely new paradigms at 8-10 hours/week.