Faye Hayes talks about her startup, PlayLoops.io, and what it's like to start a company as a junior software engineer.
This week, we’ll get to know Faye Hayes, CTO and co-founder of PlayLoops, Dev Bootcamp grad, and my co-worker at Backstage Capital. I asked her about what it’s like to co-found a startup right after graduating from a programming bootcamp.
I really wanted to talk to Faye about this because I’ve been wanting to start a company of my own. If I’m being honest, I got into tech with the intention of eventually having my own startup. But because of imposter syndrome (thinking I don’t yet know enough to start a company), and needing money to survive, I just settled on working for someone else for a few years before starting my own thing.
I bet there are a lot of juniors out there who think they need to get experience before working on their own startup. Faye shows us that this isn’t necessarily the case. You may not have tons of experience, but you have the skills, so you can build something great.
I should really take my own advice. Anyway, keep reading to learn more Faye and her work with PlayLoops.
Keziyah Lewis: Tell us about yourself and your background. Also, what are you working on, and what are your future goals?
Faye Hayes: I’m Faye Hayes. Growing up, I always thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. So I went to UC Irvine where I studied Political Science. During my time at UCI, I realized that I hate confrontation and am as introverted as they come, so politics and lawyering wasn’t for me. It was too late to change majors so I stuck it out, unsure of what I would do post-graduation. I ended up in a sales role that didn’t quite pan out. That’s when I got into tech!
KL: What made you want to attend a bootcamp, and what attracted you to Dev Bootcamp?
FH: When I first decided to go into tech, I started by doing tutorials but I still couldn’t do seemingly-simple things such as get an HTML document up on the web. I didn’t have that full-circle training that would bring all that I was learning together. So I decided to go to a bootcamp. I’d started doing research on the different bootcamps out there. The main players were Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, and App Academy at the time. What set Dev Bootcamp apart for me was the focus on engineering empathy and fostering a safe and inclusive environment. Imposter syndrome is very real so it was nice to find a place that addressed that in a very real way.
KL: What was your experience at bootcamp like?
FH: It was so hard! First, the commute was a nightmare. I would take a 45 minute BART ride plus a 15 minute semi-uphill walk just to get to the building. Sleeping in wasn’t an option. Dev Bootcamp was delivered in phases where each phase lasted 3 weeks. The bootcamp was 18 weeks long with 9 weeks onsite. Actually, I failed one phase, so I spent 12 weeks on site. So, for 12 weeks, I dealt with a long commute (sorry for those of you who do this daily in real life, I cannot) plus coding all day from 9 AM to 6 PM. Typically students would stay until 7/8PM(or later!) to finish up assignments so I got home pretty late every night. In addition, weekends were mostly spent doing weekend challenges or group assignments. HARD. But, it was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Given the long days, it was only inevitable that you would make meaningful friendships with some incredible human beings that are embarking on the same journey as you! So, hard but worth it and still enjoyable. Also, S/O to all of the staff/instructors who made Dev Bootcamp (DBC) such a life-changing experience for everyone who got to experience DBC before it shut its’ doors in December 2017.
KL: So, you founded your own startup after finishing your bootcamp. I think that’s pretty badass. What motivated you to start PlayLoops and how did you get started?
FH: The idea actually came from Kedar, my co-founder. I was on the forever job hunt post-DBC. Trying to find a role as a developer coming out of the bootcamp was one of the most draining experiences. I started doing freelance projects on the side and that’s when Kedar approached me. We were both volunteering at a Black Girls Code event when he told me about this cool idea and I was sold. At this point, though, I had little idea about the world of startups. It was a HUGE learning curve for me. I’d always wanted to build something from the ground up and PlayLoops was the perfect opportunity for me. We started by meeting at coffee shops and coworking spaces very frequently, and over time we’ve built up a steady rhythm to keep us going.
KL: How did you meet your co-founder, and know it was a good fit?
FH: We’d met at a Black Girls Code mentoring event. This was a good sign for me because it showed me that Kedar had a moral compass that I agreed with. What stood out, though, was how our work habits didn’t mirror, but complemented each other. Kedar is huge with ideas and always ready to try the next big thing, and I’m big on process and focusing energies. I like that we’re always willing to try something new and take critical feedback from each other.
KL: How did you know validate the product idea?
FH: We’re still validating. The solution actually came out of a campaign Kedar and Theeba, my co-founders, were a part of to advocate against white-washing textbooks. In order to win that fight, they had to get a bunch of people behind the idea. They created a series of GIFs, (manually!), that garnered 6 times the normal engagement for the campaign’s content. This was a huge success and the next step was to automate a chunk of that process.
KL: How does PlayLoops help social justice organizations?
FH: We’re building a platform to amplify political advocacy campaigns by providing relevant content and tools to easily create engaging social media posts. What we do is make it very easy to create and edit GIFs. Our users can also upload videos that we convert into GIFs. Social justice organizations are strapped for time and sometimes lack the expertise to create engaging videos and GIFs. With PlayLoops, we solve that problem by making it easy to find relevant content and edit them in a fun way.
KL: What technologies are you using for PlayLoops, and how did you decide on them?
FH: We’re currently migrating from AWS to Google App Engine to host PlayLoops. Our frontend is React.js based. It makes API calls to our Node.js powered API. Google App Engine simplified a lot of our processes and was a better fit for what we were trying to do.
FH: When we first decided on some of our core technologies, I’d been out of DBC for about 4–5 months and a lot of them were new to me. At Dev Bootcamp, we learned Ruby on Rails with SQL database. Ruby on Rails was great for getting the hang of creating RESTful backends but Node.js with a NoSQL database was the better fit for our application.
FH: Our migration to Google App Engine is partly to address our need for server side rendering (SSR). To implement SSR this we’d have to rebuild our application from scratch and it was the perfect opportunity to try out these new technologies.
KL: A reader asks: Weren’t you terrified? And I’ll add to that, & ask if you had imposter syndrome. I mean, after I graduated from bootcamp, I barely had the confidence to network and apply for jobs, let alone start a company. Did you ever struggle with imposter syndrome? Did anyone ever make you feel like you couldn’t start a company?
FH: I’m lucky to have never been told I can’t do something. I’ve always had aspirations of building my own company from the ground up. But, hell yeah I was terrified! I didn’t know a thing about startup culture. I wouldn’t have been tell you the difference between a pre-seed or series-A company. It was completely new. I feel imposter syndrome every single day but for me, that’s another motivation to keep going. When I’m comfortable and not continually learning, I’m bored and complacency doesn’t live here. That’s what makes startup life so enjoyable for me. I think just being okay with the fact that I’m not going to know every little thing, is what drives me.
KL: A reader asks: Didn’t you want to get experience at a tech company before starting your own?
FH: I did! I applied to a bunch of tech jobs but it was very hard for me to get interviews, and when I did, I bombed them. I’m pretty bad at being put on the spot. Coding interviews are high stress and I’m not the best at managing stress so there was a lot of me second guessing myself. Hello, imposter syndrome. I started freelancing to show that I could do the thing and also make money on the way. When I met Kedar, that changed and I put all of my focus into PlayLoops until landing a part time role with Backstage Capital.
KL: Another reader question: Have you had time to code much or do you mostly work on marketing, customer service, etc?
FH: I mostly code! PlayLoops is very tech heavy so we had to build the platform from scratch. We have a really good balance on the team where we get to do a little bit of everything. In a past life I was really into marketing, sales, and business development. Being a part of a startup is the perfect balance of everything that I enjoy doing!
KL: Have you done any accelerator programs? If so, what do you find helpful about them?
FH: Sure, I’ve gone through one accelerator: Founder Gym. PlayLoops was accepted into the second cohort and we received a scholarship from the Kapor Center to do so! One of the most helpful things that I got from it was that it showed me that we had a WHOOOOOLE lot of work to do. From the terminology to ‘speaking VC’, we were really soaking up all of the information. Something else that was cool was getting to connect with other founders who were a lot further along in their business and getting to watch them shine as they took their next step too.
KL: Have you raised any money and/or started working with customers?
FH: We haven’t raised any money yet but we have started working with a beta group of users who’ve been really key in helping us design our next step. My co-founders, Kedar and Theeba, have deep ties to grassroots campaigns nationally and have been working closely with them to produce GIFs for various campaigns. We’ve had a great response thus far.
KL: Reader question: What lessons have you learned since starting your company?
FH: Stay humble and open-minded. Unlike a big company where you’re following a list of rules laid out for you, in a startup you’re creating the playbook. Stay gracious and open to exploring new technologies and solutions to the problem you’re solving. What works today may not work tomorrow and that is OKAY!
KL: What is the next big step for your company/product?
FH: Launching! We’ve been in a private beta but we’re set to launch in the coming weeks.
KL: From reading this post on Medium, it seems like you’re passionate about helping your community survive the effects of the tech boom and gentrification. Tell us about how this has affected you personally, and what you’ve done to help your community with respect to this issue.
FH: Personally, I think about my roundabout entry into tech and wish I’d gone straight into it. If I’d had a representation of what a successful Black woman in tech looked like when I was in high school, who knows where I’d be today. I’m passionate about mentorship & helping youth in my community explore new career paths that otherwise might have been closed to them. This past summer, with sponsorship from ServiceWorks (powered by Americorps), I created an introduction to coding course for youth. The feedback from community members was amazing! The City of Richmond let us use their computer lab so that each student wouldn’t have to worry about having a computer to complete the course. My goal for the course was to let the participants explore technology and show that they can get into it too, if they wanted. We had about 20 students, and I tried to foster a very open environment where they could ask me questions beyond the course itself. In addition, gentrification is a very real concern for many in Richmond, Ca. I started the course by letting the participants know about the tech and the median salaries in the industry. We’re very close to SF and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to take advantage of that.
KL: Do you have any general advice for juniors who want to work on a side project or their own startup?
FH: DO IT! We’re always the first to tell ourselves no. Do something different and let yourself go for it. You’ll be so happy to have something that’s tangible that you can call your own.
I’d like to thank Faye for her advice and her time, and for inspiring juniors like us to build cool things. You can get in touch with the PlayLoops team through their website.