Archives For Fun Stuff

You’ve heard about Expensify’s culture, right?  Well if you have, you surely know about our legendary, annual “Offshore” trips. In short, Expensify works abroad for an entire month together, because why not?!  The purpose and goal being not only an opportunity to see another part of this beautiful world, but also come together as a team and focus on what we are doing, where we are going and most importantly, why.  Last year we went to Croatia and this is what work looked like for a month:

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As you can imagine, we’ve missed it terribly and cooked up an incredible idea to ease the longing. Why not take Offshore, onshore?  We live in arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the US, and San Francisco has a plethora of colorful neighborhoods that we could really settle into and enjoy for a day of work outside the office.  Offshore/ Onshore would take place in the North Beach neighborhood (fondly referred to as “Little Italy” and closely associated with the Beat Generation celebs like Kerourac and Ginsberg).

It happened to be a rainy day, but that didn’t stop us!  We explored the best cafes, had the fanciest of caffeinated beverages, and got to know North Beach a tiny bit better than we did before.

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It wouldn’t be a proper “Offshore” without a proper hoppy brew.  Following a sales meeting, a few of us decided to finish off our workday at the world-renowned, historic Vesuvio Cafe (across the alleyway from the infamous “City Lights Bookstore” and home to the aforementioned Beat celebs).  Nothing tastes better than a frosty beer amongst your coworkers and heroes (beat poets), except perhaps the beer in Croatia!

IMG_20140326_181552 IMG_20140326_180911

The night officially ended with a beautiful Team/Family Dinner.

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As we brought the day to a close with a round of limoncello shots, we declared Onshore a success and an instant tradition.

Want to get in on our excellent and original traditions? Apply on our Jobs page.

This is where I live.

This is where I live.

I work for the best Silicon Valley Start-up, Expensify.  I also live right off the shore of the largest body of fresh water, Lake Superior.  Most importantly though, I’m helping to bring Silicon Valley to the area I love and much-needed jobs along with it.

In January of 2013, I was approached by another employee of Expensify that lived in the same area as I did.  He wanted to bring jobs to Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.  He had been experimenting with three people for a couple of weeks to see if it was a viable option to staff a midwest workforce alongside our international team we already had in place and still stay cost-effective. These jobs could be seen as basic data entry positions easily trained to anyone with minor computer knowledge, but there is a growing amount of complexity as Expensify moves more into the global market and receives data from around the world to process for our clients.  The best part, the agents could work from home!  He was also looking into the possibility of bringing entry-level developer jobs to the area.  Where did I fit into all that?  He needed someone to help get it all started, maintain, and manage it.

At the time I was running my own computer repair business full-time out of my home and did contracted computer IT for local businesses.  After hearing his initial pitch about Expensify and what his vision was for the area, I was sold.  When you live in a town with a population of under 6,000 people, and don’t want to move out to Silicon Valley, you never really think you would get a chance to work for a San Francisco based tech start-up.  So, I started working for Expensify as an independent contractor, slowing building a data entry workforce, training them on the work in person and then allowing them to work from home after that.

Fast forward a year.  I’m now a full-time member of the Expensify team and Expensify has brought over 30 jobs to the area and is still expanding!  Exploring more than just data entry jobs too.  How about some Help/Support Email Agents and some more entry-level developer jobs?  We’re looking to utilize an area and its population that most companies never think about.  Even better: we’re still staying cost-effective despite previously relying on a solely international-based workforce as our local employees have shown to be extremely accurate and efficient. This in turn pushes our international team to higher standards increasing performance across the board.

It’s extremely exciting to be a part of a company that is willing to bring Silicon Valley to an area that only hears about it from the news.  But the best part is to see the expression on people’s faces when I tell them that I live in Northern Wisconsin, but I work for a San Francisco based company.  It always leads to awesome conversations.

At the Expensify World Headquarters, you’ll often hear some employees talking about curling and it’s not always referring to the bash command.  Sometimes, we’re talking about the ice sport.  And to clarify, when I say “some employees” I mean me.  I started curling about a year ago and I’ve been annoying my coworkers about it ever since.  I recently took some Expensifiers curling to show them how awesome it is.

Old school curling Our story begins in the 1500s, in a faraway land called Scotland, where the same quarry has been used to create the 42 lb stones.

Nowadays we play indoors (mostly) on pebbled ice, so it’s not the ice skating ice you’re used to. To give you an idea of what pebbled ice is like, imagine the once smooth ice has the topographic profile of an orange rind.  This helps to reduce friction between the ice and rock, making it easier for the rock (and player), to slide along the ice. This also makes it surprisingly easier to move on the ice.

The heroes of our story, Mike and Matt, had to first learn how to throw the stone, then sweep, and lastly compete in a curling match to the death (not really).

They couldn’t play alone – a curling team requires four people.  Each teammate throws two stones in a row, alternating each stone with the opposing team.

Our brave skip, Mike, is the team’s mastermind behind this “end” – an end is curling’s version of an inning.  He decides where Matt should aim the rock and how hard it should be thrown.
He also tells the sweepers when to sweep to ensure that it reaches its destination.

delivery

The play is up to Mike.  Will he call it so the rock glides into the house? Does he want to put up a guard stone to protect the stones that are in play? Or will the rock be thrown with such power that it eliminates an opponent’s rock from play?

Mike sets his broom on the ice, giving Matt a target at which to aim.  Matt fearlessly eases into the hack, ensuring his shoulders are square to the broom.  He slides out, lunging forwards on the ice, staring intently at his target. The moment before he releases the rock he applies a gentle turn to the handle, imparting the signature “curl”.

The sweepers walk alongside the rock, judging the speed of the rock and calling out to the skip whether they think it looks fast or slow. Mike drops to one knee, eyeing the rock’s trajectory, ready to urge the sweepers into action if needed. “SWEEP, SWEEP, SWEEEEEP” Mike yells.  The sweepers begin vigorously sweeping.  The sweeping generates heat, reducing the friction and preventing the rock from losing its momentum.

They pick up their speed to keep up with rock.  While sweeping they must ensure that they don’t hit the stone with their broom. The sweepers also need to avoid colliding with any of the other stones that are scattered on the ice.

sweeping

“Whoa, Whoa, OFF, Whoa” Mike yells, the stone’s current trajectory is exactly what he wants. The sweepers look up and take their brooms off the ice.  They continue to walk besides the stone, ready to start sweeping again if Mike calls for it.

The stone slows down, coming to its resting place in the the blue circle in the house (the concentric circles on the ice).

The end is over and there are four stones in the house.  Three yellow ones, and one blue one.

Only one team can score an end.  So how did our heroes do?

They rocked it! (See what I did there?)

The team with the rock closest to the button (the center of the house) gets a point for each stone that’s in the house and closer to the button than their opponent’s nearest stone. Mike and Matt’s yellow stones are lying two.  This means that the two yellow stones are between the button and the closest opponent’s stone, the blue stone.  The third yellow stone lies beyond the blue stone and does not count.

Our heroes score two points this end.  They maintain this lead for the other 7 ends in the match and leave the ice champions.

Like after any proper curling match, they walk off the ice and into the bar.  Winning the game means they owe their opponents a round of drinks.

Here at Expensify, our team is as diverse as they come. One thing we have in common is that we absolutely love what we do. So much so that we oftentimes find ourselves practicing our passion for building even when not using our powers to make users happy.

You know that phenomenon- the spillover of creative energies that is manifest in the form of side projects: those small unexpected products that arise from weekends of pleasurable hacking and challenge seeking.

The benefits of having such side projects are well established. The plethora of blog posts out there usually have these oft-repeated, but sound points:

  1. Staying on Top of New Ideas in the Industry, a.k.a Employability
  2. Refreshing old skills
  3. Participating in a community – Open Source, Non-profits
  4. ???
  5. Profit!

Indeed, given the rate of ideas coming forth in our fast paced industry, we should not find ourselves taking sledgehammers to our helpless workstations, like these Luddites:

Hammertime!

Let’s switch the perspective a bit: Sure, personal, professional development is great, but what does all this mean for a team?

With those previous benefits in mind, I contend that the collective health and culture of a group can be accurately judged by the side projects of its members.

From the perspective of a prospective candidate, these projects provide windows through which they can evaluate the nature of the team that they are seeking to join, for they usually have the following questions:

  1. Do members of the team take the initiative to explore new ideas and better themselves?
  2. Do they play with and familiarize themselves to new ideas so that they are never disrupted by new technologies?
  3. Do they provide opportunities for one to learn from the team, and for one to be introduce to new ideas and networks?
  4. Are they fun? Do they express creativity and their personality through their work outside of work?
  5. Are they individuals who are passionate in what they do, and seek to solve problems outside of their main focus?

These are crucial questions that are answered in the affirmative by the team’s side projects. Evaluating those works help a candidate decide if the team is a cultural and professional fit. A group, with a vibrant culture that could hardly contain itself, shows its character through such avenues.

Below you’ll find a selection of side projects from our own awesome team.  Some coworkers are a bit shy, and many of us have unfinished projects hanging around, but the collection reveals a candid cross-section. Without further ado, here are a few things we’ve done:

Whenopedia

http://www.whenopedia.org/ by Philip Sharp

This well-polished tool allows you to pull up snapshots of Wikipedia articles for a specific date and time. Now, you can read up on your shows without fear of spoilers!

Whenopedia

Samples

http://appstore.com/giorgiocalderolla/samples by Giorgio Calderolla

An audio sampler for your iOS device…

Add sound effects, loops, mix samples into your music, and much, much more!

appstore3

BPM Lover

http://bpmlover.com/ by Lois Di Qual

Tempo extraction technology right in your browser. The future is here!

bpmlover

CJK Typesetting

http://type.fernjager.net/ by Robert J Chen

Here’s a one-weekend experiment with Go and SQlite for a pastebin-type editor for East Asian characters.

CJK Typesetter

Fun with R

David Barrett, our CEO, has been tinkering with R with data from our massive dataset.
RViz

From this limited selection, one can see that we’re quite the motley crew of hackers, with diverse interests in music, media, and foreign languages! If you liked what you’ve seen here, come join our eclectic team: http://we.are.expensify.com/why-work-here

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Our romantic offering to all of our users this year in a video of our CEO on FOX Business news discussing Bitcoin.

David was asked to appear on MONEY with Melissa Francis on FOX Business News to explain why the recent issues and regulation talks surrounding Bitcoin is ultimately a good thing for the crypto-currency.

 

Expense reporting used to be universally hated. Precious hours of our life wasted, sitting in a dreary office taping receipts to paper. Not anymore! With Expensify, all you need is a laptop with internet connection or your smartphone to log expenses no matter where you are in the world. We constantly receive emails from users proclaiming that Expensify made their recent trip across the country (or world) easy and hassle-free.

These users also frequently send us photos of the exotic locations they visited requesting we put those photos on our sign-in page. If you’re unfamiliar with our sign-in page, we rotate photos of unique or beautiful locations taken by Expensify employees. Clicking the “i” button gives you a little blurb about the picture as well as the name of the photographer.

Expensify Expense Reports

As you may already know, we just got back from a month of working in Croatia and we’re planning on adding some of the pictures we took there to the home page rotation. As a user-focused company, it makes total sense to us that we should feature user photos on the site.

So without further adieu, we’d like to announce the Travel with Expensify Program! We want to see all the cool places our users have been. Bonus points if you used Expensify to track your expenses, track your flight, or to submit an expense report for that trip.

To show off your photography to 1.8 million Expensify users:

1. Submit a photo of a unique or beautiful location. 

-Filetype must be jpg or png.

-The bigger the better. Anything less than 1000px wide won’t look good.

2. Include the title or subject of the picture.

-Examples: “View from Above”, Pra Nang Beach, Exit Glacier

3. We need a comment or description of the photo.

-See our sign-in page for examples.

4. Email this info and photo to ryan@expensify.com with the Subject: “Travel with Expensify”

-OR simply upload the photo & info to Facebook or Twitter (be sure to mention “Travel with @Expensify” so we’re sure to see it) and show your friends the great places you’ve worked from.

5. If you submit via email and not social media, be sure to include know your name and company you work for.

That’s it! We’ll select the best ones and throw them into the sign-in page rotation where they’ll be viewed by the extremely important people who use Expensify. We can’t wait to see where you’ve been!

Expensify is unusual in many ways.  But one of our most well documented oddities is our habit of taking the whole company overseas for a month.  There are a huge range of reasons to do this: to work, to play, to finish off the year before, and to get inspired for the year ahead.  But regardless of your reason, here are some hard-learned tips for making the habit work for you:

  • Choose someplace far away, in every sense.  Aim for someplace on the other side of the planet, with a different culture, different climate, speaking a different language, with a lot of timezones and water between you.  The more “foreign” it feels, the closer it’ll push you together.
  • Try to achieve the triumvirate: power, internet, beach.  It’s easy to find any two, but getting all three can be tricky.
  • Pick someplace cheap.  It’s a great luxury to eat well, stay in nice places, and know you can buy your way out of any serious problem without breaking the bank.  Also, rent out your apartment (or even your office) on AirBNB to defray the costs.
  • Maintain a very light grip.  If you try to plan every last detail, you’ll go crazy.  Instead, just say “Meet at this cafe, in this city, in this country, at 10am on X date.  Figure it out.”  Some people will decide to come early, others at the last minute, but everybody will get there one way or another — and you don’t need to stress over the details.
  • Cover the flights, if you can afford it.  Have everybody book their flights and submit an expense report; it’s the single biggest expense of the trip, but people don’t have very strong airline preferences, so it’s a good candidate to pay for.
  • Leave the rest up to them.  The other major expenses are food and lodging, and though not big, they do add up.  But people have extremely strong preferences for what they eat and where they sleep, so this is best left up to them to pay for.
  • Take a whole month.  Less than that is too short to justify the expensive flight and jet lag.  More than that and people get antsy.  A month is just long enough to get sick of it, which is the perfect time to come home.  A good itinerary is 1 week in the capital city, 2 weeks on the beach, last week back in the capital.
  • Pack light.  Start with whatever you are currently wearing at this moment, but swap out your pants for shorts, your shoes for sandals (no socks).  Add a toothbrush and passport to whatever is currently in your backpack.  Buy a silk “sleep sack” at REI.  (It’s like a sleeping bag, but for hot weather — it keeps mosquitos away when sleeping.  You won’t need it most of the time, but when you do, you’ll be grateful.)  You literally don’t need more than that; anything more than that is just weighing you down.
  • Don’t pack anything in crinkly plastic bags.  They don’t sound so loud when packing them, but they are truly deafening when unpacked in a quiet dorm full of sleeping (or now, rudely awoken) people.
  • When your team is small (4 people) just do everything together.  Stay in the same hotel, eat the same restaurants, work in the same cafes, and go to the same clubs.
  • Accept that you’ll split up as the team grows.  Don’t fight it — just have a morning 10am standup meeting that pulls everyone together every day and sets the tone.  After that, just have everyone stay online and shout out where they are working that day, and they’ll cluster organically.  Create a shared Google Map where everybody marks good spots with outdoor power and wifi, hotels, good restaurants, etc.
  • Prepare to work offline, possibly a lot.  That means get a local copy of your servers running on every developer’s laptops so they can develop on localhost.  Set up Gmail/GDocs offline.  Download documentation for the languages and systems you use – PHP, JS, Underscore, etc.
  • Bring an extra laptop battery if you can.  (This is a major downside of having a MacBook Air.)  The best places to work aren’t always next to an outlet.  Alternatively (or additionally), bring a US extension cord.  Walgreens currently carries a nice white one with thee, three-prong plugs, that is pretty compact and rolls up nice.
  • Unlock your GSM phone ahead of time.  Get an unlimited data plan on arrival (usually surprisingly cheap) and tether.  Lacking that, you can likely get some kind of USB GSM modem, or even just a portable wifi hotspot.
  • Pick some large goal that involves a substantial majority of the team.  Ideally something you’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t ever made the time.  Set a goal to have it done before you leave.  (Ideally you can release it before you leave, but better to do it when you return as it’s generally bad practice to ship major new features before hopping on a flight for 20 hours.)
  • Plan a group activity every weekend.  Scuba, hiking, rent some scooters.  Something outside.  The week is for working, but the weekend should be for playing.  It’s best if the company can cover this (because it’s a decision made on their behalf), but not critical.
  • Have a big finale dinner.  Find the nicest restaurant in town and get an unnecessary amount of food and alcohol.  You deserve it (but the company should pay).
  • Don’t tell your investors until it’s over.  Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
  • And the official term isn’t “workation” or “retreat” — it’s “offshoring yourself”.  At least, that’s what we’ve called it for the past 8 year’s we’ve been doing it (my last company and this).

Good luck to you, and please drop me a line to let me know how it goes!

You may have noticed that we’re not the biggest fans of expense reports. Our deep-seated hatred for them is what drove the creation of Expensify. After several years of battling the forces of terrible expense reports, we’re now 1.6M users strong with almost a quarter million companies under our belt. As a thank you to our community we wanted to offer a new contest.

Expense It with Expensify

It’s called the Expense It with Expensify Contest (we’re good at expense reports, not naming things) and you and your company can win a FREE YEAR of Expensify!

To enter, all you have to do is tell us how awful your expense reporting process was in the past and since we’re suckers for happy endings, how much better it is now that you’ve started using Expensify! Just post it to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, your blog etc… (it has to be a public post or we won’t be able to see it). Make sure to include a link to use.expensify.com/expenseit in your post in order to be eligible.

Winning entries will be featured on our site and your company will win a FREE YEAR of Expensify!

If you haven’t started using Expensify yet, then go ahead and sign up at www.expensify.com.

Thanks everyone! Can’t wait to hear your stories!

I hope everyone is getting ready for some relaxing downtime in the next week. We kicked off the holiday season with an evening as a team at Frances, with Executive Chef Melissa Perello cooking an incredible dinner for us.  Plus we dressed in formal attire which was pretty exciting to see each other all dolled up. Tis the season for some company loving!

Robert gives his toast looking quite dapper

Cuties

Some of the studs  that are actively working to make your expense reports not suck.

Philip shares his special holiday mug. He is the only one in the office to have seen the start to finish of our office redesign project since much of the construction took place while the majority of the team was in Thailand. He earned several brownie points for being such a trooper.

Philip shares his special holiday mug. He is the only one in the office to have seen the start to finish of our office redesign project since much of the construction took place while the majority of the team was in Thailand. He earned several brownie points for being such a trooper.

Jason and Tony with their lovely wives seem to be enjoying their evening.

Jason and Tony with their lovely wives seem to be enjoying their evening.

Like a boss

Like a boss, David looks wonderfully regal.

Holiday Cheers at Frances

Holiday Cheers at Frances. What a good looking bunch.

Its been a pretty incredible year for us and we are excited to bring on 2013 with some pretty big ideas in the works. Be on the lookout.

Enjoy the holidays !

Love ,

The Expensify Team