At WWDC, Brittany Tarvin, co-founder of FadingRed, told TMO’s Dave Hamilton the story of how she came to quit her day job and become an expert Cocoa developer, helping customers who have lost all their music.
Dave Hamilton: So…I think the best place to start is with what we were chatting about a little while ago, an app called Senuti.
Brittany Tarvin: Sure. I met my co-founder, Whitney Young, who’s the original creator of Senuti when we were in college together. So, he was kinda doing that on the side. And I always had a passion for programming, but I was an industrial engineer and taking computer classes on the side. He actually was the one who taught me everything that I know about Cocoa and Objective-C. Basically, he made me into the programmer I am now.
That was the first program I got to be involved with. Then we just said, “we should turn this into a business.” We both loved working on Senuti more than anything. Senuti has been around since 2004, and it’s basically a music recovery tool for your iPhone, iPod.
Most of our customers just had a hard drive crash, and they’d e-mail us asking for help getting their music back. That was the whole idea behind Senuti. And I learned so much from working on that. And I think that really launched my involvement in Cocoa and becoming a Mac programmer.
TMO: So Senuti was was written Cocoa! I was never sure if that was an AppleScript thing or a full-on Cocoa app.
BT: So, Senuti was written in Cocoa! Yeah, it’s basically where I started.
TMO: And from that you quit your job?
BT: Yes. We both took other jobs for about a year, and worked on Senuti on the side. Then we quit and made FadingRed our full time job instead. Then we started hiring. We’re a five person team right now.
After Senuti, we moved on to our second project which is what I’m working on right now — which is Koku, a personal finance app for Mac.
TMO: Tell me a little bit about that. Obviously Intuit, finally, has a Lion compatible version. But they certainly opened the market up for everyone else who ever wanted to write a personal finance app. Was this a reaction to something like … we can’t wait for Quicken? Or was it something like … we can do it better anyway?
BT: It was pretty much the latter: we could do better. We were chatting about what we wanted to work on, and Whitney had worked on this project — he was giving it away for free. Called Cashbox. It was a precursor to Koku. Whitney wrote it because he wasn’t happy with any of the other personal finance tools. I told him that I’d really like to work on this because personal finance can become so over-complicated and so clunky.
The whole point of FadingRed was that we wanted to work on … what we wanted to work on. And products that we actually want to use. And that’s why we wrote Koku. We wanted something better.
TMO: That’s the right way to do it. Absolutely. Then, are you doing, say, bank integration and all that with Koku as well?
BT: Yes. We support Direct Connect so that the user can download from most of the major U.S. Banks. Some do charge a small fee for that, and that’s out of our hands.
TMO: It is what it is.
BT: The other thing is that for people who are international and for people whose bank doesn’t support that or they don’t want to pay, we wanted to make sure that it’s not a burden to enter all your information and verify that your bank statement is right every month. From all your different banks and in one place. We try to make that really easy. You can also import statements that are downloaded in OFX format, which is the most common format — or QIF which is another one.
TMO: Can you import data from Quicken, via QIF, I assume?
BT: I don’t think all the versions export. But most people are importing from their bank’s website.
TMO: Very cool. [Pauses.] Now, you have been vocal about women in technology, and it seems like that’s almost another part-time job for you. Tell me about that.
BT: Sure. I was in business my first year out of college, working for IBM, with their business consulting services. I was kind of shocked. I was working on projects, and there would be fewer women than men. But when I fell into programming, it felt so extreme. Like here at WWDC!
BT: Not that’s super surprising, but I want to do anything I can to make that better. I guess how I think of it is … if I can write about it, tell my story, my experience, if other girls are reading it, or college students, (or me five years ago), maybe they’d be a little more excited or a little bit more comfortable.
Going to events or community things, one of the things I like to tell people is … be aware of whether this is an inviting environment, some thing that a woman would want to attend. Especially someone who’s running the event. For example, are you making this a good, welcoming environment for everyone? So those are just things I like to talk about with people. Just because I think we can always to a better job there.
TMO: That’s always a good question to ask, and it’s an easy question to forget. Because you get so wrapped up in the minutiae of the event. It’s good to step back and ask, is this something I would even want to attend? And what about my friends?
BT: I feel that the Mac and iOS community has been so great. And so many people care about this. But it’s just not something that you bring up. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to bring up, especially if there’s an incident, or something is said that’s really inappropriate, it’s kind of discouraging. People don’t like to talk about it because it’s hard.
So I guess I’ve been pushing myself more to talk about those things and be one of the people who says, “you know, I don’t think this is okay.” One of the things I’ve been doing is, if I go to a talk, and there’s inappropriate language or derogatory comments about women, and I know that people who do this are not intending to be cruel, and so I’m not trying to bring these things up to piss people off. Or make them look terrible. I’m just trying to make sure they think, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.”
TMO: Raising awareness.
BT: That’s all I’m trying to do.
TMO: And that’s a good thing. It’s good for all of us to be more aware. So, along the way, in these things you’ve tried to do, are there any positive stories, women who’ve been inspired by … you, frankly?
BT: Um, whenever I write about these things I believe in, I’ve gotten really great responses from women and men. I’ve received emails from young women who’ve said, “thank you for saying that.” Or, “thank you for making that not okay to do.” So I think women are really appreciative. And then, there’s a really great community called devchix, and it’s a closed women’s mailing list. It’s an awesome international group of women developers, a great place for women to talk and support each other. I’ve gotten a lot of support there.
It’s been really great.
TMO: Okay, so getting back to FadingRed. Regarding Senuti, did iTunes Match really have an effect on that at all?
BT: I don’t think there’s anything specific that’s affecting it. People who are using Senuti are mostly those who didn’t create a backup, so they didn’t think about that until after it happened. So we still see really strong sales. As they say, in the future who knows? Because people are starting to figure out, “we should be backing this stuff up.” So hopefully, in the future, there won’t be a need. But so far, [sales] still have been pretty good.
TMO: You know, backing up a music library or a media library is actually really hard because it requires so much storage. Even though storage has gotten cheaper. But I know for me, I speak about it, and I back up everything. But up until about six months ago, I didn’t back up my media library. I didn’t really think about it. I thought, “well, I’ve got it on my iPod, so that’s it.” I always think of my iPod as the backup. And now with iTunes Match, you’ve got it in the cloud. Presumably. But not everything. Only your songs, right?
BT: Well, there are some cool things that people have been doing with Senuti. DJ’s really like it because they can show up at an event and get that music on a computer that’s not their computer, tons of music, in 20 seconds. And then, it’s easy to move to someone else’s.
We heard a cool story about a hospital, a couple of hospitals, that have used Senuti for their patients who are, say, going in for a procedure, and they have a sound system in the room. So they’ll just let the kids bring in their iPod to hear their own music while they’re in the treatment room. There have been some cool use cases like that.
TMO: I never would have thought of it that way, as a one-off. Just pull a song off. What an easy way to do it. Cool.
Is there anything coming that we should know about? Something that you’ve recently released?
BT: Absolutely. We’ve been working really hard for the last year on Koku for the iPhone. That’s been our biggest feature request from the users of Koku for Mac — which has been out for a couple of years. People have been asking, “when are you going to bring his to iPhone?” So we’re doing it! And we’re really excited about that — we’re in testing right now.
TMO: Testing is good! Enough work has been put in, it’s a reality now.
BT: I think it’s going to be really great because I know for me, personally, no matter where I am, I want to be able to see my accounts in a second. From all my banks. So we’re really excited.
TMO: That’s awesome. Anything else before we wrap up?
BT: I’m really excited to be here. I’m excited to see what’s going on with Mac and iOS. And I’ve ordered a new MacBook Pro, the pretty one with the Retina display.
TMO: Cool. And thanks for taking the time this morning to chat.
BT: Thanks for the interview!
Interview by Dave Hamilton with his iPhone. Transcription & editing by John Martellaro with the Scrivener Transcription Tool.