Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Software as a Product: Behind the Switch to FastFig Notebooks

The end of summer has been one of change for FastFig's interface. We've revamped not just the look and feel of the program, but the way our customers buy it and what they own when they buy.

On the consumer side, FastFig moved away from the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, and allows users to buy notebooks of pages on which to take notes and do assignments. Given how just about every software revenue model in the world has moved toward getting some type of recurring monthly fees, we understand this might come as a surprise. Here's why we zagged rather than zigged:
  • Customers - We follow the customer development practice of listening. A lot. What we heard from customers was that individuals use FastFig in a number of ways, but they preferred to pay for what they used, rather than a monthly fee. The more we thought about it, the more sense this made. People have been buying notebooks for a very long time, and the one-time purchase is a model with which they're comfortable.
  • Access - We wanted to make sure that everyone had access to FastFig functionality on every device, no matter the level of usage. Restricting that based on payment tier seemed against our greater mission of becoming the standard way math communication is handled. So now everyone can get all of our individual functionality for free to use, and can buy more as they need.
  • It didn't reflect our value or our values - It's great for a business to have recurring monthly income, regardless of whether the customer is using the product or not (just ask my Netflix account). And, if the business is mostly providing storage (like iCloud or Dropbox), that makes sense, since the customer is almost always using it. But FastFig is a primarily a tool, and so pricing it like a service felt a little off. This way, customers only pay for what they use.
Of course, those were some of the more philosophical reasons. As with all things, there were some practical considerations as well that had to do with our business.
    • Virality - By treating the pages in the notebooks as the purchased item, we give ourselves the flexibility to drive behavior by rewarding customers with more pages. The same way Dropbox can give you a few extra megs for tweeting about them, we can reward sharing and payment with concrete things that have a real value to users.
    • Separating markets - Schools and firms that use FastFig in more structured settings can still get licenses for expanded use that incorporates student information systems, teacher dashboards, and unlimited usage; for them, the monthly/annual license structure makes sense.
    • Retail - As retailers look to move more into the digital realm, hybrid products that can be sold online or in stores are becoming more sought after. By selling notebooks, we can create packaging that works on store shelves, helping increase our brand awareness and develop relationships with strategic channel partners (and saving customers from having to buy a calculator!).

    Some concept work for FastFig retail packaging
    As we charge forward into the school year, we're excited to have a more robust and customer-friendly product for both individuals and organizations. It's been a summer filled with lots of work, but we think it's been well worth it, and we can't wait to get more students and teachers involved in using FastFig.

    Monday, July 1, 2013

    FastFig Updates bring teachers tools for all levels


    New teacher-driven features allow more control and more seamless math experience

    PHILADELPHIA, June 27, 2013– In its ongoing mission to make math painless for students and educators, education technology startup FastFig released powerful new features yesterday that give teachers increased control.

    “For us, the priority is always making sure that teachers and students have the best tool possible,” said FastFig Founder and CTO Brian Peacock.

    By soliciting steady feedback from the thousands of teachers, students and professionals that currently use FastFig, Peacock and the team were able to focus on a few important features that would give teachers the power and flexibility to use the program at more levels of math. Educators using FastFig liked how easy it was to use with plain language, compared with some of the other, more expensive code-based math programs, and the new update expands that capability to all levels of math.

    “We wanted to make FastFig the default choice for educators whenever they need to show math to their students,” Peacock said. “For that, we knew it had to look like real math that a student might turn in on a piece of paper.”

    The update also allows FastFig Premium members to turn off the program’s solving engine, so that teachers who want to can monitor every step of a student’s problem solving.

    For the past two months, the FastFig platform has gone through steady improvement, leading to the release of FastFig Premium in May.

    The story of FastFig began two years ago, when Peacock was an engineering student with insufficient tools. “All of the math software my school purchased was incredibly difficult to use so we just didn’t use them,” Peacock said. The tools also required that he be at one computer – not using multiple devices the way he and his classmates all did regularly. Finding himself constantly working with pen, paper and calculator, he decided there had to be a better way, and began teaching himself to code so he could create FastFig.

    # # #

    FastFig, “The Word Processor for Math,” does to the calculator what the word processor did to the typewriter. Our platform pairs a powerful math engine with a proprietary, patent-pending user interface that intelligently determines if a user is typing math or text and formats it accordingly, solving basic math, through algebra all the way up to calculus. Collaborative tools allow users to save their notes on any device, share them with others around the world, and print or export easily. FastFig was funded by the prestigious DreamIt Ventures as part of their inaugural Austin program in 2013. We’ve been featured in places like the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Business Insider and Technically Philly, and is consistently one of the top utility apps in the Google Chrome Appstore.

    # # #

    If you would like more information about FastFig, please contact Jay Hotaling at email at:
     jay @ fastfig.com.

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013

    New FastFig Live and Running!

    Hi there FigFriends,

    A few days ago, we told you to expect some big changes to FastFig. Well, today, they’re here. You will log into a dramatically different FastFig that lets you type and solve math even more naturally. In addition to higher level symbols and a more intuitive way of writing math, Fastfig Premium users will be able to turn off the solving engine.

    So what are you waiting for? There’s lots of new numbers out there for FastFig to crunch, and we’ve created a new quick how-to guide and video tutorial to help you get oriented.

    Go check it out!
    -The FastFig Team

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    Unruly Integers!

    Greetings Fig Buddies,

    So we know we said our big upate was going to be out last night, but it turns out we want to fine-tune some of the larger numbers and add in a last operation or two. In the words of our lead developer "Math is really broad," and we figure it's worth taking a little extra time to tackle a bit more of it.

    You'll see the new FastFig soon, and it will be awesome.

    -The FastFig Team

    Sunday, June 23, 2013

    Big Changes in the Works for FastFig

    Greetings Fig buddies!

    We’ve been incredibly busy the past few weeks working on a major update for FastFig. We’ve sent our best numeral wranglers out into the frontier to retrieve more unruly integers, and our operator smiths have been hammering away at the finest integral symbols the land has ever seen.

    And our work has paid off, so we wanted to let you know that, starting Monday, FastFig will look a little different.

    Here’s what you can look forward to:
    • A new FigPad that makes your notes look like real math. Now you can write problems just like you would with a paper and pencil, except they will be editable, sustainable and neater.
    • Higher-level symbols like series and definite integrals work in an intuitive, visually clean way. At the same time, expanded lower-level symbols like fractions make FastFig an even better tool for middle and late elementary school classes.
    • FastFig Premium users will be able to turn off autosolve for their pads, allowing educators to see every step of a student’s problem-solving without the power of the full FastFig engine.
    It will look and feel different, but don't be scared! We'll have lots of resources to help you get oriented.

    See you soon with all our new bells and whistles!
    -The FastFig Team

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Math Monday: Can We Give Every Classroom Internet Access?

    Greetings Fig Buddies!

    We've been hard at work on a major update (more on that Friday), but it's been a big month for math and edtech, so I wanted to make sure we kept our Math Mondays rolling. The news from around the math/edtech world:
    The eighth-graders wrote and recorded their answers on the tablet computer and also voiced over an explanation of how they solved each problem. With a click, they emailed their finished test to the teacher. 
    Make it about math, and you've basically got our vision. For more on this evolving part of the edtech landscape, check out Matt Levinson's piece on the "screenager" generation.
    Lastly,  you may have heard that President Obama announced plans to get high-speed Internet into 99% of school classrooms within five years. We've been known to go on rants before about the woeful lack of Internet connectivity and infrastructure in education (and we know some are trying to fix it), so ConnectED would be great. But there are usually some hiccups between an idea that sounds great and actually making it happen, so we'll stay cautiously optimistic. The LEAD commission followed the announcement up with a five-point plan that included getting digital devices in the hands of every student by 2020.

    Okay, enough serious stuff. Take a break from work and go do mental_floss' Monday Math Square. Studies say short breaks for brain teasers increase productivity:

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    FastFig Video Tutorials!

    Greetings Figsters!

    We wanted to let you know that our FastFig video tutorials are up and live!

    You can check them out on our favorites playlist on YouTube. What's that? That's two too many clicks for you? Well, okay, here you go:

    Also, one of our many awesome users, Sarah Welker, is an educator after our own heart. She mentioned FastFig in a recent blog post about the many great math ed tools on the Internet. Definitely worth adding to your RSS reader and taking a look.

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    Introducing FastFig Premium

    Hey there Fig Buddies,

    Today, after many long months of work, we’re excited to announce the next level of FastFig. FastFig Premium brings the convenience and power of FastFig to your mobile devices, allowing you to type and solve math anywhere from a tablet or phone.

    FastFig Premium is less than $6 per month for six months, and the first month is free. For new users, FastFig Premium also gives you unlimited FigPad storage and the ability to print and save pads as pdfs, as well as access to all the new and upcoming FastFig features as they are rolled out.

    We really hope you’ll consider trying out the new FastFig Premium, even if it’s just to see how cool it is to use on your tablet or phone.

    As always, if you’ve got any feedback for us on how to make FastFig more awesome, or ways we can help you teach and solve math better, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop us a line at feedback@fastfig.com, or tweet us at @FastFig.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Math Monday: Is Being Good at Math More Important Than Being Smart?

    Greetings, Fig Friends, and welcome to the first of our recurring Math Monday blog posts. We'll use these monthly posts to note some fun news or ideas from the world of math and education, just in case you're not all as weirdly obsessed with math news as we are.
    "We're not saying to lower math standards, but we ought to require math that is appropriate for the direction students want to go in," said Marc Tucker, president of NCEE, a nonpartisan education think tank funded by private donations and government grants. "Otherwise, we produce failure where no failure is necessary." 
    (Ed. note: FastFig is against unnecessary failure. We're all about necessary failure, though.)
    Researchers recommend that high schools ensure that all students master a basic algebra course and then offer options that suit other professions, such as statistics or geometry, rather than the "one-size-fits-all" thinking behind the math curriculum that most schools require of graduates...
    Pam Guenther, who teaches algebra at Santa Barbara City College in California, has "mixed feelings" about recommended changes to math curriculum. "I like the idea that we teach what is necessary," she said. "But at 16 or 17, do you really know what you want to be when you grow up?"
    Ritchie and Bates found that participants' reading and math ability at age 7 were linked to their social class a full 35 years later. Participants who had higher reading and math skills as children ended up having higher incomes, better housing, and better jobs in adulthood. The data suggest, for example, that going up one reading level at age 7 was associated with a £5,000, or roughly $7,750, increase in income at age 42. 
    The long-term associations held even after the researchers took other common factors into account. 
    "These findings imply that basic childhood skills, independent of how smart you are, how long you stay in school, or the social class you started off in, will be important throughout your life."
    Kenneth Appel: Brought math to the computer
    •  Lastly, we'd like to note the passing of Kenneth Appel. Appel and his colleague Wolfgang Haken proved the Four-Colour Theorem at UIC in 1976, which was rad, but what was more important was that he did it with a computer. Solving a century-old theorem with a computer was a major change for the way mathematicians interacted with technology, and absolutely changed the way computers were viewed. As people who are redefining by the ways one can use computers to help with math, we view Appel as a sort of patron saint of FastFig.

    In your multimedia section:

    If you haven't yet checked out our little appearance on Lehigh Valley Tech Radio, it's entertaining and includes an entrepreneurship game you can play along at home.
    Here's a video, courtesy of the University of Rochester, of baboons understanding quantity:
    And, not really related to math but still cool, here's a video of the first music video from space, as social media star astronaut Chris Hadfield records David Bowie's "Space Oddity":
    You're welcome. Happy Monday!

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    The Online Classroom – Boon or Bane to a Teacher’s Existence?

    I was speaking with a teacher friend of mine the other day about his normal day at school. He confirmed the assumption I have always held that a New York minute cannot hold a candle to a teacher’s time. I was exhausted after hearing about his normal day of juggling faculty meetings, team collaboration discussions, grading papers, preparing lesson plans, answering questions from students outside of class, copying handouts, parent-teacher discussions, teaching multiple subjects, and after school activities.   

    He mentioned the online resources his school uses, which has a student population that is predominately in middle to upper middle class, that let him post assignments, calendars, grades, handouts, and other tools online. He made note how the system has alleviated his time in some regards but created more work in others – easier communication with parents, one more thing to maintain in the classroom, and a greater demand of students wanting instant feedback on grades.

    I remember using such a system in undergraduate school because it allowed my professors to post extra examples online that were not discussed in class or textbooks, let me print out the homework assignments and handouts without being fearful of losing them, and kept me better in tune with what was going on in the classroom.  And I do remember refreshing the page constantly waiting for my grades to be posted – exacerbating the instant feedback frenzy.

    But this led me to think about the schools that have student populations with far lower household incomes. I can see how my friend’s school could easily use this technology since it is safe to assume the students and parents easily have access to the internet and computers at home. This isn’t necessarily the case for our poorer school districts. So are there any teachers out there who work in low-income districts that use this technology and have found creative solutions to overcome the lack of internet access at home for students? What was the justification to fund such technology in these districts?

    And for every teacher who uses this technology, how has it helped you in your classroom? Do you wish these services would improve in certain areas? And are there unintended consequences from using such technology that have in some ways made your job a little harder?

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    More Press Coverage, and We Added Graphing!

    So, we've been busy.

    First, Keystone Edge did a story on how our user growth has been exploding. Then, yesterday, App Store Chronicle named us their startup of the month.

    We'd say it's humbling to get all of this attention, but that would be a lie, because we're not humbled at all. We're emboldened. Teachers and students in STEM classes deserve better tools, and we're going to make sure they get them.

    And we'd like your help.

    You may have noticed that we added a feedback button to FastFig; if you've got any ideas on how to improve FastFig, please share them with us. Together, we'll make FastFig the best educational tool available.

    Speaking of improvements: we added graphing to FastFig. Now you can put in any function and see it represented graphically. Just click the graphing button in the top bar to use it. To add more functions, just click the green + button at the bottom of the graph.

    Friday, March 29, 2013

    FastFig at SXSW

    Greetings Fig Buddies!

    Our time in Texas is just about up, and the last month has been a total whirlwind. A few things before we get to the fun stuff:
    • FigPics are up and working on the site. You can now upload your own images to FigPads, or take pictures with your device's camera. Our main priority now is making FastFig as mobile-friendly as possible as soon as possible.
    • It wouldn't be right for us to finish March without a word about our accelerator, DreamIt. Working with them has been an unbelievable experience that has done amazing things for FastFig. If you've got startup aspirations, we can not recommend highly enough applying to accelerator programs like DreamIt, and any aspiring entrepreneurs should take a look at the DreamIt classes to see if there's a good fit.
    • How awesome are FastFig users? One of our early adopters is a teacher in Round Rock named Mark Rogers. He makes videos like this:

    Please note: Making music videos about graphing is not a prerequisite to use FastFig. Yet.

    Okay, so our few weeks of SXSW, starting with SXSWedu and all the way through, was completely nuts. Our weeks were filled with impressive, great people who are doing all sorts of cool things in entrepreneurship, education and technology. Here's a slideshow of some of the highlights:

    Thursday, February 28, 2013

    FastFig Goes Live!

    Fig Buddies, as of yesterday we are out of beta and live to the world!

    Press release is pasted below.

    FastFig’s New Math Software Promises
    To Change STEM Student Experience

    New cloud-based software solves math as students type,
    allows easy online collaboration

    AUSTIN, TX, February 27, 2013– Math just got better.

    After 18 months in development, the new math software FastFig went out of beta and live to the world last night. The cloud-based platform plans to change the way students do math.

    By combining a powerful math computation engine with an easy-to-use notepad that solves as users type, FastFig instantly delivers the easiest and most painless experience for students in math courses and professionals working with math every day.
    “FastFig is the only math software for real people. It’s a tool we actually developed with today’s students in mind.”
    – Brian Peacock, FastFig Founder and CTO
    FastFig can be accessed from any computer and is completely cloud-based, unlike cumbersome, locally installed competitors like those licensed by Universities. It is also easy to use, providing a painless experience and seamless access to a powerful math engine for even math software beginners.

    The proprietary FigPad interface intelligently discerns whether the user is typing math or text, and then formats and solves the notes automatically. FastFig’s collaborative tools allow users to save and share their FigPads with other users anywhere in the world.

    The story of FastFig began two years ago, when FastFig Founder and CTO Brian Peacock was an engineering student with insufficient tools. All of the software his school purchased was difficult to use and required that he be at one computer – not using multiple devices the way he and his classmates all did regularly. Finding himself constantly working with pen, paper and calculator, he decided there had to be a better way, and began teaching himself to code so he could create FastFig.

    According to the Department of Education, The United States graduates less than 6% of its students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees, compared with 47% in China and 38% in Korea. The decline of STEM students has been particularly acute among minority and female students. By making math more accessible and providing a convenient tool for students in early college STEM classes, FastFig aims to disrupt the academic landscape.

    “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”
    – President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union

    #             #             #
    FastFig takes a powerful math engine and pairs it with a proprietary, patent-pending UI that intelligently determines if a user is typing math or text and formats it accordingly. Collaborative tools allow users to save their notes on any device, share them with others around the world, and print or export easily. FastFig is the lead consumer product of Fig Labs, Inc., and was funded by the prestigious DreamIt Ventures as part of their inaugural Austin program in 2013. We’ve been featured in stories by places like Business Insider and Technically Philly. Our official first public demo day will be during SXSW in Austin, on March 9, 2013.

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    New FastFig Design Released!

    Greetings Figgers!

    Lots happening at Fig Manor as we try to save the world from lousy math software.

    Development Update

    As you may have noticed, we launched our new calculator design last week. The functions are separated by area of math, so that it's easier to locate and use the functions you want at any given time. From a back-end standpoint, this will also allow teachers to throttle the math engine so that their students can see only the functions relevant to their class.

    Getting Ready for SXSWedu

    We're also in the home stretch, gearing up for SXSW, including the SXSWedu conference in two weeks, where many FastFig friends will be presenting and talking (we'll be listening and taking notes). Prediction: Our favorite panel will be the one that calls edtech entrepreneurs "superheroes," and features our friends from Hoot.me, KinderTown, LearnBop and Notehall (now Chegg), but there are also great panels on STEM education and speakers from Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) to David Robinson (yes, that David Robinson).

    Insider Baseball

    For those interested in the startup game, our AngelList profile is live. Follow us there and keep up with the company's progress. For those who don't know what I'm talking about... Angel.co is a social network for startups, entrepreneurs and investors.

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    How to Outfit Your Lean Startup Home: Tables You Can Write On

    So, I may have mentioned we like whiteboard. We have lots of it on our walls. But when four men try to save STEM students from an unfurnished apartment in Texas, some other amenities needed. And how, one might ask, does one affordably create surfaces on which one can put computers and mac and cheese?

    First, let's tackle the coffee/living room table. It's a small table that you want to put lots of stuff on, but it's low near couches.

    One thing to remember is that furniture for accelerator tenants must be short-term; getting rid of a table is sometimes more annoying than getting it. So we added the constraint that it must be almost totally disposable.

    For strength in compression, one really cannot beat carboard boxes. Corrugated carboard is absolutely wonderful for holding stuff up. Also, it's cheap as can be. So we took a couple boxes as our base, which are light and sturdy. The actual surface we felt like making reasonably usable, so we took a sheet of plywood and an equal-sized sheet of faux blackboard, then glued them together and sanded the edges. You'll probably need to weight the top part down while the glue dries if there's any warp at all.

    Cheap blackboard table
    Perfect size for playing Settlers of Catan.
    Protip: One could use chalk on this table and draw things. We don't, because it also makes a mess. But one could. If one were so inclined.

    But making notes on table is really useful. It's what glass tables are perfect when you have an idea. And, running a lean startup, we have lots of ideas and random code things of which we'd like to keep track.

    Also, we needed a dining room table. Back to the local Home Despot.
    Panelboard on a shelf at Home Depot
    Thrifty indeed.
    An unfinished hollow door will run you about $25. With a few 2x4s cut to the right lengths and a couple braces, you can make sawhorses to the right height (or you can buy the sawhorses for a little more). 

    Take the door and an equal-sized sheet of panelboard. Score both surfaces aggressively (carve little nicks into each... you can do this with the coffee table above, too). Then use a lot of glue and put them together. You will almost definitely need to weigh the top part down with every heavy item in your startup home to prevent warping. 

    Protip: Gallons of juice and 2-liters of soda are good for this.

    Once the surfaces take, you can sand the edges down. Also, thanks to the opposing tensions created by the warping, your table is now almost totally indestructible.

    Lean startup whiteboard table
    Clementines containers are also valuable structural aides.
    You can also write on it.

    Fastfig's awesome whiteboard table
    We really cleaned the table for this photo.
    Now you have a solid, stable surface for anything from dinner to house parties hors d'oeuvres for guests, and you can write on it! Thanks to the panel board, it's very easy to clean, as well (a little Windex and it's amazing how new it will look). One of the best uses is that a team can gather around the table and everyone can see and contribute to things like wireframing. Since we've made the table, we have not stopped using it, and the whole thing cost under $50.

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    FastFig Development Update

    Hey Fig Buddies,

    Just wanted to take a quick minute to update you on some of the things that we've done this week.

    • You can now print your FigPads to pdf. This is pretty important for those using FastFig for math homework.
    • We fleshed out the "tour" tutorial that walks you through the FigPad. We got some feedback that it was a little sparse.
    • We reorganized Fig School and introduced Dr. Fig, to whom figgers can ask questions and report issues.
    • One of our biggest pieces of feedback from new users was on syntax rules. We're pleased to unveil a new syntax library.
    • And, best of all, we've added sharing. Now you can send your FigPads to other users, and you and your Fig Buddies (yes, we never get tired of that pun) can collaborate on the documents together. 
    We're very excited about these developments, and we'll be continuing to roll out new features in the coming weeks. If there's something you want to see, or a bug you'd like to report, feel free to do it here or via info@fastfig.com.

    Some other news and notes: 
    • We're ranked on the second page of Google for "payment terms."
    • Thanks to everyone who responded to the last couple posts. The discussion was extremely helpful. 
    • For our friends back east, it's currently sunny and 72 degrees in Austin, Texas.

    Monday, January 28, 2013

    Is There Something Tactile About Math Notes?

    One of the things startups do a ton of is "market research." That's in quotes because the term conjures images of big fancy reports conducted by high end firms, and of course no startup can afford that. What we really do is talk to people. A lot. Particularly if we think they might be the type of person who could become a customer.

    One of those conversations this weekend was with a friend who's studying to take an actuarial exam. He's a math guy; he estimated he spends 8-10 hours a day doing math and has about 300 books on math. So to say he'd be in our target market is a bit of an understatement.

    We talked through his existing math process when he does problem sets. It was similar to just about everyone's we've spoken with (and our experience); pen and paper, a couple calculators, maybe some Excel, he'd given up on MATLAB years ago.

    He said he'd tried all sorts of software, but nothing had ever replaced pen and paper, so I asked if he could imagine the perfect program, and, if that program existed, would he use it?

    This led to a conversation about what we really do when we do math with a pen and paper. After about algebra one, math becomes more an exercise in symbols and manipulation than it is about numbers. That's part of why an even basic understanding of math is so frikkin' cool: It's screwing with the universe's rules, using code.

    My friend acknowledged that there was something fulfilling about scribbling on paper and manipulating the symbols himself, and that he had always come back to writing by hand. As someone working on an online math program, this was troubling to hear. What if there was something inherently tactile about math that couldn't be replicated by a computer?

    outdated math homework methods?
    This remains state-of-the-art for some math homework.

    But my friend pointed out that 20 years ago, we would have thought the idea that one should write letters on a TV screen was silly. The creation of art - one of the most tactile experiences in the world - has been completely expanded by technology. Sending a postcard is still fun, but so is texting a picture with Instagram. Finger painting stayed fun, but so is messing with images in Photoshop. And noodling around on a piano wasn't made obsolete by the fact that recording an album can be done well in a home studio today.

    Technology can take experiences and make them even more rewarding by letting us focus on the parts we're looking for at any given moment. Sometimes, we want to scrawl out long equations and feel like Einstein at his Princeton blackboard, or diagram out what we're building because it's a cool project. Sometimes, we're on problem 7 of 43 and want this homework to be over as soon as possible. At FastFig, we've done both.
    Einstein's princeton office
    We share Al's understanding of desk organization.
    But what we think is less important. What is your experience with math? Can a computer screen take the place of your process?

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    How to Outfit Your Lean Startup: Cheap Whiteboard by the Acre

    At FastFig, we're very proud and honored to be a DreamIt company. When we were accepted, we were very excited to be part of such a great network, to have access to people with incredible experience, and to move to Austin with nothing to do but work on our business full-time. It's like a lean startup wish come true.

    Of course, then we got to Texas and realized we had an empty apartment. And there is nothing a group of entrepreneurs (particularly engineering-inclined ones) likes more than the prospect of getting to fill empty space with DIY projects.

    Step one for us was pretty simple: Whiteboard.

    Now, we at FastFig are big believers in lean methodology. So the idea of purchasing whiteboards at any local big box store seemed somewhere between extravagant and opulent. As you can see:

    Whiteboard prices
    Con: A 3' x 4' sheet is $136. Pro: It gets four stars!
    Definitively not lean. Plus, we're a tech startup; we need LOTS of whiteboard. That would end up being our pizza budget for most of 2013.

    Fortunately, our local enormous big box hardware store was less than a mile away. And there, they sell something called panel board. Panel board, for all intents and purposes, is a dry-erase surface stuck on top of something between particle board and really sturdy carboard. And a 4' x 8' sheet costs about $12. So that's around 100 square feet of whiteboard for $36.

    Pros: Gets five stars (!), is awesome dry-erase surface, is dirt cheap. Con: Must be cut to fit in a Subaru.
    Protip: Measure your car's cargo space before buying and carting the panel board out to the parking lot.

    Fortunately, the fine folk at your large home retailer will cut the boards for you for free, but it's better to know the dimensions going in. Getting a bunch of different sizes was actually something we found to be useful. If you've got a truck, just make sure the stuff is secure before you peel out of the parking lot in your haste to sketch site architecture.

    Now, if you're in a place where you will be for a long time, you can buy some cheap strips of wood or metal and create frames and mount them. We're only in this space for three months, though, and we like to be able to move stuff around, so it basically became slideable wallpaper.

    whiteboard lining the walls
    We really wish we'd done this in college.
    lots of whiteboard cheap
    That table is perfect for laying a big piece flat so we can all stand around it and diagram.
    Right now we're working at the Capital Factory, and the lean life dictates it may be some time before we have our own office space. But this can work anywhere your team is, be in home or office. Honestly, this is valuable thing for anyone who's going to do some work at home, whether it be a startup team, consultant or engineering student. It became an instant hit at our inaugural DreamIt house party. The one investment you'll want to make is Windex and paper towels; for some reason, dry-erase erasers have a tendency to leave streaks on panel board.

    If you do wind up with weirdly sized small pieces of panel board, you can lay them flat on the table and take notes as you work.

    Protip: Watch your elbows.

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    Announcing the Launch of FastFig Beta (now with FigPads)

    Today, we are very pleased to announce the release of our latest version, FastFig Beta.

    Designed to help instructors and students in math, physics and engineering classes with homework, FastFig Beta combines the powerful math tools of the original FastFig with our new FigPads, an easy-to-use notebook system that can tell if you are typing text or math, and then process it accordingly.

    We think this is the first step in our quest to get math homework off the page and into the cloud. It's also the first step in our journey through Austin, Texas with DreamIt Ventures, and you'll be getting  a lot more content from us on everything from development updates to how to properly outfit a tech startup house (and all with math!).

    But for now, we want to hear from you! Take a look at the tutorials and try the new FastFig out. Let us know if it can help you, or if there are features you'd like to see added. We'd love to hear what you have to say, here or in the comments!