March 30, 2012

Yoke: JEFF REVESZ

Jeff Revesz doesn't mess around. Riding the Silicon Alley wave as a talented programmer, Jeff succeeded in selling his first product, Adaptive Semantics, to the Huffington Post in 2010 at age 25. Jeff's next big hit, the new Facebook dating app, Yoke, has hit the NY tech start up scene by storm, receiving nods from every notable business and tech blog within the past few weeks (check them out for yourself on TechCrunchBusiness Insider, and Mashable). After meeting former QuestionNYaire feature, Rob Fishman, at the Huffington Post, Jeff and Rob combined their skills to cook up a new project: virtual matchmaking. Yoke is designed to mimic the way people "get together," through friends and shared interests. The app requires little effort on the part of the participant - just an active internet identity. Yoke draws from online personality definers such as Netflix, Amazon and Spotify accounts to pinpoint areas of interests and triangulate matches based on fundamental information shared on Facebook (education, age, relationship status) as well as mutual friends. Those in a relationship can also utilize the app to suggest matches for their friends!

Yoke is a brand new, awesome way to lose hours on Facebook. We approve.

Do you dream in code? 
It happens occasionally. Coding is a lot of tedious work punctuated by a few brilliant moments. In of those moments I might all at once see the structure of some new algorithm or database architecture and get inspired to build it immediately in a single sprint. Those sprints usually last about 12 or 18 hours, and it's pretty common to dream about code afterward. I studied mathematics in college, and I remember that it used to happen more often back then. I would fall asleep while in the middle of some difficult problem and wake up with the answer sometimes.

Where did you learn to code? 
I'm self-taught for the most part. I took some basic courses in college and knew the fundamentals of logic and programming, but until about 3 years ago I didn't really consider myself a programmer. I learned mostly by building things and breaking things and reading a lot about why they broke. Google, O'Reilly and Stack Overflow are probably where I discovered most of what I know about the nuances of web development. Having a good foundation in math and logic was tremendously helpful. It forces you to approach engineering tasks in a principled way, and gives you a strategy to solve problems when you get stuck. Without that I probably would have struggled for a lot longer than I did.

How did you get involved with Yoke?
My co-founder Rob Fishman brought up the idea to me during a cab ride and I latched onto it immediately. We never even got to our destination, actually, since we spent the next few hours walking around midtown and talking excitedly about the concept. We were both employees of The Huffington Post at the time, which was shortly after that company was acquired by AOL. Both of us enjoyed the energetic start-up atmosphere at HuffPost and were eager to keep that going. We were able to raise money from Lerer Ventures, Softbank and others on the strength of the idea and our pedigree as entrepreneurs.

What is Adaptive Semantics?
Adaptive Semantics is a company that I founded and sold to The Huffington Post in the summer of 2010. The basis for the company was an algorithm called JuLiA (short for Just a Linguistic Algorithm) which was able to read and interpret English-language text. This is useful for a number of things, one of them being automated moderation. That is the application we sold to a number of online publishers, and HuffPost bought us to secure a strategic advantage. JuLiA is still in use today, moderating about 5 million comments a month for various AOL properties. There is a team which took over that work when I left and they have since taught the algorithm to read French, Spanish, Italian and German.

Your greatest accomplishment?
Definitely building a company from scratch and bringing it to a successful exit. A lot of my friends from college are fellow engineers, and they are capable of doing startup companies but they just don't want to take the risk. They all thought I was crazy quitting a stable job to chase a long-shot idea, and it felt good to prove that I really was onto something.

Your best pick-up line?
Do people use those? I've never laid down an actual pickup line before, but I do have a story about something similar. I was at a holiday party a couple years ago and somebody gave me a box of chocolate truffles as a gift. I was at a bar later that night and still had the truffles with me, so I just left them open at the bar for people to share. A few girls struck up conversations with me that night asking about the truffles and if they could have one. I actually wound up leaving with one of those girls later that night, so I guess the truffles were better than any pickup line I could have come up with.

What makes Yoke different than other dating apps? 
The biggest difference is the ease of signup. It all works off of Facebook connect, so you don't have to fill out awkward profile essays or answer a bunch of personality questions. Your Facebook interests provide that information for us. Another big difference is the social aspect...if you see someone who interests you, Yoke will tell you if you have any friends in common. If you're not comfortable messaging your match directly, then you can ask your mutual friend for an introduction. This allows even non-single people to use Yoke, since they can just go in and play matchmaker among their friends. That's something that no other dating site has done so far.

How many people can you Yoke before getting creepy?
Well let me say up front that it's not my place to judge how people choose to interact on Yoke, or really any site for that matter. Having said that, I think that the creepiness factor might be more related to what kind of messages you send, rather than how many you send. If I see a dozen girls that I think are cute and I take the time to write a nice personalized message to each one of them, then I would probably get a good response. On the other hand, if I just cut and paste the same standard introduction to each one then I might get a worse response.

Most challenging part working on a start up (idea):
I would have to say it's keeping your perspective and keeping up morale. In every startup there is a period of heady excitement at the beginning, and then a later period of worry and stress as you struggle against a limited timeline to make your idea a reality. That kind of worry can be incredibly destructive if you don't know how to manage it. People always talk about the long hours being the hardest part of a startup but I honestly don't think the hours are that big of a deal. Coding and building things is a lot of fun for me, so the prospect of doing that for 80 or 90 hours a week sounds like a great time! Yes I know that probably makes me a freak. 

Your greatest indulgence?
I don't have a lot of time for TV or anything, but on occasion I'll go on long Netflix binges and just watch a whole series in a day. I did that with Downton Abbey and Louis CK recently. 

Your theme song:
The TRON soundtrack. 

What do you do for fun?
Typical geeky things. I can spend hours at Forbidden Planet and Toy Tokyo browsing all the weird stuff in there, but I'm not much of a collector. I think superhero movies are kind of dumb, but I have a weak spot for Iron Man. The thing about Iron Man is that he doesn't actually have any super powers, he's just a really good engineer! Alright now I realize that I'm sounding like a stereotype so I throw some non-geeky things in there. Dating is fun for me. Also I can be seen at the occasional Brooklyn warehouse rave... 

Best date spot in NYC? 
Depends on the date. First date I think Caffe Reggio is a great spot...it's a really old cafe and they still have a lot of the original decor and furniture from decades ago. For a second or later date, I think an awesome non-traditional choice is Governors Island. You can take a free ferry over there and walk or bike around the island which is fun and sort of intimate. Not too many people go there even on the weekends, so it kind of feels like you've totally left the city for a few hours. It's nice.

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