Engineering Spotlight: Lovepop
Lovepop is one of the fastest growing consumer companies in the Boston tech scene.
Founded by Wombi Rose and John Wise in 2014, Lovepop is disrupting the greeting card industry with their expressive, pop-up greeting cards. The company gained national exposure when it landed an investment from Kevin O'Leary on Shark Tank in 2015. Recently, Lovepop closed on a $12.5M Series A round of funding led by Highland Capital.
Whether if it's creating the 3D cards announcing the winners at the Billboard Music Awards, appearing in a national television ad for Microsoft, or announcing a partnership with HBO to bring Game of Thrones-themed cards, you can definitely say that the company is on a roll.
Technology is what ultimately plays a key piece in what makes this company operate and thrive. We connected with Lovepop’s Head of Engineering, Lars Holzman, who gave us an inside looking into the engineering team’s day-to-day operations and its culture.
Also, Lovepop is hiring! Check out their BIZZpage for all of the company’s job openings!
Quick Hit Details
Year Founded: 2014
Number of employees: 55 in Boston HQ, 100 retail staff, 550 in Vietnam production facility
Number of engineers: 8
Can you share a summary of what Lovepop does?
At Lovepop, we believe that relationships are the most important things in our lives and that people respond to unexpected and meaningful gestures. Right now, we offer magical 3D popup cards and fully (technology-driven) custom wedding invitation suites.
In 2018, we are turning our attention to helping consumers turn giving into a habit and making gift giving personal and easy. We are pushing every day to create 1 Billion Magical Moments for people all over the world and the technology team is key to both assisting people find the right card to give someone and creating unique cards that are personalized for the giver and recipient.
What does the product planning process look like and when does engineering get involved?
We do high-level product planning on a quarterly basis with each team getting goals driven by our company goals for that quarter. Once we build alignment on the major goals for each team (e.g. test a reminder service) we translate it into some high-level milestones as guideposts. Once we have those we adopt an agile-in-spirit product planning process where we work in iterative two-week sprints but dispense with a lot of the ceremonies of Scrum. Our process starts with translating the milestones into small stories that can be delivered within a week. We collaboratively work through those stories (typically at a whiteboard) trying to draw out what UX needs to be created, what edge/corner cases might be tricky to handle and what other risks there might be. If there is are any design implications (new APIs, major data model changes, etc.) we will have group design sessions with those affected. Whether or not individual teams use sprints we use demos and retros to continually improve our process and remove friction as well as celebrate individual and team accomplishments.
How are cross-functional teams structured?
Our organization is broken into three major units: Brand/Design (physical product development and brand story/content), Growth (business success, customer understanding, and performance marketing), and Platforms (scaling the business through technology, process, and people systems). Within each business line, members from each of these teams work together to accomplish growth in specific parts of our business. For instance, for our wedding invitation business, we have a General Manager who is responsible for growing the business profitably, wedding concierges that assist couples in designing the perfect invitation, a product manager, and a small engineering team colocated. They are all responsible for driving the marketing, roadmap, and technology-focused specifically on the wedding consumer.
Within technology, we follow an API driven strategy. We are always focused on the consumer and looking to find ways to help people give more and better, but we are also focused on finding shared patterns/architecture that can be used across all of our business lines. To accomplish this we have started to specialize “squads” within our teams that focus on our selling platforms (web applications, customer workflow services) and our capabilities (e.g. 3D rendering, customer modeling). The platform teams manage their own backlogs working closely with the product managers of the multiple consuming teams and building new services/APIs to support the needs of all of the other teams.
What are some of the different technologies that the engineering team gets to work with and at what scale?
In general, our engineering team skews towards T-shaped individuals who are passionate about specific technologies but also quick learners who can work across many technologies. This has allowed us to use a combination of Ruby on Rails for basic CRUD services/web application logic), Clojure for our customization, design, and render systems where concurrency and latency are the primary considerations and Python for our data/operational concerns. On the front end, we use React for dropping components into our main website (which augment our Shopify based store), and Ember for the single-page applications supporting our customization and design systems. We heavily lean into the cloud using AWS technologies for things that are largely table stakes at this point (messaging, queueing, identity, etc.).
What are some of the interesting projects that the engineering team is tackling?
Right now we are really focused on two major efforts:
● Building a customer understanding platform
● Making our custom product fully self-service
On the customer understanding side, our growth has allowed us to start to collect some really interesting data sets around giving behavior. We are working on testing through how we can use that to best help our customers; ideas including subscription models, reminder services, and card customization all in play right now. For the technology team, that means capturing and inferring structured data and generating MVP lightweight versions of many of these products to see which ones gain the most traction.
For the custom side, we have built a platform that allows us to compose 3D models of our cards from a number of unique building blocks. There are a number of physical engineering constraints that affect the feasibility of cards and we are tackling the best way to allow users as much freedom as possible while still ensuring the cards they receive are perfect. We real-time render the unique cards on the website and the cards they receive should look exactly like what they saw on the site.The focus recently has been on finding ways to offer customer-friendly and intuitive interfaces to perfect the cards while continuing to invest in the underlying platform to allow for more complex and exciting options for the consumer.
How is testing handled - manual or automated?
We have a very practical testing philosophy. We try to write unit tests for all of our code but keep them fairly high-level and focus especially on the API boundaries between our services or the interfaces to our more complicated logic. We quickly add unit/functional tests when we find bugs post-launch. Beyond that, to ensure we can maintain a very rapid pace we rely on engineers and PMs finding ways to deliver high-quality code that works for them. That means a lot of the integration/high-level testing happens organically between the PM and engineers) working on something as development is ongoing. We have a staging environment that replicates production and the ability to spin up development environments on-demand that allows us to host in progress work easier to get feedback. Also, since we have a container based deploy system we also are willing to ship code and quickly monitor how it is doing in production (both in terms of our business metrics and application performance monitoring) with the ability to do quick rollbacks.
Does your engineering team have a chance to work on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities? For example - skunk work projects, open source projects?
We are all pretty passionate about the product we are building at Lovepop which doesn’t leave a ton of time for side projects. However, we do make an effort to contribute back to the community however we can which takes a variety of forms - we will PR against open-source projects where it makes sense but we also are making an effort to get out to meet-ups this year and share some cool solutions we have come up with. Meetups we particularly like are the ReactJS Boston and Boston EmberJS Group.
What can someone expect during the interview process?
We have a few main goals in our interview process:
1. Flexibility - people have jobs and lives and interviewing is hard enough without making it hard to schedule.
2. Fairness - it is way too easy to let bias creep into the process if it isn’t well structured we want to focus entirely on indicators that you will be a highly productive engineer.
3. Making sure the candidate gets a good chance to meet Lovepop (not just technology) while we are getting to meet them.
We have recently overhauled our interview process to ensure we are using the time effectively (max of 4 hours!) and focusing on these goals. It now consists of a few parts:
1. An initial get-to-know-you call to give the candidate a good understanding of what we are about as well as understand what the candidate is looking for.
2. A take-home coding project - we have a variety of such projects and work with the candidate to understand which they might best succeed on.
3. An on-site interview which focuses on a few areas: technical design and communication skills, understanding of previous work, and deeper analysis of fit to role. This often takes the form of two whiteboard design sessions (just big boxes, no coding) one on something they have built previously and one on something in our domain, followed by a discussion with the hiring manager, and a discussion with a member from another team (i.e. marketing or product management).
What is the culture like at Lovepop for the engineering team?
Our engineering team is a pretty experienced group of engineers from a bunch of different backgrounds who love working on a digital product that links so tightly with the physical products we sell. Our backgrounds range from media/e-commerce to robotics and ship-building software! What makes it all work is everyone is very interested in learning new things and pitching in where they can as well as sharing their expertise and unique perspective. We are all looking for pragmatic solutions to problems and our API-driven architecture to allow us to apply the right tools for the right job which lets us use a bunch of technologies we are passionate about (Clojure, Ember.js, React, Rails, etc.).
The Lovepop team has been called “the nicest group of driven people in Boston”. Across all parts of the company, we are driven by our mission of creating magical moments, and this is seen in the hunger in all parts of our organization. We counterbalance this with a highly flexible work environment, where we treat each employee as an individual. We also have a really broad business which gives everyone access to people from different backgrounds and with different skills which leads to a highly collaborative and learning-forward environment. Plus, the office laser cutters are available for anyone to use!
Rapid Fire Q&A
What’s on tap?
Notch Left of the Dial - but it rotates between local craft beers
Star Wars or Star Trek?
iPhone or Android?
All of the above, I don’t think any two people have the same phone!
Coffee - hot or iced?
Iced, ideally on draft with nitro.
Favorite employee perk?
Free cards and access to laser cutters.
What TV show describes the engineering team’s culture?
Not sure any matches our culture but we were all just geeking out on DuckTales.
What music is playing in your office?
We are happy to say the Faneuil Hall Christmas music has finally abated so we are now treated infrequently to the neighboring team’s renditions of favorite pop hits from the late 90s.
"I started my professional life as a Naval Architect. If that sounds familiar, it's because I went to Webb Institute with the founders of Lovepop, John and Wombi. After developing ship design software for a few years, I started going to Johns Hopkins part-time and got my masters in applied and computational mathematics. On a chance phone call with John Wise, I heard that Lovepop was looking for developers and I jumped at the opportunity. While here, I have worked on how to handle automatic color mapping for custom wedding invitations and 2D production document creation for 3D cards. The product and mission are amazing and I wouldn't want to be on any other ride."
Consumer Technology Lead
"I’ve always been interested in the human element of technology. To that end, I’ve worked in Cognitive Robotics and Human-Robot Interaction in both software development and research roles. More recently I contributed to a predictive analytics platform in the global logistics space. Lovepop, to me, is about enabling friends and family to share special moments with each other through art and engineering. It’s an environment that fosters both creativity and learning. Right now I’m focused on continued development of our design asset customization and dynamic 3D rendering platform, which allows users to design and visualize custom laser-cut popup invitations in real time. With that foundation the possibilities for the future are endless and I’m excited to see what we build next."
Images courtesy of Lovepop.