Alyssa Ravasio graduated from Dev Bootcamp in 2013 with a background in startups, a great idea for a website, and the programming skills to execute it. Read our interview with Alyssa to find out about her unique application process, how Dev Bootcamp gave her the tools to start her own business, and what types of people really succeed at a bootcamp.
What were you doing before you started at Dev Bootcamp?
Directly before, I was travelling through India for a couple of months and then prior to that I was Director of Operations at a startup called Xola.
Did you have a technical background before you applied?
Nope. I had helped start two Silicon Valley startups so I was the first employee at both of them. One of them is now very large with 100+ people and offices all over the world, and I got to really see what it meant to start a company, specifically in the software space. I was at those startups because I knew I wanted to start my own company at some point. I learned that it was probably going to be beneficial if I learned how to code before starting a software company – and that’s what took me to Dev Bootcamp.
Did you do any preparation, like did you try to teach yourself to code before you applied?
I learned a bit in college, and the year prior had tried to teach myself on Code Academy but failed. Dev Bootcamp sends you lots of prep work ahead of time so I’d completed that as well, which was super helpful.
What was the application process like for you?
I have a really weird story; I didn’t even really apply. I learned about Dev Bootcamp from John Davidson (a former DBC student) because he had just graduated. I heard about it at a party when I had just left my job and I knew I wanted to start a company; I was already trying to learn to code on my own. And he was like, “Oh my gosh, I just graduated from this program, it’s called Dev Bootcamp, it changed my life. There’s a class starting on Monday.” This party was Friday night, and I figured I would just show up and see what happened.
I actually showed up Monday morning at 7 a.m. I was the first person there and just started talking my way in. The whole Dev Bootcamp staff was super divided about it. Half of them were like, “This girl is so awesome, she just showed up without even applying and she wants to be here because she just heard about it.” Other people were like, “We can’t accept this person or the next time we start a cohort there will be like 40 people waiting outside.”
Eventually, they decided that I couldn’t start that day but I could start at the next cohort, so that was about 3 months later.
Did you have the idea for your company Hipcamp before you got to Dev Bootcamp?
Yes, I did.
Were you clear about that with the DBC staff that you didn’t want to go get another job at a startup, but that you wanted to start your own business?
I don’t think that even came up. I was just very passionate about learning to code and I needed to take the next step in my life, and that’s what they were all about. Through the course of the program there were times when I thought I might end up getting a job, too. It wasn’t like I went to Dev Bootcamp to build Hipcamp; I knew I had this idea that I really wanted to build but at the same time, what if I didn’t know enough and I needed to work as a junior engineer for a year?
It basically went as well as I could have hoped for, which is to say that when I graduated I did know enough to build a basic version of this application. I didn’t assume that would be the case going in.
It was actually not until the last week when Steve Huffman, the cofounder of Reddit and Hipmunk, came in and gave a talk. Every week Dev Bootcamp would bring in these speakers and I’d ask the same question: “I’m just learning to code for the first time but I really want to start this company; what do you think I should do?” And every speaker beforehand had said, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to tell you what to do with your life” or “It depends”, like totally wishy washy answers. And Steve said, “Does it solve a problem you have”? Is it a problem other people have? And will people pay you to fix it?” and I said Yes. He told me: “Yes, yes, yes, yes…go for it, start the company, don’t look back. If you run out of money you can always get a job later.” And that’s exactly what I did. I definitely owe Steve for that dose of inspiration.
Did you work on Hipcamp for your final project?
No, I did not! It was very calculated because if I worked on it at Dev Bootcamp, then some of my classmates might have thought they owned part of my company and that just wasn’t something I was willing to enter into legally.
I pitched an idea called the Geotube- it’s a world map where you can explore different media trending around the world without the filter of American propaganda broadcast news.
Have you stayed involved with Dev Bootcamp as a mentor?
I am not an official mentor because I’m starting a company right now. If I hadn’t had a job I totally would have. I help out my boyfriend a lot (he’s in a current cohort at Dev Bootcamp) so I was there all day Sunday.
I’ve definitely stayed in touch with the people from my class and actually organized a reunion dinner on our one-year anniversary of starting the program.
Tell us about what you’re up to today and tell us about Hipcamp!
Hipcamp helps people discover and book campsites. We do this by actually building the data set and manually doing the research and building up data sets like: can I bring my dog to this park? Is there rock climbing, it there running water? These are really simple questions people have and there’s nowhere online where you can see all of your options for camping at once, let alone with this powerful discovery feature.
We also develop original content around each of the parks; so we won’t just tell you that there’s rock climbing but somebody will also give you one or two links to the best resources on the web that we can find so that you can learn more.
Finally, we integrate across multiple government agencies to produce real time availability. So we let you put in your date and say that you want to go rock climbing and you want to bring your dog and we show you your options.
Did you work with a developer to build the site or did you build it?
Basically, I built a first version of Hipcamp on my own, which was enough to attract my co-founder and our first customers. We spent last summer learning what people wanted to see and this summer is all about really proving that we’ve got product market fit.
We’ve raised a small ground earlier this year and I’m raising another ground right now. We’re seeing really great growth and lots of really happy users.
We’ve got a really engaged community that will write us with ideas for what they want to see next all the time, which we absolutely love. And we hired our first lead developer last month. I’m still coding but I’m not building out a whole new feature set or anything. I now do more recruiting and fundraising and writing investor reports, which is fun, too.
Who else is on your team?
I have a cofounder named Eric and he leads up our growth and content effort. We have a wonderful team of summer interns who do most of the copywriting and research and marketing. Then we have a research team in the Philippines and they do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Basically, there is no comprehensive consistent data set for our public parks; we’re building that for the first time.
So what’s the next step for Hipcamp?
We’re going to launch all of California at the beginning of July and then the goal from there is to start nailing down the whole process of adding a state and actually begin expanding nationally to have coverage by next summer.
And then are you thinking of expanding internationally at all?
Definitely. Camping is like the number one activity in Korea right now!
I didn’t know that! Do you plan to grow the company at all or do you think you can stay relatively small?
We are currently hiring a front-end engineer, a designer and a full-stack engineer, and maybe an operations manager but that depends on how effective I can become. So yeah, we’re definitely growing the team.
It sounds like you’ve had a great evolution in your career over the past couple of years.
Yeah; I feel very fortunate to work on something I think is so important, that I love. Our mission is to get more people outside. I think spending time in nature is vital to health on an individual level but also on a society and planetary level so it’s really fun to progress on that mission every day – little bit by little bit.
What has been your experience as a woman in the tech industry, not only as a woman who learned to code but also a technical cofounder?
Normally, I only think about it when people ask me about it, but other than that I haven’t noticed. I’m not sure our investors have really noticed. Our customers certainly haven’t noticed.
I think it’s a big deal there aren’t more women in the industry but in my experience, I’ve always been treated fairly and with respect.
In your class at Dev Bootcamp, what was the gender breakdown? Did you notice that there were a lot of women in your class?
There were less women than men for sure, but I had a few strong women graduate alongside me. Actually, our lead developer at Hipcamp just joined us last month and she had left a job at a coding bootcamp. She was the Director of Operations at Hackright, Liz. She is absolutely incredible. That’s probably a very interesting pipeline to potentially hire from.
What sort of person would you recommend attend a coding bootcamp and what kind of person do you see not succeeding in that environment?
Anybody who wants to learn to code should go to a coding bootcamp. Anybody who really wants to learn; it just comes down to that passion for coding.
The people who should not go are the people who think coding might be a “way out” of their current situation or that they should learn to code because it’s cool. When I’ve seen students either succeed or fail, it really comes down to having an authentic desire to do this or are you doing it because your boyfriend did it or because you think it’s going to get you a high-paying job?
If it’s anything external from yourself, you’re probably not going to make it. These are called Bootcamps for a reason. But if it’s something you really want for yourself, at least Dev Bootcamp has the resources there to make it happen for you.
Now that you are an employer, would you hire a graduate of Dev Bootcamp?
We’re probably about to.
Is there anything else that we didn’t touch on about Hipcamp or Dev Bootcamp?
Any impact-oriented angel investor who wants to get in on a hot new company should email me!
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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