Post-Ecommerce Hack Day, a look at how Dwolla’s building in NYC

Online payments startup Dwolla deemed the Ecommerce Hack Day it hosted with Etsy Aug. 4-5 in New York "a run-away success." And by most measures — the first-time hack weekend drew 223 participants, produced 37 hacks and featured some $20,000 in cash and prizes — the weekend was precisely as advertised. But one important —

Nick Cerminara, Mathias Hansen, Michael Schonfeld and James Armstead were on hand for Dwolla’s Ecommerce Hack Day. Schonfeld and Armstead sported shirts signifying the startup’s New York presence.

Online payments startup Dwolla deemed the Ecommerce Hack Day it hosted with Etsy Aug. 4-5 in New York “a run-away success.” And by most measures — the first-time hack weekend drew 223 participants, produced 37 hacks and featured some $20,000 in cash and prizes — the weekend was precisely as advertised.

But one important — though less readily evident — gauge for the success of the Hack Day will be its effect on helping Des Moines-based Dwolla further establish a foothold in New York.

The process of Dwolla setting root in New York began in April, when developer evangelist Michael Schonfeld and business development builder Alexander Taub officially joined Dwolla. Together with a pair of interns, Schonfeld and Taub make up Dwolla’s “platform team.”

So although they’re just a stone’s throw from Wall Street, Schonfeld and Taub aren’t focused on partnerships with major financial institutions. Instead, they focus on finding developers to use Dwolla and facilitating third-party integrations.

“A lot of it has to do with the API and a lot of it has to do with, you know, ‘What do certain parties want?’ ” Taub said Friday in a phone interview. 

“It’s like, ‘OK, we have enough demand for a certain feature, we need to go and build it out or we need to add it into our API.’ I think that’s really the focus right now.”

Which is why events like the Hackathon — where Dwolla could put a finger on the collective pulse of a large pool of talented developers — are important to the company’s continued growth.

“I think that is just our first sort of step into the ecommerce space,” Taub said. “I think that throwing the hackathon and showing developers what we can do and some of the new features we’ll probably be coming out with … that will be targeted for ecommerce, I think this is a great first step.”

Schonfeld and Taub joined Dwolla two months after the company’s February announcement that it had raised a $5 million Series B round featuring investment from New York firms Union Square Ventures, Village Ventures and Thrive Capital. Investors first introduced Taub to Dwolla co-founder and CEO Ben Milne, and Taub tapped his friend Schonfeld to join him in establishing the company’s East Coast office.

Dwolla communications director Jordan Lampe said the duo’s connections in New York have allowed Dwolla to hit the ground running since April. “Relationships and conversations that, you know, may have taken a year to get done,” Lampe said in a phone interview Thursday, “they get wrapped up in a week or two.”

And though Lampe said Dwolla will travel wherever it needs to close a deal, there’s something to be said for the ability to drop in on business contacts without the bother of boarding passes or layovers.

“We can’t go have a coffee with (Foursquare founder) Dennis Crowley spontaneously on a Tuesday afternoon,” Lampe said. “Business happens in real time, and business happens face to face. Having those people on the ground are going to kind of expedite and extend our growth in those areas.”

Said Taub: “Business development is a lot of … emails and calls, but at the end of the day there’s nothing better than being able to go across the street and meet with the company that you want to talk to.”

Lampe said the Hack Day was about disrupting ecommerce in general, not about Dwolla or Etsy in particular. But as the Des Moines startup looks to become more of a household name in the Big Apple, the hackathon certainly didn’t hurt in raising awareness.

“I definitely still got some ‘Oh yeah, you guys are the ones from Iowa. What’s it like growing potatoes?’ ” Lampe said. 

“If you can walk away from any conversation with them having a greater understanding for Iowa and, of course, our brand, it’s an amazing thing.”


Credits: Photo by Michael Shonfeld via Instagram.


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