Things have been ramping up here at Reaction HQ, so we thought it was high time we introduce the team behind all of the hard work, starting with Reaction cofounder, Aaron Singmaster-Judd. A seasoned technology veteran and artist at heart, Aaron has been contributing to the startup scene as an early-stage chief technology officer for over 15 years, lending his expertise to companies and brands like Grindr, TOMS, Wolfgang Puck, and Science.
How did you get to where you are today? How did you get started?
I was raised in Boston. I grew up with computers and programming, which, at the time, was more or less like learning how to use an abacus. I had no idea programming would turn into a viable career path back then. I was in aviation school and working at a Circle K when the district manager offered me a job doing tech support. Eight months later, I ran the tech support team. I was making more money, and having more fun with technology than I would as a pilot, so I quit that and stuck with programming.
You went to Aviation school?
I was studying to be a pilot, but I hate flying and I'm afraid of heights, so… that wasn't the best decision. [laughs]
Why do you prefer working with early-stage startups over an established company? Do you have doubts?
I like building products, solving problems, and creating solutions with a small team of people who are passionate about what they’re doing. It feels like a lot of the innovation for many companies is in those early stages. Exploring fresh approaches to existing challenges is part of the fun, and when you work with like-minded creators, something special happens. The hardest time as a startup is to go from two people to 50 people. There are a ton of growing pains involved there. I enjoy working on solutions to these growing pains, always evaluating what we can do better than the last time.
As for doubts, there’s always more unknowns. [laughs]
Tell us about your experiences as a CTO. What are some challenges and takeaways you face?
Grindr / Blendr was a great learning experience. Joel, the founder, was working out of his house in the hills. There were 50+ developers—none of them employees—hacking away at it from all corners of the world, and so when it came time to grow, a big challenge was in-sourcing the team, along with scaling for massive growth, all while launching new products.
The interesting thing about dating apps like Grindr is that the environment and user behavior dictates its growth, not the technology. It’s all about the information and data that's collected in a mobile environment and how that could be used to determine behavioral trends. Once that's determined, a product can target content that keeps users captured for a longer period of time. This all relates to our ideas for predictive merchandising for commerce.
How did you meet your co-founder, Sara, and how did Reaction start up?
We met at a local marketplace startup in Santa Monica which suffered from long-in-the-tooth ecommerce problems, from international drop-ship logistics to vendor onboarding to a million other things. The solutions to these issues often seemed like a much greater challenge than the actual problems.
Other ecommerce solutions require a lot of high-level knowledge and the features aren't integrated into the platform. Quite simply, these solutions aren't very user-friendly. Plus, all the add-ons, like analytics, come from third-party solutions. It's like buying an aftermarket muffler from the car dealership, and wondering why it didn’t come with the car.
It got to the point where we figured that the only way we could build the tools we envisioned was by creating our own platform. That’s where the concept for Reaction started, and from there, we started our company.
What are your interests outside of technology, and how do those interests shape your work?
I'm definitely more of a creative type. I like art. I like to read and write, and I think that type of artistic expression translates well with code. I like to see a visual product being created through words. I used to write games using sprites on a Ti-99/4a, just to see the Space Invader character moving around. I love building tools that no one else has visualized. To me, that's an expression of art.
Did you have any role models that led you to where you are today? Who influences you now?
If we're talking larger than life figures, definitely Elon Musk.
From a more personal level, I'm inspired by Sara, by my parents, who were always entrepreneurs, and by the tech scene. I'm inspired by people who look like they’re having fun doing what they're doing. I'm deeply passionate about being true to yourself, rather than being the best. There is always someone better. It's not a race. Enjoy yourself along the way and learn from the people around you.
What projects/concepts/technologies are you looking forward to tackling in the coming years for Reaction?
We have a big vision, but I’m definitely passionate about working on predictive merchandising as a feature. We plan on analyzing product data across the Reaction network to enable a more engaging shopping experience. A user who visits a shop may see different products depending on their location history, time of day, etc. For example, customers in New York might see cardigans, while customers in LA might see short shorts. Predictive merchandising allows for that type of tailored, personal experience. Purchasing history, location, anonymized trends across marketplace shops, tagged items—these are all analytics that are predictive of user patterns.
If you walk into a small shop, you're greeted by the salesperson who provides you with a personal shopping experience. That level of intimacy should exist online too, and that's what predictive merchandising is, essentially.
Our general philosophy is that running an online shop shouldn’t be that much different than a physical shop.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
The key to success is to build a product while staying true to yourself, and to build a team you enjoy working with that has integrity and passion. These are the right ingredients.
Follow Aaron on GitHub or Twitter.