We Use That / Olark

What startups use to get stuff done

The easiest way to put live chat on your website.
Posted on 20 Jul 2012 in

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Zach Steindler, Chief Olarkitecht at Olark. I split my day between keeping the business running, handling details like hiring, server health and that sort of thing. I also work on scaling out our infrastructure to handle all the new customers we’re getting.

Olark is the easiest way to put live chat on your website. When you talk to customers you sell more stuff. We help SMBs put live chat on their websites so they can talk with their customers, build a relationship and ultimately increase sales.

We’re growing fast and hiring, especially for people who enjoy building a product, we’re all sort of a product team. We’re also looking for operations people who like to scale out infrastructure, we handle millions of interactions per day.

What is your technology stack?

The most valuable stuff on the technology side is RabbitMQ and Thrift. We weren’t sure what language we wanted to write all our components in, but using RabbitMQ and Thrift allows us to have components talk to each other regardless of whether they are written in Ruby or Python or Erlang or whatever. We have also started using Redis to share state across multiple nodes and we are really impressed with the performance.

Moving up the stack a little bit, for our monitoring we use the standard tools like Munin and Nagios and also a tool we built in house called tinyfeedback, where all of our components do HTTP posts about once a minute with a bunch of key-value pairs and it’s a really easy way to graph and view that data over time and we open-sourced that. Another really cool piece of software we open sourced is called LightningJS. LightningJS is an easy way for you to build a totally asynchronous javascript plugin to do whatever you want. We use it to provide the Olark live chat window, but if you were an analytics company looking to have a little plug-in and wanted to make sure it wasn’t blocking the page load LightningJS would be really cool to check out.

All of our services are hosted on the Rackspace Cloud. We’ve been really happy with them and they have a great program for startups where they give you a service credit that will get you started and they’re really easy to work with, extremely friendly,

What software do you use to run your business?

We are really happy with Google Apps. For every meeting we have at least one person who is remote, either traveling or in another office. Being able to collaboratively take the meeting minutes and annotate action items with Google Docs is amazing, it has definitely made it a lot easier for us to work remotely.

PagerDuty is great. It always alerts us whenever there have been problems with our infrastructure. Of course, those aren’t the best calls to receive in the middle of the night, but we’ve been really impressed with their reliability and it’s a great service to make sure our servers and clusters are staying healthy.

We recently started using JIRA for our bug tracking and it is a little overwhelming to start. It has all these different options, but after sitting down with it and getting it customized for a week to match our workflow it’s incredibly powerful how you can create different searches for different items and zero in on the class of bugs you’re looking for. We don’t use everything, JIRA has tasks and subtasks and releases, we don’t use a lot of that stuff but even if we’re not using every single feature it’s incredibly powerful.

A lot of our code is in a private GitHub which has been very handy for team code reviews and things like that. We use SendGrid for sending out emails, it’s nice to not have to worry about that sort of stuff. We just started using Trello for our sales pipeline - it was crazy easy to get everyone set up on and very clear which stage of the pipeline each deal was in.

What business software do you most wish existed?

There are so many metrics companies out there that do a really good job of tracking funnel analytics, companies like KISSMetrics, Mixpanel or even Google Analytics. At one point or another we’ve used all three of those services. But nobody really gives you a really powerful view into who your customers are. It’s all sort of this funnel model. I want to be able to run a query on my customers, something like: show me all customers who have been with me for more than 3 months, have trialed at least 2 plans and paid me for at least 2 months of service. Being able to basically do a SQL query on your customers, flexible queries based on different properties. Things like the previously mentioned services make it easy to model funnels, but if you’re trying to do a cohort analysis of your users over the past couple of years you need something a little bit more sophisticated than a funnel you need to be able to use a flexible query language because you don’t know ahead of time what you’re looking for.