Kyle Shank loves creative problem solving and what he calls big ideas—solutions to problems consumers don’t even know they have.
So much that he turned down lucrative job offers from IBM and other high-profile software engineering companies to start his own company. Shank ’07 (software engineering) prefers not to be a cog in the big wheel of software production. As CEO and co-founder of Pressflip.com, Shank is focusing on engineering consumer-driven software.
Shank and co-founder Matt Kent "07 (software engineering) engineered Pressflip as an Internet search application. Web users log on to Pressflip.com and initiate ongoing Internet searches of any given topic. Consumers save as many searches as they want. Hours of search time are reduced to minutes, providing an efficient way to save time on the Web.
At no charge to the consumer, Pressflip searches all available data banks including Reddit, Fark, Digg, Twitter, YouTube and others. Pressflip retrieves pertinent articles on requested topics from mainstream media sources; posts from popular blogs; articles from magazines like Rolling Stone and Popular Mechanics; academic and industrial journals; and press releases from business wire services. Each time the consumer logs on to the Web site, all results found by Pressflip are loaded onto the consumer’s browser. It is then up to the consumer to either press on any given return, or “flip it,” signaling to the system that it is not what they want. The system then automatically eliminates other articles like it, continuing to search out ones that are desirable. (Check it out at Pressflip.com.)
Shank attributes starting his own business to experiences at RIT. He says spending many hours with classmates trying to solve problems for class projects was laborious—but it was fun.
The hours of trial and error in the RIT labs yielded appreciable results: Namely award-winning Radrails—a practical piece of software that provides Web site developers a means of interfacing with a programming software language called Ruby and a Web application called Rails. Eventually Radrails claimed 100,000 users.
Shank developed Radrails with RIT classmates Kent and Marc Baumbach ’08 (software engineering) for a class project. Radrails proved to be a highly successful venture as they continued developing the software application outside of classes throughout the year. Radrails received accolades in academia and caught the attention of eminent author and software guru Erich Gamma, IBM Distinguished Engineer at IBM Rational Software’s Zurich lab.
While attending a student software engineering conference, the three met Gamma personally. Through this meeting, Shank and Kent secured coveted six-month co-op positions working for Gamma on a research project at the IBM lab in Zurich.
While there, Shank came to a proverbial fork in the road. “Enterprise software engineered at large corporations is huge, with so many problems attached to it that sometimes it ends up being useless, or it is shipped out to be used elsewhere,” he says.
“Software by its nature is nebulous and difficult to pin down,” Shank says. “The problems are crazy and you have to chase them around like squirrels chasing each other. Even guys who write books about software engineering can’t solve all the problems, although there are many methods at their disposal.”
Deciding to use what they learned at IBM, he and partner Matt Kent went to work on a new big idea—a consumer-driven software project. After a year and a half of development, the appearance of an angel investor and a move to California, Pressflip.com was off the ground.
Shank returned to the RIT campus recently to speak to a group of software engineers on the topic of “Entrepreneurship: When Engineers Start a Company.” He offered realistic and pragmatic advice about starting a company as a software engineer.
San Francisco, he says, is a Mecca for software startups. There, investors troll the waters looking to make a perfect match with their investment money. This is a great scenario for a startup. But there are other realities he described to the group, such as the high cost of living, difficulties affording to go to all the parties to court angel investors, and the time investment required to market a product.
Ultimately, with or without difficulties, Shank expects to continue his interest in building something great and complex. Being a software engineer, he says, places the focus on designing a system rather than particular details of each part.
Decidedly he is in a place that allows him to see the whole and not just a portion. Shank concludes, “I like the view I have at Pressflip.com.”