We recently had a chat with Groupon Engineering Manager Ulf about Breadcrumb, Groupon’s iPad based point-of-sale system. Ulf talks about leading his team of 5 engineers, taking in the San Francisco culture, and an app he created during our latest hackfest to unlock the doors to the office if people forget their keys.
Job Title: Engineering Manager
Start Date: April 2012
What did you do before you came to Groupon?
I joined Groupon last April. Groupon acquired a company that I co-founded called Ditto.me. Ditto was a mobile app that enabled people to say what they were going to do next – it was more of a future check-in app. You could have a conversation with your friends about where you were heading, and those friends could join you at your next location. This helped people find things to do in their cities. Prior to that, I worked at a start-up called Siri, which was sold to Apple. I started working on Siri for Apple and was one of their first iOS engineers.
Why did you choose to come to Groupon?
I thought that working at Groupon would be a unique experience. Groupon is one of the only companies that is equally in the merchant and consumer spaces. Originally, we were hired to figure out some new innovative ways to connect those two spaces. That was, and still is, really exciting to me. On top of that, we opened up Groupon’s San Francisco office.
We have about 50 or 60 people in the office now, and we’re continuing to expand.
What have you been working on lately?
I manage the team that builds Breadcrumb by Groupon, and iPad-based point of sale system. It’s similar to Square. The main difference is that we are a small team of five engineers. To build something this quickly is incredible. I love working on a small team of entrepreneurial-minded engineers. They all are really optimistic, work hard, and are able to ship the product every six weeks.
What has surprised you most about working here?
How much, especially in San Francisco, it feels like a start-up. Everything is not corporate-y and put together in a way that people like. The location is also great. Groupon really invested in a space in San Francisco. And, even though we are a small office far away from our two largest offices in Chicago and Palo Alto, the senior team really cares about what we are doing.
Tell us more about your involvement in GeekOn, Groupon’s first hackfest that occurred this past July.
I was a part of the GeekOn organizing committee. Prior to GeekOn, I organized a hackathon in San Francisco (left), so I knew how these things typically run. It was an amazing day. It was so much work to get everyone to sign off on not working on their work-related product for the day, but the outcome was worth the effort. People came up to me and said that it was their favorite day at Groupon yet. It was mine, too.
My GeekOn project was an iPhone app called Breadcrumb Sesame. It lets you unlock the front door of the San Francisco office if you forgot your physical key.
What are you looking forward to in the coming years?
We put in a foundation of the right application and tools that better combine merchant and consumer experiences. Once we integrate Breadcrumb POS with the consumer experience (by enabling merchants to talk to consumers, customers to order things from merchants, and more), we will unlock a huge window of opportunity. Doing so will enable our merchants and customers to have experiences that cannot be found anywhere else.
What are you proud of?
My team. They’re working so hard on building something very quickly. The feedback that we receive from merchants and the press is satisfying. They have been tasked with the responsibility of building something that is quite complex, yet still understandable and easy to use. I could never come up with the amazing ideas that they have.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an engineering manager at Groupon?
Be very optimistic. Lead by example. Never stop working on projects. Always have something to do outside of your job, like side projects, that you can talk about in your interviews. Try to build products and be excited about them. And, of course, don’t stop coding.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Since moving to the US from Germany, I have moved from coast to coast; I arrived in San Francisco, moved to New York, headed to San Jose, then back to New York, and now I’m in San Francisco again. I love the Bay Area. I bought a condo here, so I’m not going anywhere else anymore. The culture in San Francisco is very diverse. It’s hard to find someone who is actually from here. As an immigrant, I fit in perfectly.
There are so many outdoorsy things to do in San Francisco all year around. I like to go kite surfing. In the winter, I go to my cabin in Lake Tahoe, where there is amazing snowboarding. I recently learned how to paraglide. I’m also learning to become a private pilot, but that’s going to take me a long, long time.
I love going to concerts. I went to Coachella this year and really enjoyed seeing Moby, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Justice, and many more bands. Moby was running a great DJ set – he was awesome.