Poornima Vijayashanker Femgineer

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You might know her as the Femgineer. Or maybe as a founding developer of Mint.com. Some lucky students may have studied under Poornima Vijayashanker when she taught in the Pratt School of Engineering in 2013. Other Duke grads may have studied with her when she completed her undergraduate degree in the early 2000s.

Vijayashanker has made a name for herself in the last two years for turning her blog Femgineer into an education company, providing workshops and written material for aspiring entrepreneurs and tech professionals, mostly women, around the world. She's been named a Top 10 Woman in Tech by Inc. And today, she makes news for the release of her first book (or guide, as she calls it), How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products.

Femgineer Book Cover
Credit: Femgineer
Vijayashanker remains committed to the Triangle region, so she took some time to answer my questions about her work since departing Durham last December. She teases the book below, but lots more detail (and how to purchase) can be found here.


EE: How has Femgineer evolved since you left Durham? How does this book fit into your strategy for the business? 

PV: Since leaving Durham in December of 2013, I've spent most of my time taking the course material that I was teaching at Duke and my own online program, and productizing it.

As I've been transforming Femgineer from a blog to a business over the last 2 years, I've met a lot of people who are interested in my online program (I've done 5 iterations and had 70+ students from around the world participate). The people who have gone through it have gone on to launch their products, raise money through crowdfunding platforms, and some have even raised angel investment or joined notable accelerators.

But I'm also concerned with people who don't join the program, and tell me that they're not ready. Most tell me it's because they're not yet committed to their idea, unsure of it, or are concerned about the financial and time investment the program requires.

I don't expect everyone to be ready for a program that's $1K+ and 8-weeks long, but I do want them to feel confident about their idea. 

As I looked at all the resources that are available to tech entrepreneurs, I realized that while there are a lot of great books like Lean Startup, Four Steps to Epiphany, and more. But there isn't one specifically for building software that gives people a step-by-step approach to validating their idea, getting it in front of customers, and then building out prototype.

The goal of my upcoming book: How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products is to give people that missing guide, which is self-paced, and will get them over an initial hump.

EE: How has teaching at Duke helped you in your newest business?  And especially in penning this book?

PV: Through teaching, I've learned where people get confused or stuck, and also what holds them back from trying and failing. I've also been able to test out my methods on my students, and see what works and what doesn't for them.

EE: How different is the process of writing and publishing compared to building a software company?

PV: In terms of effort, it feels pretty much the same! I've had to test out my methods on customers, much like you'd test out a software product on customers before launching it. I've had to design the book, the layout and flow of the content, much like the user experience of a software product.

And I've had to price and promote it in order to appeal to customers.

EE: What was the most difficult part of the process?

PV: Dealing with print! This is the first physical product I've created. I had to learn a lot about how long it was going to take to produce and how the book had to be laid out.

EE: Anything that will stand out for people that’s different from other business books?

PV: The focus on software. This is what makes this book unique. Many other business books focus on things like leadership, recruiting, strategy, or supply chain management. While this book really gets into the nuances around the business of software such a recruiting technical talent, the process for validating an idea then building a prototype, even the product launch has a different emphasis on things like security and scalability.

EE: Just to tease the book a bit—what is most different about launching a software product since you helped build Mint.com? What is the same?

PV: Managed hosting has made it really easy to launch and scale. When we launched Mint at TechCrunch40 in 2007 our servers were going crazy, and we had to do a lot to manage the growth. Today companies like RackSpace and Heroku have made it easier to manage servers and databases. It's much more push button than it was 7 years ago. 

EE: Finally, what do you miss most about Durham and Duke?

PV: I miss hanging out with my professors and walking through campus. I also really miss Wednesday runs at Fullsteam!