(Photo by Flickr user Jordan Richmond, used under a Creative Commons license)
Steve Faulkner left his home of Madison, Wis., this summer.
It was a place where he cofounded and ran a music startup, co-owned a coworking space and built civic apps.
Now Faulkner, 27, is living with his fiancé just south of Rittenhouse Square (Fitler Square sounds about right).
We chatted with him about why he’s running his startup, Murfie, from Philly, the differences between Philly and Madison’s open data scene and the last civic app he worked on.
Below, find our interview, conducted via Gchat. It was lightly edited for clarity.
So, you came from Madison? What brought you here?
Yep. My fiancé just started pediatric residency at CHOP. That was the motivation to move to Philly.
How’d you feel about that? The prospect of moving to Philly, that is.
Really great. We visited for her interview in January. It was the first time either of us had been to Philly and we didn’t know what to expect. She interviewed all day while I walked around and checked out neighborhoods and worked from coffee shops. Both of us had an awesome first impression. I totally loved the vibe of the city. We were thrilled when she matched here.
Were you scoping out the tech scene when you visited?
Not really, but I started to after we found out we were moving here. That was at the end of March. I started by just following everyone and everything Philly I could find on Twitter. Generally I was pretty impressed with the coverage. It was pretty easy to get a sense of what was going on and all the different people and organizations who were driving the tech scene here.
What were you doing in Madison? Were you involved in the scene over there?
I am cofounder and lead developer of a startup — Murfie.com. We take physical music collections and turn them into digital collections that can be streamed, downloaded, sold, traded, etc. We are based in Madison and I am still working for Murfie remotely here.
I was very involved in the tech scene in Madison. I am also co-owner of a coworking space there and helped organize many different events, meetups and entrepreneurial events. We have a big yearly event called the Forward Technology Festival every August that I have helped out with since it started.
One thing I also worked a lot on was civic hacking. I helped organize a meetup in Madison and would create my own APIs to city data before the city passed an open data ordinance a couple years ago.
Have you seen much of the Philly civic hacking scene? It’s pretty strong.
Yeah that has been one of the coolest things so far. I haven’t been able to engage much yet, still getting settled, but it is clear that a lot of Philly residents are passionate about civic tech. I’ve had a couple idea for apps and it is neat to see that others have already built them.
— Code for Philly (@CodeForPhilly) June 18, 2015
I’m definitely looking forward to participating in Code for Philly events.
What was a recent civic hacking project you worked on in Madison?
I built out a bus arrival times kiosk for a local coffee shop. We built it to be really cheap, based around a Raspberry Pi, and “set it and forget it.” The idea was a store owner could easily just plug it in and it would take little or no setup. It was actually the culmination of several different efforts. I did most of the hardware parts. Preston Austin built the web interface, and Greg Tracy built the API for the bus arrival data. Greg’s API was really the starting point. A few years ago he built a simple app that scraped but data and sent a text message called SMSMyBus. Once he added an API it really paved the way for others, including myself, to use the data.
Right before I left I had started working on building an API for library data since I was getting frustrated not having access as a developer. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete it before moving got hectic.
Wait, so, a lot of the data you were using in Madison just didn’t have APIs?
When we started, there were none. Bus data was posted in html to a website that updated every few minutes. Madison did pass an open data law, partially because of our work, but we are still waiting for a lot of stuff to make it online.
It is better now but a few years ago, it was just writing screen scraping code to generate developer friendly APIs. I wrote code that scraped fire reports, police reports, property ownership records
You’d probably be excited to see that Philly is further along than that. So in terms of Murfie, how many people work on it? Like, was it hard to make the decision to run the company remotely?
Yeah, I’ve looked a little already and it is great. One thing that was cool is that Indego data was accessible from launch day. In Madison I had to contact Trek directly to get bike share data. Fortunately they were really nice and gave me access.
Murfie is about 12 full-time people right now. We also have a part-time staff that rips CDs and vinyl. Luckily I have 2 awesome cofounders. Matt Younkle who is CEO and Preston Austin. The both still live in Madison. Our dev team is 4 people right now including me, so it is fairly easy to interface with everyone remotely. I can write code from anywhere, and we also spend a lot of time coordinating with each other over hangouts and gchat.
I knew for quite a while that my fiance would be doing residency in a city other than Madison, so moving was going to happen for us. As for Murfie, we just knew we had to make being remote work, and it is going pretty well so far.
Anything from Madison’s tech scene or Madison in general that you’d like to see here? Or say, lessons Philly could learn from Madison?
Hard to say this early, I may have a better idea over the next few months.
One thing that I think is important for any tech scene is not to get in the mindset of how do we make Philly/Madison into “the next Silicon Valley.” We both want our tech scenes to grow, but they should become better versions of themselves, not an imitation of somewhere else. Having spent a decent amount of time in the Valley, there are a lot of terrible aspects to the place. I wouldn’t want to recreate those in Philly or Madison.