PiggyBank’s New Video

What is PiggyBank?

PiggyBank is a short-term lender. We lend from £100 up to £1000 from 7 days and up to 5 months. We have been operating since 2012, building the platform from the ground up to provide short term loans completely online and with the customer at the heart of everything we do.

Taking out a loan can be daunting especially when it comes to taking out a short-term loan. At PiggyBank we have gone to great lengths to ensure that our customers and potential customers understand what we do at PiggyBank, how we can help and how the process works.

The Challenge

The challenge was to create a video to show who PiggyBank are. What we do. How we can help and the process of taking out a short term loan. All of this needed to be done in a video taking less than 45 seconds. We know that video is fast becoming the number one communication tool but it was not enough just to create a video. We had to ensure that what we created was memorable, valuable and showcased our values as a company.

The Approach

We have worked in the short-term lending industry for four years now and we have serviced thousands of customers in that time. We have learnt a great deal about our customers and the importance of providing clear concise information that allows customers to make the most informed decision when it comes to taking out a short-term loan. For this reason we wanted to work with a company that didn’t know much about our industry because it was important to us that the video worked for people who know PiggyBank but also for those who don’t know PiggyBank or what we do. For this reason we decided to work with Platinum Videos. They are a startup based in Birmingham.

Part of the approach was to ensure that the brand was present throughout. To do this we had to make sure that the right colours were shown in the video to match the colours on our site. We also had to make sure that we explained how we help customers, show part of the website and explain how the process of taking a short term loan works.

The Result

New Website

After months of hard work, we are pleased to announce that we have launched a brand new website. The new website has been designed with you in mind; providing the best user experience, with improved functionality and ease-of-use throughout, making sure you can get all the information you need, when you need it.

Every single part of the new website has been tested multiple times to ensure we can give our customers an even better experience, whether it’s the first time visiting the site or if you are an existing customer of ours. We loved the old website and so did our customers, but it is always important to always improve and do things better.

Reviews

Every page has been simplified to make everything easier to understand and it is now even simpler to navigate through the site. We have added a new section for reviews, to show you how our customers feel about the service we provide and we also give you the opportunity to review our service. Transparency is a key part of our we operate as a business and so it is important that everyone who comes to our site can see what other people think of us.

PiggyBank Reviews

 

Blog

We have also completely overhauled our blog section and split it up into three sections. We talk about everything that our customers may be interested in, from money saving tips, to how to treat your kids on a budget. There are a lot of people who run startups, or who want to start a company and so we have two sections on the kinds of technology we use and how we managed our startup journey.

PiggyBank Blog

 

FAQs

Our FAQ section has also been updated with lots of new questions and answers. We always want to give our customers different options to get in contact with us to ask questions regarding applications queries or if you have a live loan. However we also want to enable you to get the answers you want from our website. Split up into three categories, you can now get the answers to almost everything directly from the FAQ’s.

PiggyBank FAQs

Every cloud has a silver lining

In a previous article I talked about how PiggyBank had opted to use Rackspace’s cloud for infrastructure hosting. Since then we have been steadily progressing towards the launch of our short-term loan product and along the way we have started to use other “cloud” based products.
This got us here at PiggyBank HQ thinking about some of the more serious topics that pop up in established businesses. For a group of entrepreneurial youths we thought this was very grown up and wanted to share our thoughts with you.

 

Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery

 

Business continuity and disaster recovery attempt to answer the question: “What would happen to our business if…”. The end of that question could be:

“… our server stopped working”
“… we lose our source repo”
“… our building gets hit by a meteor”
“… the power goes out”
“… we get struck by the zombie apocalypse” (maybe not this one, albeit a fun ‘what if’ discussion)

So we asked ourselves these questions (and a few more) and we decided that if these things were to happen we will be able to get our business up and running quickly, with minimal disruption and more importantly reduced loss of business. For big organisations, employing lots of staff and big hardware overheads these occurrences are very difficult and expensive to deal with. So why do we think we are prepared for them?

 

Infrastructure Recovery

Because we are using Rackspace’s cloud we can create new servers in about 30 minutes, and because we are billed for these by the hour we use we can spin up a new box when we need it and not incur cost.

Rackspace also have a cloud file system that we use to store server images and database backups. This means that if one of our primary servers encounters a problem or our database is corrupted, we can recover both from the cloud on demand.

 

Business Recovery

Everything we do here at PiggyBank HQ lives in the digital realm. From our project plans, our development plans to our business files, emails and collaborative documents. If there is ever a problem with our workspace or the utilities that support it (electricity, internet) all we need to do
is pick up our laptops, find an Internet connection and business continues. We could literally be at opposite ends of the planet and still be able to continue on with business.

When teams are small and agile this is a reality. Large teams may find this more difficult to achieve.

Here are some of the tools we use to enable this:
Basecamp – This is where we organise our projects, who is doing what and when Trello – Another project management tool, we use Trello for our Kanban process
Dropbox – File sharing system
Google Apps – Email, collaborative documents, calendars, etc
BitBucket – Distributed version control using either Git or mercurial repos

 

So the key is… Distribution!

 

We have been fortunate to find tools early on in our startup journey that complement our agility but also provide us with resilience and piece of mind and knowledge that in the event of a disaster, like a phoenix, we will rise up again. The key to this goes back to the saying “don’t put
all your eggs in one basket”. Organisations can spend millions of pounds setting up resilient architectures and infrastructures that can withstand disaster. We have distributed our business activities into the cloud on a small budget, in some cases for free.

If you are in a position of thinking about setting up a tech startup or you are in charge of IT in your company, have a look into what you can do.

Happy coding and see you soon.

P.s. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what would be your chosen weapon?

Don’t be afraid to take short cuts

It has been said before that the best coder is a lazy one (Jeff Atwood). A lazy programmer tries his hardest to avoid writing monotonous code and always wants to find the path of least resistence to solve a problem.

Writing software, especially early in the process can be dull. This is the part of the process where you are setting up the solutions, the structure and laying down the foundations. The process many programmers will affectionately call boilerplate code. So why not take a few shortcuts?

Shortcuts in this context does not mean dropping quality to get the job done “faster”, missing the odd unit test or applying liberally the software duct tape to hold your software together. It refers to unleashing the inner coding couch potato so that you can do your job just as well but expending less energy on the mechanics of writing the code, leaving much more processing time to thinking, or in our case producing the best and most friendly finance software possible. After all this is where most great coders win or lose their battles.

Here at PiggyBank HQ, we love to take shortcuts and here are some of the things we use:

Keyboard shortcuts
Getting familiar with your IDE of choice’s keyboard shortcuts will make you faster. Once you get into full swing you will not be writing code so much as connecting letters with shortcuts to auto-complete your coding sentences. Here at PiggyBank HQ we use Visual Studio as our IDE, on its own it has incredible intelli-sense, coupled with JetBrains Resharper you have incredible power all without leaving the keyboard.

As with all things in life, practice makes perfect. So challenge yourself to navigate round your app code without the mouse, After all it only takes ten minutes a day (http://lifehacker.com/5889332/the-10+minute-hack). You may also want to consider learning a coding kata to force the muscle memory (Clean Coder, Pragmatic programmer http://www.scribd.com/doc/58778970/The-Clean-Coder#outer_page_122).

To get you started here are a few links to shortcut cheat sheets for both VS2010 and resharper.

http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2010/07/29/visual-studio-2010-keyboard-shortcuts.aspx http://www.jetbrains.com/resharper/docs/ReSharper50DefaultKeymap_VS
_scheme.pdf

Shorthand code
So we know that the IDEs are designed to make us lazier, what about our language of choice? C# is a great language, supported by a great framework. With each new version of the language we are being spoilt with ways to make our jobs easier. Cast your mind back to the code you wrote on the dotnet 1.1 or even 2.0 frameworks to what you are writing now. Your younger self would call you lazy, then want to get involved.

Turnery
The turnery ? operator is great for scenarios where you want a conditional statement with simple outputs. The basic structure is:

return A > B ? A : B which is equivalent to: if A is greater than B then return A else return B

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ty67wk28(v=vs.80).aspx

Using statement
The using keyword provides a shorthand way to deal with objects implementing IDisposable. Rather that writing lengthy destructors wrap your disposable objects in a using statement to handle the heavy lifting for you

Object Initializers
The truly lazy way to populate objects with values. This works equally well inside a LINQ statement and condenses the setting of object values

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb384062.aspx

Automatic properties
The are occasions where you want to have code inside your property setters and getters. I rarely do so I use automatic properties.

Why write this?

int _age;
int _name;

class Cat
{
public int Age
{
get {return _age;}
set {_age = value;
}
public string Name
{
get {return _name}
set {_name = value}
}
}

When you can write this!

class Cat
{
// Auto-implemented properties.
public int Age { get; set; }
public string Name { get; set; }
}

As a bonus, visual studio 2010 has a handy keywork. Type in “prop” then tab twice for VS to complete the property for you, these are known as snippets

Here are some other C# shorthand language idioms for further reading:

  • The var keyword
  • Lambda expression
  • Anonymous Types

Just remember that you are writing code so that coders changing it after you can maintain it. It is important to know when to write for humans and when to write for performance.

Why the best tool gets better results

As a developer, and general technologist I like shiny gadgets. I also like to use the latest tools of my trade. Before going into this I feel a story coming on… Some time ago I decided to get a new kitchen installed. Now as a self respecting man (I hate DIY) my first thought was to give it a go myself to save a bit of cash, after all how hard could it be? I went down to my local DIY store and picked out the cupboards and the units, the work surface, the handles and all the other bits and bobs you need.

As I started to look at the job in front of me it very quickly dawned on me that a multi-end screw driver, a hacksaw and a couple of power tools were just not going to cut it (no pun intended, well maybe there was). Luckily for me one of my friends is a very skilled carpenter/plumber who did have the right tools. Not only the right tools but lots of them… long story short, with his expertise and an array of tools the job got done, no-one was dismembered and the taps don’t leak.

One thing I learnt from this experience and why it is analogous to the PiggyBank build is how having the right tools make the job much easier. Obviously you need the relevant expertise but lets assume that we do for now.

Just like kitchen remodelling can be done with a basic toolset, so could the PiggyBank short term loan product have been built with notepad and the command prompt. But like kitchen remodelling the end result would have been much less polished and more error prone.

The right tools not only enhance the users expertise they make you faster, more productive, incur less waste and lead to a much better end result.

To illustrate another benefit here is an excerpt from Joel Spolsky’s (@Spolsky) Joel Test.

“Even minor frustrations caused by using underpowered tools add up, making programmers grumpy and unhappy. And a grumpy programmer is an unproductive programmer.”
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html

For programmers and developers the best tools comprise of powerful development spec PCs, great IDEs, testing suites and many other bits of kit.

Lifehacker (@WhitsonGordon & @Lifehacker) provide an annual roundup of tools which I tend to check every time I get a new PC

http://lifehacker.com/5826909/lifehacker-pack-for-windows-our-list-of-the-best-windows-downloads

Mac users, I haven’t forgotten you either… Here is lifehacker’s guide for you

http://lifehacker.com/5826449/lifehacker-pack-for-mac-our-list-of-the-best-free-mac-downloads

So whatever your environment, whatever the language, go forth and find the best tools. You owe it to yourself.

Happy Coding

Why we moved into the cloud

Here at PiggyBank we have made the choice to put our infrastructure into “the cloud”. A fashionable term at the moment. You will find short term lenders and payday loans companies masquerading as “tech” firms banding this term around.

Like them we took a long hard look at how we were going to let our lovely customer service their short term lending needs in the most robust way possible. After all, you don’t want to get halfway through something and see this kind of thing…

So what do cloud servers provide that traditional hosting or Internal systems don’t give you? In short, elasticity. With the cloud (at least the one we have chosen) you get; Lower IT cost, no onsite hardware, built in ability to scale, and in comparison to traditional onsite IT it is much greener.

With PiggyBank systems living in the cloud we can manage the costs of our services on a much finer grain that onsite systems. We are able to increase or decrease the number of servers and services we use when the demand goes up, or down. This means that we only pay for what we use rather than having servers gathering dust. Lower costs for us means cheaper short term loans.

A greener alternative?

As the servers we use are virtualized in a data centre, you get more servers for your hardware. This means that there are fewer machines eating electricity… Here is a handy infographic that explains more

Rackspace® — [INFOGRAPHIC] How Cloud Computing is Saving the Earth
Rackspace® — [INFOGRAPHIC] How Cloud Computing is Saving the Earth

At PiggyBank, we are using the rackspace cloud www.rackspace.com

Getting Free Stuff

Working for PiggyBank as a startup venture there are a few things that just have to be accepted. Some things are good, some, not so much. You have to accept that cash flow, especially at the beginning, is a little tight. This means that you need to have many hats so anything you can get for free is viewed as a massive win.

As work commenced here at PiggyBank HQ we quickly started to need to integrate third party APIs. Off we went to the suppliers we used in the past only to realize that most did not present the prices up front. This annoys us because we believe that friendly finance should not hide the costs.

A quick web search later lead us to companies who not only provided great APIs and transparent pricing but also allowed us to start testing the water with free account credits. While this was not a large number it did allow us to get all the testing and integration done without spending a penny or having to phone for prices.

So in the interest of sharing and the hope that others on their startup journey stumble across this here are a few of those companies:

PostcodeAnywhere http://www.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/
We use their address lookup services but dig around and you will find a wealth of other services centred on location data.

OneSixty http://onesixty.co.uk/
OneSixty provide SMS and MMS fulfillment. Ask nicely and they will give you some test credits

MailJet http://www.mailjet.com/
Gorgeous website, SMTP Relay service, awesome reporting, a great API, transparent pricing and 6000 email a month for free entry account.

MailChimp http://mailchimp.com/
Marketing email fulfillment, basic account serves up 12k email a month

It is also worth mentioning that if you look hard enough you can find free stuff every where. At PiggyBank HQ, we use Microsoft technology to build our systems. Microsoft provide great software development starter kits. Their express range, while limited, will get you off the ground for free and when you’re ready to move to the next level you can use trial Visual Studio and SQL server for 90 and 180 days respectively. So three months into your build without spending anything.

There are also schemes in action like Microsoft BizSpark and WebsiteSpark for startups where you can get the tools for your trade for up to 3 years (with some conditions).

Go get that free stuff and happy coding!

The Beauty of Focus

What do I mean by the beauty of focus? To explain this I will have to give you a little back story. Whilst working for previous companies, both in short term finance and other disciplines, I found that there was little structure given to the daily process of writing software. Days quickly descend into meetings, planning sessions or just general distraction.

It should never be underestimated the amount of time that is wasted by task switching, especially for a software engineer. It takes time to find the flow. You cannot write great software without committing a decent chunk of time to the thought and execution of the process. I also think this is why developers are generally best late at night. Others may disagree but some of the best engineers I have worked with produce the best stuff after midnight.

In order to remedy this, and what I have tried to do here at PiggyBank is to set aside a block of time during the day to find the fabled zen state of pure focus, block off time and learn to say no!

This zen state does not come easily and requires a little prep and some planning with your team. For PiggyBank it involves getting the meetings organised into the right slots. Briefings and catch ups are best suited to the morning, discussion, planning and meetings with other parties (customers or suppliers for example) are best suited to the afternoon. Block out time from eleven to two for the core part of your job, writing software.

So what to do during this golden time? Get yourself a cuppa, and do what suits you to get into the head space to crack on with your problem solving. For me its sorting out the right track list and getting stuck in.

If you are lucky enough to be in a company where you can do this, trust me, you will be more productive as a result, so too will your colleges. Give it a go and be strict with yourself, once you are in your coding mindset let nothing (or at least as little as possible) break you away.

Happy Coding!