TheBirdy.com: using email for personal finance management


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A few weeks ago, Brandon and I went to New York City for Startup Weekend. I had stopped by the previous SW NYC when I was there for Internet Week and API Hackday, and I was instantly impressed. I’ve been to a few Startup Weekends in Boulder and Denver, but never had I seen a crowd this large. Nor had I witnessed the level of energy that was in the General Assembly office that Friday evening.

As I walked out of the event that night, I decided we would definitely be back for the next SW in the city.

It was a good decision. Not only did we get to chill at the GA digs for a good chunk of Fri/Sat/Sun, but we worked with closely with a number of teams: Brandon rocked some code, we had some great discussions on app infrastructure, I mentored some pitch practice sessions, and, above all, we met a bunch of awesome people.

Corey Maass is one of those awesome people. And below is a story that he told us, which we thought would be fun to share with the rest of our community.

Take it away…Corey!

I’d spent five weeks working on a website, and I needed a break. On Friday, I got my daily email from iDoneThis.com, which I use every day to keep track of my progress. I found myself complaining about the money I’d spent, and I thought, “boy, one email a day would be a great way to track my spending.”

I’ve used Sendgrid for a bunch of projects before, but always for out-going email. So I looked at their services and found they could parse in-coming emails. They’ve got a few other hidden gems, too. Sometimes it pays to not quite know what you’re looking for…

So for the fun of it, and to scratch my own itch, I took a weekend and built what would become the first version of the Birdy: Answer one email a day, and track what you spend. Create categories by tagging your purchases like #twitter. Super simple.

A week later, I found I’d actually used it everyday. I thought, “I bet other people would use this, too.” A couple months later, we have a few thousand users, and we’ve received a ton of great feedback from them. We’ve expanded the Birdy, and have a lot of ideas on where to go next.

From a technical standpoint, the challenges have largely centered around how messy email is. I upgraded early to a Silver plan on Sendgrid, and they’ve helped a lot with spam issues. Their parsing API is easy, but not very well documented yet (they assure me they’re working on it). In particular watch out for character sets, and foreign characters. Foreign and HTML characters in out-going email gets messy, too. Logging everything makes debugging easier.

And, uh, watch out for cron jobs, loops and sending hundreds of emails to people’s inboxes. You can’t have too many checks. Trust me.

Corey went out of his way to write this for us, and he did such a damn good job, I felt compelled to leave it completely original – thanks, dude!

I hope this helps illustrate just how powerful email can be in our everyday lives and how elegant a solution to a common problem can be when they are kept simple and employ familiar tools.

We think email is awesome. If you agree, and you have built something you’re really proud of, drop us a line and tell us about it. You could be our second guest post contributor!

Wanna check out the Parse API and the latest documentation? Prove it (yes, they’ll get better – we promise)

PS: I’ve been using The Birdy for a few weeks now. And it’s great. Register for free and see for yourself.

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Director, Developer Relations at @SendGrid. Passionate about bringing people together around things they love. I tweet at @TimFalls.

Tim Falls on Twitter

2 thoughts on “TheBirdy.com: using email for personal finance management

  1. I've never heard of idonethis.com before but it sounds like a good service. I like the idea of aggregating emails and progress updates from all members of a team. It might be just what our company needs to get an overview of what has actually been done by our team. Thanks for the suggestion.

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