Neoblock’s Vijay George on DIY for the Tech Generation

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The DIY projects of generations past may have skewed more towards re-painting a bathroom or sewing together a new outfit, but as Vijay George proves, the Millennial generation is creating whole new worlds on their own, powered through the internet and their ease within it. Vijay, founder of Neoblock, an in-the-works service/database of customized code for businesses to store and reuse, could be described as the ultimate Millennial DIYer. Before Neoblock took the shape of its current iteration, he’d concocted a number of digital creations simply because they served some utility or pleasure for him and his surrounding group of friends and colleagues. Now, with this venture, he believes he’ll be able to reach a wider swath of plugged-in business consumers who could benefit from his adept coding and scrappy outlook.

“Neo is an acronym for one,” he tells me, and it forms the crux of his idea – one place in which to grab and store the building blocks of code that could ultimately create multitudes for small businesses accustomed to relying on pricey web development shops for one-off projects. It’s built on the work he’s been doing for three years as an undergraduate at UVA. The story of Vijay’s web development work – all accomplished while he was simultaneously studying electrical engineering no less – is where this DIY resourcefulness really begins to shine through. As a First Year, he wanted to create a simple website for himself and, without any official computer science training, began putting together the pieces through trial and error, a process which sounds arduous for some, but which George clearly loved. Then, website-creation requests started flooding in – from friends and UVA organizations first and then additional freelance work later on. Through sheer self-determination, he learned JavaScript, Python, and a few other crucial languages, and he began building an impressive portfolio of work while he was still a full-time student. As he approached graduation in May of 2017, George began to think this work might present a longer-term, viable career for himself.

However, he’d always had entrepreneurial ambitions that slightly exceeded the traditional bounds of freelancer, at least according to his mom – “she always says that when she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be either a pilot or a businessman.” Beyond his paid consulting gigs, he couldn’t help but continue tapping his fingers to create a few satisfying side projects for himself and his friends. “When the ESPN brackets were going on, I had about seven ESPN brackets and I wanted to share the entire list of them so that friends could add, etc.” Additionally, when he wanted a better way to bookmark and share all the things he was currently reading, he simply created it. “I call them streams – collections of things.” In Neoblock’s initial iteration, he created a Google Chrome extension that could do just that – collect everything you were reading or thinking about on the internet and place it in one area, your very own news/thought-piece front page.

True to his signature resourcefulness, George found some unlikely users for the product, then called just “Neo,” right under his nose. “Initially my beta testers were UVA librarians.” They loved the product but felt that it didn’t solve the problem of having too many different and distinct hubs for things on the web – Slack to connect with their team, Gmail to connect with the brands and contacts with whom they choose to keep in touch. They often lamented to Vijay that all the Internet tools they frequented couldn’t somehow be housed within one ecosystem.

Unable to contend with the likes of Google in the ecosystem department, George took advantage of the i.Lab opportunity as a way to explore and pivot his product offering. “Throughout the first three weeks of the i.Lab I was just doing market research – talking to companies, mentors, and others…” George tells me. One common thread stood out to him from those discussions: “I’ve found that non-technical people really want to create these technical products.” So George began to contemplate shifting back into a B2B mode, his bread and butter from his undergrad days, focusing on helping small businesses like the startup founders he’s gotten to know over the course of his summer at the i.Lab. “The vast majority of these i.Lab businesses have some sort of tech component, but they don’t necessarily have the time or expertise to build it, so they outsource to a web development shop that charges $10,000.” With Neoblock, George aims to help these entrepreneurs and others like them, particularly those in non-traditionally-tech fields, to establish their own documentation tools like the technology giants do.

In the near-term, while his friends dutifully take post-graduation desk jobs this summer, Vijay sees a different path for himself – one that involves travel and inspiration-seeking while he’s young and unencumbered. When I asked him about dream locations, his eyes lit up as he mentioned the possibility of seeing family back in India or exploring Europe or Egypt in the near future. Where old generations might have collected souvenirs from each of these intriguing locales, Vijay will undoubtedly continue collecting code, building up a powerful, diverse database of malleable code blocks to be used for clients in the future. Neoblock is still in the early stages, currently functioning as an internal documentation and reference tool just for his own freelance work, but he soon hopes to open it up further to founders and – of course – Millennials just like him to help them approach web-building with an attitude of “doing it themselves.”