Alumni Profile: Jimmy Chen

From Blue Ridge Labs to Easy Food Stamps

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Jimmy Chen is the CEO of Propel. His talent for connecting people through technology previously drove his success in managing product at LinkedIn and Facebook. At Blue Ridge Labs, Jimmy worked on Easy Food Stamps, a user-friendly interface that guides users through checking eligibility and applying for SNAP. After the fellowship, the product was accepted to the Fast-Fwd incubator in Philadelphia and recently named one of the 2015 Financial Solutions Lab Winners.

What led you to Blue Ridge Labs?

I worked 2 years at Facebook as a Product Manager leading the Facebook groups team. I left and thought I wanted to join a tech startup in Silicon Valley, but, after interviewing, I decided that Blue Ridge Labs was actually where I wanted to be. What was most convincing for me to join Blue Ridge was the argument that technology is not meeting its promise for low-income Americans. There is a lot of technology out there but that technology, by and large, isn’t solving social problems. It’s not because the hardware can’t catch up or because the technology doesn’t exist, it’s because people aren’t building the right applications on top of the existing infrastructure. All in all, I truly believe that technology has the ability to change the world, especially as someone who grew up on technology and learned to code at a young age.


What was your biggest takeaway from the fellowship?

Half or more low-income Americans today own smart-phones and use those smart phones primarily to access the Internet. The fellowship helped me understand this in two ways: the practical (reading the facts on paper kind of way) and visceral (talking to folks in NYC about technology and how it connects them to critical services and people)..

What advice would you give to our current fellows or someone interested in #TechForGood?

Deeply understand the users and the use case that you are solving for. That’s the one thing Blue Ridge fundamentally has right, that it starts with in-depth interviews and builds the foundation of its work through ethnographic research. As problem solvers, we tend to want to jump to a solution that fixes the problem; but, at the end of the day, the best products are sometimes the ones that are unexpected. Additionally, 3 months is both a super short time and super long time; You’re going to feel pressured, but when you’re working on something really hard and you’re devoted to it and you’re convinced that you are building something that matters, 3 months feels like enough time to do pretty much anything.