Math alum combines tech, creativity with Fly app

By: Kathy Hovis ,  A&S Communications
January 1, 2015

If you hear Tim Novikoff, Ph.D. '13, speak and you're of a certain age, you might recognize him as the voice of Jeffy from MTV's "Daria" animated series from the mid-1990s.

But if you look at his LinkedIn profile, you'll see that his career has followed a path that marries his love of the technical world with the joy he finds in being creative.

Today, Novikoff is the founder and CEO of Fly Labs, which produces a suite of video editing apps. Their first app, Fly, was lauded by Apple, The Boston Globe and others as one of the best of 2014; it has been downloaded more than one million times and the company recently won Next Web's pitch competition and was named one of NYC's 25 hottest startups by Business Insider.

In addition to running Fly Labs, Novikoff also teaches a class on iPhone app development at Cornell Tech in New York City and on the Ithaca campus.

Novikoff didn't start out as a techie. He grew up as a child actor and studied acting as an undergrad at New York University, adding a major in math. After college, he joined the New York City Teaching Fellows program and spent four years teaching math at Stuyvesant High School while finishing his master's degree in education.

Thinking he would pursue a career in academia, Novikoff entered Cornell's graduate program, studying algorithmic education theory under the guidance of math professor Steve Strogatz and computer science professor Jon Kleinberg. On the side, he developed a hobby that would change the course of his life.

"I taught myself iOS development and got more and more into that throughout grad school," he says. "I realized that entrepreneurship was a better fit for me because it's both technical and creative."

Novikoff started working on Fly Labs at a three-day startup event at Cornell in 2011, though the inspiration for it actually occurred at Novikoff's annual Halloween party a few days earlier. As he was preparing to perform "Don't Stop Me Now" in a Queen cover band (consisting of Novikoff and a few fellow Ph.D. students), he thought it would be fun to connect several iPhones to capture a multi-angle video of the performance.

There was no app to facilitate this, though, and the video camera on that generation of the iPhone wasn't that great, either, he says.

So he formed a team with three undergrad software engineers and designers. He had already been taking classes at the Law School and Johnson related to entrepreneurship, and had attended events like Entrepreneurship at Cornell's annual celebration on campus, where he heard from and met entrepreneurs. At the same time, he worked to finish his research and his degree.

"I was blessed with the perfect advisers," he says. "They helped me so much in my research, but they also helped me to find myself. Working with them had a profound impact on how I think not only about math and computer science, but also about life and having a fulfilling career."

Fly Lab's first app, Fly, launched in the summer 2014, offers a fast way to craft videos. The second one, Crop, fixes problems created when video is shot vertically. And the third, Clips, released in December, allows users to string clips together to make longer videos. More tools for video creativity are on the way, Novikoff says, and he also plans to add to his current team of five employees.

"Our apps are for everybody -- for children, for moms and for anybody who wants to be creative with video, but who thinks that professional video editors like iMovie are too intimidating," he says. "We're creating every app that a mobile video enthusiast could want."

Novikoff said the business offers him a perfect blend of his interests.

"Algorithmic thinking and mathematical modeling come up all the time at Fly Labs, because we're trying to make high-performance software that does new things," he explains. "But we also have to think about how to enable people's creativity, to allow ordinary people to understand and use the medium of video -- and that's more about listening to your heart than to your brain."

This story first appeared in Ezra Update.

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