This is part of my set of notes from the Startup School 2006 sessions at Stanford.
Joshua Schachter is the creator of del.icio.us, the popular social bookmarking system now owned by Yahoo. In this session, Joshua shared his advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a company.
Created memepool back in 1999, people sent in a lot of links, and he never had time to look at them, write them up. Kept a text file of links, along with a note on the same line that just kept getting shorter and shorter
Built muxway, which was a lot like del.icio.us but for a single user. Allowed user to organize bookmarks by tags. Interestingly, left the site open so others could see his bookmarks. Ended up realizing he had 10K daily readers just of stuff that he thought was interesting.
Started del.icio.us in 2003 and left to work on it fulltime in 2005 before being acquired by Yahoo
“Too many links, how can I organize them?”
Also, “I’m bored, give me some good links!”
Make sure it’s a problem that you have that you’re solving. You can’t be the smartest person out there, but you can be the most passionate.
Write them down, keep an idea log where you write everything down, even the bad ideas
Implementation of your ideas: what ideas are interesting that are low-cost to implement so you can move quickly from idea to implementation. Before del.icio.us, he tried to do about an idea a year besides the day job. You need to get in the habit of having lots of ideas, implementing them, and getting better at that whole process.
Get the stuff out there, a prototype. Hiding it behind a “we’ll tell you when we’re launched” only worked the first 80 times. You get far more value talking about stuff.
Everything you do is marketing – every feature is something you can talk about, your competitors can talk about, that helps you. Generating this enormous project alone in secret hurts you.
Who are you going to infect next?
Interesting note: all his competitors have an import from Del.icio.us, but none of them have export functionality like Del.icio.us.
You’re always doing usability testing
It’s the most stressful thing just looking at how people use it
Del.icio.us was explained as “social bookmarks” – most people didn’t know what bookmarks were, as it was a Netscape term. Most people knew about Favorites, because that’s what IE calls them.
Go to Starbucks, offer someone coffee to sit down and play with your product. Don’t give them tasks, as they will behave incredibly differently than they will sitting at home in their underwear.
Understand that design is also marketing
Throw out everything you don’t need – serves you because you understand the problem better, implement it better, because there’s less to have to understand or implement.
Make URLs readable, albeit to technical users; it’s prime real estate, so why is it full of .php and session IDs?
Advice is: don’t…yet
You don’t know how users will use it, and you’ll end up spending a lot of time on it only to have to do it again later.
A lot of systems do not grow up appropriately. For example, forums work for 50 users, but not 10,000 users.
If you’re building a social or online system, abuse and spam will happen. If you’ve got something worth using, abuse is inevitable.
Build in some logging to allow you to observe aggregate behavior. Del.icio.us had a guy who would post an item, delete it a minute later, and then re-post it so he was always on the front page. People that put 475 tags on a post are abnormal.
Expect to spend about 300x what you budget for this type of stuff. MySQL will fail. RAID array will crash and burn. CSS will not render properly in Opera. Get good or find someone that is good at them. But when you’re getting started, skip’em and focus on what matters.
Don’t be involved in low value transactions. Be focused on what’s a good use of your time. Figure out someone who’s better with dealing with VCs, organizing your schedule, etc.
What were your goals for del.icio.us when you were doing it? Was only really doing it for myself, never really trying to build a company despite having people offer to buy it away from him.
Enterprise versus consumer apps – what direction should an entrepreneur take? Enterprise apps – if you can point to a specific guy in the organization who’s life will be made easier by your app, you’ve got something. Conversely, look at wikis – for whom does this solve a problem. It’s valuable, but there’s no one who’s specific life would be made easier by a wiki.
What was the turning point when you decided to quit and work on it full time? I was lucky because my group blew up, so my choices were to either go find another job or pursue del.icio.us.
What was your funding model or business model? They had actually 15 different ways to make money off of it, but given the growth of the user base it seemed to stop mattering as advertising was the obvious route.
Do you think it’s bad advice to start a company on your own? His situation is not representative – walking into a room with large number of users, steady growth made it very simple to defend a company that was a single person.
This is part of my set of notes from the Startup School 2006 sessions at Stanford.
Chris Sacca is Google’s Head of Strategic Initiatives. Most of his time these days is spent being haunted by lamp-posts, and thoughts of what it would take to pull up to those lamp-posts and slap a wifi transceiver on them. In his session he covered some advice for startups, as well as shared some heartfelt concerns over the “sameness” he’s observed lately in the ventures entrepreneurs are choosing to create.
It’s never too early to start
Google is running massive amounts of computers. They’re running up against limits imposed by the speed of light – but they’ve got some guys working to try to accelerate to eek out a little extra performance 😉
Google goal: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
Believe there’s 5 million TBs of data out there, and they’ve only got 250 TBs
Focus on user experience
Most stuff breaks down one of three applications for users: making stuff, sharing stuff, and keeping stuff (organized)
Obsess over users!
Example: Email from Omid ordering turning off campaigns that were performing < 1.0%. Despite the fact that these adds were still turning 5 times industry click thru rates. Why? Because it didn’t serve the user’s interest.
Feed! Bring food into your culture
Food is where people let their guard down – most new ideas are conceived over lunch or dinner. Google has long tables that bring people together, mix them up.
Using open source, admits there are ways in that they’re falling short on their obligations on that front currently
TGIF: All employees gather in cafeteria. Larry and Sergey go over everything the company achieved that week, introduce all the new employees, take every single question from the audience. The level of transparency is incredible, creating a sense of openness and trust.
The secret sauce: set the bar as high as possible. The best engineers, the largest infrastructure, the hardest problems.
Compensation: not only best salary, but also many amenities that contribute to the best total compensation
In any day, there’s probably only 1 or 2 hours that are actually productive. They try to optimize the chance that the 1 or 2 hours is as productive as possible.
Founder’s awards – reward those who build something extraordinary as if they had built a company that had been acquired by Google.
Interesting people make interesting companies
Concerned about the number of MBAs/business school produced business plans creeping into the valley. When you see as many pitches as he does, everyone starts to look like sheep.
It’s easier than ever to build a company, and we’ve seen the results – all the Web 2.0 companies that cause his eyes to start to glaze over. Yikes!
Haven’t been unimpressed by the talent, but thematically, the innovation has gone stale
Hats off to Flickr – they figured out “interestingness”. I’ve been finding people to be less and less interesting. I just want people to stand out.
Used to encourage people to code for themselves – forget about coding for yourself.
Who to build for? How about Fortune 500 companies? There are old stodgy companies who need help to get more efficient. How about the developing world? They need software and hardware to aid their development.
How do you find these interesting sets of people? Go away! Travel out of your comfort zone, see the world!
Has seen 15-20 pitches this year that the camera phone would click to advertising. Just like in Japan. Right now.
The Internet is supplemental – log off now and then
Examination of logs for Freakonomics – shows how offline trends, like TV, affects online behavior. Believes that the interesting development will be in marrying offline with the online world.
We’re in times where we can’t be apathetic. Worried that he’s seeing less passion from those who are trying to build companies.
It goes beyond what you’re actually working on.
David Cole – calculated energy required to transport bottle water, represented as amount of oil in a bottle of water.
Google chefs are entrepreneurs as well, taking on the task of buying local
Listen more than you talk
What’s the worst thing about Google? Besides all the bottled evil waiting to get out? We’re getting big, it’s hard to collaborate over dinner, to know what everyone’s working on, to keep it small, and maintain the transparency.
Women are much less forceful when they’re presenting ideas – how would you recommend they change their pitches to be more acceptable? Blogs and emails are the great equalizers. Right now, he looks to blogs to get a read on someone to see what they’re capable of doing. I’m also big on organizing your thoughts. People write emails that are overly forceful – a well-structured pitch has what you’re doing, why you’re doing, why you’re well positioned to solve that problem. Uses Meebo as an example of a company with predominately female coders.