Friday, September 01, 2006
Thursday, June 01, 2006
I was checking out AVC Blog and clicked on the profile. The link pointed to a personality profile instead of a bio. For whatever reason I looked at the domain, found and took the assessment. Here is my profile.
Interestingly, the results were how I view myself or what I'd like to be told about myself. So I told two others about the site. I think the beauty of this system is telling people what they want to hear. It makes them feel good.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Time to cut back on the danishes, fast food, and Mehawk. And maybe I should mix in a little exercise.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Jeff Jarvis has written about media networks and how they are changing...and where they might go. At the very bottom of the article, he writes about how it might all work, but he says it's is complicated. I think it is pretty straight forward.
1. Make a platform with content creation tools that plugs into Ad/Affiliate networks (authors share in revenues).
2. Organize the content in a marketplace ie. a ggregate the audience.
3. Share revenue with anyone that sends traffic or signs up authors.
Hubpages has all these elements built into the platform. As far as we know, it is the first of its kind to do this. Can't wait to see it in action.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Successful entrepreneurs possess the following attributes: Most come from modest
backgrounds. Many are immigrants or first generation Americans. All know the
value of money and understand the difference between need and want. Their
confidence is tempered by an understanding of their shortcomings. They know that
speed and stealth will usually help them beat large companies. They know that
other startups pose the greatest threat to their existence.
The profile makes sense to me, but I think they should add one thing. Championships. If I had an unproven entrepreneur, I'd want someone that had learned how to win. Straight A's and individual accomplishments are nice, but a real champion has done it with a team, against stiff competition, and under adversity. I've found that few people know how to really win, how to bear down, focus, suck it up when everything hurts to ultimately lead a team to a championship. I've seen more talented and smarter teams lose to a team that knows how to compete. A tight group, that understands their roles, that in a war, you never question or point fingers, but focus on the goal.
Here are a few tests.
1. Play pick up basketball. People that win hate to lose. Someone might tell that person, geez it's a pickup game, relax. Why, because they play harder than anyone else. I'm not saying they win every game, but over the long haul they will win much more than they lose. Even if it's only to eleven by ones. With each team win, they learn how to win the next time.
2. Play for stakes where it hurts to lose. This is a personal example, I was one of six sons and my father was a high school English teacher. We weren't wealthy. Every dollar was significant to me. We used to play Techmo Bowl tournaments. Each person put in a couple of bucks and then we would play head to head until we had a champion. I wasn't the best, but something about playing for money made some guys tight and others better. I was always better. My friends would joke that they could beat me, unless they played me for money. Look for the person that comes out on top when the stakes matter.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
- Try it and succeed
- Try it and fail
- Don't try and don't know
Thursday, May 11, 2006
For Mother's Day, I'm getting my wife jogging socks and shoes. It's just what she wants. For SED (which occurs annually on the day of funding) it starts with her sleeping in. I'll take the two girls and just let her rest. Then breakfast. Oat meal, toast, coffee and juice. Her favorite.
After breakfast, a family walk in the park and a picnic. I'll pick up sandwiches, fruit, drinks and a bouquet of flowers for her (not from costco if I can resist). Then I take the girls home and send her to the spa to get her nails and toes done. She loves that. When she comes home, I have a few small gifts for her and have arranged a baby sitter.
Dinner reservations at a new restaurant that she has been wanting to try. Followed up with drinks at an out of the way jazz club and then we head home. One more small gift, a foot massage and hit the sack.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Outside of the etailing space is there an online business that grew from great marketing? Or was there great marketing really a great product? If it's the latter my feeling it's better to invest the headcount in an engineer than a marketing head. At least at the beginning.
I heard some good insights from Gordon at Emergence Capital today. If you your business has unit economics that have been proven and its in a large enough market, you can raise money all day long.
I gave a practice pitch today. My friends are tougher than VCs which is good. They are critical, but fair, and all for my benefit. Today was the first time I put a demo to the deck and next week will be the first time I do it for a VC. The feedback was great. It circled around telling a story that tied to the deck, asking the audience to participate in portions of the demo. Keeping the demo to five minutes (if it's just me talking). The audience can extend it with questions. Lots of questions about our target audience, and how we will market to that audience to get authors. Good tough questions.
Just watched Nemo with Georgia and shared a bowl of ice cream.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
This should have a significant impact to large sites and to the SEO community. I'd expect to see the number of pages indexed in MSN from a site grow rapidly. Lots of people have been clamoring for a real competitor to Google. I think this is a great step for MSN for two reasons. I suspect the quality of the results will increase since more content from sites will be included and I suspect it will be even more impactful on the SEO community. Sites that are large with good content should see a pick up in referals from MSN.
These are big changes and its great to see MSN getting this out there with Ad Center, and the froogle competitor.
Friday, May 05, 2006
This link shows a few of the companies going after the local review market. Citysearch is the old man, Yelp, Judysbook, and Insiderpages are the up and comers. The Alexa graph shows CitySearch the far and away traffic leader. Yelp next and then it's close between Insiderpages and Judysbook.
If you do a search on Google, with site:yelp.com or any of the other domains it will say how many pages Google has indexed (this isn't completely accurate either, but good for trends) from the domain.
Interestingly, the traffic rankings in Alexa corresponds to the number of pages in Google. So the more pages you have indexed in Google, the more traffic you had in Alexa. In Yahoo and MSN, it didn't work that way. Yahoo and MSN reported more pages indexed from Judysbook than Yelp.
My conclusion is if you want to beat your competitor for traffic is to get more (legitimate) pages indexed in Google.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Hubpages is our new company that will be launching a private beta in May. Hubpages is a next generation publishing platform and website that combines many useful tools for creating webpages that allows you so share your expertise. You can create your own information or aggregate it from many sources, and even earn money by publishing links to affiliate partners or ads.
The pages you create, we call Hubs. Hubs can be about anything. After you're finished, you can publish your Hub to the Hubpages website.
We have over 600 people signed up for the beta and are looking to go over the 1000 mark. We would like to have 1000 Hubs created before we open up to the public. Thank you for participating.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Here are a few tradeoffs if you are thinking about it.
Good Salary at MS vs. Living on your savings
Great Benefits vs Cobra ($1300+ per month for family of four)
Performance Reviews vs The ultimate performance review - Survival
Internal Politics vs Internal deliberation
Office with windows vs Office in garage in house under construction
Subsidized cafeteria vs Mehawks
Solid days of meetings vs Solid days and nights working on the product
Four hours a day of email vs 20 minutes of email
Drink fridge vs Costco runs
Ergonomic desk vs Card tables
Executive presentations vs VC presentations
Spending someone else's money vs Spending your own
401k match vs What's that
Stock grants vs Founders shares
Makes payroll vs Doesn't have one
MSN homepage for traffic vs Building something people want
Admins vs What's that
Raises vs Hmmm
MS Poll vs Funny, that will be the day
Promotions vs Ha, You're the boss
Gold Stars vs Aren't those great
Would I do it over again? You betcha.
I'd encourage people interested in research technologies to check out what MS has made available to startups and others.
Here are a few of my favorites that could be killer.
- I've read a lot about Riya. I thought it was pretty cool. I wonder if another company will leverage this to compete with them.
- I live in SF near Sanchez. Sometimes I pickup the Dirty Sanchez wifi signal. It's a little weak from my house. I'd like to see if this improves it.
- I can't wait for my IP devices and cell to do this.
- My wife and I found a baby sitter to watch the kids Friday night. It will be the first time we have been out in SF since we moved here.
- I had a pleasant drive to work. Traffic across the bridge was moving. Ahhhh, nice.
- The Homemade Cafe had tasty pear crumb muffins. Yum.
- We moved the coffee maker to the garage. Caffeine.
- I completed a document...and a blog post...by 11 am. Yes.
And I counted to 5 correctly, but who's counting?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Monday, April 24, 2006
- Where one party assumes all the risk. Examples include having a partner guarantee revenues that will materially hurt their business if your site doesn't deliver what they expect.
- Contracts with grey areas, especially around performance.
- Contracts where both sides don't have an out.
What are signs that a Business Development deal is good.
- It lasts. Not for a quarter, but for years. It grows, changes and endures.
- Its a win/win situation with risk, time and reward.
Hubpages is about a million business development relationships between authors and affiliates designed to last and be a win/win deal for everyone. We provide our partners a platform for free to create Hubs on anything. We make it simple for them to create a Hub. And provide tools so they can easily monetize their content by integrating the affiliate partners goods into the platform. Our risk is the time and money that goes into the building and support of the Hubpages platform. In exchange we get authors to provide content on a breadth of subjects that we could never cover.
Our Authors provide information that they incorporate in the Hubs they create. They offer subject matter expertise, and time. In return they get a free platform where they don't have to worry about the technical operations or pay to use the service, but they can actually earn money by programming links to affiliates so they can earn money.
The third piece to this interesting triangle are the affiliate relationships with partners like Google, eBay, and Amazon. All of these partners make their inventory of products and ads available to anyone. They offer commissions to people that refer them business. Their risk is similar to ours in that they invest time and money creating and supporting these systems. They win when authors program links to their products, auctions or ads.
Hubpages is one of the first companies to orchestrate this simple business development opportunity for three major stakeholders, and set it up so that everyone can win and hopefully create long term relationships between everyone.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Here are my main two reasons, when you focus on a lack of money, it comes through in the product. Early and new products need to be great and in many cases growth is key. Stuffing a site full of ads, constant upselling, leave behinds, and pop overs can kill a good site. Also, shipping a product too soon with too many ads is a double whammy. The goal is a great product not compromised by trying to over monetize a site early.
Reason number two is energy. There is good energy and bad energy that goes into a startup. Worry, concern, and fear are all natural when it comes to money and a startup. Almost every entrepreneur I've talked to has described these feelings. I know I've felt them all, probably all at the same time. These thoughts I put in the bad energy category. When I catch myself with these thoughts, I do my best to change my thoughts. Instead I now choose to focus on the opportunity.
I'm thankful for Paul and Jay. The work and creativity is amazing. A year from now we will have the best platform to easily create a webpage integrated with resources from across the internet. In the next year thousands of people will use our platform to create a webpage and millions will consume the information.
I'm thankful for the competition. Lots of new companies. Some well funded and others bootstrapped like us are trying lots of things. It's kind of like a giant idea discussion where everyone can see what works and what doesn't. The best thing about all the innovation is customers are getting access to new technology at a speed never seen before that is all designed to serve their needs online. Whether it's shopping, news, finding a job or mate, the innovation in the last twelve months has been incredible. All of these new sites are helping eachother weave a pass to success.
And finally I'm thankful for the opportunity to pursue a dream. It's been my dream since I was a kid to start and run a company. This is my chance.
Friday, April 21, 2006
V1, I opened the drawers that my wife normally sticks the stuff I leave out in. Third time I checked these. Nada.
V2, I shuffled through my closet, removing all clothes in hope that it had fallen out. No luck.
V3. I go through the bathrooms. Nothing.
V4, I pick through the mail stack and desk. Not there.
V5, my daughters bedroom. Not in her top drawer, not under her dresser. Plop down on my knees to look under her bed and there it is. All my credit cards and cash. Whooooo. I'm very happy to find it.
When I came into the garage this morning, I held up my wallet to Jay and Paul and said, look what I found with a big smile. I can't wait for this to happen with Hubpages.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
1. The people with the ideas lack the skills to build a decent site, but have just enough determination to slap a website together that serves a need, but is generally poor. Page weight, navigation, and browser compatibility never cross their minds. They are just happy to have a webpage online. Now, how do I setup a domain name?
2. The allure of the quick buck. Minimal effort to make money from from ads under the guise of evergreen content. This had it's day, but is mostly stomped out now. How many websites were slapped together with the least amount of work possible and left to rot in the cyber dump with individual pages of 500 word generic content in hopes of a decent Google ranking. Which leads me to....
3. Search Engines. As they grew in popularity, people realized that it was the least expensive way to get traffic. The game was on. No need to pay attention to users and repeat traffic, just figure out what it takes to rank well on MSN, Yahoo, and Google. Then watch the money pour in! Auto generated sites, scraping, link campaigns, and even ruthless content stealing became attractive to make a quick buck. When Larry and Sergey created link popularity, I wonder if they ever thought it would come to this.
eBay is a marvel to me. I think they got so many things right. Not sure if it was luck or skill. They made a platform that let the webmaster novices sell things online (took away the technical requirement to sell things online), then the incentive to create good content and descriptions enhanced a persons ability to sell. This aligned ebay's interest of quality with the sellers. Then the auction piece. Time based listings since so many people had decent products under a category it worked. Think if Google used time based listings. Wierd. Ever wonder what the percieved quality difference is between rankings on Google? Oh yeah, I'd always pick lucky over good. Ever here of Pierre Omidyar, I bet he is a little of both.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A well respected VC contacted me about Hubpages about a month ago. I had met them casually and they were intrigued by Hubpages and wanted to learn more.
I was excited for the opportunity and practiced and tuned my pitch. When we headed into the conference room they had gathered four people. More people than work on Hubpages. I usually attend pitches while Jay and Paul keep progressing on the product. Anyway, I start the pitch. We have one hour to get through ten slides. No problem. Then questions start pouring in from the group. Two of them understand the product and business and are diving in with questions. One is focused on the technology, and the other is trying to ask questions to clarify his understanding. With a one hour schedule, I think to myself, answer each question and don't rush. They know we only have one hour so just be patient and if we don't get through everything, we will have to schedule more time.
We get through four slides. They all understand the product, but we haven't gotten through all the details. I'm a little dissappointed since it's my job to explain the business clearly. I knew I could have done better. Then as we are walking out the the partner says, "Let me tell you one thing." I think, be positive and accept the feedback. See what you can learn from it. He says, "Don't sacrifice your family for your business. I did, and you'll never get the time back." Wow, not what I was expecting at all.
When it comes to balancing work, leisure, and family, I feel lucky in that my occupation is my vocation so I only need to balance work and leisure with family. It can be a little tricky, but at least I get great pictures all the time of my kids. Thanks Robin.
Monday, April 17, 2006
With the dramatic explosion of web services, and an unleashing of creative efforts surely there will be huge successes and monumental failures. Giant bets are made every day on build it and they will come. The dream is herds of web surfers relentlessly punishing the servers with request after request, traffic builds so quickly that you have to stay up all night racking servers to keep up with demand, the network is saturated, and your nightmare is server too busy messages. Your systems architect smile widens as you seamlessly plug in server after server and the system scales. This is what we call a good problem in the web 2.0 space.
The problem with all the services launching everyday is rising above the noise. Most of us will make bets on what we think users want. The best and most agile web 2.0 companies will make several bets. The key to crushing competition and putting other companies so far in the review mirror is creating an architecture that allows for rapid releases, extending the platform, and iteration at a speed that you blow past your competitors as they are trying to figure out how to scale the backend and unjoin those last few tables...
The key is architecture. It starts at the beginning of development, and is built by engineers that are master at systems, extensibility, and understand that most features are bets that require flexibility because few get it right the first time. Some features will never get used and a few will make you great. You want to tune and tweak existing features, not redesign. You want to extend an existing platform, not redesign. You want to scale databases, not redesign. You want to scale web servers and application servers, not redesign.
I believe that several companies will crush their competitors before a single pixel of UI is displayed. These companies will have the site architecture that allows them to innovate at a speed their competitors will never reach and continue to innovate quickly as traffic grows. Rapid innovation, many failures and few successes will be the working plan of record for the most successful web 2.0 companies. Each tweak and new feature is a result of a great architecture. This allows for doing more of what is working and cutting losses on stuff that doesn't. The more time spent innovating vs scaling is directly proportionate to the distance of your competitor in your review mirror.
Get a great system architect is what you want to play in the big leagues of web 2.0.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Two things are for sure, we will break something and there will be plenty of food.
The one brother not coming home is heading to Vegas. We'll miss you Cam. Put $50 on black for me. Yes, one spin.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
After working in large and small organizations I've seen how thousands of man hours could be saved. It's by having the software developer run the business development. Uhhh? Think about it.
1. Software Engineers can smell out if a deal can actually be done. This level of practicality saves negotiation and legal huge amounts of time. How many times have the Ts & Cs of a deal been hammered out just to find that the deal isn't technically feasible or compatible. All you have to show for it is a frustrated business development team that has just been alienated a little bit further from the product development.
2. The relationship is maintaned at a level that can make it work. It's not about having dinner and drinks together, its about instantly contacting the person that can help when the service is having trouble. Good Engineers will be much more patient when dealing with other Engineers vs running through a middle man. If you want a deal to have life, have the Engineers talk and get out of the way.
3. Nobody ever schedules well. The worse is when someone other than the developer drives it. Developers understand this so well they have even optimized development practices so that the furthest out they have to schedule is the next daily meeting. And don't be surprised if they miss that date. No matter what they will always hold quality over the head of time. Having the development team and not the manager give the estimate gives the team some accountability. Even though this is true, don't expect them to hit the schedule. It's just part of software development. Engineers will be happy with a schedule that says the deal is due when the integration has been developed, tested, and is determined to be supportable.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Software Engineers should have the trade skills to do the job, but when it comes to the soft stuff, this is what matters.
1. Don't look for team work skills. If they can simply pass the airplane test, that's good enough. Meaning they won't annoy the crap out of you and everyone else. The key here is to find engineers with No Friends and that don't like people. The fewer friends is a good sign they spend more time at work.
2. Money and Engineers. Great Engineers save money and are frugal. The money they spend on extra stuff isn't on clothes unless it's a Bluetooth watch with GPS, but they don't buy the latest computers. They salvage, upgrade, and have a large war case of random computer parts. Give a strike to anyone that shows up in a designer suit for an interview, and a smile to anyone with mismatched socks. A key interview question for a developer is to ask them about their saving habits. Engineers that save are good and Engineers that know about the latest processors, but own a five year old PC at home are good as well.
3. Look for laziness. From my experience, the lazier the engineer the better. They do things like automate the build process and instrument it with tests that validate it. They don't like to spend effort on broken things or waste time. They build systems to import test data and automate the build out of development machines. They automate the stuff that has to be done more than one time. They frown on extra effort.
4. Have a passion for food. It doesn't matter if they show up at 11 AM and then eat at 11:30 AM. They eat at non traditional times because they are lazy (don't like waiting in lines) and don't like people (crowds bother them). The lunch hour will be their key hour of meeting for the day. They will congregate as a small group and talk just enough to figure out what they should be doing or if there is another dependency. *Side tip: Good managers know who eats together and places them on the same projects.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Next, you have the aggregators. These are folks like digg.com and memeorandum. These are sites that take snippets of content from other sites and organize it. The most successful have been the players that focus on hot trendy topics of the day. Some times so hot and new that search engines haven't indexed them so they really fill a need. People that want to be in the know hit the refresh button all day long. Is automated organization better than human submitted? I'm not sure. Maybe it doesn't matter. The challenge of these things is the business of matching ads doesn't work quite as well since the info is hot. It's not like searching for Las Vegas Hotels where many bidders line up to pay for the click. It's still a good deal for the content provider since they get the traffic for free, but I see these businesses as more challenging for two reasons. First the CPM's are lower than search, and secondly they send the user off their network.
The third play is platforms and tools. Challenges to these businesses tend to be keeping the tools relevant to the next adoption curve. Blogs today, wireless tomorrow. Each tools set is unique. There are two types of business models that have emerged for platforms. First is subscription. Outside of the enterprise, we think this will continue to be a smaller, but good business. The largest opportunity is advertising support platforms. Get as much content on a platform and match it with ads. In this sense, there is a double partnership. First, with authors. The tools have to be good and improve the content creation process. The second is with traffic partners like search engines and aggregators. These people will use the content in exchange for traffic. Again, this is a good deal.
The interesting thing is none of these actually create content. Search engines and aggregators organize it, and platforms enable creation. Several good and interesting businesses will be formed based on these models. Hubpages is a platform that allows for any type of stuff to be created. It also organizes the content like an aggregator. Our gut is that many other aggregators and search engines will supply the majority of the traffic. What Hubpages does really well, is it allows anyone to create a page in minutes. Collecting, and aggregating content from many sources. Some sources are purely informational, while others can be used for earning money. The key is it is very simple. In minutes anyone can create their first page. I'll let you know how the business is working out once we are live.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Search engines are improving. SEO tricks work less and less. Search engines like great content that answer questions. Create great content and get more search engine love. Vote #1 for content.
People link to things that are interesting and provide comments. People read one piece and follow the links to see the reference. The better the content, the more other people will reference your content on their sites and blogs. Vote #2 for content.
Now that you have a sense of how traffic flows to sites - albeit a simple one, here's a simple analysis of why it pays to create content to reach a targeted audience.
Most content sites are supported with advertisements. Advertisers want to reach the audience the content creator has aggregated. So in this sense, the publisher and advertiser are competing for the same target customer. However, the publisher has to pay less for each user than the advertiser, or the publisher would never make any money. Assuming the content site is profitable, this means the advertiser is willing to pay the content creator a fee that supports the content creation. On top of this fee, there is often a middle man like Google Adsense that is taking a brokerage fee for bringing the advertiser to the publisher. Google's cut is roughly 30%.
If it's profitable for the content creator, profitable for the advertiser, and the middle man is taking 30% in the form of a transaction fee. Why doesn't the advertiser invest in content and save at least 30%.
Hubpages is creating a place where anyone can create content free. Create a piece that supports your business.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Private beta folks will be notified in groups to come give it a test drive shortly as well.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
You may have had several great ideas for new businesses. My friend Ethan likes to say that the first ten minutes of thinking about a new business are the best, than holes begin to be punched and soon the idea sinks like a ship destined for the bottom of the ocean. This Aha moment doesn't stick, but real ones do.
A few ideas will get past this ten minute honeymoon period and possibly turn into products or entire companies. With Hubpages I've had a few Aha Moments. Here are my top three rough accounts of how they happened...
- I'm sitting in my office chair in the garage working on some product planning. A rush of excitement comes over me. I envision a product that does less better. I say to Jay (co founder of Hubpages),"I've got it all figured out for the product." Jay looks at me in anticipations and I say "The product has to be super simple to use." Jay looks at me and shakes his head as if he was expecting waves of wisdom to poor out. However, Paul Deeds (co founder) says in his quiet style, "It's hard to make things simple." This is true, and this was a huge Aha Moment. I know, it seems super simple.
- This was big and it just hit me last week. Paul and Jay both play poker. So, I thought I might give it a try. Paul has a large collection of poker books and he handed me one on How to Win in Low Limit Holdem. Learning to play poker is interesting, but even more interesting is an idea the book gave me about playing to your strengths. I like the idea of focusing on what you do best. Our team loves making money on the internet. It may sound funny, but it's a passion of ours. We talk about it all the time. All the different ways you can make money online. The Aha moment is we need to play more to our strengths and focus on building great tools that allow people to make money online. Now, this wasn't far from where we were, or where we are going, but it was important that it was said and discussed and it influences product decisions. When it comes time to answer important product questions, I'll ask, does this play to our strengths?
- The third I owe to Amy. Jay's fiance. She said in an email, "....My argument there is that you need to start giving yourselves some sort of personality or voice." When I read this comment it made perfect sense. She was so dead on. Products and companies need to have a personality and we need to start developing it. It's a tone. Something that says we are people and we know you're are people as well. The site needs to become an extension of our customers and we want real people with real personalities to use it. So from now on we are giving our site a personality. I can't wait to introduce her to you. I know you will like her.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
1. Ask out as many girls/VCs as you can. Ask out so many that when someone says no that you don't even care. Ask out so many that when someone says yes your not surprised and geek out.
2. When you go on your date/meeting be thoughtful. No expensive dinners/presentations, but take a shower, be on time, be prepared and most of all listen more than you talk.
3. When the date is over, read the situation. Body language is key. If a VC/Girl takes extra time, that is a good sign. Don't abuse it, but ask if they would like to continue or if there is someplace they need to be.
4. Do what you say you will do. Follow up. If you say you will call, call. I read this somewhere, "Reputation is your currency, spend it wisely."
5. Play the field. Don't settle down too early with one VC/Girl. Try a few out. See what fits and then take it to the next level.
Monday, January 30, 2006
- Let's start with the idea for the new company. Develop a trusted set of two to three people that you can bounce the idea off. From when I first started to conceptualize Hubpages, to where it is now is a complete transformation. This is a good process. Find the holes and tweak. Once it is solid, move to step two. .
- Make a list of the few people that you would consider to start a company with. The list I made for Hubpages was entirely made up of the best developers I knew that could not only produce code, but manage a development team as the project scaled. Discuss the idea with them. Top people won't join you unless they believe in the concept. If you can't get great people, that is a sign that the idea needs further tweaking. Once you have them, and start developing, expect the product to change, and for each of them to point out stuff the product doesn't need and stuff it does.
- VC's as feedback. VC's have lots of experience with several companies and can be a great source of insight for early companies. The VC's that I want to pitch the most on Hubpages are ones that have had successful runs with companies that are as close as second cousins because of the feedback and guidance they can offer. You have to be careful of pitching VC's that already have a portfolio company in the same space, but if I had a startup that was building a marketplace for online leads, I'd like to talk with VC's that had invested in LowerMyBills. Give two VC's the same pitch and ask for feedback. See what it is and then tweak.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
- No Salaries. Each of us committed to work with out a salary for 3 months. After that time, we all have agreed to take salaries that are far below our market worth or at least much less thant what MS used to pay us.
- Start with the right team. Web 2.0 is based on building stuff quickly. Start with a team that can make a product. And start making it. Each person should contribute. Only start with A+ developers. Each developer should be like 3. It lays the foundation of an excellent development team as well as great developers like to work with great developers. This will make growing the team easier in the future. The Meebo founder had a good comment about their team of three. He said, he went to all the meetings before funding, but left the 2 developers so they could keep improving the product. Good advice. If you have a team of all business types, it makes writing code and making progress difficult.
- It's easier to save money than make it. So Hubpages monthly expenses look like this:
- Rent: $700.
- Hosting: $120 (We have one managed server. We didn't set up a huge infrastructure based on the traffic we believe will come. If it grows quickly, we will probably feel some pain, but it will be good pain.)
- Misc: less than $200.
- Total: Under $1,000 a month.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I headed to the local hobby store and bought stencils for numbers, I picked up 2 cans of spray paint at the local hardware store, and a big card board box. I cut a hole in the bottom of the box to the dimensions of our curb painting, I could press my feet against the box and spray the rectangle to create the background. Then with a little tape we would put the numbers over the rectangle and add the numbers. It worked well.
I started as a one man show. I knocked on doors and offered to paint their curb for $3. It worked and I was off. My brother, cousin, and friend saw the success and wanted in. So we tuned the operation. My brother Mark and friend Brandon painted the curbs and my cousin David and I sold. We knocked on doors and put tags on the curbs we sold. Brandon and Mark would come along and paint them.
We started with a low price that made us all money. As we had success, I said to David, let's raise our price. We did. First $4, then $5 and before long we were at $8. I was scared to go higher. I couldn't imagine people paying us more. But, we raised them to $10, and then $12.
The BIG LESSON here is start with a price that is low enough that it ensures demand. With new products, many customer segments will trade off experience, reputation for a lower price. As you do a good job, improve your product and grow your reputation, then raise prices. I've seen too many products do the opposite. They start with with a price matched to established competitors. Their product has little success. Morale drops, prices get lowered and the quality spirals down. Do the opposite. Start low, improve quality, and raise rates.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Web 2.0 needs a new type of Series A investor.
- Web 2.0 needs smaller investments. This doens't fit with the current large funds because of the amount of money they need to put to work and the time constraints on partners.
- Web 2.0 needs more investments. Compounding on the problem of the amount of money a VC wants to put to work and limitations of partners time, the Web 2.0 community needs to have many more companies getting funded to keep innovation racing.
- Web 2.0 deals need to move faster. Getting funded as a 1 man demo machine is a long shot. While making quick progress on building a product with a small team is absolutely doable. Hubpages is doing it. However, 3-6 months without pay is skin in the game to make the beta. An additional several months of raising money will squash many viable startups that fly under the radar of VCs and not well enough connected to Angels.
If you don't have money for PR, and want the "tell it like it is" feedback that you need to make a product that people want and use, then you have to reach out to the blogosphere.
There is risk when it comes to bloggers. Group think, egos, and perhaps less representative of target audiences you want to reach. However, it is definately worth reaching out to them.
Here is the Hubpages strategy with working with the blogosphere.
- Research bloggers and get to know their body of work. Create a list of bloggers that you would like to get their feedback from. Select no more than 5 to start with. You want to limit it so you have time to take the best feedback from each of them and put it in the product.
- Invite them at the earliest point you can to demo the product. Do this before it is publicly available. It is kind of like giving them a scoop, but at the same time many other startups do the same thing and your likely to get great comments like this feature would be better if is was more like "insert comparison to companies feature".
- Don't expect bloggers to love your product. There was a great post about pitching VC's (I'd link to it if I could remember where I read it) and to be prepared for negative feedback. Like many things in life it is how you handle the feedback that is important. Be open to it. Understand it. Use it. Otherwise, your growth is limited. Jack Canfield will tell you if you read his Success Principles, to ask 1 question. How do you see us limiting ourselves?
- List them in your news section or get a beatdown on Techcrunch.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Sacrifice. Each of us has sacrificed to build hubpages on a tiny budget. I left my wife and kids in San Luis Obispo and Jay and Paul left fiances in Seattle. We pay $700 a month in rent and live frugally. None of us take a salary.
Since we live together, we wake up about 8am and work until about 12 or 1am. We get a lot done in the garage and few decisions take more than a couple of minutes.
Legal stuff. We interviewed law firms and chose Don Keller at Orrick to represent us. If you don't know this, many law firms will help you with your incorporation and filings. They will let you acrue some fees that you pay when you are funded. It's best to get a referal to increase your chances of getting this type of arrangement. If you get funding, you pay them if you don't, you don't. It's good to get incorporated and set up properly from the beginning. This makes everything clear between founders. If you wait too long, there could be potential problems. When you setup there are a few key decisions.
- Vesting Period - We chose to vest monthly with no cliff since none of us are taking a salary. We thought that was fair. We also chose for our founders stock to vest over 3.5 years. Somewhere between 3 and 4 years is typical.
- In the event that one of us is fired, we agreed on 6 months of additional vesting. We have trust in eachother and this is more of protection if we raise money and the board gets rid of one of us.
- Double trigger vesting and percentage. We setup with a double trigger. Meaning we have to be acquired and then fired to get the vesting. We also agreed on 100% vesting in this case. Some people feel that it shouldn't be 100%, but we agreed that it was best for the companies protection.
- Board seats. We put 2 of us on the board in anticipation of adding people to the board in the future. We hope to maintain 2 board seats through the life of the company. We didn't put all 3 of us on the board because it is a likely scenario that we wouldn't retain all 3 spots in the future and it might be more difficult to have to remove 1 of us, vs. taking care of it now.
- We are a Delaware Corp.
We are less than 30 days until the beta.
So in January of 2006, with a key agreement completed with one major parter, the 3 of us moved into a house in Berkeley CA and have begun work on hubpages.com. None of us take a salary and each of us works around the clock day and night to make hubpages a reality. Our goal is to ship the product, and then decide on ongoing funding options.