Category Archives: Founder Stories

How to Scale Your Startup

What happens when Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Chris Yeh and John Lilly get together to teach how to scale your startup? A new class at Stanford called Blitzcaling.

The sessions were made available to the public so everyone can benefit. You can watch the classes via Youtube, listen during your commute on SoundCloud and check out class notes as well.

Check out this Medium post by John Lilly with the links to all resources: https://medium.com/greylock-perspectives/now-playing-blitzscaling-9c7b333cc379#.dqkymkwfz

Regardless of which growth stage your startup is in, the interviews and discussions with founders that have done it before is a great source of inspiration. Enjoy!

The Startup Story You Should Remember

Debt, unsurmountable challenges, loneliness, and hope. These are probably words that all startup founders can relate to. And although the majority of startups fail, it is good to hear of those that went through hell and came back stronger.

The SlideShare presentation below tells the story of MOZ (formerly known as SEOMoz), from their early start with thousands of dollars in debt, failed attempts at raising capital, changing business model, up to where they are today. 

Rand Fishkin, founder of MOZ, is a great storyteller and shares details that other companies try to hide. In this presentation, aptly titled “The Hard Truths of Entrepreneurship”, Rand gives us a candid account of their journey and important lessons throughout. It is one of those “must see” presentations.

Figuring Out How To Make It Work

There isn’t a startup that became successful overnight. It typically takes years of trial and error, tons of money down the drain, wrong bets and wrong hires, and the ever eluding light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are in the middle of the battle of making your startup work, which according to Steve Blank means figuring out a business model that works, then hearing from other entrepreneurs and learning about their miseries can sometimes be helpful. You are not alone, after all!

Check out for example Jason Goldberg’s rant about how he is finally going to take it seriously and really start paying attention to business 101 and turn his startup, Fab.com, around. A good read is Simon Dumenco’s criticism of Goldberg’s post in a recent AdAge article.

Enjoy!

A Startup Show Worth Watching?

HBO recently released a new series, Silicon Valley, that does a pretty good job at capturing the startup environment in the SF Bay Area. It’s funny while not being overboard and makes fun of iconic people and companies in the Valley (Google, Peter Thiel, Paul Graham, and others).

If you are like me and doesn’t have HBO, you can still catch the first episode for free.

Silicon Valley HBO Show

Click to watch the first episode

Keep going and don’t give up

This month’s Inc Magazine brings an interesting “How I Did It” story about Rick Smolan, the guy behind the “A Day in the Life” series of coffee table books. After being told countless times that his idea was stupid he kept going until was able to make it a huge success.

Worth checking out. Don’t give up!

Click here to go to the full article.

The Fairy Tale of Quick Startup Success

Moving to Silicon Valley to start your own company or quitting your day job in hopes of getting that new social-mobile-disruptive-app acquired by Facebook are all good reasons to feel good about your startup. If “they” made it, so can I. Maybe.

Interestingly enough, despite all the fuss the media makes about startups that “made it” quick, there is usually an ugly truth hiding behind the headline: it doesn’t happen overnight. The millions of dollars in VC money given to the team of 3 guys in a dorm room didn’t happen just after a 15 minutes meeting at the local Starbucks. The acquisition by [insert your favorite tech behemoth here] wasn’t just a lucky strike. And the sudden success of over one million downloads didn’t happen just because of the mention on Tech Crunch.

No, my startup founder friend, those things happened after a lot of hard work. A recent case in point is the fate of Zite, as told by Mark Johnson,its CEO, in an article to All Things D titled “How to Get Your Start-Up Acquired in Six Months or Less“.

The story of Zite, according to Johnson, is amazing for the speed with which the app gained traction and attention from CNN who ended up acquiring the company. And all of that in just six months! Or so it may seem at first. Read the article carefully and this interesting piece of information pops up like the missing puzzle piece that you thought lost but was just hiding under the carpet:

“Zite had the advantage of almost six years of R&D (we were formerly called Worio), but until we became Zite, we were a technology company with a product problem. Instead of continuing to use the technology on a failed product, we pivoted to Zite.”

It didn’t take them six months to see success, it took them SIX YEARS. Yes, they were doing R&D, trying different things and pivoted to what eventually became Zite. Once they found the right product and business model (as Steve Blank likes to say, a startup is a company in search of a business model that works), success was easier attained.

Magazines and news sites have to attract readers, so the headlines are catchy. People also like to have someone they can look up to, aspire to become, or learn from and so the stories of quick stardom are naturally attractive. I have nothing against it and I am always eager to read those as well. Just remember that behind each success story lies the hard work that made it happen.

 

Zite

In What Do You Believe?

Before I decided to quit my day job, move to San Francisco and work on my startup I had many conversations with my co-founder about our beliefs. Maybe because we were both coming from a corporate culture that we thought was broken, or because we had aspirations of becoming a great place to work we talked about what we believed would  be the best way to treat employees, the right way to serve customers, and what was the pain we believed the market had and that we could solve with our product.

My recent post at Startup Grind, The Secret for Success: Believe, discusses these issues. Head there to read the full story and to contribute to the discussion.

The Little Startup That Could Have Been

While Dropbox and Box command the media attention and VC investment, Yousendit – the service that helped pioneer file sharing – is still alive and, for the time being, doing well.

The Year is 2004

Let’s go back to 2004 when Yousendit was launched. Sure, there was Kazaa, Gnutella, and others offering peer-to-peer file sharing, but if you wanted to send someone that huge Powerpoint or Photoshop file (without the risk of getting a virus) you didn’t have many options other than burning and mailing a CD.

At the time, your Hotmail account allowed you up to 2MB of file storage. You had to keep deleting old emails with attachments. Google’s newly released Gmail service giving 1GB of storage wouldn’t be publicly available until later in 2007 with about 2GB of storage (which would then prompt Yahoo to give unlimited storage to their Yahoo Mail users). And businesses running Microsoft Exchange servers limited users’ inbox size as well to maybe a couple hundred megs. I still remember our IT admin kept complaining that we were emailing files to each other too often and he needed more disk space.  And I got the “your mailbox is over its size limit” message every other week.

Enter Yousendit. The service allowed you to upload a big file, then email a link to whoever needed access. It was confidential (only the recipient with the link could download the file), fast (no attachments), and pretty affordable (files up to 5MB was free). Brilliant. Usage skyrocketed. What could go wrong?

The FORGOTTEN founder

I always wondered why Dropbox and Box, to name just two services, were able to become so successful so quickly while Yousendit seemed stuck in the past. Sure, Dropbox is not focused on file sharing per se, they promote “cloud storage”, but Yousendit could have taken the market leadership position easily. And only recently (2011) did they announce a “dropbox-like” feature giving unlimited cloud storage for their users. They already had the infrastructure, the product, the users. What happened?

My answers came in the form of a recent Inc Magazine article, The Forgotten Founder. It sheds some light into the company’s story, and helps explain why such a promising service was plagued with problems. Also shows how important it is to have a great team assembled and what mistakes we all should try to avoid. Was this the reason Yousendit didn’t evolve the service until now? I can’t say for certain but I bet it has a lot to do with it. Could Yousendit have become what Dropbox is today?

The future

Box and Dropbox are the darlings, attracting hundreds of millions in capital investment. But they are not alone… and there is always someone that can jump into this game and shake up the market. Check below a short list of similar file sharing / cloud storage services, their launch dates, and total VC investment in each company to date. Let’s see what happens next! 

File Sharing and cloud storage solutions

  • 2004: Yousendit ($48.7M)
  • 2004: SugarSync ($41.5M)
  • 2005: Mozy ($1.9M, acquired by EMC in 2007 for $76M)
  • 2006: Box ($159M)
  • 2006: Carbonite ($66M)
  • 2007: Dropbox ($257M)
  • 2007: Google Docs
  • 2007: Jungle Disk (Acquired by Rackspace in 2008)
  • 2007: Windows Live skydrive
  • 2008: Syncplicity ($2.35M)
Sources for the figures are Crunchbase and Wikipedia.
For a visual representation of the funding timeline for the key players, see the image below (click to enlarge).
Cloud Storage Funding Timeline

Funding timeline for key cloud storage players


Are You Feeling Lucky?

What luck has to do with it? It seems many startup founders feel like some are luckiers than others. The solo entrepreneur that got that big VC deal. That team of nobodies that was bought by Google. Or even those guys that you met at the coffee shop and didn’t seem to know what to do and now are going for an IPO. Luck?

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger

A really good article published by the New York Times written by Jimm Collins and Morten T. Hansen explores the events that can shape a company. It talks about how Bill Gates made it big, and at first you may think he was extremely lucky. But if you dig further, you can see that the series of events that led him to be successful with Microsoft could as well have taken many more people in the same direction. Why didn’t others, equally positioned to reap the rewards, succeeded?

“When the time came to execute on their good fortune, they stumbled. They didn’t fail for lack of good luck. They failed for lack of superb execution.”

Execution is the key word used by the authors and one you have certainly seen elsewhere. VCs, Angels, and experienced entrepreneurs all talk about execution. You have this great idea for a Facebook killer? A revolutionary iPhone app? A ground-breaking enterprise software? Great. So do hundreds of others. What will ultimately decide who is successful is how each person (or team) executes.

Bad Dreams

It is also interesting that the article talks about the bad moments that every company faces. And you know of many, for sure, that have stumbled again and again only to finally find their mojo and come back with a vengeance. Startups that fail abound, those that succeed are rarely remembered for their darker times because they were able to learn, overcome them, and become better.

The Question You Face

The question you and all of us startup founders face is not whether we’ll be lucky. Is whether we’ll be able to identify lucky events and how we respond to them. As the authors put it:

“There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? But, just as important, do we have the fanatic, obsessive discipline to keep marching, to push the opportunity to the extreme, to make the most of the chances we’re given?”

Check out the full article, it’s worth it.

Behind the rise of Jeff Bezos and Amazon

There’s an interesting writeup on Wall Street Journal, “Birth of a Salesman“, about the early beginnings of Amazon.com and how Bezos started it all.

Read the full article here.