Running The Marathon

It’s common saying in the Valley that your idea will fail and constant production iterations are inevitable. However, when taking a quick glance around, all we talk about are the instant successes. Facebook seemed to have taken off from the getgo. Twitter was always about status updates. And Google was web search from day one. Sure, business plans are still in the works (I’ll save that for another post), but the killer feature seemed to have been there from the beginning. This is awesome, yet, at the same time, depressing for the many entrepreneurs who are still out there grinding day in and day out.

While the media likes to highlight the home-runs, there are plenty of startups running the marathon one leg at a time. So, I decided to take a look around at some startups that morphed since its beginnings and are making good progress forward.

Iminlikewithyou.com is an interesting website that gives you casual flash games. The idea started as a flirting/dating site with twist. Originally, users would bid on each other, in attempts to woo the opposite sex. Since then, the founders have refocused the site on casual gaming. My favorite is “Blockles,” where is basically Tetris with items. Frankly, I have wasted hours of my life playing this addicting game. In a nice way, you can still find the original social features still present on the site. You can friend, chat, and connect with people on the site.

iminlikewithyou

Iminlikewithyou has raised at least $1.5 since its founding. While the website is still relatively unknown compared to the other big players, it’s making progress. Surprisingly, my “mainstream” friends discovered the site before I did, and it’s definitely got me as an user.

Chegg is a online textbook rentals company. Never being a textbook kind of a guy (whatever that means), I’ll have to admit I’m not a user of the website. Originally, the site started as an online classified for colleges. In other words, college craigslist. I have been following this site because I started out with the same idea in college. What was especially hard was reaching critical mass within a college. A large public university has about 20k undergraduates, and you would need a big portion of that community for the website to be meaningful.

chegg

Now as a textbook rentals company, it’s claimed to have save students $19k (as of Feb 2, 2009). Since its founding in 2003, the site has raised $27M and the co-founder is still there. Again, like many other startups, there’s still work to be done, but I’m excited about its future. I hope the idea works out. I hated paying for all those textbooks.

While the huge success stories are inspirational, chances are you won’t get a home-run right away. Remember that there are tons of other companies out there that are more like you.

The Customer Development Model

It’s pretty clear now that “getting users” isn’t a simple thing to do. I came across a presentation that addresses just this. It claims that startup’s focus too much of their early attention on product development, and not enough “customer development.” As a result, startups fail not because engineering was broken, but because their offering is just not valuable enough to the customers. Rather relying on a “launch” and hoping users will just come, the author explains that there should be a long and iterative process beforehand that validates that you can actually creating something that people wants.

For instance, during the early stages, there should be a back-and-forth process between customer discovery and customer validation. The presentation wants you to keep in mind that the “facts are outside the building, opinions are inside.” In other words, you might think your idea is valuable, but you won’t really know until you verify with the market. From the concept, see if you can make a repeatable sales. If not, go back to the drawing board.

I find the structure that the author lays out to be pretty useful. However, how you decide to mold or change your idea is the hard part. No one has the answer to this and you’ll never really know until you try it.

Jessica Mah’s $500 to Startup

Jessica Mah, 18-year old entrepreneur, launches her startup, internshipIN, today. Her total cost was about $500 and roughly two weeks of development time. She started the website with two other friends (Arielle Patrice Scott and Andy Su) at UC Berkeley, with her story here:

internshipIN began at Gypsies, the local Italian restaurant in downtown Berkeley, where Arielle and Jessica discussed how they planned to change the world. They knew it had to do with helping other students and startups, they just didn’t know how. They were only a couple of bites into their pasta when the laptops were busted open and they were discussing implementation and design – internshipIN was born.

But Jess knew she was going to need Andy on board to make it happen. Arielle’s stomach went crazy waiting to find out if Andy would agree to join the team or not. She didn’t wait too long, however, because a couple of hours later, Jess and Andy were already working on a prototype. (what a great way to procrastinate math homework!) With only five nights of coding, the two of them were able to launch the first beta.

InternshipIN is a job board, specifically focused on the internship matches between employers and students. InternshipIN allows employers to make job posts, while also crawling other job boards, such as SimplyHired, for internship-specific listings. The website’s goal is help smaller companies find good talent for a fraction of the price.

Moreover, getting that first summer internship is pretty hard. When I was looking for internships a few summers ago, I remember how nerve-wrecking it was. I had basically no work experience, and there were not any specific tools to help me out. This website aims to fill that niche. Another website that students may find helpful is InternshipRatings.

Overall, internshipIN is a good example about just getting your product out there. Their website is very minimal, but it works. The next step for them would be to get user feedback and continue to iterate on top of that. I wish them the best of luck.

Kevin Rose: Start Up During A Recession

Kevin Rose chimes in on why he thinks it’s good idea to do a startup in the midst of an economic downturn. My views is similar to his. He agrees with Paul Graham’s original post, and so do I. Since Facebook, Youtube, Digg, MySpace, and Flickr were founded, there hasn’t really been any other companies that has captured my attention in the same way (well, maybe except twitter). There has been a lot of excitement, but frankly too much noise.

Why to start a new startup in a bad economywww.kevinrose.com

Thx @loltini for showing me the vid.

Loopt Coming to T-Mobile G1

Loopt just announced it’s Android version of its application.

Loopt on Android is coming soon and the team here has their hands full developing on this wonderful and robust platform. We’ve included a sneak peek with two screenshots. On the left is the Map View of you and your friends with a roll of your friends at the bottom. Click on a friend’s image and you’ll know where that person is. On the right is the Friends List, showing you where they are, their distance from you, and what they’re doing.

Lead by 22 year-old Sam Altman, Loopt has come a long way since its original launch. This was actually a company I doubted at first because of the limitations of mobile phone at that time. With iPhone and G1, their product is starting to look more promising. The company has done a good job tackling at upcoming technologies, rather than just mature markets. While they still have much work to do before any meaningful user adoption, they are positioned pretty well to become the leader in this field.

On a side note, I think Android would be way cooler if it had a better looking UI. I sort of get an Linux feel out of it. While it works get functionally, it just doesn’t have the oooh factor of a Mac.

Sharing The Idea

Startup Ideas
Every founder is protective over his ideas, and he has every reason to be. For example, Steve Jobs will let Microsoft down for supposedly taking the GUI. Thinking of an idea is hard and many founders believe that they are the only ones working their ideas. More often than not, there is another founder thinking exactly the same thing. Naturally, I would feel the same way, but a part of me also knows that great work also come from collaboration and feedback.

One person believes in sharing the idea is Jyri Engeström, founder of Jaiku, now part of Google. When I spoke to him during Gigaom’s Mobilize conference, he told me basically got his startup off the ground by posting his idea on his blog. He shared his idea, people thought it was cool and joined. His logic was simple: it’s the execution, not the idea. If someone really wanted to copy you, it’s going to happen. Moreover, if someone was working on the same idea, it’s better to know now than to find out cluelessly after months of hard work. TechCrunch took a similar approach with its $200 laptop endeavor.

I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel about going public with ideas from very beginning, but what the hell. In spirit of the post, I figured I’d throw out an idea I’ve been thinking about.

Meeting Strangers. Facebook is good for managing all your real life friends, but not so good at meeting new people. MySpace is more suited for it, but still awkward and not meaningful. Currently, only dating sites seem to dominate this category. However, if you think about it, we are already meeting people online, just not through any one destination sites. One example is bloggers. You think Robert Scoble got to know Dave Winer just randomly? No, they blogged about each other and then started communicating through other methods.

My vision is not to make a centralized social network, but to make a decentralized network that helps people engage in one another. I am not interested in a Robert Scoble’s profile pic, I’m interested in his online activity: his blog, his flickr, his facebook. I want to build a widget that you can plug into any site, allowing to network to any other site with that widget. It seems like Deluux might be doing something similar, and if they are, awesome. I want to be able to discover other small bloggers who are interested in tech. Or, I want to find a person who chat with about photography and DSLR’s. Almost like a discovery network. As you can see, it’s all brainstorming right now, but I would love to hear some input; don’t be all secretive.

I’d like to invite anyone interested to contact me or leave a comment. We can get a virtual team to work on it for fun.

YCombinator Gets Record Number Applicants

YCombinator’s winter cycle applications were due on Friday. As Paul Graham explains, YCombinator received “more applications this time than ever, and by a large margin: 10%.” In case you don’t know, YC is an unique fund that focuses on seed investments, usually attracting a younger crowd. They don’t officially disclose actual application numbers, but we can easily assume hundreds. Roughly 20 startups get funded in each cycle.

In tough times, this could be a good indicator that people are still interested in starting businesses. Or, it’s just that YCombinator is becoming more widely known, possibly even international applicants now? Looking at the Compete.com’s YC statistics, the number of visitors to the site rose clearly more than 10%.

All in all, it’s going to be more competitive this year than ever before. However, the startups that will eventually make it are not the ones who depends their entire strategy behind YCombinator. Ask yourself if you have the dedication to keep going even without it. YC will give your the PR, money, and connections, but it will not provide you the execution of the idea. At the foundation, it’s the team that makes the difference. In conclusion, I wish all the applicants the best of luck! I look forward to all the cool ideas on demo day.

Under 9000 and Starting Up

Most college seniors are sweating now due to the economic downturn: How am I going to find a job? But maybe there’s also a bright side to all of this. As bad as it might seem to do a startup, right now might be the time to do so. You might be thinking, “What? Crazy!” Well, let’s look at some of the positive things for young people.

1. Less Competition. As VC cut back their funding, many companies are going to die. Layoffs are in now. Moreover, fewer people are going to enter the industry. If you’re a younger person or a college student working on a project on his spare time, chances are you are not funded anyways. In a sense, it levels the playing field. You are more competitive now.

2. Real Products. I think a lot of young people try to make products that are neat, but probably aren’t that valuable. It doesn’t solve any problems. For example, do we really need another superpoke 2.0? Often times, this is driven overvalued acquisitions spurring unrealistic motivations. Hard times forces you to think, are we solving a problem?

3. Buy. Like Warren Buffet’s philosophy, sell when everyone is greedy, and buy when everyone is in fear. Similarly, Paul Graham explains that you are investor in your own company.

4. Taking some time off. For many, it’s tough to find a job right now. Chances are you will some weeks, or even months submitting applications and interviewing. Why not take some of this time to code something you are passionate about. If things don’t work out, saying you build something and putting on your resume will not hurt you.

Startup: The Psychological Factor

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I think the hardest part of doing a startup is the psychological factor. During conferences, there are always panels about raising money, bringing together a world-class team, and staying competitive, but there’s little talk about the founder’s lifestyle. However, before you get going on a building that killer app, you have to have heart for the startup life. There will be up’s and down’s, and you are own your own.

Here are things that I think are important, and not really talked about.

1. Be Confident – When you’re running your startup, what used to seem like a great idea may not be so after a few days. Or, suddenly, you find two other competitors who are doing exactly the same thing as you. Or, you’re simply tired of living off ramen for months. A founder needs to have the confidence to believe in himself. Moreover, you’re going to be the one motivating your team. That’s a lot of positive energy for a person to have.

2. Don’t Be Cocky – On the other hand, you’re not always right. Sometimes, it’s hard to cut out features or change business models. But the reality is many entrepreneurs go through many iterations in their product before it becomes successful. In the worst case, be prepared to fail. The reality is most startups fail; it is better to accept it, learn from your mistakes and become a better entrepreneur, than being too big for defeat. This seems to contradict point #1, but it shouldn’t.

3. Go Out, It Motivates You - Go to the local startup events. Go network with other founders. Humans are inherently social people. I believe the reason there are so many startup events is that founders are lonely people. They are trying to do something completely different and not many people can relate. Okay, that sounds kind of sad actually. Also, it is a great way to get feedback. For example, YCombinator companies meet weekly to discuss their latest work. Fellow entrepreneurs will usually ask harder questions than friends and family.

4. Discipline and Balance – When you are your boss, you set your own agenda and work life balance. Especially if you are young, you aren’t yet used to work hours. I think it’s bad if you just try to work like mad all day. Your hours will easy get messed up and it gets harder to track your productivity. It’s also likely you will get burnt out. This is especially true if you are trying to work out of your own home. Set a time when work is work and life is life. It will also decrease your overhead.

Anyways it’s 3:43am, I think it’s a good time to sleep. What a great way to just contradict myself, lol.