First Week in “Frisco”
We’ve now been out here for a week so it’s a good time to blog about what has happened so far. It’s been an intensive week – in terms of general sightseeing/getting to know SF there really isn’t anything especially interesting to tell as we haven’t ventured outside of the office much, so apologies in advance for the lack of local tips in this post 🙂
After we settled in to the apartment we went to check out the Obvious Corp offices (also known as Obvious HQ) in South Park which is where we’re based. They are seriously cool – spacious with meeting rooms along the side of the top floor and a big open plan central space where everyone works from. We worked out that using our old set-up, we could probably fit about five people onto the desks we each have to ourselves now. It’s amazing how much difference having a good work space set up makes. Moving on from talking about the furniture – the people in the office are just awesome. Everyone knows about Evan Williams, founder of Pyra Labs which created blogger.com – the first serious piece of blogging software which he sold to Google (yes I appreciate the irony of talking about blogger while I’m blogging from wordpress but then life is full of these little unexpected twists and turns) and he’s a hugely respected figure out here in the Valley. At first it felt kind of weird working in the same office as a guy with that type of track record – I suppose back home I’m not really used to seeing many big names (partly because their aren’t many and partly because even the ones that are around tend to charge you stupid amounts of money to “network” with them) but the attitude over here is just completely different – people are just incredibly friendly and the open/laid back vibe of the office makes it a great place to work.
I’ve never really spent much time in America (to be honest I’ve not really travelled very much generally so working in a new country is a completely new experience for me) but the one thing that sticks out is just how friendly everyone is here. People seriously make an effort to show an interest in you – and I’m not just talking about the guys/girls in the office, I mean literally everyone. I’ve probably already had more conversations with random people walking past me on the street/looking at the same stuff as me in a store/generally while I’m walking around in this past week than I had in the past year. There is a really pleasant vibe around here where the norm isn’t to come into work, sit down and get on with your stuff (something I’ve been very guilty of this past week but I intend to put right this week) it’s to strike up conversations and generally take interest in what people around you are doing. This definitely doesn’t mean everyone sits around chatting all the time – these guys work seriously hard and they love what they’re doing – but it does make it an incredibly relaxed place to be around.
So moving on from general America talk, on the business side of things there have been pretty big developments. Kul and I have been talking about taking boso in a different direction for a while now. Although it’s still growing organically (we took the foot off the gas on the marketing side as we needed to focus on the actual product) it’s not showing the big levels of growth we’d initially expected it to. For a lot of people that would probably be seen as a bad thing but over here in the Valley, that’s supposed to be a very positive sign. The thinking here is that your initial assumptions are usually always wrong and the successful companies are the ones that can adapt and react in time (Google’s original business plan was licensing their search software and selling it to Microsoft – who had the chance to buy it for a few million but apparently “no one was interested in search”).
We had a big meeting with Paul Graham and laid out all of our concerns about how to take things forward in the best way. One thing that struck me was that for once we were talking to a guy who has actually been there and done this. He’s built a startup and he’s sold it to Yahoo for a lot of money – he is not someone with a promising idea, or who claims to have years of experience as an entrepreneur even though no-one really knows what he has done and everyone is too embarassed to actually ask what his real claim to fame is. We’ve become so used to getting our advice from people who haven’t actually had any real startup success and seeing how the quality of conversation/discussion was on a different level to the ones we’ve had in the past really rammed it home just how different this place is. In the Valley people seriously live and breath startups, it’s literally like a whole way of life unto itself. There is no sense of launching a startup being the unusual option or something that should only be done when you’ve got some years of commercial experience behind you. They don’t need Enterprise weeks or other government backed bullshit to convince young people to start up companies – over here it’s just what you do. We went to a house party last weekend and it was strange seeing all the consultants being almost embarassed to say what they did – they went through the typical process of forming rationalisations as to why it was the best thing for them to be doing right now. I found it slightly surreal, my experience has always been of feeling like an outcast/eccentric/weirdo for wanting to start my own company straight out of university and I’ve often had to make arguments for why it’s the best thing you can do if you want to invest in yourself. Being surrounded by people who see that as the norm has taken a little getting used to.
So after our meeting with Paul we came out with an idea for a new direction to take boso in – it’s quite dramatically different to what we’ve done so far and we’re both pretty excited about it. I always hate it when people say they have a cool idea but then refuse to tell you what it is, as though having other people know your idea gives them any form of advantage. The reason I’m not going to talk about our new direction just yet is because we haven’t really researched it enough depth to be certain just exactly what the direction actually is. All sounds a bit cloak and dagger but I’m not going to hype it up as the next big thing – it’s just something that we find interesting and that’s really what this is all about.
Moving back to general San Francisco talk (this has turned into a pretty mammoth post now so thank you if you’re still reading) we had our first YCombinator dinner on Tuesday evening. At first I kind of felt a little out of my depth – I met more startup founders in the first 10 minutes than I probably had in all of last year (though no doubt that’s partly down to my total lack of networking in London) and they were all experienced and talented web coders. Bearing in mind that at this point we were still uncertain what direction we were headed in as a company, it was a little tough to keep up the enthusiasm but as I got talking to people that all vanished. As Paul Graham said, the dinners are “a carefully crafted simulation of a social event” and in reality they are more about showing everyone else what you’re doing and bouncing ideas around. It really is like a bootcamp for startups, there is no better way to explain it. The idea is to accelerate the process of getting your company from the idea stage to the live stage and making sure you’re at least ready to show investors something come March. Hearing words of advice from the past YCombinator fundees was also great – always good to know that other people have/are going through the same stuff as you.
Ok I’ll probably wrap things up there. This is already my longest post by a mile and I’ve probably bored enough people by now. I’ll post again on Sunday about what happens this week. When I think how much has changed in this past week, it’ll be pretty interesting to see where we’re at in another weeks time.