The Big Week
It’s actually been a while since I properly blogged about what’s been happening with us in SV and as we’re about to enter the biggest week of our YC experience, I figure now is a good a time as any to pick up the slack. As I write there are currently four people staying in our apartment – Kul and I (obviously) but also Alek and Tom. Alek is the second hacker we employed back in London and Tom is a graphic designer who has been working with us remotely for the past couple of weeks (the incremental redesigns on boso are his work). Alek is here for the week (he’s natively Bulgarian but studies in Boston) to help us gear up on the boso side of things for investor day this Thursday (the climax of YC – each company presents to a roomful of the biggest investors in the Valley). Tom is going to relocate here more permanently and will be waiting for us when we sort out our visa issues and get back out here to carry on with the momentum we’ve been building so far.
Alek and Tom are both great of examples of how sometimes things just work out without you trying. When we first raised Angel money back in August/September we went on an interview spree to find good coders – we tried recruitment agencies and interviewed more candidates than I can remember. None of them worked out. Alek randomnly replied to a speculative ad we posted on Craigslist – the CV looked impressive, Google funded his project for their summer of code so we thought let’s give him a shot. When he finished his two hour tech test in less than an hour (only one other person ever managed to complete it and they used the full two hours) we knew we were onto something.
Then there’s Tom – again another speculative response to an ad we placed on the 37signals gig board. The CV looked good but he was based in Paris so we didn’t really follow up on it. Then we decided to give him a shot and asked him to build a boso landing page for when users first sign in – the stuff he came back with was amazing. Then we worked with him remotely and continued to be more and more impressed (boso looks better than it’s ever done) so we asked him to fly out here and join us. It’s all a bit spur of the moment/generally chaotic but it shows just how small the world is – people from Paris and London, who have never met, join together in Silicon Valley to work on a tech startup. I have a good gut feeling about Tom and I’m learning more and more that when it comes to startups, your gut feeling is probably the best tool at your disposal most of the time.
So what’s been happening on the business side of things? We finally launched our eBay selling tool – it’s now live at auctomatic.com. It was a totally different experience to launching boso for a few reasons:
1) This time it wasn’t a student side project and we have all the experience from boso this time around
2) I’ve been learning more and more code and have been very closely involved in the actual product, coding all of the views and some of the back end stuff. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to feel like you’ve been a part of building something which is something we never really had with boso. More importantly, I have full access to all aspects of the site and can do bug fixes myself as and when I see them. It takes me a while to figure out what’s happening and a lot of the time what takes Srini five minutes will take me more than a couple of hours but I have to learn at some point and there’s no better way to learn than by just doing.
3) With auctomatic we’ve really stayed very very faithful to the idea of launching early and continually iterating. It definitely feels like we launched too early as there is not much functionality on the site but I heard a podcast from Reid Hoffman recently where he says “if you’re not embarassed by your first release of your product, you launched way too late” and I see now why it’s so important. Getting something out there early and receiving feedback from actual users (in our case eBay powersellers) is like gold dust. We could have spent years on the site and we wouldn’t have been nearly as perceptive as actual users are. They tell us what they want, we build a better product and they feel a sense of ownership. It’s pretty much a win win situation. Also once stuff is live, there’s no hiding and it’s one hell of an incentive to never let up the pace. There’s no point trying to build the perfect product without users, let them do the hard work for you.
I’m feeling excited about auctomatic, we’ve already had sign ups and positive feedback about the site. There’s a long long way to go but it’s definitely solving a very real problem and it’ll be interesting to see how it goes. Learning about subscription based business models/businesses is also another good experience and piece of knowledge to have. Once we start charging users I’m sure it will feel like a whole new ball game once again.
So as I mentioned this week is the big week in terms of YC. I’m feeling quite confident about the pitch itself but there’s plenty of time for things to change. Emotional rollercoaster is a term often used in connection to entrepreneurship but I can’t express just how true it is. I’m not sure how I would cope with a regular existence any more – I’ve become so used to one day feeling on top of the world and the next day wondering what the hell I’m doing that it feels as though I’ve almost become dependent upon it. No matter how hard I tell myself to stay emotionally detached and not get carried away by the highs and lows I can never manage it. So sod it, I’m going to enjoy the highs and work through the lows. Probably not good for my blood pressure but that’s just the way it goes.
I feel on a high right now because even though having Alek and Tom working remotely was going well – there’s never any substitute for working in person with someone. The apartment feels like a real startup environment right now and it actually feels good to have the feeling of being in charge and responsible for making sure things go slowly. Working/leading a team is definitely one of the things I enjoy the most and this next week should be pretty awesome.
So on the speaker front our last YC speaker was Ron Conway – the most prolific angel investor in the Valley (which probably makes him the most prolific in the world). He gave a great talk with some great tips for founders looking to raise investment. Things that stood out for me:
– He has an index fund approach to investing i.e. he invests in as many companies as possible and often his companies are in direct competition with each other. That obviously seems like a slightly strange set up but you also have to remember that Ron Conway can get you a meeting with essentially company, however big or small, in the Valley which is a pretty good reason to have him involved in your company.
– He wants to see flexibility in founders i.e. that they are prepared to adapt the business model when needed. It reinforces the whole concept of failure being a badge of honour out here – investors are more impressed by someone who can admit their business model isn’t working and they’ve had to restart the company than someone who just sticks to their initial business plan.
– A lot of the time he doesn’t even care about the actual idea, in his words “in a year the idea will have changed so much anyway it makes it pointless to invest on that basis alone”. Ron invests in people, a real cliche but it’s so much easier said than done. The difference with Ron is that he’s done it, several hundred times.
So all in all, looking back it’s been an incredible experience this far. I expected to learn a lot but I couldn’t have imagined just how much in such a short space of time. By the end of this week, having pitched to that room full of investors, I’m sure there’ll be a ton more experience/knowledge into this head and that’s a pretty cool feeling to have. Right I’m going to catch some sleep now, probably won’t be getting all that much this week so may as well grab it when I can.