One of the best things about making software for consumers is the complete lack of gatekeeper risk (unless of course you consider net neutrality issues but let’s leave that aside for time being. You already know how i feel about that )
Make great software and the end user can decide if they want it or not. The decision maker and the end user is the same person.
We take this for granted but as many folks know this hasn’t been the case in companies (enterprise), or education or finance and other such markets. In these markets we have typically seen a decision maker who is different than the end user.
This creates a number of issues that impact the design, care and distribution of the product. It also gives rise to a natural gatekeeper.
Back in the day you would hear things like “I can’t use that product because our IT team won’t support it”.
A number of products have been introduced that have enabled their employees to go rogue in effect. And that is a good thing.
End users at companies are basically are making their own decisions. They bought iPhones and brought them to the office. They signed up for dropbox and brought it to the office.
I did that with gmail shortly after we started Spark. We began with MS Exchange and after a year or so I went rogue and moved myself to gmail. Shortly after the rest of the team moved as well.
Trello is a mighty fine example of this. Trello is the best way for anyone to work together on a project. Any project. It’s beautiful, fast and simple. Oh, it’s free too.
I signed up for Trello on my own. I didn’t have to take a “webinar” or ask a sales person to demo it to me. I didn’t have to ask someone to install it and I didn’t need anyone’s permission. Others at Spark made their own decision and suddenly we had Trello boards for all sorts of projects like our annual limited partner meeting, candidates we are recruiting, investments we are considering, marketing initiatives and more.
I also have boards are also linked to folks outside of Spark. And Trello works mighty fine in single player mode as I keep a few Trello boards that I keep just for me.
We are proud investors in Stack and when we saw Trello we became inspired to get involved. A product aimed at end users in any environment without gatekeepers, with natural network effects and one we love using everyday.
But one of my most important criteria is whether I would want to work at this company if I wasn’t a VC.
It’s such a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with cofounders Michael Pryor and Joel Spolsky again along with Neil Rimer at Index who co-led this Series A with Spark. It’s an awesome team and I’m delighted to be part of it.
Go try out Trello for iOS, Android or your good old desktop browser. You’ll love it.
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Update: Read Joel’s post about the Trello backstory here, Michael has a post and the WSJ wrote about the new funding as well.
A few weeks back we had a bunch of friends over for an outdoor dinner. The weather forecast said: perfect.
I’m the DJ in our house (although I feel my title is under attack these days).
Option 1: fire up songza on the sonos, choose the “right” activity, hit play and be done.
Option 2: create a playlist that the folks attending our party would particularly enjoy like a song from our college days sprinkled in with tunes our kids love and some songs that we all love to sing out loud.
The first choice is crazy simple and would work fine but I picked option 2.
I heard a few of the guests singing along to a few tunes which made me smile inside — but it’s likely the playlist spoon fed by Songza would have done the trick as well, right? But creating something was far more rewarding.
Thinking through all the goodies that Google has in store for us (n.b. Google acquired Songza) there is an ambitios emphasis on making life easier. Nest thermostats control your temperature beautifully and automatically. Google maps means you are never lost again. Google’s autonomous cars means we don’t even need to touch the steering wheel anymore. Google Now means I don’t have to check my phone. It will tell me what’s important and when it’s important. Google robots will likely do a number of things in my house for me.
I’m not just picking on Google. Honest.
There are plenty of other examples where our intention and choices are being challenged.
Take even the venture capital business. Series B meetings all over the planet are being over run by data. Is the company breaking out, what is the churn rate, what is the DAU/MAU, downloads per day, sessions per day, did the clear their Kickstarter campaign, revenue per day, and the beat goes on.
What about instinct, team quality, vision, ambition, aspiration? Where do those fit in?
There are alternatives to the algorithmic/programmatic/automatic Google approach. Tumblr is a useful contrast. One of favorite things about Tumblr is I decide almost everything.
I choose my theme or I can make it from scratch. I decide who I’m following (vs an algorithm or an editor). I decide to express myself with my own content or reblog (share) something that inspires me. I decide to tap the heart icon and let the creator know that I love it (vs showing up in a google analytics or mixpanel dashboard). Tumblr is a reflection of my own intentions and choices.
To be clear I’m not against the advancement of technology. In fact it is one of the reasons I get up every morning. But I’m drawn to places where technology enables intention, creativity and choice.
A lot has changed since the early days of Twitter as a company over the last 8 years. From a little company in South Park to a company with thousands of employees globally.
Last week I was talking to someone who was critical about Twitter, the product (not the company). She asked why Twitter hasn’t innovated and how I felt about the company.
I made it clear that I’m extremely biased emotionally about the company and our firm and my wife and I are shareholders.
But I reject this idea that Twitter as a product hasn’t innovated over the years.
Think back to the early version of Twitter that got me hooked and there are countless ways that Twitter has improved: mobile apps, search, conversations, photographs, analytics, native advertising, recommendations, Discover, retweets, hashtags, location/geotagging, Amplify, Twitter cards, as well as countless ways the product has been made easier to use. Plus Twitter has also made important acquisitions like Vine and others.
But here is the important thing about all of that product goodness — it didn’t come at a cost that breaks the magic of Twitter.
Contrast it to other products that continue to get bloated and heavy with clunky features. The posterchild is Microsoft Office but they are hardly the only ones. Actually most mature products (and early stage ones too) fall into this time honored trap.
One of things I admire most about Twitter, the product is their discipline to add new things while keeping things remarkably simple. Simple & magical enough to inform, entertain, connect and delight hundreds of millions of people.
So that is the long version. The short version is I love Twitter and I’m excited about its future.
Since I’ve gotten into the VC business I’ve often advised founders that venture funding isn’t a pre-requisite for building their company.
Sometimes venture capital is an excellent way to fund deficits during the leap of faith stage and beyond.
But there are multiple other ways to fund a company.
There are plenty of companies that have “made it” with and without venture capital.
A few years ago we seed financed a promising new startup called Svpply. We were taken with Ben Pieratt’s creative brilliance, the product and vision.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out and eBay acquired the product. That didn’t work out either post acquisition as eBay is now shutting Svpply down.
Ben isn’t happy about that so he’s creating Very Goods, as the new Svpply. And this time he’s decided to not raise money from investors and he’s not going to be the CEO. Instead he’s crowdfunding his product.
I do know Ben is highly talented and this new model may be the best fit for everyone - founders, community, early backers.
I was proud to back Ben the first time and I’m proud to support him again on Kickstarter. Here’s the link
A few months back I bought a few Dropcams and set them up in our house.
I wanted to have an easy way to check on things as we travel quite a bit and there are a number of folks that have keys to our place.
I was also curious about the technology and wanted to see first hand how it all worked.
Initially Lauren and the kids made a few jokes about living under house arrest and my son would often make funny faces in front of the cameras.
But after a week or so everyone just ignored them.
That’s when it got interesting.
One morning before the kids went to school I was heading down the stairs and my son was heading up the stairs. He gave me an impromptu hug.
About an hour later I thought, “hey that hug was in front of one of the dropcams”
I fired up the app and sure enough I had this video of the awesome hug.
As you might guess we take a lot of photographs in our house. Some are candid and some are posed. But I don’t take much videos. And if I do they are during special events like Christmas morning or a birthday party.
But now I have these cameras recording the every day. The good, the bad, the ugly. In other words life.
I have the dog jumping on the counter when no one is looking, the kids ignoring us, the laughs & the cries, dancing my wife in the kitchen as well her looking less than happy when I’m late.
I am now making a point to grab video clips and sticking them in iMovie each month. I’m hoping I end up with something special, something real. It’s just for us.
I didn’t expect this use case when I ordered the Dropcams. But it is my favorite thing about it.