"and just when I got fed up with that grey sky the sun came out of no where like a bar fight and it knocked out the wind and it bruised me with light and I felt grateful for living just like I feel tonight”
Antonio points out that’s is much harder for a seed funded company to build mobile apps today than startups that had only been focused on the web just a few years back:
"During the 2005 "everyone loves AJAX" era when I started Tabblo, front-end engineering meant Firefox2/Safari2 and the dreaded IE6 challenges of making the DOM dance. Today if you are working on any semi-interesting service you are also likely to want to support iPhone OS 3.x/4 out of the gate, Android 2.X, and likely also the iPad (which though it now carries the iOS 4.2 moniker actually tends to require a ground up rewrite). So what was a 1 man effort in 2005 is now a 2-3 man job at minimum. And every entrepreneur who I meet who tells me they can outsource this is fooling themselves in much the same way that the MBAs who claim they can outsource technology do.”
It’s quite true. It’s much easier to create a web service with your seed capital than trying to build for iPhone, Android, iPads and a web site at the same time. I also agree that outsourcing your mobile app isn’t my favorite approach by any means.
I wrote about Tumblr’s low burn rate in the early days of the company. It was just two people working on the site for a long time. And in those days, David and Marco didn’t have to spend any time/resources on creating and supporting Android, iOS and Blackberry. They just worked on the website.
Svpply took the same path for their initial release. They raised a small seed round and focused their energy on the web site with their launch.
Other lean startups started by launching an iOS app first. A good example is Instagram. They don’t have a web offering and they don’t have an Android app yet.
I think the key with all of these examples is that they are focused. They are not trying to boil the ocean. They are making a decision on their product, their user experience and they are executing against that plan. In many ways, raising less than $1MM of seed capital brings constraints. Embracing those constraints can be a good thing.
So it’s true. It’s is a difficult, expenseive and complicated path these days with all of the various mobile platform considerations. But if you have a modest amount of capital in the bank, I would not let this confuse you. Your app may be best suited for a mobile first experience or it may not be.
You need to make an active decision and then make it happen.
“Don’t let people tell you your ideas won’t work. I also went through a few years of this before I realized I prob just saw the world differently that the people who said the stuff I was excited about wouldn’t work or that people wouldn’t want it / use it. If you’re passionate about an idea that’s stuck in your head, find a way to build it so you can prove to yourself that it doesn’t work.”—Dennis Crowley via What are your top 5 pieces of advice for entrepreneurs? - Quora
“I’ve taken to Twitter like a duck to water. Its simplicity allows the user to customize the experience with relatively little input from the Twitter entity itself. I hope they keep it simple. It works because it’s simple. I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.”—
Work has been on full speed since january - many new investments, several follow on rounds, seeing some of our portfolio companies come into their own, helping others get thru adolescence, a record breaking amount of traveling, learning from the pain of losing a few deals and raising our new third fund.
On the personal side it has been intense as well. Our kids are doing great but each day is a new set of learning for the kids and for me as a parent. We’ve had a very close friend learn and help their 8yr old fight cancer. We will never forget 2010.
And this thanksgiving we find ourselves far from home visiting close friends that we havent seen in years.
Today I’m going to spend just thinking and appreciating my family and dear friends. It easy to take them all for granted in a busy year like this one. But there are always going to be busy years so it’s days like this that I love and appreciate. A good reminder about whats really important.
So call your mom. Call your friends. Give out plenty of hugs as you stuff your face with great food. That’s what I’m gonna do.
I am psyched to announce our latest investment — Svpply.
We have been using Svpply since it’s been in closed beta and it’s wonderful. It’s clean and all about sharing products that you love, want to buy or want to show others. My colleague Mo has a blog post all about the team and our thinking behind the investment.
The title of the article is pure link bait and doesn’t tell the entire story.
The article itself is a actually reasonably balanced and well written piece on our kids growing up in a world of always on connections, to each other and the web. It describes kids that send thousands of txt messages a month, stay up very late because they are online, avoid their homework and yet others who find their true passion because of technology.
There is no question that all of this can be a challenge even for us adults. I’ve come up with my own set of rules to avoid emails during certain times of the day/night so I can do other tasks at work or spend precious time with my family.
And it’s a struggle. This week I was sleep deprived and hit my limit. 4 hours of sleep per night and a red eye at weeks end and I was useless yesterday.
Now imagine these sort of things and tensions with a kids life. It’s a challenge for sure.
But the crtiical thing I took from the article isn’t how bad or dangerous technology is to our kids. In fact, technology is a gift. There is a child named Vishal profiled in the NYT article. He is obviously talented and bright but he is clearly much more passionate about filmaking than school. Thankfully he found his love for tech and film making vs just being bored at school. How to embrace and support that is the opportunity and challenge for Vishal and his parents.
I liked this part of the article that sums up the tension and challenge:
Mr. Diesel [school principle], by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. “It’s in their DNA to look at screens,” he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: “Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.”
Mr. Diesel had Vishal as a student in cinema class and describes him as a “breath of fresh air” with a gift for filmmaking. Mr. Diesel says he wonders if Vishal is a bit like Woody Allen, talented but not interested in being part of the system.
But Mr. Diesel adds: “If Vishal’s going to be an independent filmmaker, he’s got to read Vonnegut. If you’re going to write scripts, you’ve got to read.”
Struggling with this sort of thing is happening in our household these days as well. Less about technology but the balancing act between our daughter’s passion and excellence with her ballet and the 2-3 hours of daily homework. It’s hard.
I don’t have any silver bullets here and I still have plenty of things to improve as a parent. But there are a few things we stick to. First, we don’t allow the kids to have their mobile devices or computers in their room. Same with TV’s. We don’t have it as adults so the kids don’t either.
The other thing, is that above all else, we value sleep for our kids (yeah, I know I’m a hypocrite here. it is what it is). Our kids get plenty of sleep and they are still exhausted by the end of a very full day. For our kids, their lives (and ours) would a disaster if we cut back on sleep.
My basic take away from the article was that technology can help our kids reach their potential and passion. But it’s not a substitute for teaching or parenting. We still have our roles to and responsibilities to meet.
During the first 12-15 months following the investment we saw user growth for sure. But it wasn’t a significant steep curve by any measure. I believe we had something like 450k registered users by the end of 2008. That’s impressive considering it was just David and Marco but it wasn’t earth shattering.
I think there are a number of lessons worth sharing when I look back on those days.
-Burn rate. David raised $750k initially and it lasted about 18months.
-Iterate. David and Marco did everything during that first year. They fixed bugs, experimented, added new things and kept true to their principles of simplicity, design and ease of use.
-Patience. Patience by the team and the investors. Not every company has the YouTube hockey stick. In fact most don’t as things are rarely up and to right. It’s important to look at the metrics, pay attention to the early users/community, look at the engagement and combine all that with your gut and confidence in the team.
-Mobile. Tumblr didn’t have a great mobile experience in the early days. It really wasn’t a mobile product. They didn’t have their own iphone app and the iPhone itself was EDGE only back then. How different things are today!
-Believe. David always had the belief that he could build Tumblr the company and the product into something special. And so did we.
We love the Beatles and are honored and thrilled to welcome them to iTunes,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “It has been a long and winding road to get here. Thanks to the Beatles and EMI, we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes ten years ago.”
I’m sure there are plenty of folks that only have a few Beatles records that are happy they can now buy a dozen singles of their choosing across many records. It’s also great if this brings the Beatles music to new younger fans.
However, there are Beatles fans that didn’t care about this announcement. We ripped all of our Beatles CDs years ago.
Listen to me carefully, and listen good. Go to your local record shop. Buy a copy of the White Album, gently used on FUCKING VINYL for $10. I don’t give a shit that it’s the reissued version. Just buy that. Or go to the dying CD stores if you can still find one and pick it up on double CD in HIGH FIDELITY non-compressed digitally remastered glory. Without DRM. Without the risk of your hard drive crashing and losing it all. Without the risk of having your iPod stolen.
I get it and I feel it too. I love listening to the Beatles on my turntable. It’s an absolute joy.
And it’s amazing/outrageous that it took until (the end) of 2010 to be able to purchase the Beatles music online
In many ways, the Beatles holdout for me has always been a representation of big media and content owners that fight the web and fight against technology. They want it like it used to be. They don’t want change. They don’t want you to buy single tracks. They want you to buy the entire album whether you want all of the songs or not. They want limited supply and constrained distribution. They want to keep their analog dollars even if users have a different point of view. They like being in charge.
But even the Beatles couldn’t stop the train. The past is the past.
One of my favorite things about Twitter is the 140 character limit. It forces you to be brief and clear. It’s easy to create content and consume content on any device. Huge breakthrough.
Tumblr has a constraint too. You can upload one and only one song a day. So users take their time to choose something they cherish. As a result the music curation and community is a thing of joy on Tumblr.
The power of constraints is something I think about all the time. You can see the opposite in things like your cable providers remote control. Or Microsoft Office. Or some browsers have become so heavy that something light as Chrome becomes exactly what we want. There are a ton of other examples.
Mobile apps have a constraint. Limited resolution (compared to a PC monitor), unpredictable bandwidth and users are on the go with limited time.
The best mobile apps are ones that take advantage of these things and deliver something excellent. Facebook is a powerhouse but I think their mobile app is heading in the wrong direction. Here’s their home screen. So many icons that it actually spills over to a second page.
Mobile apps that focus on constraints bring us a much better user experience. That’s why I fell hard for Instagram four weeks ago. Photos uploads are crazy fast and the application just tries to do a few things but it does them extremely well. It’s focused and optimized for mobile.
So when you build your app or service. Think about whether you are leaning towards a 140 character experience or leaning towards the MS Word ribbon bar.
We are typically early stage investors and we are active investors in our portfolio companies. In the 45 investments we’ve made since starting Spark, we have served on the board of every single company except for one company.
That’s one reason we do almost all of our investing in the United States. Of course, there are many amazing opportunities around the globe but it’s hard for us to be as active as we and our entrepreneurs want if it requires a passport to get there.
As board members, we take our responsiblities seriously.
The one dyanamic that is extremely challenging is when your various board members have a fundamental disagreement about critical matters like selling the company, blocking a transaction or firing a CEO.
Often these decisions are a combination of analysis and emotion. And the emotion can get to the best of us at times - especially when different board members have opposing positions on such critical matters.
Usually there is some combination of fear or greed at the center of it all. Fear that if you don’t sell now you will regret it. Or fear of selling now, means that you are leaving the future opportunity behind. Or greed because you are waiting for a better offer that may not materialize so you block the bird in hand.
The only advice I can offer to entrepreneurs and VCs alike is to choose your board carefully. Take your time. Don’t sign a term sheet under pressure. I haven’t met a single VC yet that stands by an exploding offer — in other words, if a VC really wants to invest then they will wait a few more days as long as they feel like they are being treated with respect.
If it’s a follow on financing, it’s worthwhile getting your existing board together with the prospective investor that is about to join your board to make sure the chemistry is right.
It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to agree on every critical matter. But taking your time will help reduce the possible headache & pain in the future.