It takes a lot of guts to quit your job or drop out of school and start a company.
It doesn’t matter what type of company, the act of leaving the safe and known for the unknown, that leap of faith, is a big deal.
I like being in the leap of faith business. Anything is possible.
I always get a thrill about hearing about audacious ideas. We have many audacious ideas in our portfolio. I’m grateful about that.
(But I don’t want to flog our investments, so I’ll talk about other people’s investments and ideas. )
Imagine, someone telling you that they were going to build a beautiful thermostat. That’s startup audacity.
It’s one of those things that either the super rich automate or everyone else just buys a simple thing at home depot.
But then someone comes along and decides that the status quo sucks. And they create Nest.
I love that. (full disclosure: i’m not an investor in Nest but I have a good friend that works there. I’m so excited for him).
When I left SF and moved to Boston, one of the first people I met was Nabeel. I met him because he had cofounded a company called Ambient Devices. I had previously bought the their first product, the Ambient Orb and fell in love with it. Simple, beautiful and connected to the web.
I can only imagine how much of a challenge it was to build a company around a connected device that we all take for granted. I device that shows the weather ? Yes, really.
Anyway, I didn’t know anyone at the company but I looked them up and discovered they were in Cambridge. I sent them an email and professed my love and that’s how I met Nabeel (since then we’ve been fast friends).
“To that end, the proliferation of Twitter logos and language on news and talk shows and now “The X Factor” is not an accident; it is the product of a strategy that started nearly three years ago with the hiring of Chloe Sladden, a former vice president at Current TV, who put Twitter messages on screen during the 2008 presidential election.”—
First, it’s a big deal when a startup raises money. It’s a result of a lot of hard work and sacrifice by the founders. It’s also a select group of founders that can raise capital. Most startups that try to raise capital, aren’t able to do it.
We should support entrepreneurs and root for their actions. They are living in a world of non-believers and they are trying their best to make it happen. Against all odds.
We all know, that funding does not equal success. That’ not the point. We are just happy for their progress and are recognizing that.
However, the one thing that we don’t do enough of in startup land, is recognize startups that choose not to raise venture capital.
Not every startup should raise outside capital and some entrepreneurs choose to bootstrap. We should celebrate those folks (for the most part we don’t).
Here’s a good example. Wayfair, formerly CSN Stores. The founders Steve and Niraj built the company from scratch and bootstrapped it for 7 years growing it from zero to over $300M in revenue last year. This year they will likely do $500M in revenue. The company received very little media attention for those 7 years. We led the Wayfair’s first found of venture capital earlier this year. Amazing story and an amazing company.
Here’s a partial list of some of my favorite startups that have chosen not to raise venture capital:
Instapaper. I met Marco back in 2007 when he was working with David Karp to start Tumblr. I’ll never forget that standing desk he built which was propped up with dozens of soda cans. Shortly thereafter he created Instapaper and never raised money. And he has a business model that works. I love Instapaper. Its focused, it’s beautiful and it just works.
Sanebox. I’ve known Stu for almost 10 years. He’s one of my closest friends. Sanebox has made email usable for me. It’s a complete game changer. I’m pretty sure I’m the very first user on the service. Stu and his team has consistently made the product better and better. I can’t imagine using email without Sanebox.
Agilebits. This the company behind 1Password. I don’t know the team. But I use their product everyday. I might be wrong but to my knowledge they haven’t raised any venture capital. I love 1Password. I use it on all my Macs, my iphone and my ipad. It’s fantastic.
This is not meant to be a complete list obviously. But it’s a start. And I’ll make sure I talk more about more great things being built by founders that make it happen on their own.
It’s extremely impressive and we should celebrate those folks too.
There are so many options now for fledgling startups now for seed investment and advice - YCombinators, Tech Stars, 500 Startups, etc. Should one pursue them all? Is one better than the rest? Does geography of where one is matter? Thanks in advance for your thoughts...
It’s not a popular answer, but I don’t think geography matters these days. Pick the location where you will be happy.
We have invested in startups coming out of TechStars and YC. Both are excellent programs for first time founders. I have less experience with 500Startups but have a lot of respect for Dave.
One of the most interesting things about my new iPhone 4S is Siri
After a week or so of playing with Siri, here’s are my quick observations:
1. Siri is fun. Siri has personality. It’s not just speech recognition. She has attitude and her own voice.
2. Siri plus geofencing is killer. I use Siri in the car. My common use is “remind me to xyz when I get home”.
One example: the other night, Lauren and I were out for dinner on a date. Kids were at home with the babysitter. My daughter called me and told me she lost her tooth. I was in the car when the call came. When I got off the phone, I said to Siri: “remind me to put $5 under ellie’s pillow when I get home”.
After dinner, we saw a movie and I forgot about the tooth (i know, bad dad). The moment I walked into the house, i got a push notification with the reminder. Fucking magical.
3. Siri isn’t always accurate. This is a problem. I try to use Siri a lot. And right now it works best in a quiet room like my car. If the room isn’t quiet, I’m getting very mixed results. The other issue, is the back end seems to be having scaling issues. Between the network and inaccuracy, that is a meaningful obstacle to get users to change behavior.
4. Siri needs to open up. The iPhone became awesome when the App Store launched. There are many critics about the App store model (including me) and for good reason. But the reason why it works is because for the most part the App Store is open.
Now Siri needs to open up. We need API’s. I want to replace Yelp data with Foursquare data with Siri. I want to tweet with Siri without a hack. I want to play music on any web service i choose with Siri. The list goes on.
There are folks that consider Siri a real threat to Google. That may happen. Any time search queries go outside of Google its a threat.
But Siri v1.0 isn’t a threat. But what it represents is something beyond interesting.
I just can’t stop thinking about the possibilities.
Believers will do whatever they can to make it work. They are committed past the point of return. A team of believers is unstoppable. I love the Steve Jobs quote that John Lily shared recently:
If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the hell out
On the other hand, non-believers can’t imagine anything working.
They see the downside. They think about opportunity costs. They think about that green grass on the other hill. They can’t imagine a struggling company making it through the pain. That’s the sentiment that drove Dell’s comment many years ago. He was a non-believer.
Startups exist in a world dominated by non-believers. They are surrounded by this all day long. VCs turn them down. The press takes shots. Some employees leave. Big companies call their life’s work “a feature” or a “poor man’s email”. Or people that have never worked in a startup, dismiss new ideas and new companies as yet another attempt at xyz (where xyz represents the impossible in their eyes).
I’m very happy to be working with founders to try the impossible.
The odds and stats tell us that most startups won’t work out. Everyone knows that.
But we are believers. We believe that we can make it work.
It’s a well known thing that when television came into the world, the initial televison programs looked like radio but with the camera on.
Namely, it was the news delivered by a person standing still in front of a microphone.
The content and the interaction was the same even though television had the power and difference to offer something completely different.
Obviously, shortly thereafter, television programming changed and moved well beyond “radio and a mic with the camera on.
The same thing happened with PC. Computers started in the workplace and apps like Visicalc drove PC adoption in the workplace.
When personal computers were initially imagined for the home, the response from some/many/most, was, “what the heck am I going to do with this thing?” I don’t need to do spreadhsheets or prgramming at home.
Shortly thereafter, things changed dramatically.
The iPad has arrived. It’s selling more than anyone can expected. I love mine and most people love theirs. It’s a thing of beauty. The battery. The display. The browser. Networking. Ease of use. It makes a magazine look like a broken ipad.
But in many ways, our iPads and other tablets look like big a iPod Touch. The apps that exist for the ipad are for the most part bigger versions of their iPod Touch sibling.
That to me feels like the guy standing still with a mic in front of the camera.
There is so much more that will be possible with these tablets. Today, many feel like tablets are consumption only devices.
I believe next year will be the start of the tablets coming into their own with apps that are native to how we might use these things in new ways - either to learn (individually or in groups), entertain (indvidually or in groups) or create.
Consumption only and big ipod touches? Nah, there’s gotta be more.