Our new investment — Trello

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. 

Trello was built by our friends at Fog Creek. The same place that created and spun out Stack Exchange.

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.

I would.

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.  

Why Richard Price created Academia.edu

I’ve been getting some nice feedback from folks that are enjoying this series of guest posts about the “why” founders create their companies. So I’m going to keep going with them. Here are earlier posts about Skillshare, Runkeeper and thePlatform)

Today, I’m going to introduce you to Richard Price who is the ceo and founder at Academia.edu. Richard’s interest and dedication to building his company is all about scratching his own itch. He built it because he wanted it to exist. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Richard and I thoroughly believe in his cause behind the Open Sciencemovement.

Here is Richard’s own words about why he created his company.

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I had the idea for Academia.edu when I was on the phone with a friend towards the end of my PhD at Oxford.

I was telling him that I needed to create a website to share the research papers I had written, and that it was a pain because I’d have to learn HTML and some design skills.

I have an ingrained response to notice when I am experiencing mental anguish about something, and to see if there is an opportunity there. It occurred to me one or two seconds after articulating the pain point that other academics probably experienced the same pain in sharing their work online.

I spent the next few evenings fleshing out the idea. It was clear to me that the site should make it really easy to create a profile and share your papers. It was also clear that you should be able to use the network to find people in similar research areas to you, and keep up with their work.

That latter discovery aspect of the idea was validated for me a couple of months later when I was giving a talk at a philosophy conference. My PhD had been on a very specific area of the philosophy of mind. I knew of 4-5 other people in the world working on the exact same problem.

There was a chair of my talk, someone who was going to introduce me. I was chatting to this person, and together we realized that we had been working in the exact same area for the last 3-4 years without being aware of each other. It was clear to me that the internet could provide a better way for academics to be aware of each other.

After finishing my PhD, I raised $600k from some London investors and moved to San Francisco. We launched Academia.edu in September 2008. In 2011 we raised a further $4.5 million from Spark Capital and True Ventures. Today over 2.5 million academics have joined Academia.edu, and over 10,000 academics join each day.

Academics use Academia.edu for three main reasons:

  • build an online presence where they can share their work
  • view analytics about how many people are reading their papers, and from which countries
  • keep up with new papers written by people they follow

There is a lot to improve on in the way that scientists communicate. Peer review is extremely slow and the process is not robust. There is an average time-lag of 12 months between submitting a paper to a journal and it being published.

There aren’t the right reputation metrics to incentivize scientists to share data-sets, code, comments on papers, and generally the full range of their scientific output. Papers generally end up behind very expensive paywalls, despite being authored and peer-reviewed for free, leading to the audience for the papers being than it might be.

Academia.edu is focused on building a new kind of reputation system in science, one that will incentivize academics to share their work openly and quickly, and to share the full range of their scientific output.

I wrote a guest post for TechCrunch a few weeks ago on the development of these new reputation metrics in science. Here is a link to that post if you are interested to read more Reputation Metrics Startups Aim to Disrupt the Scientific Journal Industry