Founders at Work
This is a picture of my copy of Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. It has broken my record for the “book with most stickies.” My system is that the stickies on the top edge are ideas for my next book, and the ones on the side are ideas for this blog.
As you can see, it’s a gold mine for great stories about entrepreneurship. Here is a list of some of my favorites. The major lesson: Entrepreneurship is all about tactics, hootspah, not knowing that things are not done “this way,” and making do with not enough money. You’ll LOL at points and wonder if a better title would not have been Flounders at Work.
Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail) on how he decided whether to tell venture capitalists the real idea he wanted to get funded. “If they passed the litmus test of not rejecting us for the wrong reasons and said, ‘OK, we don’t mind that you’re young, we don’t mind that you don’t have management experience, only when they would start poking holes in the actual idea would we share the Hotmail idea with them.”
Woz (Apple). “All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever.”
Mitch Kapor (Lotus Development) on how much money he asked for from Sevin-Rosen. “I think I said probably $2 to $3 million. We had nothing. We hand an early-stage under-development spreadsheet, and me and Jon Sachs. So that was the biggest number I felt I could ask for without being totally absurd.”
Evan Williams (Blogger.com) on how he raised money to buy more servers. “We posted it on our website, and it said, ‘Hey, we know Blogger is really slow. It’s because we need more hardware. We don’t have the money to buy it, so give us money, and we will buy more hardware and we’ll make Blogger faster.’”
Tim Brady (Yahoo!). “The funniest thing I can remember was when there was a huge storm in May of ‘95, and the power grid went down for a few days. We had to go rent a power generator and take turns filling it with diesel fuel for 4 days. 24/7. We were laughing, ‘How many pages to the gallon today?’”
Mike Lazaridis (Research in Motion) on the importance of recruiting students. “’…What’s important to me are the signs on the back of the building.’ Of course, everyone recoiled from that. I explained to them, ‘I don’t really care if anyone else knows where the building is. All I want is the students to know where the building is.’”
Mike Ramsay (Tivo): “I remember one weekend, we took the entire company, what was about 60 people at the time, and we divvied them up and went to all the Fry’s stores in the Bay Area, because they were selling at Fry’s. We set up demo stations and the employees were giving demos. It was great because almost everybody had no experience of what it’s really like to sell in a retail store.”
Paul Graham (Viaweb): “Neither of us knew how to write Windows software, and we didn’t want to learn. It seemed like this huge steaming turd that was best avoided. So the main thing we thought when we first had the idea of doing web-based applications was, ‘Thank God we don’t have to write software on Windows.’”
On raising money: “The advice I would give is to avoid it. I would say spend as little as you can because every dollar of the investors’ money you get will be taken out of your ass…”
Catarina Fake (Flickr): “So Flickr started off as a feature. It wasn’t really a product. It was kind of IM in which you could drag and drop photos onto people’s desktops and show them what you were looking at.”
Brewster Kahle (Thinking Machines): “The blessing of Thinking Machines and the curse of Thinking Machines was that it had a lot of money. If you have a lot of money, then you can be detached from people that are going to pay you in the future.”
Chuck Geshke (Adobe) on the reaction of the spouses of Xerox execs to a demonstration of PARC technology in 1977: “They loved this stuff. They sat down and played with the mouse, they changed a few things on the screen, they hit the print button and it looked the same on paper as it did on the screen. They said, ‘Wow, this is really cool. This would really change an office if it had this technology.’”
[This is why you should always listen to your wife. And if you’re a woman, you should never listen to your husband.]
Ann Winblad (Open Systems). “So I get in front of these 60 or 70 guys and these guys are probably all in their 50s and I’m in my 20s, and we had a ‘blue light special,’ where we said, ‘If you give me a check today for $10,000, you can have unlimited rights to one of our modules.’ …I went home with, I think, like 12 or 15 of these $10,000 checks in my purse.”
James Hong (Hot or Not) on his first beta site. “My dad was the first person that ever saw Hot or Not besides Jim and me, and he got addicted to it! Here’s my dad, a 60-year-old retired Chinese guy who, as my father, is supposed to be asexual, and he’s saying, ‘She’s hot. This one’s not hot at all.’”
James Currier (Tickle). “When we started the company, we wanted to change the world, and we had all these tests on the site to help people with their lives. We had the anxiety test, the parenting, relationship, and communications tests. And no one came. …’Let’s do a test for what kind of breed of dog you are.’ …We put it online and 8 days later we had a million people trying to enter our site.”
Mena Trott (Six Apart) on early meetings with the current CEO of the company, Barak Berkowitz. “Barak said, ‘That’s great for a niche or personal lifestyle business, but we’re not interested in investing in that.’ At first we thought, ‘Who is this asshole? Why is he saying that to us?’”
On using his parents to moderate the pictures: “I originally had my parents moderating since they were retired, and after a few days I asked my dad how it was going. He said, ‘Oh, it’s really interesting. Mom saw a picture of a guy and a girl and another girl and they were doing…’ So I told Jim, ‘Dude, my parents can’t do this any more. They’re looking at porn all day.’”
On his newfound dating success with hot women: “All of a sudden Hot or Not happened, and I was starting to date all these attractive women. I got a taste of it, and I realized that looks don’t make up for a good personality. Many of these girls were annoying. They were fun to hang out with, but I couldn’t have a conversation with them.”
[IMHO, James is the funniest person in the book.]
These are just a few nuggets. The whole mine is what you should get.