Recently in Startups Category


Copy What Works-

There is no invention created from nothing. Every creator has been influenced in some way by others, and this is a good thing. Smart entrepreneurs know the validity of studying the evolution and attributes of successful companies and to steal what they can. 

The story and characters in James Cameron's film Avatar were completely unoriginal with components copied from such films as Dances with Wolves, The New World and pretty much any story about the effects of colonization on a native culture. Even with a painfully predictable plot and cheesy dialogue, the film has grossed $77.3 million in the first weekend. And you have to admit you got a little teary eyed at those gushy "I've already chosen her" and "I see you" moments. 

That's because we can all relate to this universal epic, and no matter how desensitized you are, you cannot deny empathy for the hero who overcomes greedy imperialism to save human life (or alien life, in this case). Cameron knows what gets to us, and why tamper with that formula?

What he did reinvent, and brilliantly, was the delivery. He raised the bar so high on his cinematic vision, that he had to wait 15 years before filming for the technology to be able to manifest it. The same strategy can be applied when creating a succesful startup...stick with what works, and change the game by how you present it.
Learn From History-

More important than studying what other companies have done right and copying that, is learning what they've done wrong and avoiding that. Americans truly are amnesiacs when it comes to learning from our foibles in the past. It's hard to watch Avatar without a pang of guilt for the illumination it makes on our foolish pattern of national imperialism. 

Colonists wiped out an entire Native American culture with superiority complexes so overblown they justified genocide. It's tough to deny elements of that in the way we invaded Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Not that we are the only nation state with these narcissistic tendencies, it seems an inherent flaw in our human makeup. Yet history loudly proclaims the indecencies and consequences of these actions, though these redundancies of self-entitled domination continue.

Instead of living vicariously through our fictional protagonists in films like Avatar,  why not walk the walk by acknowledging our sordid history, and do the opposite?

As an entrepreneur, you could try not dominating the world, or your market, with your agenda, and instead create a product that makes life better for may even be called revolutionary. In fact this simple approach is so novel a concept, that companies like this have been termed conscious businesses, and are still the minority. At the end of the day, it's a win-win situation to not take from others in order to gain for yourself, so break the mold and serve your community .

We Are All Connected-

Just as the Na'vi can plug into a vast electromagnetic network via tentacles in their braids, most people on earth are logging into a global web of computer networks Pres. Bush likes to call the internets. 

The world is shrinking quickly in this age of globalization; allowing people to connect and exchange information instantaneously beyond physical boundaries. And it's not hard to imagine this transnational circulation of ideas becoming so tight knit that it will feel like we are tapping into one consciousness. Some theorists even claim this it's already happening on our planet ecologically the same way the botany on Pandora interacts; called the gaia hypothesis. 

To whichever degree you believe this system of interconnectivity exists, it cannot be denied that community is essential to the success of a company and the network has become the lifeline of most thriving startups. 

So better to hook into this concept now, and build a company that honors the profound interconnectivity of not only our human community, but our interdependent relationship with our dying planet. 

chris-brogan (1).jpg

People need people, and that's a fact. The home you live in, the food you eat, and the money you make are all possible because of other people. Even if you lived on a deserted island and could hunt for food and build a shelter, you would likely go insane because you had no one to connect with, hence Tom Hank's volleyball friend in "Castaway". 

In any startup, your users ultimately determine the profitability of your product. How you form the relationship between your product and other people determines the customer, and without the customer your product would cease to exist. So at the end of the day, a successful business is all about relationships. And all positive relationships are built on the foundation of trust. 

At LeWeb this year, Chris Brogan, author of "Trust Agents", talked about the inherent role of trust in any successful startup. He believes that trust is a currency and that establishing an exchange of trust is ultimately what brings value to your product. This in a way makes the actual product you are selling less relevant than the type of relationship you are creating with your network of users. 

This may seem like an obvious concept: create good relationships with the people you need. But the way you establish and manage these relationships makes the difference between a person who buys your stuff and a person who buys into you. Getting people on board with what you are about, beyond your product of the moment, comes from understanding the principles of relationships based on trust:

Don't Sell:
There is nothing more contagious than passion paired with belief. If you believe in your product and speak about it with genuine passion then you will never need to sell to anyone.

Have integrity: 
Integrity is more than just being truthful and well intentioned. Integrity is about being true to yourself, representing yourself in the world and in business in a way that is a direct reflection of your deep purpose. People are great bullshit detectors, and when who you're not in synch with what you're pitching, then they are going to be turned off by your insincerity.

Give First:
The best way to establish trust when you meet someone is to open yourself up and give something. Say hello and give a compliment, or your help, or give them your ear and actually listen. Don't go around thinking about what you can get from people to make you successful, think about what you can give to make others succeed. 

According to Brogan, you live and die by your network. So honor the relationships you form with everyone and maintain them with meaningful interactions. Be a great connector and people will trust your reputation. Be available and people will trust your loyalty. Be consistent and people will trust your integrity. Keep meeting new people and remember that you never know who could end up being the most valuable connection you have.

Sometimes the most obvious concepts of relationship building get lost when money comes into play. However, the most successful startups keep it real, and understand that it is a people business. It's as simple as people buy from people they like, people invest in people they trust.

employee-happiness.jpgThe Frameworks of Happiness

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, believes the key to maintaining a positive company culture in the workplace is to inspire your employees to be happy. To define what this looks like, Hsieh has divided Happiness into four motivating factors.

  • Perceived Control- Although control may be somewhat of an illusion, the perception of control can make you function better in life. People who 'feel' in control are more confident, calm and effective. When you believe you can make your life better, you will attract positive experiences to confirm that belief.

  • Perceived Progress- People perform better in life and work when they are acknowledged and validated. Zappos used to award promotions every 18 months until they realized that giving employees smaller promotions every 6 months gave them a sense of ongoing success and made them more productive.

  • Connectedness- Humans have the innate need to connect. We feel more secure and more supported when we are part of a community that shares the same values and purpose. Creating a team environment is essential to make employees feel that they belong in this company and can trust the people they are working with.

  • Meaning/Higher Purpose- Nothing makes people feel more valuable than being part of something that matters. Enlisting employees into the company's greater vision and allowing then to make a difference will inspire them to reach their potential. Because at the end of the day, happiness comes from contributing yourself to something that is greater than yourself.

Zappos is about delivering happiness and that's what has made them so successful. Happy employees equal happy customers. So motivate your employees by inspiring them to be better humans and follow your example as a happy person who cares about his team at a core level. This way the boss becomes a mentor, and a job becomes a calling, and a customer becomes loyal.


Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has reinvented the meaning of customer service. Instead of hiring customer service reps and training them off a script, he's made the entire company a customer service ashram. This is not fabricated servitude; Zappos employees have a genuine air of happiness that is almost cultish in its sincerity. 

People are actually pleased to work there and believe in what they're doing. For a company that just sells apparel, this is quite an accomplishment. Hsieh doesn't do this by incentivizing his employees to act caring to customers. He does it by making people happier; by making Zappos a place where people feel inspired to do good.  Which is why Hsieh's biggest priority in running a successful startup is Company Culture.

Everything at Zappos is built on the foundation of its core values around company culture. Employees are hired and fired by whether or not they are a culture fit. Instead of funding a marketing department, Hsieh makes Zappos a place that fosters positivity, meaning and purpose in his employees lives, which customers will naturally be drawn to and talk about. And any good business person knows that viral marketing is the most effective way to increase sales. Hsieh believes in the ripple effect that if employees are happy, customers will be happy, and if customers are happy, your business will profit, and much more than companies where employees just see it as a job.

Creating a company culture based on principles of happiness will organically attract all the things a startup wants: excellent customer service, branding, viral marketing and ultimately revenues. Zappos believes in this so deeply that they've created a company culture book and follow it religiously. And obviously it's working; Zappos was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billon in November of this year.


Stay Tuned  for the Next Post On "The Frameworks of Happiness"

The Heart of the Start

Vote 0 Votes

6b0d7be5e34206e0608b5aaaf6962e17.jpgLeWeb was all about heart this year. Words like 'spirit,' 'caring,' and 'happiness' seemed to be flying out of just about every panelist's mouth. Love was in the air, as it should be in a city like Paris, two weeks before Christmas, amongst a group of some of the most inspiring people in the world of tech.

The question wasn't new: "What makes startups successful"? However, the perspective on how to get there seems to have shifted into a place less about numbers and analytics to a place of feelings, motivations and intentions. "Chase the passion, not the money" as Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, put it. 

Sometimes it takes the passion of Paris with the inspiring words of great leaders to remind us to come back to our core values. 'Tis the season to open our hearts and rekindle our thoughts with what matters in life . . . and ultimately find a way to translate that into business.

Stay tuned to the next post for "Principle I: Company Culture" based on the advice from LeWeb panelist Tony Hsieh.

fbFund REV Wrap up

Vote 0 Votes


Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 5 years, you're aware that Facebook is one of the most successful startups Silicon Valley and they have one of the most active developer communities using their platform-- as seen by the number of apps and their heavily attended F8 conference. 

In the summer of 2008, Facebook began awarding seed rounds of $25-100K and mentorship to promising developers on the Facebook platform under the name fbFund, a joint venture with Accel Partners and The Founder's Fund.  This summer, fbFund announced that for this third round, it would be bringing all the companies to work together for 12 weeks at the former Facebook offices in downtown Palo Alto. 

On Tuesday's demo day, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explained, "We brought people together "IRL" (In Real Life) people could really work together and Innovate."  

The idea of bringing stellar seedling companies together to work from the same place is no new concept. It's one that has brought Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston of Y-Combinator much success and many top investors are latching on, seeing this as an opportunity to get in early on new innovations.  fbFund REV's top dog, Dave McClure mentioned in his opening remarks that he even stole as much from these previous successes (like Y-Combinator and Boulder/Boston based TechStars) that he could get away with.  

Because it "takes a village" to build a company, much of the success of fbFund comes from their relationships with mentors who help to select and make investments as well as work directly with these companies by building up their teams and advising on product.  They featured talks from experts like BJ Fogg, Eric Ries and Tim Ferris  

In addition to mentoring the companies, fbFund also kept to the social incubator environment by drawing on many of Stanford University's Institute of Design practices where everyone worked in an open space and collaborated on the same whiteboards.  It provided an interruptive environment serving to get people out of their comfort zone while fostering communication and collaboration. 


So what is REV?  REV first and foremost stands for revolution, the social revolution that the Facebook platform has started, allowing developers to utilize and individuals "social graph" in ways most people could have never imagined.   But REV is more than just that- it stands for REVise.  Forcing companies to make constant iterations on their products.  To get a minimum viable product out the door and then look at metrics to make decisions based on numbers and A/B testing.  REV stands for REV the Engine and go faster!  As McClure said, "If you don't feel like you're out of control, you're not going fast enough."  Companies aren't built in years anymore, they're built in weeks or months.  You've got to act fast and get to market to succeed in this landscape.  And finally, REV stands for REVenue.   fbFund is happy to boast that of the companies involved this summer, 5 of them are currently profitable or breaking even with another 3 expecting to by end of year.  Profitable companies even wore special "REVenue is Sexy" t-shirts for the event. 

The Companies:

I first want to say that having seen the companies grow over the entire 12 weeks, and watched these presentations several times, that ALL of the companies had phenomenal improvement on not only their products, but in their ability to clearly communicate their products to potential investors.  So everyone deserves a huge BRAVO!!!!

Now, I get a chance to be a tiny bit biased.  Instead of an overview of each and every company, I decided to keep it to my top 5.   

1. Zimride-  Finally a company that is solving the carpooling mess at universities AND making money!  Website is simple and easy to use and it saves money and the environment by solving a real problem in the real world.  Plus, they've forged a partnership with car-sharing company Zipcar.  

2. GroupCard ->  GroupCard wins my award for most transformed by a mile!  

When I first saw the presentation for Groupcard, I thought it was cool enough, but didn't really stand out enough to make it long term.  It's a cute idea, people can pass around a virtual card online and even print it out if they want.  They were making money, great.  They had lots of users, awesome.  It just didn't have the staying power.  Then, they announced that over the course of this incubator, their company had taken a new direction and had a new focus.  Interactive gifts.  They have built a platform that allows business to issue codes to send money to consumers using PayPal. This changes the world of social marketing, business gifting and rebates. 


3. Runmyerrand-  I enjoy Runmyerrand because it solves a problem that we experience in the real world, which is "when am I going to find the time to do ____?"  Runmyerrand is great for metropolitan areas where sometimes its just not convenient to walk a bag of clothes to the donation center 11 blocks away.  I'm excited for their expansion to other cities.  Also awesome to have another Zipcar connection, Runmyerrand was incubated out of the Zipcar headquarters in Boston.  

4. Samasource- OK, so Samasource is a non-profit, but I was so moved by the impact that they are able to have on the people they train and put to work, I had to include them.  Samasource connects people living in poverty to computer based micro tasks.  Not only do they find companies willing to outsource their QA or computer based tasks, but they have also facilitated training and set up tech centers where the work can be completed.  Their slogan "Give work, not aid" really stood out as an amazing innovation and a great way for those of us here in Silicon Valley to help.  Please be sure to check out the website and maybe even make a donation!

5. Thread (FKA Frintro)- So I'm not currently on the market, but if I was, I'd probably use Thread.  They're right about dating sites being less than desirable and the best people to date are always friends of friends. What a great way to take what people are ALREADY doing on Facebook and find a way to build an app around it. 

If you are an entrepreneur interested in becoming a future Co-Founder or early startup employee, be sure to contact techVenture and become a part of our Co-Founders Network.

My bet is that the nexus of all the innovation is still here in Silicon Valley.  Many attempts have been made to replicate the environment and echo the systems that most people believe make and keep Silicon Valley at the front of the pack. We are still number one.

In addition to environment and systems, there is another ingredient that is uniquely optimized in Silicon Valley that is very difficult to replicate and keeps us resilient. It is not a thing, or a defined resource; it is a mindset and the principals associated with it.

I believe a huge contributing factor is the Valley's generous permission for entrepreneurs to fail. It's okay if you fail - dust yourself off and try again - failing is good.  Lessons learned from failure have immeasurable impact. Often we hear about how lives have turned around after a failure or major setback in life.  It is very common to see investors writing checks to entrepreneurs who have tried and failed in the past. In most countries and other states, failure is strongly associated with shame and even sometime exploited by others for false self-assurance.  Not here. The most recommended advise to entrepreneurs is to "fail fast and often". Innovation doesn't happen according to plans and on a predictable schedule.  Pushing limits and exploring the world of new possibilities is by definition built on risk taking.

Another example is the supportive attitude that exists among the inner circles of entrepreneurs and investors the Valley. This attitude is founded on a mindset of abundance rather than one of scarcity. People want to help, and they do - people and groups are cooperative and collaborative; they are not attached to the practice of keeping each and every opportunity for themselves as often occurs elsewhere. In Silicon Valley people want to "expand the pie" instead of hoarding their pieces and keeping them isolated and covered by fear of loss.

I commonly experience that once entrepreneurs step into a venture fully (I mean all the way), with passion, belief and conviction of their ability to achieve it, they attract help. Others are inspired and their innate desire to contribute for the sake of contribution, rather than for the expectation of personal gain; that special mindset of "go for it and how may I help" that is uniquely optimized in the Valley manifest itself.

So much to do; so little time! I, for one, am grateful to be doing it here.

During the Internet boom about 10 years ago, when all kinds of web sites and products were created daily, the story went something like this: "Silicon Valley will lose its hold as the hub of technology innovation because products and teams are now virtually working together leveraging the huge new marketplace called the WWW.  You can do anything via the web including selling anything anyone wants and delivering it to where they want it..." Then, as we all know, the bubble burst and reality set in. The story changed to something like, "Not so fast".

Despite the painful-for-many "dot com crash", less than 3 years later, Silicon Valley emerged strong again, touting web 2.0 and all the cool new ways we may use the internet to communicate, socialize and make life easier.  Personal and professional blogs spread wild and fast, giving birth to all types of social and business networks.

Then came the financial and credit market bubble that had a much larger blast radius when it burst in September of '08, than did the "dot com crash". This bubble was not only larger, it was also inflated by brick and mortar. When it burst, the blast caused bigger and more serious damage and injury than before.

Now, as the dust might be settling a bit, we still have only a limited vision of the future of the economy. How long will the downturn last and what will really come next?  Who really knows?

Here in Silicon Valley, we're feeling the pain of failed and weakened financial markets rippling through every other business. Many of us have witnessed, if not participated in, evolving ideas and plans drawn on a napkin, to the creation of life changing products that grew into multi-billion dollar industries in few short years. We are inventors, problem solvers and creators of things that delight, please, amuse and make other things work better.  So, how and where do we ease or eliminate the pain and find the opportunities? The answer is almost everywhere - banking, healthcare, environment, transportation, infrastructure, energy, etc.

In the past few months I have seen a huge entrepreneurial rush to find solutions, fix problems and build smoother and better wheels on which to run the economy.  I don't know where is it coming from, but I'm guessing repeating the "Yes We Can" mantra in the back of our heads is a huge influence.

I believe that we now have tremendous growth opportunities; success is to be had for the taking.  Maybe we're at this stage because we have acknowledged that we're in a deep hole and can't keep pretending all is well and good.  Maybe it is because we now see that yesterday's economic mechanisms and ways of thinking are bad foundations. The first step to solve a problem is to acknowledge it and then define it. We are now here at this first couple of steps and we have a lot to do. The voice in my head says, "Whatever must be done, it is worth it."

There are ground floor opportunities to create solutions, eliminate pain points and innovate new services to improve lives etc.  In many ways, largely because of the Internet, these solutions don't cost the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars once needed to build a company. I see a lot of funds and fund managers creating new businesses themselves under different titles - angel investors, seed VCs, even Facebook Fund and Google Fund, and many special incubators, and countless others with specific focus on financing the very early-stage ventures.

Whatever the names, they are basically driven by cash heavy individuals who are motivated by great ideas and by entrepreneurs with big dreams and bold visions. More often than not, the investors are investing purely in the passionate persons who are crazy enough to think they want to change the world, because here, they can.

If you're one of those people, please join us.

SF Ruby Meetup

Vote 0 Votes
Last night, Particle was the host to the May SF Ruby Meetup and techVenture was there as a sponsor for pizza from Uncle Vito's and *home made* chocolate chip cookies.  (7 dozen made the morning of by yours truly)

Meetup, for those who somehow haven't heard of this almost 7 year old NYC based startup, allows people to organize online to meet in real life. As mentioned in my previous post, networking is really important in the startup world and Meetups are not only a great place to network and make new friends, but they are also a great way to learn more about what's cutting edge and tips and tricks in their field.  (Not to mention, they are a great way to reach potential candidates!) 

And, in keeping with the startup vs. big company theme, check out this funny page where Meetup CEO, Scott Heiferman, compares working at Meetup to working at Google. 

I just wanted to post a "Welcome" to anyone who has stumbled over to our site by picking up one of our cards or who heard Fadi's introduction last night.  Make sure to send an email introducing yourself and follow us on Twitter!  

For photos from the evening...
Tim Stutts is a graduate of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, where his thesis project involved designing and programming a neighborhood mapping application for children. Drawing on his previous background in film sound, he now creates immersive user experiences in software. His UI work extends to everything from museums to enterprise offerings. For examples of his work, please visit

1. What did you used to do in the corporate environment and what is your
position now in the startup industry?

My previous job was working as a User Interaction Designer for a large, enterprise software company.  Some companies might also call this position User Experience Designer.  I would talk to my team product managers and fellow designers to determine key UI issues, and then design usability tests to try to capture specific details from our users. 

My current position is User Interaction Engineer for a very small company that is centered around event-based micro-messaging.  The job title reflects both the design process and technical execution of designs into working prototypes that eventually become the product. There are limited resources for creating design review documents and specs. Instead the process becomes consolidated to conversations, sketches and execution.

2. What do you feel are the biggest differences between corporate and
startup life?

One big difference is the specialization of roles.  In a larger
software companies, you find people working in a very specific capacity--a designer might become an expert around the UI Design of a certain application or even a feature set within that application.  In a startup people wear many hats and work fast. You may design a site one week, code it up the next week, and then work on a proof-of-concept video for your offering the following week.  A junior to mid-level designer might also code, become involved in marketing, or get involved in recruiting.  In the larger companies, the people who choose to wear many hats are usually senior-level, since the offerings and processes are much more complicated.  Also, startups may pay less in terms of monetary compensation, but can provide early employees with stock options, and fast promotions, should the product take off.  There's a greater risk, but the rewards are potentially greater.

4. Based on your first impressions of your new job, what stands out to you
as the best reason to work for a startup?

Being able to shape the product at an early stage, without a lot strict formalities and handshakes.  It's very rewarding.  You feel personally invested in the process.

5. Do you have any advice for people facing a similar decision that you
faced: corporate or startup?

If the job is your first one out of school, and involves relocation of your life, home, and personal things, a corporate gig may be a good choice, as your job is usually more stable.  There is a more gradual on-boarding process for new hires.  Start-ups can be great too, if you find the right team and offering, and are prepared to work late hours to get things underway.  Your placement in either job situation is likely to be based on a common connection or personal recommendation, so establishing those is key.  Also, if you've just left school, there
will likely be a lot of progressive ideas about your area of study that are fresh in memory.
If you were preaching them back then, going anywhere--either corporate or startup--will likely involve putting these ideas to test. Some of these ideas will fly on the job, and others won't, but don't let the uncertainty stop you from being bold and sharing what you've learned with your team.

6. What would be your one (or multiple, if you have some!) piece of advice
for people trying to get a job at a startup?

- Work on becoming well-rounded.  In a startup it's more about the breadth of your skills than the depth, though it may be important for you to have depth in certain areas that compliment the abilities of your team.  If for instance you have previous experience in interaction design, learn to code in a couple languages.  If you are an engineer, read up on user experience.
- Stay on top of the current trends and technologies that relate to the areas in which you are interested in or claim to be an expert.
- Working for a big company beforehand can give you some credibility. People trying to staff up for start-up positions are often eager to soak up the lessons you've learned from working on a much larger offerings.
- Finally, If you are a designer or have an interest in design, subscribe to the blog Designing Possibilities.  We're trying to inform people about career-related decisions, such as this one.  I'm an active participant in this effort.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Startups category.

Recruitment is the previous category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID