This is a guest posting by Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, a company that enables people to buy homes online. He offers a counterpoint to my posting about how easy it is to make millions of dollars with “user-generated, long-tail, Web 2.0, social-networking, open-source content.”
Last month, Guy called James Hong and Markus Frind heroes for running multi-million dollar websites like Hot or Not and Plenty of Fish in their underwear. Their stats are jaw-dropping: twelve billion page views, 380 hits per second, two hours of work a day.
Lately I’ve been thinking how hard, not how easy, it is to build a new company. Hard has gone out of fashion. Like college students bragging about how they barely studied, start-ups today take care to project a sense of ease. Wherever I’ve worked, we’ve secretly felt just the opposite. We’re assailed by doubts, mortified by our own shortcomings, surrounded by freaks, testy over silly details. Trying to be like James or Markus has only been counterproductive.
And now, having been through a few startups, I’m not even sure I’d want it to be that easy. Working two hours a day on my own wasn’t my goal when I came to Silicon Valley. Does anybody remember the old video of Steve Jobs launching the Mac? He had tears in his eyes. And even though Jobs is Jobs and I am nobody, I knew how he felt. I’d had the same reaction–absurdly–to portal software and more recently to a Redfin, a fledgling real estate website.
“The megalomaniac pleasure of creation,” the psychoanalyst Edmund Berger wrote, “produces a type of elation which cannot be compared with that experienced by other mortals.” Jobs wasn’t just crying from simple happiness but from all the tinkering, kvetching, nitpicking, wholesale reworking, and spasms of self-loathing that go into a beautiful product. It was all being paid back in a rush.
Like the souls in Dostoevsky who are admitted to heaven because they never thought themselves worthy of it, successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles. Just so you know you’re not alone, here’s a top-ten list of the ways a startup can feel deeply screwed up without really being that screwed up at all.
- True believers go nuts at the slightest provocation. The best people at a start-up care too much. They stay up late writing Jerry Maguire memos, eavesdropping on support calls, snapping at bureaucracy, citing Joel Spolsky on Aerons, and Paul Graham on cubes. They are your heart and bones, so you have to give them what they need, which is a lot. The only way to get them on your side is to put them in charge.
- Big projects attract good people. If you aren’t doing something worthwhile, you can’t get anyone worthwhile to work on it. I often think about what Ezra Pound once said of his epic poem, that “if it’s a failure, it’s a failure worth all the successes of its age.” We’re not writing poetry, but it matters to us that we’re trying to compete with real estate agents rather than just running their ads. You need a big mission to recruit people who care about what you’re doing.
- Start-ups are freak-catchers. You have to be fundamentally unhappy with the way things are to leave Microsoft, and yet unrealistic enough to believe the world can change to join a start-up. This is a volatile combination which can result in group mood swings and a somewhat motley crew. Thus, don’t worry if your start-up seems to have more than its fair share of oddballs.
- Good code takes time. One great engineer can do more than ten mediocre ones especially when starting a project. But great engineers still need time: whenever we’ve thought our talent, sprinkled with the fairy dust of some new engineering paradigm, would free us from having to schedule time for design and testing, we’ve paid for it. To make something elegant takes time, and the cult of speed sometimes works against that. “Make haste slowly.”
- Everybody has to re-build. The short-cuts you have to take and the problems you couldn’t anticipate when building version 1.0 of your product always mean you’ll have to rebuild some of it in version 2.0 or 3.0. Don’t get discouraged or short-sighted. Just rebuild it. This is just how things work.
- Fearless leaders are often terrified. The CEO of the most promising start-up I know of recently used Hikkup to anonymously ask his Facebook friends if we thought his idea was any good. Just because you’re worried doesn’t mean you have a bad idea; the best ideas are often the ones that scare you the most. And for sure don’t believe the after-the-fact statements from entrepreneurs about how they “knew” what to do.
- It’ll always be hard work. Most start-ups find an interesting problem to solve, then just keep working on it. At a recent awards ceremony, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tried to think of the secret to Microsoft’s success and could only come up with “hard, hard, hard, hard, hard, work.” This is an obvious cliche, but most entrepreneurs remain fixated on the Eureka! moment. If you don’t believe you have any reliable competitive advantage, you’re the kind of insecure person who will work your competition into the ground, so keep working.
- It isn’t going to get better–it already is. In the early days, start-ups focus on how great it’s going to be when they succeed; but the moment they do, they start talking about how great it was before they did. Whenever I get this way, I remember the Venerable Bede’s complaint that his eighth century contemporaries had lost the fervor of seventh century monks. Even in the darkest of the Dark Ages, people were nostalgic for…the Dark Ages. Start-ups are like medieval monasteries: always convinced that paradise is just ahead or that things only recently got worse. If you can begin to enjoy the process of building a start-up rather than the outcome, you’ll be a better leader.
- Truth is our only currency. At lunch last week, an engineer said the only thing he remembered from his interview was our saying the most likely outcome for Redfin–or any startup–was bankruptcy, but that he should join us anyway. It’s odd but the more we’ve tried to warn people about the risks, the more they seem to ignore them. And since you have to keep taking risks, you have to keep telling people about them. You don’t want to be like Saddam Hussein, who never prepared his generals for invasion because he couldn’t admit he didn’t have nuclear weapons.
- Competition starts at $100 million. A Sequoia partner once told me that competition only starts when you hit $100 million in revenues. Maybe that number is lower now. But if you do something worthwhile, someone else will do it too. Since you can’t see what’s going on behind a competitor’s pretty website, it’s natural to assume that all the challenges we just went over only apply to your company. They don’t, so keep the faith.
Building a Credible Brand for Your Small Business … Then the entrepreneurial spirit came calling again. This next move came about the same time that Sun Microsystems introduced Java, the programming language. As a software developer at the time, Burns knew that Java was the technology for which he had been waiting. So in 1995, Burns, together
We have just added a small amount of advertising on Advisor Garage to promote our new tool bar! We would like to offer our members the ability to promote themselves or their businesses to the community. You may have noticed that each member gains points as they contribute to the Community. Points are gained for inviting others, creating a blog posting, comments and so on.
We would like to offer active members free text or image ads for one month when they gain at least 250 points for relevant member content. So the small print here is the points must be gained for adding value to the community…if someone votes for your content you get points, if they vote it down you lose points. Nice and simple huh!
Investment Street Holdings, LLC is a financial advisory firm specializing in providing structured finance solutions for start-up and growth companies to ensure that they utilize the most cost effective combination of debt and equity for achieving long-term success. In addition to utilizing our affiliate equity and debt placement resources, we utili
Top Ten Questions and Answers from the Founder / CEO of KillerStartups for the just launched entrepreneurial community site on AdvisorGarage.com. KillerStartups is one of the latest and one of the fastest growing startups sites. Challenges, tips, tricks, motivations and more covered by this fast moving web 2.0 company founder.
1. Tell us about ‘KillerStartups’.
KillerStartups.com is a user driven internet startups community. Entrepreneurs, investors and bloggers are staying updated on up-and-coming internet startups using our blog platform, where internet entrepreneurs submit their startup to see what others think about it.
Our vision: “Tapping the wisdom of crowds to find the next internet big thing.”
We deeply believe in the power of crowds and we want to put it to good use, detecting in an early stage what’s going to be big.
2. What was your motivation for starting ‘KillerStartups’?
Basically I read a lot Fred Wilson’s A VC blog and Techcrunch. I also personally love startups, so basically what I did was to create a mashup of Digg + TechCrunch and that’s how KillerStartups.com came to be.
The motivation is to provide a site where the million of people involved in the internet business can participate in a community to try to pick the next internet big thing.
3. What were some of the early challenges?
Well, when it comes to internet startups, technology is always a challenge. We started out using pligg.com, a digg.com/meneame.net script but really couldn’t catch up with the growing traffic and customizations we wanted it to do for us. We needed to develop everything from scratch, and that always delays your execution plan. In our case, it delayed us 1 month.
4. How did you overcome them?
Asking lots of questions to my friends, having lots of meetings with smart people, and putting long long hours.
5. What did you learn from these challenges?
Normally when you create a startup things are, or at least seem to be, harder because you lack financial resources. If I had money to launch KillerStartups.com, something I believe is that I’d have lost tons of money that could’ve done on a shoestring (as I did).
6. How did you get early traction for your site?
MyBlogLog.com helped a lot at that time, and still does. I remember I launched on January 20th and at the same time registered as a member on MyBlogLog. I placed the widget on killerstartups and visitors started coming in to check it out. Right now we’re very close to become one of the top 50 communities there.
Then, because we created unique content in an everyday basis, people at Netvibes added us to their list of blogs, which helped also quite a bit.
And the rest was word of mouth that did the job of promoting KillerStartups. Users that liked our site told their friends and kept growing that way. A few days ago we were 6,800 in Alexa, which encourages to keep going to reach our goal: 50,000 unique visitors per day.
7. What mistakes did you make, if any? And what were the consequences?
Lots. Too many to mention here, but the funniest one was the day we migrated from a shared hosting to a dedicated hosting with another company. My background is business, not technology, so I was asking for help to different people to set things up. When I did the migration, the DNS took 2 days to propagate so basically we were down for 2 days. Can you imagine the pain? Now I sort of laugh about it, but back then it was pain, pure pain. What I learned from that is to let the techies do their work.
8. What’s next for Killerstartups?
We’re heavily working in our redesign, we’re changing the look and feel of KillerStartups to a more visually appealing image. We’re following our users advice. Also we keep working on new Content partnerships. Already have content deals with profy.com, centernetworks.com, everybodygoto.com and several more high-quality blogs. They’re interested in displaying KillerStartups content in their blog, and so we have a win-win situation.
9. What do you hope to achieve with your business as it grows?
We hope to create a vibrant community interested in the internet startup scene, in creating new opportunities. In terms of traffic, we’re aiming at 50,000 unique visitors per day, as I mentioned earlier.
10. What would be a few suggestions, tips and tricks you would give to other entrepreneurs?
Nothing new really:
Follow your dream, Visualize your success, Focus on the goal, and work as if your project were already successful. Work hard and enjoy the ride, being an entrepreneur is a way of life.
Andrew – Founder
You are a brand! What me? Yes You! How many online accounts do you have? How many online communities are you a part of?
If the answer is more than one then yes…you too are a brand. The question is, are you making the most of your brand?
Top Five Personal Brand Building List:
1) Brand Image:
Pick a personal photo or icon and use it consistently. If you have multiple accounts with sites such as Facebook, go back to each of them and use the same image for each.
2) Brand Messages:
If you are like me, whenever you sign up to a site, the goal is to get through the sign up process as quickly and pianlessly as possible right? Wrong. Open a blank word document, look at one of your online profiles, cut and paste the text into the word doc and then spend ten minutes thinking through what you specifically want people to know about you. Rewrite it, tweaks, polish, refine. When you are happy, go and post that set of personal brand messages into all your profiles. So consistent brand image and now consistent brand messaging.
3) Brand Coverage:
Which sites have you joined? How many? Pick those that mostly closely align with what you want to get out of being part of a community site and focus on a small number. Get those profiles perfect!
4) Share of Voice:
Spend time in those communities that you really want to be a part of, sharing, adding value and being part of the group. Build up your Share of voice in those groups, be a ‘go to’ person if possible – ‘Can’ those memberships that you joined one wet rainy afternoon and now don’t have time or motivation to continue.
5) Brand Equity:
As you get more involved, keep refining your positioning within the communities – make sure that your profile improves as you do. Keep it up to date and your brand will strengthen and grow.
Just a few personal branding thoughts – in a nutshell, focus, clarity, consistency, and activity. Add them together and your online personal brand can be a global powerhouse and who knows what benefits that will bring!
Andrew – Founder