Mark Fletcher's Startup2Startup Talk


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Mark Fletcher's Startup2Startup talk on Feb 25, 2010.

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  • Thanks Dave for inviting me and thank you for coming out. I’m thanking you because you gave me a hard deadline to launch my new startup, which I’ll talk about in a minute. So much of a startup is getting attention. Tell Diba resume story.
  • I’ve started 3 companies over the past 12 years. Want to talk about how things have changed for lean startups over the past 12 years, and some of the things I’ve done to keep things lean with Snap Groups.
    Talk about my background, ‘nerd by birth’.
    How I started each company
    - ONElist: launched it and moonlighted first year with 4 friends
    - Bloglines: self-funded it the entire way
    - At 39, launching third company, second about group communication

  • A couple years ago, in a redbull-fueled fit of inspiration, I wrote a bunch of startup commandments, illustrating various aspects of startups. I’ll reference a few of them throughout this talk.
    As we all know, a startup begins with the idea. But that’s only the start. Everybody has had the same idea, it’s the execution that makes the difference.
  • One more startup commandment before we continue. Solve problem that is hard and is personal. You won’t succeed unless you have passion for the idea, so therefore you should solve a problem that you yourself have.
  • Solve something you have a passion for. I’ve apparently developed a theme for communications, specifically group communications. Started in BBSs. Easy to go back to it, when groups hasn’t evolved in 10 years.
    Why do ONElist?
    Loved mailing lists in university, couldn’t find any and knew starting one would be a pain
    Why do Snap Groups?
    Merc news Sharks twitter experience during the playoffs
    Also, groups has stagnated over the past 10 years

  • We’re talking lean startups here. My first startup had 150 employees. Snap Groups has me.
  • 1) You must think about biz model up front
    2) Biz model will depend on time in marketplace you launch (environment)
    3) What was I trying to achieve for each

    Important to think about business model before you launch. They often reflect the environment of the time. ONElist - expected IPO, Bloglines we were thinking about ads, Snap Groups driving towards revenue. Biz model begins where you think you’re pointing the car. With SG, learned running cheap is great, ONElist viral is the way to go, but now focus is on generating revenue on a stand-alone basis.
  • I think this is self-evident
  • ONElist started like all my startups, first year run really cheap, because I didn’t know how to raise any money. But converted to a big VC-backed going for IPO startup because at the time that’s what you did. Money is power/control, you lose it when you take VC. ONElist (raise a lot, spend a lot). What I learned with Bloglines was that if you only use your own money, you’ll be cheap. I’m doing the same with Snap Groups, even though I don’t have to.
  • Doing a startup is like riding a roller coaster, or maybe it’s like being manic depressive. Huge highs and deep lows.
    Rapid iteration
  • Once you’ve got your idea and decided to do a startup, there are several steps involved, and I’ll talk about how things have changed with each of these over the years.
  • Don’t worry about making a completely scalable system right now. Just get something out there.
  • Technology has obviously improved greatly over the past 12 years. The database is the heart of your service. With ONElist, we had to go with Oracle for our db. These days, there are so many great free databases that it doesn’t make sense to use Oracle. With ONElist, we had to own our own machines. No way does that make sense now, and actually owning the machines with Bloglines was a big mistake.

    Why mongodb.
  • 12 years ago, needed a team with an office. With Bloglines, there was Elance and the start of a virtual company (for logos and some design work). Now, virtual office, outsourcing. 99designs, odesk. Does everyone know what 99Designs is?
    Tips for using 99designs effectively (spring for extra promotion)
    Odesk tip - better to seek out a specific contractor instead of asking for bids
  • With Bloglines, the press still existed. But now, the tech press doesn’t really exist. The rise of the bloggers and social nature of word of mouth. Traditional PR doesn’t work any more. Press releases have no targets now. Journalists gone.

    What was interesting with Bloglines was the oversized amount of press coverage we got. There was a stretch where we had an article in the WSJ every month for 4 months. And yet, our user base was relatively small. We benefited from a lot of reporters using Bloglines on a regular basis. Because of all the changes in the press over the past couple years, however, you can’t count on that. You must now spread the word using Twitter & Facebook and also through talking with individual bloggers.
  • And once you do ship, it takes on a life of its own. You must listen to the market place. Your great ideas don’t matter any more. Rapidly iterate!
  • The best thing you can do is launch and get your service into the hands of your users. They will tell you what to do to improve your service. By listening to them and improving the service, your users will take on a sense of ownership of the service that ties them even more closely to it. You don’t have to launch with every feature; it’s better if you don’t.

    With ONElist, we were constantly surprised by how people used the service. Our users pushed us to create a group where moderators could ask us questions and give us feedback. It was tremendously useful.

    With Bloglines, I created a group of power users. I would ask them about potential new features and they'd provide feedback and suggestions.

    I plan on doing the same with Snap Groups.

  • I had to google to find the most dangerous job in America. I consider myself to be very risk adverse. Starting a company is often the riskiest thing a person does in their professional life. Once you’ve decided to take that huge risk, do what you can to mitigate it. Being cheap is a big part of mitigating risk. That’s why I ran ONElist on the side the first year, because I had a mortgage and car payment and couldn’t risk leaving my job.
  • Being an entrepreneur is stressful. Being an entrepreneur requires an amazing amount of work. But it’s also the most fun I’ve ever had in my professional life.
  • The bet
  • Mark Fletcher's Startup2Startup Talk

    1. Try This For Lean Startup! Mark Fletcher Startup 2 Startup Feb 25, 2010
    2. Me, Myself and Me Again Launched: January 1998 Acquired: Yahoo, June, 2000 Launched: June 2003 Acquired: Ask Jeeves, February, 2005 Launched: Just Now!
    3. The Idea Your idea isn’t new. Get over your stunning brilliance; at least 50 other people have thought of it.
    4. The Idea A startup will require your complete attention and devotion. Thought your first love in High School was clingy? You can’t take out a restraining order on your startup.
    5. The Idea Focus on what bugs you: • ONElist - Mailing lists were hard • Bloglines - Reading blogs was hard • Snap Groups - Groups haven’t evolved
    6. Business Model The size of your startup is not a reflection of your manhood (or womanhood as the case may be).
    7. Business Model • ONElist - Get big fast, then do ads, IPO • Bloglines - Run cheap, get users, then ads, flip • Snap Groups - Run cheap, get users, freemium, no exit in mind
    8. Funding The best way to get outside funding is to be successful already. But you, cheapskate, don’t need money, right?
    9. Funding • ONElist - $55k initially, then $46M over 2+ rounds, big burn rate, hell bent on an IPO. • Bloglines - $200k start to finish, built to flip. • Snap Groups - $6k, built to last.
    10. Building The Product You will have at least one catastrophe every three months.
    11. Building The Product • Tech • Hiring • Getting The Word Out • Market Will Define You
    12. Tech If you don’t have scaling problems, you’re not growing or launching fast enough.
    13. Tech • ONElist - Oracle, owned the machines • Bloglines - Sleepycat, owned the machines • Snap Groups - Mongodb, github, Google Apps, rent the machines (Softlayer)
    14. Hiring • ONElist - 150 people, hired as many as possible as quickly as possible. • Bloglines - One full-time, others stock, Elance. • Snap Groups - Me, 99Designs, psd2html, Odesk.
    15. Getting The Word Out • ONElist - Seriously considered spending millions on TV ads, stumbled upon extreme viralness of groups • Bloglines - PR, relationships with the press • Snap Groups - Rely on previously experienced viralness of groups, Twitter, Facebook, individual blogs
    16. Market Will Define You You are nothing until you ship.
    17. Market Will Define You • ONElist - Surprised about viralness, never anticipated how it would be used. Users pushed us to create a moderator group. • Bloglines - Focus group of power users • Snap Groups - Small power user group, larger moderator group
    18. This Is Important It’s a startup, not Alaskan crab fishing. Being an entrepreneur is about minimizing risk.
    19. Finally You have to be wrong in the head to start a company. But we have all the fun.