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STARTUP DNA
The formula behind successful startups
in Silicon Valley
STARTUP DNA
The formula behind successful startups
in Silicon Valley
Most startups fail
A few succeed
Why?
“Successful startups are all
alike; every unsuccessful
startup is unsuccessful in
its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy, probably
This talk is about a few traits that
make startups successful
I’m
Yevgeniy
Brikman
ybrikman.com
Co-founder of
Gruntwork
gruntwork.io
PAST
LIVES
Author of
Hello,
Startup
hello-startup.net
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
The road to startup success is
paved with failure
Failed projects
Answers
Events
GitHub
Tweets
Lead accelerator
Many others
Beacon
Places
Deals
Credits
Questions
Lite
Email
Wave
Buzz
Labs
Health
Knol
Catalog
Video
Answers
Pivots
Initial idea: Game
Neverending (MMO).
Pivoted to focus on
photo sharing.
Acquired by Yahoo
for $35M in 2005.
Initial idea: burbn
(social network).
Pivoted to focus on
photo sharing.
Acquired by
Facebook for $1B
in 2012.
Initial idea: Odeo
(podcasting).
Pivoted to focus on
microblogging.
IPO in 2013.
Failed companies
Reid Hoffman’s first
startup was
socialnet.com, a social
network for dating.
Never heard of it?
Exactly.
Went on to become COO
of PayPal and co-founder
of LinkedIn.
“Startups are like
jumping off a cliff and
building a plane on the
way down.”
Reid Hoffman
LinkedIn co-founder
Virgin Clothes
Virgin Cola
Virgin Vision
Virgin Vodka
Virgin Wine
Virgin Jeans
Virgin Cars
… all failed
But several hundred of
Richard Branson’s
other companies
succeeded!
“I have not failed. I've
just found 10,000 ways
that won't work.”
Thomas Edison
These were not failures.
These were experiments.
The goal of an experiment
is learning.
“I've come to believe that
learning is the essential
unit of progress for
startups.”
Eric Ries
#1 cause of startup failure:
“No Market Need.”
The biggest risk is building
the wrong thing.
The only way to find the right thing
is through experiments.
The experiments can’t take too
long, or you run out of money.
That’s why you need to fail fast.
That’s why you need to fail fast.
That’s why speed wins.
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
“Speed Wins.”
Steve Kaufer
TripAdvisor co-founder
Boyd’s law: speed of iteration
beats quality of iteration.
Product development (naïve)
Product development (reality)
Product development (reality)
In a trial and error world, the one
who finds errors faster, wins.
Key idea behind Agile, Lean:
Some of your assumptions
are wrong.
The problem is, you don’t know
which ones.
“Winners recognize their
startup ‘vision’ as a
series of untested
hypotheses in need of
‘customer proof’.”
Steve Blank
Bob Dorf
Speed wins recipe:
1. Identify your riskiest, most central
assumption.
2. Perform the smallest possible
experiment to test the assumption.
3. Repeat.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
Some of your assumptions
are wrong.
Data can be a good way to find out
which ones.
“Anything you need to
quantify can be measured
in some way that is
superior to not measuring
it at all.”
Douglas W. Hubbard
Server and client metrics
User and site metrics
Code and bug metrics
Use feature toggles and
A/B testing
Wrap new features in if-
statements. Default is “off”.
Group users into buckets.
Toggle features for some
buckets: A/B testing,
ramping (1%, 10%, 100%).
Measure the impact of
new features!
Without A/B testing
With A/B testing
Example: same page, different
stock photo.
Which one should we use?
Using A/B testing to pick the right
image significantly increased
clickthroughs
Note: use data to inform your
decision-making process, not
replace it.
“If we can’t identify a
decision that could be
affected by a proposed
measurement and how it
could change those
decisions, then the
measurement simply has
no value.”
Douglas W. Hubbard
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
If you build it, they will come.
If you build it, they will come.
If you build distribution into the
product, they will come.
The best product doesn’t
always win
How many customers do you need
to be successful?
(From the Stanford Startup Engineering Course)
Company Product Price Customers
Coca-Cola Soda $1 1,000,000,000
Unilever Household goods $10 100,000,000
Blizzard Games $100 10,000,000
Leonovo Laptops $1,000 1,000,000
Toyota Cars $10,000 100,000
Oracle Enterprise software $100,000 10,000
Countrywide High-end mortgages $1,000,000 1,000
To make $1 billion in revenue:
Company Product Price Customers
Coca-Cola Soda $1 1,000,000,000
Unilever Household goods $10 100,000,000
Blizzard Games $100 10,000,000
Leonovo Laptops $1,000 1,000,000
Toyota Cars $10,000 100,000
Oracle Enterprise software $100,000 10,000
Countrywide High-end mortgages $1,000,000 1,000
Note the “customers” column:
The number of customers you need
to reach determines your
distribution strategy
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Print ads, online ads, newspaper
ads, billboards, etc.
Potential to reach millions, but
you’re battling for attention.
“Half the money I spend
on advertising is
wasted; the trouble is I
don't know which half.”
John Wanamaker
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Newspapers, TV, magazines,
radio, etc.
Massive reach. Can be
positive or negative.
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,
Pinterest, etc.
Reach depends on the size
of your audience.
Personalized content
can be very powerful
(My CTR on “you’ve been tagged”
emails is 100%.)
LinkedIn’s “Year in Review” email
also had a CTR of > 100%.
Potential for virality
Note: viral loops must be built
into the product
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Attract users with content: blog
posts, open source, videos.
The goal is to teach and to build a
following
Medium reach, but high conversion
rate and low cost
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
SEO = Search Engine Optimization
Google handles 2 trillion searches
per year
You can build a massive business
on just a tiny slice of that
TripAdvisor is built around being the
top result for most hotels
Need lots of (user generated)
content to be successful
Common distribution strategies:
1. Advertising
2. Traditional media
3. Social media
4. Inbound marketing
5. SEO
6. Sales
Hire a sales team to sell the
product
Inside sales: sell in a store or over
the phone.
Outside sales: travel to customer
site to do a deal.
Small reach, but essential for
expensive products.
1. Make excellent mistakes
2. Speed wins
3. Data
4. Distribution
5. Sharing
Outline
Silicon Valley companies share
(almost) everything
Papers: MapReduce (Google)
Open source: Kafka (LinkedIn)
Hardware: OpenCompute
(Facebook)
Companies: Mozilla
Why?
Quality: you do better work when
others are looking.
Free labor: free QA, free docs, free
bug fixes...
Happiness: something you keep
with you your entire career.
Branding: you become an expert
by sharing your expertise.
Mastery: the best way to learn
is to teach.
That’s why I’m here today:
To share what I’ve learned with
all of you.
To learn
more, see
Hello,
Startup
hello-startup.net
Questions?
Rocket: manhhai
Leo Tolstoy: Wikimedia
Biz Stone: Joi Ito
Richard Branson: Chatham House
Thomas Edison: Louis Bachrach
Reid Hoffman: startupofyou
Dogfight: Alan Wilson
MVP car: Henrik Kinberg
Crowd of people: Scott Cresswell
Picadilly Circus Ads: Sebastian Bertalan
John Wanamaker: Bain News Service
Social media: Ibrahim.ID
Man using laptop: Negative Space
Laptop with Google: Pixabay
Handshake: Flazingo Photos
Woman coding: Hamza Butt
Resume: Flazingo Photos
References & image credits

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