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Startups and Entrepreneurism: Rejecting "The Bargain"

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Tim Spalding, Library Thing

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Startups and Entrepreneurism: Rejecting "The Bargain"

  1. 1. Startups and Entrepreneurism: Rejecting ―The Bargain‖ Tim Spalding LibraryThing Founder The Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians
  2. 2. Why I’m here: LibraryThing • Social cataloging and social networking site for book lovers. • Founded 2005 • 1m+ members • Software in 300+ library systems • 8 employees • Not a failure Showing LibraryThing
  3. 3. Caveats 1: Ignore me • I am not a librarian • I use dramatic language • I will seem like I’m bragging Modest success + post-facto rationalization + over-generalization – luck – humility ——————————— advice!
  4. 4. Caveats 2: Can we talk? • Cultural gap: Librarian vs. entrepreneur • Entrepreneur? • Intrapreneur?
  5. 5. Grades of Entrepreneurship… (I have been all of these) • Wage slave • Intrapreneur: Frisky wage slave • Freelancer: Wage slave with many masters • Business-owner: Half-free man • Start-up guy: Free man who works like a slave! • Alternapreneur? Entrepreneur, not for money
  6. 6. Are entrepreneurs born? • Tim as a child – Always had some project going on – Started a software ―business‖ in tweens – Suspected ―real world‖ was something of a sham. But signals point in different ways…
  7. 7. Making money • Citizen Kane Bernstein: ―Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money. Anyone can make a lot of money—if all you want to do is make a lot of money.‖ • Thesis: Any one of you could ―make a lot of money.‖ • The advantages of money.
  8. 8. Plan A: Scholar • Georgetown, archaeology • Michigan: PhD program in Classics • Planned to become a scholar • I accepted The Bargain…
  9. 9. Scholars as alternapreneur… • Love what you do • Work all the time • Life = work • Goal is non-monetary • But… – Goal is really non-monetary – Dependency – Limited control – Sayre’s law
  10. 10. Sayre’s Law ―Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.‖ Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905-1972) Three years (over four years) and washed out…
  11. 11. Plan B: Wage-Slave • Houghton Mifflin (Boston publisher) – Sleepy, dysfunctional department – Outsourced most product • Accepted The Bargain – Work 9-5 – Have hobbies – Be good at my job – Modicum of intellectual status, self-respect – Feel like I’m ―helping‖ Tim turns 30…
  12. 12. Decided to Kick Ass • Work 9-5? Ha. – The power of working your ass off • Learn everything, from everyone – The power of learning • Take control of my product • Make new products, unbidden • Created a ―tech startup‖ within a department • Met Abigail Blachly, library student
  13. 13. Did everything wrong • Throw fits – Right way? Make solutions. • Go over heads – Make allies everywhere • Impress but also scare and alienate people • Thinking excellence was enough Way up? Not clear. • Bottom line: Frisky wage slave
  14. 14. Plan C: Freelancer, Minipreneur • Pitched a new life to my wife – Move to a cheaper place (Portland, ME) • Plan C1: Freelancer • Plan C2: Minipreneur (Web publisher)
  15. 15. C1: Web Publisher • Freelance web designer, web developer • Things I learned – Lots of advice out there – True • Billable hours, charge more, etc. – False • Set boundaries
  16. 16. C2: Minipreneur • Highly-focused web directories • $1 per day per site • 3 days to make site • Goal: Get to $100/day passive income • This only half-worked – Still viable business model?
  17. 17. C2: Minipreneur • Reading about startups – Paul Graham, Hackers and Painters • Always thinking of new ideas… – Bramblestory – Marginalien? – LibraryThing • Took a month…
  18. 18. ―Kaboom!‖ • Sleeping with laptop • Made the decision ―to become a startup.‖ – LibraryThing is a part-accidental startup
  19. 19. What is a Startup? • An idea • A way of life • An approach to business – No bullshit – Incentivize / forgo salary • Embrace of risk – Risk it all – Fail quickly – Failure is not shame – Iterate, adapt, change course!
  20. 20. What is a Startup? (maybe) • A funding model – Angel investors – Venture Capital • An intended future – Built to flip – Built to dilute • Founders lose control
  21. 21. LibraryThing: A different path • Funding – Initial funding: Abebooks – Library-market funding/partner: Bowker – Keep control • Don’t flip – Make money by… making money • Incentives – The job is the reward – Then again, nobody expected it – Work for a startup? Ask for a piece.
  22. 22. Advantages to a Startup • You are truly free • No bullshit • Risk but you shouldn’t have existential risk – Falling stone better than surfing an avalanche – Falling… – Health care • Flexible hours • Work with people – Smart, smart people • Use money – Use it to learn – Solve problems with money (eg., good equipment)
  23. 23. My two good ideas 1. Catalog books online (LibraryThing.com) 2. Change OPACs without vendor permission (LibraryThing for Libraries)
  24. 24. Catalog books online • People want to do it? Wow. Crazy! • It opens the way to much, much more – Social cataloging – Social networking – Wonderful people – The apotheosis of book love
  25. 25. Change OPACs without vendor permission • Truth: Your OPAC sucks. • Truth: Your OPAC is expensive. • Truth: You’re stuck with it. • Truth: Vendors don’t care. • Opportunity: The technology exists to update it without vendor permission, cheaply. (show)
  26. 26. Opportunity begets opportunity • Side-effect of understanding OPACs – Library Anywhere, a mobile OPAC
  27. 27. Uncomfortable truths and/or Golden Opportunities • Truth: Your OPAC sucks. • Truth: Your OPAC is expensive. • Truth: You’re stuck with it. • Truth: Vendors don’t care. Alas: • Something is broken in library software. • Something is broken in libraries. • I hate this, but it also butters my bread.
  28. 28. Sources of the problem/opportunity… • Tech outsiders look at libraries • Libraries are special • Moore’s law doesn’t apply • Special, but not in control – You are captive to OCLC – You are going to be captive on ebooks • Cost is equated with value • You are captive to vendors – LibraryThing’s approach to pricing [show]
  29. 29. Inspiration? • Consider the Tim plan: – Have mid-life crisis – Decide to kick ass – Reject the bargain • Think of intrapreneur, freelancer as possible stepping-stones to a startup • Consider a startup – Not for everyone – Not for every time of life – If you think you can do it, you can do it.
  30. 30. Startups are • The scariest thing you’ll ever do • The hardest thing you’ll ever do • Extraordinarily fun
  31. 31. Thank you. Tim Spalding tim@librarything.com @LibraryThingTim Resources • Paul Graham • Hackers and Painters • Jason Fried QuickTime™ anda decompressor are needed to seethis picture.

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