Is this thing still on?

Well, over 12 months ago I wrapped up the blog and I disappeared off to Silicon Valley. Famous last quotes…

“I’ll be following a less rigid schedule”

…should more appropriately have been written as “I’m going to drop this like a hot potato”.

But here I am, back again!  It’s been a great 12+ months here at AVOS, I’ve learnt a lot, sometimes new things, sometimes reinforcing things I already knew.

Rather than bore you all with the ins and outs of everything I’ve worked on, I’ll hit the two highlights I’m proudest of.

  1. http://delicious.com – This is the site I wish Trunk.ly could have become.  We always believed there was a better way to do bookmarking and the latest Delicious is hitting that vision hard.  I’m bookmarking again!  I had little to do with it in the last six months having moved on to Zeen, but I’m proud of what the team’s achieved.  It’s a great product and honestly better than Trunk.ly was in so many ways.  If you were a Trunk.ly fan, I really encourage you to check it out.  There’s a really dedicated team of talented engineers working to make it great.
  2. http://zeen.com – OK, totally biased here in my current incarnation as Zeen product lead, but really Zeen is awesome on many different levels.  While we don’t talk much externally about our vision, we’ve been extraordinarily open with the product – release early, release often is the mantra.  Where we’ve evolved to in that process through looking at what people do with Zeen, where the roadblocks are and dog-fooding it ourselves in a big way is something I’m really proud of.  We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m excited about what we’re building and now, I’m ready to tell you all about it too!

At it’s core, Zeen is about sharing what matters.  It’s trying to be the easiest way for you to collect and share rich content in collections in a way that’s easy and fun to consume.  Look on the right and you’ll see my latest Zeen covers – just click to read.

Living in the US now, away from family in particular, Zeen has become my “go to” place when I want to share a collection of photos for example (like in this Hawaii Holiday Zeen).

With our Instagram connector, we’re already one of the easiest ways to collect and share photos that you love and we’re working to improve all the time.  

So I’m still here, and working on a product I’m really proud of.  I’m going to be using this blog as a platform for talking about the things I’m interested in, but also exploring the intersection between blogs and zeens.  You’re coming along for the ride as a real time experiment!

It’s good to be back….

 

 

ROSL105: The last one…

ROSL105: Reflections on Startup Life, Week 105 – The last one.

For those that missed the new last week, we've just been acquired by AVOS, the owners of Delicious.  Of course we're not "stopping" startup life at all, we're really continuing the journey but as part of a bigger brand and bigger team (although it's probably smaller than you might think!).  It's been an amazing week. Now, finally after having to hold it under our hats for the last few weeks we get to go public.

Which is where the challenge lies in continuing a weekly "reflections".

It's become increasingly difficult to share news for lots of different reasons.  Perhaps one of the reflections is that business can't be carried out completely in the open.  This is not a new problem for us.  There was lots we wanted to share during our negotiations for the failed funding starting as far back as March, yet we were constrained by the term sheet such that we couldn't say anything. 

Before speaking with Delicious we were approached to work with another startup, but we declined.  It didn't feel productive to discuss who – the offer was made in good faith and declined as such; but why let the world know that we were entertaining offers and that these people were looking to acquire?

All which leads me to the conclusion that after two years it's time to wind these weekly reflections up.  It's a great record of the timing of events and the hints are out there on the key timings for those that read backwards with hindsight. I think it's better to share when I have something I really want to say and can say, rather than write some inanity because the thing I really want to talk about is not open to discuss.

One of the lessons I've learnt along the way is that whatever you say is open to interpretation, so to be really clear – I'm stopping because I want to, not because I've been asked to, it's never been raised in discussion.  I said to someone the other day, we're all good at starting things, there is also an art in knowing when to stop.  It feels like a good time to stop.  We've carried this particular journey from start to end and been through a lot of ups and downs along the way.  This feels like an ending to this story anyway.  

So to summarise the last two years.  What are my Top 10 lessons learnt?
  1. Never give up.  One month ago I could not have told you this is where we'll be today. If you still believe in what you're doing, hang in there.  No-one ever succeeded by giving up.
  2. Believe in what you're doing.  Very few others will.  That's OK – you're aiming for the future, not where everyone else is today, but it does wear you down.
  3. Build a support group of fellow startup founders that DOES believe in you.  You'll treasure these people, they are the fellow dreamers and crazy ones who know what you're going through.  Meet with them regularly – get out of your bubble long enough to share and gain perspective from others who know where you are at.  Everyone's startup is dysfunctional. Things always look better from the outside than the inside, inside stories help you gain perspective on your own issues.
  4. Don't sweat the small stuff.  True story – with Tribalytic we did everything "by the book" (trusts, companies, complicated company structures etc. etc.) and wasted money on a business that never really did that much.  With Trunk.ly we ignored it all and just focussed on building a great product.  With the right advice and money, most things can be fixed up after the fact.
  5. BUT… Get your IP right.  Get paperwork in place.  DON'T let ANYONE touch the code, view the code, breath on the code without watertight IP assignment agreements.  I've heard horror stories of deals that fell through and after two due diligence processes now, I can say that the company structure was barely considered, but the IP was scrutinized closely.
  6. Financial Advice and Legal Advice is exactly that – advice, not necessarily gospel.  Listen to them, then make your own mind up.  That said, you get the advice you pay for.  Find a good lawyer early on.  The better the Lawyer the higher the fees but conversely, the less you'll need them.  Paying more is cheaper in the long run.  We had no issues finding people that would support us on deferred fees – ask.
  7. At the start of any contract negotiation you must have a high degree of trust. The process is exceedingly nit-picky and you'll constantly find yourself questioning the other party (and no doubt them doing the same).  You have to go through it, you have to do it, but if you don't really trust them at the start, you may never make it through.
  8. Yes has a very distinctive look and feel.  Once you've really experienced it, you'll know it when you see it again.  If you're wondering if "is that a Yes" then it almost certainly isn't.  Lots and lots of what sounds like "Yes" are really just a fancy way of saying "No".  We wasted so much time on things that we THOUGHT were Yes, but with hindsight we now know were just fancy No's.
  9. Doing beats talking.
  10. When things are at their lowest and you want to toss it all in… sleep on it. It's amazing how much more resilient you are when you're rested.  If you're going to toss in the towel anyway, take a couple of days off.  If you still want to, so be it.  Talk it over with a trusted, neutral advisor and gain some perspective.  It frightens me how close Alex and I came to tossing the whole thing in when we were in SF back in May.  We'd just been rejected by YC, we were jet lagged, exhausted, staying in a shitty hostel, and spending 24*7 together – we were in no state of mind to make such a crucial decision, yet it took our Lawyer to point out how stupid we were being.  A few days later, back in Australia, with a couple of nights sleep under my belt it was all like a bad dream and we picked ourselves up and moved forward again.

So there you are.  Thanks all for reading along, it's always a constant surprise and joy when I bump into people who tell me they read one of these posts! It's been a blast.

I'll still be writing here as the need takes me, but I'll be following a less rigid schedule now and basically writing when things grab me and I have something to say.

Perhaps the next series will be "Life in Silicon Valley!"

Cheers & Thanks,

Tim

ROSL104: Two years and a TV spot

ROSL104: Reflections on startup life, week 104.

We’ve just clocked two years.  What a milestone!

In that time we’ve launched four products (including Trunk.ly).  We’ve had paying customers.  We’ve killed sites before we launched.  We’ve met fantastic people, had amazing support, been insulted, ripped off, screwed around, loved, hated, encouraged, looked to as experts, disparaged as amateurs and pretty much everything in between.

At the end, there’s only one thing that matters.  We’re here and we know the future is incredibly exciting for us. 

I was on Twitter over the weekend and a friend mentioned they’d just seen Trunk.ly mentioned on Channel 9 (National TV station here in Australia).  This was a complete surprise! We were never contacted to comment or contribute.  Usually we have to fight and scrap for a mention, but here’s a tech TV show plugging us because they think we are interesting. Here’s a link http://www.cybershack.com/tv-episode/trunkly.

I love the way that all of our messaging has basically been picked up as the script for the presenter – it’s a real validation that they are able to easily identify the key selling points.  Most importantly, it’s further support for us that the direction of bringing bookmarking out of the niche and to the more general consumer is hitting the mark.

So two years on, low on cash and still fighting the fight how do we feel?  Easy!

ROSL103: Driven by users, designing for customers.

ROSL103: Reflections on Startup Life, Week 103

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"You know that little ball you put on the aerial so you can find your car in a parking lot? That should be on every car!" — Homer Simpson, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou"

Of course you've heard the saying "the customer is always right".  And yet, as Homer demonstrates so brilliantly in the Simpsons episode referenced above, sometimes being driven by what you're being told by users is a total disaster!

There's been a lot of users joining Trunk.ly over the last month that have been very vocal on what they think we should be doing.  Often their advice is logical, but it also flies in the face of what we know about our existing (happy) customers.

For example we recently dropped the ability to turn off the embedded images.  Every now and then we get asked "please make the ability to turn images on optional".  Often accompanied by long and thought out explanations WHY we should.  It's quite clear what will make this user happy, yet when we look at past statistics when this feature was available, actually way less than 1% of users ever turned the embedded images off.  Should we be investing time in a feature that we KNOW won't be used (much)?

It's tempting to react by turning it on, but ultimately we know that it's not a worthwhile effort.

Alex shared with me a story about his previous startup (Haokanbu) in which one of their big mistakes early on was confusing the first few users with their eventual customers.  It is really tempting when someone loves something to think that they are the answer you need, but you also have to look at the market.  In the case of Haokanbu, the challenge was that the first few users were actually part of a very small, niche market, something they didn't realise until later.

Niche markets can look big, but you shouldn't let yourself be blinded by the numbers – ultimately if the users you are addressing are a substantial portion of the available market, even if that's 500,000 people (depending perhaps on your business model), you've got a real problem.

Whatever you do, you should be designing and building for your customers.  The challenge is to make sure that you know which of your users are your customers, and which of them are distracting you from the core vision you're trying to build for the part of your user base that cares.  In my view, if users are spending a long time telling you you should be exactly like product X, they probably aren't really your customer – you're after the people that get the vision and will carry you forward, you just need to be sure there are enough of them.

Ultimately Homer's problem (well Powell Motors problem) was that Homer was never a customer – he was a user let loose in the candy shop, but when it came to it, he'd never have paid for the car he designed, and nor would anyone else.

Let your users challenge you and learn from them, but make sure you design for your customers.

ROSL102: If only I had a horse…

ROSL102: Reflections on Startup Life, Week 102.

A quick trip to the US last week – nothing to see here, move along.

It was interesting in a couple of ways though that I can share.

One was the culture of the Mac.  There really is an amazing dichotomy between the Mac and the PC.  Wondering around the valley, every coffee shop is full of people working away and they are almost exclusively on Macs.  Enter an office, everyone is on Macs.  The Mac is the tool of choice for valley types.

I then flew out of LAX back to Australia, while I was waiting I entered the Qantas Lounge – and all of a sudden it's wall to wall PCs. Not a Mac to be found.  It's just weird that there is a such a split between the two.

Anyway… so why do I want a horse?  I don't really, but one thing I think is true of every startup is that you want something you don't have.  It's no huge secret there's only two of us plugging away here on Trunk.ly.  We often desire things we don't have; more developers, more servers, more money :-)

But maybe when you don't have a horse, you invent the wheel.  As we spoke to people, it became clear that we've achieved a lot with the resources that we DO have.  Being very limited in the number of servers we have means that our code is generally much more efficient, so we squeeze more performance out of what we've got.

Frugal and start-up is ingrained into our DNA now, we always try to do more with less.  The next time you wish you had a horse – the trade off might not be as bad as you think! For example:
  • A lack of developers drives a hard focus on only working on the really important things.
  • Limited servers means that you have to care about performance a lot more.
  • Doing your own community management means you feel the impact of development choices more keenly.