The similarities between Engineers and Coffee: ROSL77

ROSL77 — Reflections On Startup Life Week 77

Face to face strategy

We’re still here in San Francisco for the rest of the week. Post the disappointment of not getting into Y-Combinator, we push on as always.

Working side by side with Alex has been great — in some respects there is less actual code done, but when it comes to strategy, nothing beats face to face. There are nuances in conversations that you just don’t get when talking on Skype, and spending time together has been invaluable. It’s a good time for it — we know we have something interesting, we’ve had a minor set back, so how do we react and where do we go forward from here?

The realisation is that unintentionally or otherwise, what we’ve really been selling is a strategy, rather than a big picture vis ion. The strategy ( is what we can show here and now, but it’s not presenting the vision that people care about. It’s not quite that black and white of course, but there’s an element of truth in it. It’s the difference between “We’re going to circumnavigate the world” (vision) Vs. “Right now I’m in Sydney, then I’m heading to.., and then, and then” (strategy for circumnavigating the world). They both get you to the same place (presumably the start again if your circumnavigating!), but one sells the sizzle, the other the sausage (hint, your investor wants the sizzle, then to see if you have a sausage, but if you just show them a sausage they may never wait to see it sizzle).

Engineers are like good coffee

We’ve also had a lot of discussions about the Valley eco-system and what makes it tick. I liken it a lot to coffee. Finally after literally years of travelling to the US and never finding a decent cup of coffee, I stumbled across Four Barrels here in Mission. Don’t let the four star ratings put you off — if you read the review, you’ll realise this is because it’s not a great place to study! But damn, they have great coffee.

So what does this have to do with the Valley? Well the thing about the coffee is that Four Barrels showed me that a) you CAN get great coffee in the US and b) you have to know where to look. Compare this to Melbourne where your average coffee experience is generally great, and there are some truly exceptional coffee places to find. A bit like the food too — what makes Melbourne one of the food capitals of the world? It’s not that there aren’t great places to eat (and occasionally even BETTER places) in other cities, but the average across the board in Melbourne is high — there aren’t a lot of duds. That’s what competition and density will do for you.

This is what makes the Valley different, it’s not that you CAN’T find great engineers in Melbourne (or Sydney), but that the density of great engineers in the Valley is so much higher, you’ll find them everywhere and their experience is (generally) a lot greater. OK, sample time is limited, but this holds true with my previous experiences here too — in a week we’ve met casually (without explicitly seeking or setting up a meeting) with:

  • A Four Square search engineer (who gave us some great feedback on Solr and left us feeling we were doing OK).
  • Former system engineer for Friendster who has experience in building, deploying and managing an infrastructure of over 2,500 servers (who shared some great insight and tips on managing our four servers more efficiently).
  • Another engineer who’s got a lot more production experience than us in MongoDB (and shared some great tips on how to manage our MongoDB and left us feeling we were doing OK).
  • And that’s outside of the various YC startups and people we’ve met and spoken with too.

We’ve shared stories and experiences; learning from engineers what works well and why previous startups have failed. Most of them have been through multiple startups, some successful, some failing. We’re endlessly fascinated about this topic, what works when you’re hiring Valley engineers, what doesn’t, who freelances, what’s attractive to them and what isn’t.

There’s definitely something different in the water here, it’s not that you can’t find fantastic engineers outside the Valley, but you’re going to find them much more consistently here (which benefits the whole ecosystem — more competition for jobs, more knowledge sharing etc.). Just like you’ll generally get a better cup of Melbourne than anywhere else in the US.


  • Great conversations and learning from other engineers
  • Spending time with Alex face to face and resetting the strategy
  • The YC experience on the whole — disappointing not to get in, but it was still fun

Lessons Learnt

  • We need to up the game on the big picture vision — it’s not enough to be executing well (which I think we largely are at the moment), we need to get people more excited about where we are going. We have one, but we’re not articulating it well enough yet.

Goal this week

  • Busy week — new trial feature to be launched (Group Feature), more catchups, heading to Seattle overnight to meet with SEOmoz and learn from their experience with search, VC intro on Thursday then heading home.