Posts tagged ‘entrepreneurship’


3 types of winning

Each month I pay Comcast for internet access at my house and their service sucks. I have the option to switch to Qwest but I’ve heard they are just as bad. As a customer, I’m not very happy but dropping my internet isn’t exactly an option. In this transaction there’s one clear winner, and it’s not me.

When I go to concerts, I often end up buying tickets through Ticketmaster. When I do, Ticketmaster makes money and the venue that selected Ticketmaster as the payment system gets a financial kickback. Event-goers are pissed over the exorbitant fees, but both the company (Ticketmaster) and the customer (the venues) are happy. It’s a win for both the company and the customer.

Occasionally you’ll find a company that provides a triple win. I click on Google ads as they’re often helpful. Advertisers are happy to pay for my clicks because on average I’m going to spend far more on their store than I’m going to cost them. Google, of course, is happy to take their cut as well – a great example of a win/win/win. Everyone is happy: the company, the customer and the world.

There aren’t many companies that can get away with being a single winner. These types of wins are really only possible when they have near-monopolistic control of the market. Since everyone hates them, they’re guaranteed to be overturned unless there’s some large market force keeping the status quo.

The vast majority of companies in the world are a double win. You have to make at least one customer happy to have a business. Most double win companies aren’t hated by the rest of the world like Ticketmaster, they’re just invisible since they don’t make much of a difference to anyone besides the customer.

Triple win companies are pretty rare. It’s hard enough trying to satisfy your customers without trying to please everyone else while you’re at it. But of the three types of companies, triple wins are the most fun. Other than your competitors, the entire world is cheering for you to succeed (well, at least until you get big).

One of the reasons I’m having so much fun working on Torbit is that our product is a triple win. I regularly see tweets from people recommending Torbit to websites that are slow. Everyone on the Internet appreciates fast loading websites, even if they have no idea who we are or have no conscious recognition of the difference we make. Our customers love us because we make them more money by making their websites faster. And of course, as long as we’re providing value, people will happily pay us as well.

At the company where you work, who’s winning? For the entrepreneur, what kind of company are you building? I want to make money just as much as the next guy, but it’s not what drives me to get out of bed in the morning. You can be wildly profitable no matter which path you choose, but my guess is you’ll have a lot more fun if you find a way to make the world a better place while you’re at it.

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Hey Josh, what are you doing now?

That’s the question I’ve been getting about 10 times a day lately.  It’s been 4 months since we shut down EventVue and my life has changed a lot since then.  I wanted to give a quick personal update to those of you who care about me and are interested.

After shutting down EventVue, Rob and I were immediately inundated with messages from friends and strangers alike.  I was blown away.  The outpouring of support was completely unexpected and I want to say “thanks” to everyone who reached out.  You reminded me once again how lucky I am to be a part of this community.

Next, I decided to take a month and travel around Australia and New Zealand.  The scenery was stunning and the trip gave me a much needed break.  It turns out startup life can be quite exhausting.  We’d been at it for 3 years and I was working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week right up to the end.  Going to the other side of the world gave me a much needed opportunity to clear my head.  It also reminded me that other things in life matter more than just working all the time.  I met a ton of great people and their nonchalant attitude towards their careers was pretty contagious.  I left for down under with the intention of figuring out my next startup or job, but over the month I was gone I felt every ounce of ambition drip out of me.  It was great.

After getting back to the States, I started wading through the dozens of job offers that had come in while I was gone.  I considered a few of them, but the month off left me with some serious commitment issues.  I knew I wasn’t ready to do another startup, but I could already feel that itch starting to come back.  The more I thought about it, the less it made sense for me to take another full time job.  I hated the idea of taking a full time job when there was still a high chance that I would just bail after a few months to do another startup .  As they say, you only get to leave Google once.

So instead, I said “yes” to some offers for consulting and contract work.  And that’s mostly what I’ve been doing.  It’s been a good chance to work on projects I find interesting with people I like.  It’s also given me a great opportunity to get my work-life balance straight once again.  I’ve been getting outside more and have started to get into rock climbing.  I’m loving it!  Summers in Boulder are amazing and I’m looking forward to lots of hiking and mountain biking this summer.

Another benefit of the contract work is that I have more time to play with ideas for my next startup.  I’ve realized that startups are an addiction and I’m thoroughly hooked.  One idea in particular has captured my attention.  It’s too early to say much, but the basic concept is that I want to change the way we grocery shop.  I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the grocery business and I’d appreciate any insight or introductions you can make along those lines.  I’m not planning to jump head-first into another startup quite yet, but it’s fun to start dreaming of new ideas again.

So, how’s life?  Better than I deserve.  I’m convinced we made the right decision to close EventVue — if for no other reason than I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.

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TechStars applications are now open!

For those of you that are considering starting your own company, TechStars is a great way for you to get connected, get funded and get your company off the napkin and onto the interwebs. If you are questioning whether or not the TechStars program is worth it, take a look at what TechStars did for me:

A year ago…

• When I had a technical question I went to Evan Tishuk or Daniel Von Fange. That was it. Those were the only two programmers I knew.

• I knew one person who worked at Google, and not very well at that. I didn’t know a single person who worked for Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook. I might have had a lot of friends in college, but I didn’t know anyone in the tech scene.

• I knew the name of one venture capital firm: Sequoia Capital.

• I didn’t have any money, nor did I know anyone who wanted to share theirs’ with me.

Today…

• I’ve got a slew of people standing by to help. Tom used to work for Oracle. He gets to hear all my database questions. Jon is the master programmer behind Intense Debate (the awesome commenting system I use on this blog). I talk to him about PHP stuff. Herb is an experienced CTO — he’s also my mentor/coach. Those are just the people I see on a regular basis — there are dozens more that are a mere email away.

• Not only do I know people at the big tech companies, I’ve gotten to know the people that are important to us in the conference industry as well.

• Not only do I know the names of a lot more venture capital firms — I know actual venture capitalists too. When it comes time for EventVue to raise another round of funding, we’ll know where to start.

• I still don’t have any money, but at least our company got funded.

So, what are you waiting for?

Check out the list of mentors. Look at the past companies. And apply for TechStars today!

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Startups and Risk Assessment

Did you know that more people die every year from falling down the stairs than from snake bites? Crazy, huh?

Did you know that a child is 100 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool than be killed by a handgun?

It turns out that most of us do a poor job at evaluating risks. We’re terrified of snakes, but don’t think twice about walking down the stairs. Parents won’t let their children play with their friends whose families own guns, but they don’t have a problem with them going swimming every weekend.

I’ve noticed that many startups suffer from similarly poor discernment into risk assessment. Here are a few examples:

Maybe you have a startup but won’t tell anyone what you are doing because you are worried that someone will steal your idea. Instead, you run around with a stack of NDA’s and tell everyone you are in “stealth mode”. As a result, you miss out on valuable feedback that would undoubtedly improve the direction of your product. Sure, there is a chance that someone might steal your idea, but isn’t the greater risk that you will build something that no one wants?

Perhaps you are worried that your web application won’t scale to millions of users. As a result, you spend a large percentage of your time and resources making sure your application is fully scalable. While scalability is an important issue to consider, the majority of preparation for future growth should come after you’ve proved that people want what you have. Is there a risk that your product won’t scale? Sure — but that’s a good problem to have. As Dharmesh Shah recently said:

Don’t fall into the trap of spending your limited resources on planning and preparing for success. Instead, spend them on things that will actually increase your chances of success.

With any luck, your product will experience growing pains at some point down the road, but that shouldn’t be your first concern. Instead you should realize the greater risk is that your company will run out of money before you get a chance to show your amazing product to the world.

Don’t let the perceived risks make you take even greater risks. Instead, try to evaluate them as objectively as you can, and then act accordingly.

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