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Monthly Archives: September 2008

BusinessWeek today announced their top 25 most influential people on the web for 2008.  Now I consider myself to be fairly savvy when it comes to this industry, so I figured of course I will know everyone on the list.  Oh, how I was mistaken.  With that being said, there were only a handful that I had not heard of at all, but I was at the very least aware of their company.  These lists always give me a good laugh, it is our way of puffing our collective chest and showing how important our industry and its movers and shakers really is.  But is it?  Below are a few that I was not familiar with at all:

  • Mitchell Baker – head of the Mozilla Foundation.  Now I know the Mozilla Foundation quite well (in fact I am writing this blog post in their flagship product) but I could not have told you for the life of me who was at the helm.
  • Joi Ito – I have heard the name a time or two, but until I read this article, I had no idea what he was famous for (internet famous that is).  Now I know, thanks Joi.
  • Jonathan Kaplan – Not only have I never heard of him, but I am not familiar with his company either.  Oh wait, they make the FlipCam, I have used one of those before.

Then there are some crossover names, from the entertainment industry like Jon Stewart or seasoned business names like Rupert Murdoch.  Even these two examples may not be names that everyone is familiar with, but I would venture a bet that they stand a better chance of main stream recognition than the other names I mentioned previously.

The whole point here is that I think the Web, like almost every other industry for that matter, has created this whole separate world that we think is much bigger than it really is.  We place such importance and relevance on who is who, what companies did they found / fund, what conferences did they speak out, what “type” of expert they are, that we forget that it is a small world.  I mean, take a minute and ask any of your friends or family members that are not in the industry who Gabe Rivera, Matt Mullenweg or Peter Theil (all on the list by the way) are and I bet you get blank stares.  Now ask the same person who Brad Pitt or Bill Clinton or Tom Brady is and I bet you get a much different response.

So at the end of the day, how important are these lists afterall?  Well for those on it, it at least lends a little more credence to why they are so important 😉 .

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We have all been there at some point in our lives, where we really want that expensive item (insert whatever that may have been here, for me it could have been a car all the way down to a really nice pair of shoes) but our financial situation at the time was limiting us (or least it should have been, if not, that is another story).  This example, my friends, is called having a champagne taste on a beer budget.

For those that have or are currently working for a startup, understand how that same concept plays out in the work place.  Startups are scrappy, they typically (although there are exceptions to every rule) start from humble beginnings and do not have a lot of money in the bank.  If they are lucky, they raised a decent angel round to get them going and got a good series A, but that money does not last forever, especially if you are pre-revenue or just starting to generate some revenue but are a far way from being profitable.  So, as a company, you cannot affortd to pay every employeee outragous wages, otherwise what money you did raise would be gone quicker than you can say series B anyone?  Faced with that dilema, you want to be able to provide your employees that champagne taste on a beer budget.  You want to be able to maximize the benefits that you offer them while minimizing the cut into the bottom line.  This can be accomplished in several ways, from paying a substantial portion of their healthcare coverage (or in some cases covering it all) to providing food and drinks in the office (does not have to be catered lunches per se, but perhaps coffee and snacks, they go a long way) to games for your employees to blow off a little steam.  You could even do a quarterly event, does not have to be extravagant, but simply getting everyone out of the office for some fun.

At the end of the day, everyone has their reasons for going to work for a startup, but whatever that is, they all have certain needs.  By providing that champagne taste on a beer budget, you are going a far way in making sure your employees’ thirsts are quenched.

These are two things that I think are extremely important when trying to build a team for a startup (of course they are important as well for larger companies).  However with the size of a startup, typically very small, the impact of talent and dedication (in my opinion) is felt a lot more than it would be in a larger organization.

As most of you know (and if you did not already) I work for a startup and we are not short on either talent or dedication.  In the perfect scenario, you try and build the dream team because you know that you are going to be working side by side in the trenches with these people for the foreseeable future, and you want to make sure you have the best damn team you could imagine.  Like I said, I think we have that team at Mixx.  With that being said, there are times where just when I thought we could not have anymore talent and dedication, someone surprises me.  The latest surprise came to me compliments of our CTO (although looking back, it should not have been a surprise, after all he is the overall brains behind the product).

However, even he is subject to surprise me once in awhile.  The latest surprise was something that I would have never been able to pull off (well, simply because I am not an engineer), but he could and he did.  We had a situation recently where we were having some performance issues and it looked as if there was not a simple thing we could turn to to say that is what was causing the issue.  Like he is so inclined to do, Dr. Dzoe jumped right into the log files to see what may be causing the problem.  A little poking and prodding later, and he uncovered something that might be causing the issue.  In typical Dr. Dzoe fashion, he made some tweaks and had a fix ready to go in no time flat.

To me, that was an amazing display of his talent and his dedication.  What I failed to mention is that while this issue unraveled in the office, Dr. Dzoe was absent attending to what I presumed where personal matters, he too needs to take time for himself once in awhile.  Even given the fact that it was after hours, and that he had been out in the afternoon, he still took the time to figure out what was going on and how to make a fix.  Some might say, well of course he did, that is his job.  I would respond by saying, yes it is his job, but it was after hours and a lot of people would have waited until tomorrow to take a look at it.  Not Dr. Dzoe, and that was a great example of how and why talent and dedication is so important to a startup.

Thanks for continuing to amaze me, you work does not go unnoticed (but something tells me you already knew that ) 🙂 .

Or put another way, are you a vitamin or a pain killer?  The cliches abound, but the basic notion is whether or not your product / company / service (insert whatever pertains to you here) is something that solves a real problem or just adds to the noise.

When sitting down to create a new product, one of the first things to do is to take a look at the market you are trying to serve and ask yourself if what you are about to build solves a problem that that market faces?  If the answer is yes, then you do your market research, determine if there is scale in the market to make serious money and set off on your merry way to building the next greatest thing since sliced bread (obviously I grossly simplified the process, there are more than three steps to building a product, but you get the idea.)  There are certain very high level decision blocks that you traverse, and one of the firsts, if not the first, is to determine whether or not your offering / product /service / company is solving a problem, or just simply giving the potential user something to distract themselves with.

Just because you have determined that you are a need, that does not necessarily mean that you are a stand alone product or company, perhaps you are a nice feature set of a much larger product or offering (Just when you thought you had a solution to a problem and you were off to the races).  So what happens if you are solving a problem and you are a viable stand alone product, does that mean it is a recipe for success?  Nope, not at all.  Perhaps the problem you are solving is not that big enough of a problem that potential users are going to change their current habits and switch to what you are offering (and just when you thought you had it all figured out).  However, with all that being said, you chances are increased if you are solving a problem and you are a viable stand alone product.

There is of course, the flip side to this equation, and we have all seen products / companies that are a nice to have and seem as if they are just a feature of something much larger take off and grow like wildfire even when  all the odds seem to be against them.  Why does that happen?  Sometimes something comes along that does not seem to have much purpose other than wasting time, but even still it captures the users attention and draws them in.  I can think of a few of these, but I will not mention them specifically as I do not want sound like I think they are a waste of time, in fact I use them myself.

So at the end of the day, ask yourself whether or not you are a need or a nice to have?  If you are a need, congrats you are on your way to viability (but remember it is a long road), if you are a want, good luck catching lighting in a bottle.  Good news is you are not the first one to accomplish this feat, nor will you be the last 🙂 .