Where to Startup: Seattle or San Francisco?

April 28, 2010

There is an ongoing debate about whether startups need to be based in the bay area.  Chris Dixon, who is a major leader in the movement to create a New York Startup Scene, wrote an entry titled It’s not East Coast vs West Coast, it’s about making more places like the valley.  But just this week, Michael Arrington made fun of Redfin, referring to Seattle as the minor leagues.

So, after my trip to San Francisco last week, do I feel the need to move my startup from Seattle?  Absolutely not.

Seattle is a fantastic city to launch a startup.  Here are some reasons:

  1. A supportive startup scene. There are successful startups in Seattle; many of their leaders go out of their way to be available to new founders.
  2. Many networking events. Weekly events include Open Coffee with Andy Sack and Hops & Chops with TeachStreet.  The Northwest Entrepreneur Network hosts classes, events, and even presentations to angel investors.
  3. Local Funding Options Abound. Microsoft made and still makes countless millionaires.  Seattle is also home to Amazon, Starbucks and Boeing.  There are plenty of venture capitalists and angel investment groups.
  4. Plenty of Talent: One of the biggest arguments for the Bay Area is the quality of engineers. But high-quality engineers and smart business managers are shipped to Seattle every day.  Seattle has a different type of entrepreneur; we are less likely to launch right into a startup after school.  Instead, we take a job at a large company like Microsoft or Amazon until inspiration strikes.  We learn until we have an idea we can’t let go and/or can’t take the corporate life any more, and then we are super motivated to build something for ourselves.  Believe me: we are motivated.
  5. Easy Travel to Bay Area: It’s a 1.5 hour, $180 flight to the bay area.  How often do you really need to be there, anyways?  Most of your time in the seed stage will be building your product.  Think about it this way: less distractions.
  6. Quality of Life & Cost of Living: Seattle is just a great place to live.  While I enjoyed my trip to San Francisco, I couldn’t stand how long it took to get around on public transportation.  In Seattle you can get a large apartment, cheaper office space, and even have a car.
  7. Productivity: It’s dark in the winter.  Personally, this makes me very creative.
  8. No shortage of really great coffee. I’m just contemplating my second cup of the day.

Seattle is a great option for startups.  I would not proactively pursue a move to the bay area unless it would have a huge business impact as we grow.  For now, I’m going to enjoy my 2-bedroom house that costs $1350/month, the views of water and mountains, my car, and the great outdoors.


Facebook F8: A San Francisco Treat

April 27, 2010

Last week I traveled to San Francisco for the first time since co-founding LazyMeter.  It was difficult to justify a business trip, but I decided Facebook’s F8 would be a good networking opportunity.  I can now say with confidence that the trip was well worth the investment.

Highlights of my trip included:

  • Being in a room full of people who have succeeded doing what I’m trying to do.  While I’ve heard and read that it can be done, this was the first time I really got to see it firsthand.  I was shocked by how young and happy these hackers were.  I couldn’t help but compare the Facebook crowd to the Microsoft crowd.  At Microsoft there was an attitude that young employees need to slowly work their way up the ranks; at Facebook, the young employees are running the show – and very effectively.
  • I created connections with other entrepreneurs.  Overall, entrepreneurs I spoke to seemed much more enthusiastic about LazyMeter than the ones in Seattle.  They instantly understood what we were building, and gave me instant feedback on the solution they want to see.
  • I met Dave McClure.  He’s following me on twitter.  This alone was worth the trip.
  • Between the F8 conference and after-party, I ended up at a bar with the 10 or so top leaders of and investors in Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg.  For the first time, I felt like I was a part of the startup community.  Seeming as I never received a tab, I think they bought me dinner too – so thanks Mark.
  • Seeing Luke Shepard, good friend and Facebook engineer, speak at the conference.  It’s amazing to see people find themselves, and seeing it first-hand only makes me more driven to succeed.  Special thanks to Luke for urging me to come, and for putting me up for the week.

Also last week, LazyMeter was mentioned in a blog post by Brad Feld.  With more and more attention on LazyMeter, I’m gaining confidence that we have the connections we’ll need to be successful.  We just need the product.  With more people watching us comes more pressure to deliver.  Fortunately, we are progressing quickly.

Do I feel the need to move to San Francisco?  Look for my answer in tomorrow’s post.


The Perfect Fit: How I Landed My First Consulting Gig

April 8, 2010

Lately I’ve been thinking it would be nice to have some income, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for a part-time consulting role that would be a good fit.  I explored local consulting companies to be matched with large local corporations but quickly realized I wasn’t ready to go back to that world.  I wanted a project I was excited about; a role that would really allow me to make an impact while working with great people.  I also wanted a project that would be valuable to my resume and what I’d want to do next if my own startup did not work out.  So I turned to other local startups, and ultimately found the ad that would lead to my first consulting gig on… Craigslist.

A lot of people knock craigslist for things like jobs.  But the magic of craigslist is that while it requires digging through a huge variety of listings (many questionable), it’s this huge variety that often results in the perfect fit.  I attribute my first job out of college to an ad on craigslist (I flew myself to New York for an interview that turned out to be a scam; while I was there I arranged another interview at a startup, and got the job).  I also attribute my job at Microsoft to an ad on craigslist – yes, I responded to a Microsoft listing on craigslist (It said 5+ years of experiences, and I had about 1, but I responded anyways).  And then, of course, there are the countless apartment, roommate situations and movers.  I don’t know who or where I would be without Craigslist.

On the first day I thought to look on craigslist, I found an ad for a marketing consultant at $20/hour.  I was about to continue my search when I realized something: I could really help this company.  They were getting ready to launch their brand and their first product, and I knew that marketing would make or break the business.  I feared the quality they would get for the listed hourly pay.  So I responded to see if there was anything I could do to help – even thinking it would be an interesting project to get involved in pro bono.  The phone call went really well, we had coffee, and next thing I knew I had a contract not just for marketing consulting, but for end-to-end web design, branding, and marketing.  Now I can really make a difference.  I’m really excited about the product and the team I’ll be working with – more details to come.

While I was talking to the large consulting companies, something just didn’t feel right.  They wanted me to sign up for more hours than I wanted.  They wanted me to sign up for a year.  While it didn’t feel right, I was still upset that paid work didn’t come along.  In contrast, when I started to speak to this startup, the pieces just fell into place.  I didn’t have to lie, exaggerate, or sign up for anything I didn’t feel comfortable for.  I was extremely open about the fact that my own startup could take me away in 3 months, and we built a plan around it.

Some lessons:

  1. Pursue every lead. If your instinct is not to reply, odds are others like you aren’t going to reply either.  Usually, the ad doesn’t tell the whole story.
  2. Fit first, money later. Forget about money and ask: Is this what you want to work on?  Are you qualified?  Can you help this company?
  3. Everything works out – for the best. We don’t know what we’re supposed to do in life, but we do have a good feeling of what we’re not supposed to do.  If individual things don’t work out, there may a reason.  If you seem to be forcing yourself, if you feel uncomfortable – you should probably be happy it doesn’t work out.  It reminds me of the college application process – I was upset when I didn’t get into Stanford early acceptance, but when I found the University of Chicago, I understood it was about the fit.

April Challenge: No TV, Return to Code

April 5, 2010

Over the past few months, I have been getting more and more frustrated with the television.  I have so much I want to do, yet I always turn on the television in the evening.  When I turn it off, often hours later, I am upset because I have absolutely nothing to show for the time.  “Why did I just sit through that?” I think.  I started cutting down on television, going some nights without it.  I found that I go to sleep earlier, fall asleep more easily, and am more productive during the day.  The days feel longer, and I actually get things done like reading, which are much more fulfilling.

Three months into my startup, I’m definitely feeling a new burst of energy, something I haven’t felt in years.  It took some time to get over Microsoft and ramp up, but now I’m dying to create.  I realize my time to find myself is limited.  I’ve realized (too many times) that I need to learn how to code again.  Starting again after all these years has been overwhelming, but that’s no excuse to avoid it.  I taught myself in high school, and I was top of my computer science classes in college – I can do this.

So I’m challenging myself for the month of April:

  1. No television on weekdays, 2 hours a day max on the weekend.
  2. 2 hours a day dedicated to programming. I’m starting with python, will move onto Django and go from there.

Will let you know how it goes.


Eric Ries: About Lean Startups

April 5, 2010

I keep hearing about “lean startups”, but I rarely hear more than the basic idea of starting with a minimal viable product and iterating quickly.  The interview below of Eric Ries by Robert Scoble gives much more detail about the logic behind and practices of lean startups.

Highlights:

  1. It’s about building the minimal product to start, and getting customers to start using it.  Incorporate their feedback, which may take you in a very different direction from the features you had planned.  Great example: Twitter.
  2. “The Curse of Prevention”: When you anticipate a problem too much/try to prematurely solve it, not only do you waste a lot of time by solving a problem that might not arrive, scalability is messy.
  3. Sales, Marketing & Business -> The Problem Team.  What is the problem we are trying to solve?  Focused on talking to customers.
  4. Engineering, Ops & QA -> The Solution Team.  Build the minimal viable product.  What is the minimal amount of work needed to be done to test the first element of the product?
  5. Code is not progress.  Learning is progress.  It’s not just about milestones and deliveries.
  6. After features are shipped, don’t just move onto the next features.  Check that the features you delivered were the right ones.  After the code is done, evaluate if that task was worth doing in the first place.

A Lean Startup makes sense for many reasons.  It allows you to deliver quickly.  It gets the product in front of customers sooner, so that you can continue development with their input.  It ensures you’re delivering the right features.  And it ensures you don’t invest too many resources in an idea that nobody wants to use in the first place. For a startup that needs money, it means you have something to show investors sooner.  And you can also argue that it’s a good marketing tool, since you engage power users sooner, and make them loyal by incorporating their feedback.

Eric mentions he works with teams who deliver as many as 50 releases a day.  Robert asks if a company like Microsoft could change from deliveries averaging 2-3 years.  The online services group at Microsoft has been releasing more and more frequently, but Microsoft could gain a lot by picking up some of these principles, especially in regards to point #6 above.  Too often, my team saw features for the product we worked with not based on what customers were asking for (sometimes customers begged for YEARS).  We would often see features released that had absolutely no value, but the engineering team still celebrated.

Right now, I am playing with a new roadmap for LazyMeter using the Lean Startup methodology.

Part I:

Part II: