The Balancing Act

September 3, 2008

Great article here by Jeff Bussgang at Flybridge, on what it takes to win:

…I have come to realize that the true question corporations need to ask is: “How do I get my employees to think like VCs but act like entrepreneurs?” In other words: What’s the best way to impose the challenge of complex, competing priorities on employees who must, in effect, be adroit at living with split personalities? This new frame of mind requires the corporate manager to extract the best from both worlds—entrepreneurs with a bias for action, and VCs with a bias for analysis. Elements of both are required.

Says easy, does hard.

As I’ve said before, for me the basic tension of a new venture is between the two defining characteristics of most successful startups:

  1. Commitment to a process of iterative refinement, engaging the marketplace open to the truth, and being mercenary about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
  2. A team that executes with conviction, almost unreasonable in its commitment to overcome inertia and do something that hasn’t been done before.

Too much “1” and half-assed execution obscures what would work if done well; too much “2” and you miss the turn that would have made it all work.

I guess “think like a VC / act like an entrepreneur” is another way to put that, if it helps get the concept in more people’s heads all the better.

Which do you think makes the idea more clear?


A Momentum Milestone

April 9, 2008

rock1In the beginning, starting a business feels like pushing a rock uphill.

The first few months is all about infecting individual people with your vision, and each time you have to start from zero. Nobody knows who you are or what you do, and all you have to get them on board are the track record you start with, a few ideas that make sense to you, and a handful of slides that no one wants to look at.

You build some stuff, hit the road like a standup comic working the kinks out of your act, and slowly add people, one-by-one, to the list of Those Who Believe. The team grows, and your act evolves. Your vision and your pitch come into focus, and if you get lucky before you run out of money, somebody gives you a shot to do what you say you can do.

Desperate to prove them right, you and your posse try to do something you’ve really never done before, and realize how stupid and shallow your thinking was. You listen, learn, and work your ass off to fix problems before the whole thing goes sideways. If the team you’ve built to that point is really good you manage to keep things on track, and you get the first one out the door without pissing off the people who trusted you first.

By then you have something real, something live, so with renewed energy you go back out there to try and sell another one. It’s hard like it always is, but at some point you lift your head up and realize it’s just a little bit easier than it was before. The second one launches, and it gets a little easier. The first round of improvements drop soon after that, then somebody writes something nice about you in a blog someplace. It feels good. You tell your Mom.

One day you realize the rock is the same, but the hill is flat. And even though that day begins and ends pushing a big giant rock from here to there, it is a great day indeed.

By sheer force of will, through heroism and hard work, by being smart enough to see what others could not see or too dumb to recognize a hundred defeats, you will have changed the very curvature of the earth. At least it will feel that way from the narrow perspective of, say, a few smart folks crowded into a little office in Needham, MA.

This is that day for matchmine. I am first overwhelmingly grateful to Fuzz and FilmCrave for giving us a shot when we needed it. I am second hyper-actively excited to add the incredibly smart people at Odeo, Blogdigger, Blogged, MediaMelon and IODA to the list of Those Who Believe. And I am finally chest-burstingly proud to be standing at the top of this hill with the team of talented, committed people who got this rock to where it is now.

We’re going to get this rock rolling now, and in the not too distant future we’re going to feel it start to roll on its own. I’m sure looking forward to that, and I hope you are too.

Making A 60º Turn

March 31, 2008

steering-wheelToday we’re announcing a whole bunch of product changes and the launch of our first two partners, technically on schedule in Q1. What it’s taken to get here has been anything but according to plan, though, in a way I think sheds some real light on what it takes to build a successful startup.

Starting a company is like setting off on a journey, headed true North in the direction of your vision. You map a path to get there, called your strategy. Along the way you encounter obstacles, new lands, people and opportunities, all of which change you as a person. Your understanding of yourself and your goal changes. Sometimes you find your way around these things to get back on your original course, other times your destination itself changes.

One of the hardest thing about running a startup is separating the “signal” – feedback that indicates the need for a change in your path or your destination, your strategy or your vision – from the “noise.” Noise is the friction that any new idea needs to overcome, the inertia of the status quo and the way things work today. Signal and noise are streaming in constantly… from employees, partners, investors, competitors, the press, your family, everywhere. Follow the noise and you’ll be lost. Miss the signal and you’ll march resolutely in the direction of nothing.

The volume of signal/noise amped up for us significantly at DEMO, and we’ve spent the time since then trying to determine what we needed to change and where we just needed to improve the quality of our execution. We’ve made a bunch of 30º course corrections since then, which startups need to be able to do with relative ease. We can improve our internal communication on this stuff, but on balance we’re pretty nimble within that 60º arc.

By late in Q4 it was obvious, though, that the calls to make a couple of 60º turns – disruptive, dis-continuous changes in our product roadmap – were signal, not noise. It hurt, but we did it, and it feels like we’ve grown up a little bit as a result.

Anyway when you look at our new release, one which features:

  • Focus on origination within a single partner application,
  • “One-Click Key Creation” if that partner already knows what you like,
  • The elmination of the need to download anything, ever,

Know that it’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of smart people to get here so quickly, and that the signal is coming though loud and clear.

It’s Down to Two: Microsoft and Google

February 4, 2008

Great insight on implications of Microhoo! here from Jeff Rayport. Highlight:

The new online reality is that scale and features attract online users and the advertisers who want to reach them, and analytics—the tools that help sites target ads to users more effectively—build ad-pricing power and therefore margin. Scale is simply the traffic or number of unique visitors a site attracts. Features are the applications and services a particular Web site can deliver. In both cases, more is usually better. But analytics is an area that looks like art but is rapidly becoming science. It’s the way sites parse users’ profiles and click streams using behavioral targeting, predictive intelligence, and other database manipulations to boost ROI metrics for marketers spending advertising dollars online.

It’s Down to Two: Microsoft and Google

Our Higher Moral Purpose

January 17, 2008

Between my first and second year of business school I was a strategic consultant at The Monitor Company in Cambridge. During that time Mark Fuller, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, was obsessed with an exercise to help the company define what he called its “higher moral purpose.”

“All truly great businesses serve a higher moral purpose than the need to create value for the shareholders,” he said, “and we need to find ours.”

This seemed a little pretentious to me at the time, but it stuck in my head for some reason, and as I’ve been a part of building subsequent businesses I’ve always taken the time to reflect on what thier higher moral purpose might be.

There’s an Italian saying that the only thing more true than truth is a story. The story in this video, Malcolm Gladwell’s TED speech, captures what I believe to be matchmine’s higher moral purpose:

Link to Malcolm Gladwell TED speech

Data Portability

January 11, 2008

Been a while since my last post, top of mind right now is all this data portability stuff triggered by ScobleGate.

scoble thumb

Worth reiterating in case it’s not clear that the idea that your data is yours has been at the very heart of matchmine since day one.

We’re working through the details on what this means before we get more formally committed to it, but we will get behind APML, and we very much support the objectives of the Data Portability Workgroup. Our platform can easily enable users to export their preferences as APML, which as a standard will inevitably provide a baseline rather than a comprehensive solution. We believe users – as well as the publishers and advertisers who are other important constituencies in this problem – will need both tools and platforms to manage this data, and in some cases deeper science to extend it’s functionality.

Trent has already reached out to Chris Saad with an offer of help. As soon as he gets out from under, look for something about matchmine getting on board.

A Cautionary Tale

December 14, 2007

Sometime a group of smart people come together, have a neat idea, work hard toward a common vision… and it doesn’t work. Such was the case with Convoq/Zingdom, shutting down after a five year adventure.

Chris Herot has a great post reflecting on lessons learned, invaluable for any current or aspiring entrepreneur. Highlight:

  • Iterate in the marketplace, not the conference room. Agile is the only way to go.
  • Just because you are using agile methods doesn’t mean you don’t have to plan. Write your stories before you begin an iteration, but don’t waste a lot of time on the details that aren’t needed until later.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time and money naming the company until you have the product and positioning figured out.
  • If you are depending on paid search to generate traffic then your marketing is broken.
  • Raising too much money is almost as dangerous as raising too little – it sets high expectations which then drive high expenditures to deliver the results on time.
  • If you want to do a consumer-facing product on the East Coast, stay engaged with the community in Silicon Valley. By the time you read about something in TechCrunch it’s too late.
  • Remember the three stages of building a web property: 1. Attract, 2. Engage, 3. Monetize. Don’t skip a step.

Sage advice, IMHO. Think we’re delivering on these fronts, if you don’t, please let me know.