That’s Only Ten Lines Of Code

I've gotten used to the snarky and cynical comments that people make on techcrunch and other tech blogs when there's a post about a startup that get's funded.

It's a good thing that people debate and discuss these investments. Clearly not every venture investment that is made is a good one. In fact I've written many times that if we had a rear view mirror, we would not make 2/3 of the investments we make. Only 1/3 of the investments we make generally turn out as well or better than we thought they would.

And so I appreciate the debate that these posts often generate and I almost always read the comments as far down as I can to get a sense of what the blog readers think of the investment. That goes for our investments and every other investment I read about. I find it informative, interesting, and useful data in my daily effort to get smarter and become a better investor.

But every now and then, I find the totally dismissive comments annoying. And so it was today on Alley Insider's post about the bit.ly funding. I know the bit.ly team and investors and have been using bit.ly almost exclusively for URL shortening for as long as it's been out. I think it's a very useful service and a material improvement over the other URL shorteners I have used.

I realize that there are many who think that URL shortening is a bad thing for the Internet and I share some of those concerns. But I also find what bit.ly is doing around analytics and click tracking to be differentiated, valuable, and potentially quite lucrative.

We did not invest in bit.ly, but as I said, I try to read the comments on every web investment I see blogged about and so I waded into the comments on the Alley Insider post. This was the second comment I came across on that post:

Silly tech bloggers – Bit.ly is probably around 10 lines of code – 9 for interface.

I've heard the same comment elsewhere. My partner Albert told me he coded up a URL shortener for Daily Lit (a web service he built back in 2007) in one day.

But just because something is simple to build doesn't mean it won't be a good venture capital investment. I've heard many people say they could build twitter in a weekend. I don't doubt it. But twitter is more than code, it's a popular communications service and an API that thousands of developers have built upon. We've seen many people knock off twitter and the knockoffs haven't gone anywhere. Back in 2004 and 2005, we saw a lot of people knock off delicious with similar results.

What is critically important is an active user base that is engaged and getting a lot of value out of the service. And on that count, bit.ly is doing very well. That same Alley Insider post said that 20 million bit.ly links were clicked on last week and that number is growing at 10% per week. That doesn't speak to engagement, but I can tell you that I use bit.ly several times per day and I suspect many of its users do as well.

So I find the "only 10 lines of code" comment annoying. Let's discuss something that's material to the probability of this being an important web service that people should use and/or whether it will be a good investment. And there were certainly a number of good comments on those lines in the Alley Insider post. But let's not be snarky and dismissive and petty. That doesn't do anyone any good.

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