Posts from May 2012

gmailsearch.com

This is a feature request. I'd love to see Google do this but I imagine this might also be possible via a third party service built on the gmail api.

I will often log into my gmail account on a conference room display in order to find a document that I want to load on the big screen. I do this a lot and I see many others do this frequently. Many entrepreneurs will do this when they come to see us. They will log into their gmail on the conference room display, they find the presentation they want to make, and then load that on the display.

The problem with this move, of course, is you briefly display your entire inbox to everyone in the room. That is suboptimal. But even so, I do this all the time. I've gotten pretty good at jumping into the search box quickly and running the search in order to get out of the inbox display.

So here's what I want. A simple app I can use that runs at something like gmailsearch.com. I go there, log into gmail, and then do a search on my inbox without having to reveal my entire inbox first.

It is possible that this feature already exists. If so, please tell me how to do this. I can't figure it out and I have tried. If this feature doesn't exist, it should.

#startupstories

The NY Tech Meetup has produced a series of short videos talking about some of the key early challenges that startups face.

They call this series #startupstories and currently there are three videos up on the web, one about pitching your company, one about building the team, and one about failing.

They are all great but I particularly like this one on Failure.

Gawk.it

AVC community member Kevin Marshall is the consummate hacker. I can’t count all the stuff Kevin has hacked on since I’ve known of him over the years. And I’ve tried many of them.

A few weeks ago, Kevin emailed me with his latest, gawk.it. Kevin described it this way:

I just hacked together the start of a simple system I wanted to
tell you about.  The idea is a system to let you search conversations
from around the web.

 So far I started with just the AVC comment board, and it’s
super basic right now (going to improve it over the next few days) but
should already be functional (and useful for those of us interested in
the avc community).

Being able to search the AVC comments is probably the single most common request I get when we talk about the comments here. So I knew right away that Kevin was working on something where there was a real pain point.

But I wanted more than comment search. I replied back to Kevin:

What would be great is an integrated blog and comments search

Could you build that?

In classic hacker behavior, Kevin replied that he could and less than a day later, we had integrated blog and comment search. We then iterated on the UI/UX a bit and by this weekend, less than seven days after his initial email, gawk.it was live on AVC. It is live on GothamGal.com as well.

It’s been running in the AVC search field on the upper right of this blog for a few days now. I know that a few folks have noticed it, but I want everyone to check it out.

I think the blog search part (which is the default result) works really well. I think the comment search (in the tab to the left) works OK but is getting better every day.

Give it a spin and let Kevin and me know what you think in the comments.

MBA Mondays: Where To Find Strong Talent

One of the most vexing problems entrepreneurs face is where to find strong talent for their companies. The kind of people you want to hire for your company are in short supply and they are rarely out looking for a job. You have to go find them and recruit them to join your team. But where to look?

Here are some suggestions:

1) People you know and people your team knows. This is the most obvious but also often the most fruitful source of talent. I know an entrepreneur who asks everyone he hires this question on their first day on the job, "who is the most talented person you have ever worked with and whom you would love to work with again?." He then adds that person's name to his list of people he is trying to recruit to his company. It is that kind of dedication to sourcing talent that is required to build the strongest team.

2) People who work for your competition. I often tell entrepreneurs that they are overly focused on their competition and that they should spend less time watching the competition and spend more time focused on their own game plan. But there is one place that watching the competition closely pays off. If you find a sales talent who keeps winning deals from you or a product talent who is making your competitor better, you should see if you can recruit them to leave your competitor and join your team. There can be issues with non-competes but the truth is that non-competes are often unenforceable unless they have been properly structured and most are not.

3) Companies that have been recently purchased. When a company is sold, the team is in play. Buyers know this and structure the deals to lock up key employees. But the combination of having had a decent payday on the purchase, having to wait a bit for the stay package to pay off, and the dread of working for a big, slow, bureacratic company is often enough to cut them loose. When a company sells, find out who the stars are on that team and go after them. It might take a bit of time to get them, but keep trying. They will free up in time.

4) Other parts of the country and the world. This is particularly true if you are operating in a hypercompetitive talent hub like NYC or Silicon Valley. The best talent is often locked up by the big companies in the neighborhood. I have seen our portfolio companies do incredibly well by locating super talented folks working in other parts of the country or the world and relocating them to NYC of SF. They find these folks on places like Stack Overflow, Behance (both are USV portfolio companies), Dribbble, and GitHub. Relocating someone from another part of the country often means making their relocation painless with financial incentives and also things like helping a spouse find a job. Relocating someone from another part of the world means all that plus navigating the immigration system. It is painful to do all of this but it is often worth it to get the right type of person for your company.

5) Colleges. You cannot fill your entire company with young folks graduating from college. You will need people with experience and management skills on your team. But you can supplement senior talent with people just starting out in their career. And the one pool of talent where everyone is looking for a job is the senior class at a college campus. I had an investment in a company back in the 90s that had a high paid sales force that wasn't getting the job done selling the company's product. The CEO fired the entire sales force and replaced them with an army of smart, inexperienced college grads who were hungry and scrappy and sales took off. That move won't work for everyone but it sure worked for that company. It is often surprising what young folks right out of school can do with the right management.

If you want to focus some of your recruiting efforts on college grads, I would encourage you to set up an internship program for students to work at your company prior to being hired. There are all sorts of ways to do this. One of our portfolio companies offers seniors in college the opportunity to work for them 10 hours a week during senior year. They then offer the best ones full time jobs upon graduation. There are also programs like HackNY that can bring great summer interns to your company.

6) The big companies in your market. This one is a little dangerous because you can find a lot of people "resting and vesting" in big companies and you don't want to hire that kind of talent. But the fact is that when companies like Google, eBay, Yahoo, and yes, even Facebook, get big, they become the wrong place to work for the scrappy fast moving entrepreneurial types. The early employees get itchy and can be cut loose. Focus your recruiting efforts on folks who have been at these companies three years or more because at that point they will have vested into the majority of their initial stock grant and will have weaker "golden handcuffs."

7) Your investors. The truth about venture capital firms is that as much as anything else, they are recruiters. I don't think a day goes by in our firm where someone isn't doing some form of recruiting. People who want to get their "resume on the street" will often come by and let us know they are looking around. We get tips from all across our network that someone is good. We reach out to them, take them to lunch, and get to know them. And then we route all of the talent we are seeing to the places in our portfolio where they are the best fit. If your investor isn't helping you find talent, then they aren't doing their job.

So those are some places to go to in order to find strong talent. Don't expect that you will be able to find people easily. Recruiting is a full time job for many people. Even if you can't make it your full time job, you must work on it every day, and be thinking about it all the time. You need a strategy, a process, and a committment to the process. It will bear fruit over time if you are patient and committed.

Twilio’s Nine Things

In the last MBA Mondays post talking about company culture, I wrote:

It helps a lot to have a one pager that outlines the core values of the company. I just saw our portfolio company Twilio's version of that. They call it "Our 9 Things." I wish I could publish it here but I don't have permission from Jeff and so I will resist the urge. It has things like "think at scale" and "be frugal" on it. You get the idea I hope. This "guiding light" is a framework for the culture and values of the organization and each new hire should be assessed against the framework to make sure the fit is good.

Well it turns out that Twilio published their "9 things" on their website this week and so I can now publish them here.

Twilio's nine things

I like that they published them in the form of a telephone dialpad. For those that don't know Twilio makes telephony work easily in web and mobile apps. Putting the 9 things in this format makes a statement in itself about their culture.

These need not and should not be your company's values, although it is likely that you may share a number of these values with Twilio. The point is to articulate what your culture is about and put it front and center so that everyone knows what they are.

Nicely done Twilio.

The paidContent Interview

It's memorial day weekend. We are at the beach with our family and I am taking it easy after a hectic week.

I did a bunch of interviews and talks last week. It felt like I was in front of an audience at last a half dozen times in the span of four days. So I am going to take a short hiatus from writing this weekend and run some video here.

We will start with the interview I did with Mathew Ingram at the paidContent 2012 conference. Mathew focused the conversation on the challenges that traditional media/entertainment has had in working with the changing technology landscape and the tech community. I don't think I said anything that the AVC community hasn't already read or heard from me before. But I do think we did a decent job of framing the issue and laying out some likely paths forward from here.

Fun Friday: Routines

Someone suggested to me in the comments this past week that this fun friday be about Routines. If I could recall who it was, I would give them credit. Maybe you can identify yourself in the comments. (update: it was Tyrone. thanks Tyrone).

In any case, we are going to talk about routines today.

Every weekday that I am in NYC, I start my day at 5am. I get up, walk upstairs to my office, take my synthroid, put on some music (turntable or tumblr/ex.fm mostly), read the morning news (twitter #discover, techmeme, hacker news), and then open up Typepad and start writing about whatever comes into my head. When that is done, ideally by 6am, I post a song of the day on tumblr, and then do some email.

On tuesday and thursdays I do yoga from 7am to 8am, and I try to get out on my bike a few days a week as well. I mostly ride up the hudson river park bike path but sometimes I will ride down.

When I am not exercising, I wake Josh up at 7:20am and then head downstairs to eat breakfast. My breakfast staple is Kashi Cinnamon Harvest Shreaded Wheat with a sliced banana on it.

Then I get on my Vespa and ride to work. If it is too cold to ride the scooter, I walk to the L train and take it to Union Square. I like to stop by Tarallucci and get an espresso at the bar Roman style. Then I go to work.

Work is usually 8:30am to 6:30pm. It is meetings back to back to back to back.

Then at 6:30pm, I head home, either by scooter or subway, and have dinner with my family. I don't work after dinner. I will do homework with my son or watch sports with him (or both). I am in bed by 10pm. I might read a bit on the iPad or Kindle Fire but I am almost always asleep by 10:30pm at the latest. I will make an exception these coming weeks to watch the Thunder hopefully beat the Spurs and the Heat.

That's my routine during the week when I am in home in NYC. I stick to it. I am not an organized person. But I am a disciplined person. My routine is the key to me getting things done.

What are your routines?

Open Garden

I was on the panel of judges yesterday at TechCrunch Disrupt to select the top startup of the conference. The finalists were a very impressive group:

gTarOpenGardenUberConferenceArk, Babelverse and Sunglass.

The winner was UberConference. gTar came in a close second. Both of those companies are impressive and I support the wisdom of the judges:

Fred Wilson, Roelof Botha, Marissa Mayer, Mike Arrington, Chris Dixon, Eric Eldon and Chi-Hua Chien

The choice of the winner and the runner up was almost unanimous except for a lone nutjob who liked a different one.

My favorite was Open Garden. By a long shot. Because what they are doing is the most worthy of the conference name, Disrupt.

Open Garden is a free app for windows, mac, android, and soon iOS. What is does is connect all of your data services on your various devices (and your friends and family's devices) into a single network that all of the devices can access at the same time.

It allows you to create your own mesh network and provision it to the people you want on it.

This is a big idea. And I don't know if they have nailed it. I have just downloaded Open Garden onto my macbook air and my android phone. I will let you know how it goes.

If you want to watch their initial pitch (not the pitch we got yesterday afternoon, I have embedded it below).

 

 

Mastery And Mimicry

The Internet is an amazing place. Last weekend an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line "Hello From MIT". That got me to open it. Turns out it was from Sep Kamvar, a faculty member at the MIT Media Lab, and before that the Stanford computer science department. I don't know Sep and was not familiar with his work. I am now.

Sep pointed me to a series of essays he has written called Mastery and Mimicry. He describes them as:

In this series of vignettes, I describe some design principles for technologies that follow nature. In short, such technologies would be self-limiting, accessible, cyclical, and purposeful. My hope is that technologies that follow these principles will lead to a greater unity between art and science, between intuition and reason, between nature and machine. Each would nurture the other.

I am particularly fond of a principal Sep calls cyclicality:

Every tool should nourish the things upon which it depends.

We see this principle at varying levels in some of our tools today. I call them cyclical tools. The iPhone empowers the developer ecosystem that helps drive its adoption. A bike strengthens the person who pedals it. Open-source software educates its potential contributors. A hallmark of cyclical tools is that they create open loops: the bike strengthens its rider to do things other than just pedal the bike.

Cyclical tools are like trees, whose falling leaves fertilize the soil in which they grow.

I read all of Sep's essays this weekend. It didn't take me long. But they have touched me and stayed with me. They speak to me. Maybe they will speak to you too.

I emailed Sep back and thanked him for his work. He replied and called USV a "cyclical VC firm." That's quite a compliment in the context of his work and it made my day, week, and month.

Setting The Record Straight

The new media world has its pros and cons. The pros are that I've got a blog to set the record straight and that everybody is recording everything. The negatives are that bloggers don't feel compelled to write accurate headlines and twitter can amplify the inaccuracies when those headlines get tweeted and retweeted.

Let's take the interview I did with Mike Arrington yesterday to kick off Disrupt NYC (starts at 51.09 in the stream). We had a great chat. Mike asked a bunch of interesting questions and I tried to answer them honestly and openly.

As I was heading back to the office, I saw this tweet in my timeline:

 

 

I thought "Hmm, did I really say that?" Fortunately they recorded the entire interview and through a cool feature called snapid, you can go watch the exact one minute sequence where Mike and I discussed this.

As you can see, I never suggested that Google missed the boat on buying Twitter. Google is focused on G+ and Twitter is focused on building its business and staying independent. That's what is going on and that's what I said on stage.