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 funding. I know the team and investors and have been using 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 is doing around analytics and click tracking to be differentiated, valuable, and potentially quite lucrative.

We did not invest in, 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 – 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, is doing very well. That same Alley Insider post said that 20 million 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 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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Comments (Archived):

  1. Adarsh Pallian

    You can say the same about twitter – i mean how hard is it to code something that spits out 140 characters? It’s how the users embrace it and love it… is definitely on the right path.

    1. fredwilson

      I did say the same thing about twitter – third to last paragraph

      1. Adarsh Pallian

        ignore my comment… i commented a bit too early after i read that quote by alley insider… i tried deleting it after i posted… didn’t see the option 😛

  2. Nate

    E=mc2 is *one* line of code.”Size matters not.” ~ Yoda

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a good one nathan

  3. Dan Frommer

    Does this mean you’ll help me fight my commenters every day? 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      I’ll do my best, but I’ve got my own community to care for!

  4. stone

    I agree Fred. Being simple and well-positioned in a market is all you need to be successful. Fancy technology often loses out to a good business idea.

  5. brian

    The obvious difference between twitter and bitly is that twitter has users locked in. Nobody is going to leave twitter for because all of their friends/audience are on twitterBitly users could easily switch to another shortening service and not notice much of a difference.So it being 10 lines of code is important because somebody in a couple hours can build and destroy your business. ( of course it is more than 10 lines, but still fairly easy to build )

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with that for the most part but think about as another way to create delicious and then you might think differentlyYou are leaving something at when you leave it for another service, mainly your history

    2. Adam N

      Actually there are plenty of clones and lets not forget which must be 10 years old by is better with the API and stats. Keep in mind also that there is great lockin because of all the existing URLs.

  6. kortina

    Anyone who can implement in 10 lines of code should stop by the offices–we love hackers who can write super fast, concise code. Preferably in C.

    1. fredwilson

      I am now tempted to be snarky on my own blog but I’ll restrain myselfWell played Kortina!

      1. kortina

        I couldn’t resist. Good to hear that respected thinkers such as yourself,O’Reilly, et al, get it and are choosing to use

  7. mattmaroon

    Wouldn’t you say though that lack of complexity (and therefore barrier to entry) matters much more for a startup that doesn’t benefit from the network effect? People won’t switch from Twitter to a superior competitor (at least not quickly) because their friends are on Twitter. People could switch from to another with ease and nobody would know or care. It seems more akin to a search engine than a social network.On the other hand, I’m guessing there’s a lot more to than meets the eye. There usually is with web startups. Making a simple url shortener is not a complex problem. Making one that is fast (which is supremely important) under heavy load, scales well, and has good analytics and a highly usable interface is not trivial at all.

    1. Michael Evans

      I strongly disagree that complexity makes for a good defensive position. Simple concepts can have very strong barriers to entry. Techcrunch recently did a post on my company, and we got blasted in the comments for the very same thing. I’ve written a few entries about the value of simplicity: and

      1. fredwilson

        See what I am saying about techcrunch comments? They are the worst. Michael encourages it to some degree with his hostile replies. I prefer calm and reason

      2. fredwilson

        See what I am saying about techcrunch comments? They are the worst. Michael encourages it to some degree with his hostile replies. I prefer calm and reason

  8. FlavioGomes

    Never measure success by head count, cars in the parking lot, blinking server lights, marble floors in the foyer or indeed… lines of code.

  9. Josh Morgan is interesting and certainly lots of people use it, but I just have trouble figuring how why people fund things with no prospects for cash flow in the near future. In this economic climate the risks just escalate and it no longer is investing, it’s speculating. (My POV). I guess I’m just a series C,D, and F guy.I know you probably have a different take, Fred, and I’d love to hear it.

    1. fredwilson

      Let’s start with how much it takes to operateI think the team is something like four or five peopleSo if you can operate something for less than $50k per month, then I wouldn’t worry too much about generating revenue right now. I’d focus on getting the largest possible user base and building real lasting user value.

      1. Josh Morgan

        Fred, normally you share why it is USV makes an investment, or a partner of yours does. However, in a case like where you have chosen not to invest, where it might be a close call, what tips you, or USV, to one side of a fence or another? Especially when making money isn’t of utmost importance in the near term.The founders, the synergy of the idea to your investment team, a gut feeling? Thoughts?

        1. fredwilson

          I try to never bash the investment of another vc firm on this blog (or in the comments). I may have violated that once or twice but I’ve learned that isn’t right and I won’t do itWriting a post or a comment that starts with “this is why we did not invest in” is tantamount to doing just that. Once you publish something on the web, others can and will do what they want with your wordsSo I am not going to say why we passed on this one.But if you read between the lines on this post and the comments you’ll get a sense of itThe biggest reason is that we put ‘a big moat around’ our portfolio companies and try like hell not to invest in anything that comes too closeWe found summize when it was just starting and showed it to john at betaworks. It was too close to twitter for comfort. The outcome was great and the negotiation was fair and honestThat’s the best way to avoid conflicts which are death to a hard earned reputation

        2. fredwilson

          I try to never bash the investment of another vc firm on this blog (or in the comments). I may have violated that once or twice but I’ve learned that isn’t right and I won’t do itWriting a post or a comment that starts with “this is why we did not invest in” is tantamount to doing just that. Once you publish something on the web, others can and will do what they want with your wordsSo I am not going to say why we passed on this one.But if you read between the lines on this post and the comments you’ll get a sense of itThe biggest reason is that we put ‘a big moat around’ our portfolio companies and try like hell not to invest in anything that comes too closeWe found summize when it was just starting and showed it to john at betaworks. It was too close to twitter for comfort. The outcome was great and the negotiation was fair and honestThat’s the best way to avoid conflicts which are death to a hard earned reputation

    2. BmoreWire

      Wrong. They have great data. I got a walk through of the other day from one of the betaworks guys as well as with chartbeat and the data that has and the dashboard that chartbeat is making is incredibly valuable to brand advertisers who are embracing social media and the concept of turning your brand over to your customers. The viral effect of a promotion or product launch that a major brand puts out there is propelled by hundreds of millions of dollars. I handle these type of accounts and the drool over ideas like this. That said they want standardized easy to understand analyics so if herds all of the cats and keeps their data stored in multi-core accessible clusters for random access, it’s only a matter of time before one of the big three scoops them up as a complement to their analytics package. So massive cash flow….maybe but good investment by a VC….definitely.

  10. Howard Mann

    I imagine those are the same people that look at a Picasso painting and comment that anyone could do it or look at a Jackson Pollock as splattered paint.It is always easier to yell at the players from the bleachers.

    1. fredwilson

      Good analogy

  11. Mark Zohar

    Seth Godin has a great recent post ( where he encourages individuals and companies to ignore your critics…as well as your fans (for different reasons) and instead listen to your “sneezers”. Seth describes sneezers as: “the people who tell the most people about you.” “Listen to the people who thrive on sharing your good works with others. If you delight these people, you grow.”I’m guessing that has a lot of sneezers.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with seth

    2. BmoreWire

      i’ll sneeze for

  12. iPosit

    Fred, Agree 100% with your sentiments here. Snarky programmer comments = the Fail. For the record, I like URL shorteners and the business opportunities that exist within services such as

  13. bsoist

    Those dismissive comments are extremely annoying. If it’s as simple as they claim, they should be doing it themselves instead of talking about it. Shut up and show me the code.The fact is that does more than URL shortening so the comments are unfounded in this case anyway.

    1. Ian Betteridge

      Well… to be honest, the fact that TweetDeck offers me thirteen different options for URL shortening shows that plenty of people have “done the code” for that part of’s functionality.What should matter to an investor isn’t the service’s simplicity of product, though, but its business model. This would only be a silly investment if there was no business model with proper revenue predictions etc. I would assume – and hope – that there is, at least on paper.

      1. bsoist

        “done the code for that part” – agreed.The point is that does more than revenue predictions, I found Fred’s comments interesting.”So if you can operate something for less than $50k per month, then I wouldn’t worry too much about generating revenue right now. I’d focus on getting the largest possible user base and building real lasting user value.”

        1. Ian Betteridge

          Well, the problem is that Fred’s comment contains a contradiction. With no revenue stream, each users is an incremental cost to your business – in bandwidth, support costs, general server infrastructure, and so on. The cost per-user may be tiny, but once you build a large-enough user base, you’re going to break that $50k a month limit.And, if your business gains value to users via a network effect, the more people on it, the more attractive it is to new users. This can lead to your costs snowballing very rapidly. At that point, you either have to find a business model pretty fast, or sell more of your company to investors to fund it. And at the moment, venture capital – like all money – is in shorter supply than it used to be, which in turn means VCs will be able to demand more of your company than they perhaps could a year ago.So, to my mind, the strategy of worrying about where the money comes from later is no longer one which has much to recommend it to a growth-focused business. I should stress that I don’t know if has no business model – it may well have a clear, sound business plan to introduce paid-for services, say a “ Premium” for corporate customers.

          1. fredwilson

            Excellent points IanThis strategy has worked out well for our portfolio companies that have taken it, including tumblr, twitter, disqus, etcBut you are taking some risk with it

  14. scandelmo

    Achieving a high degree of success through simplicity is a difficult task. Maintaining that success is another story. I suspect’s analytics will be a key component if they achieve that goal.

  15. Peter Martin

    A similar analogy would be people who claim Ansel Adams (or any photographer) isn’t an artist because “I could do that”.Well, you didn’t.

    1. bsoist

      “Well, you didn’t.”Exactly!

    2. Yule Heibel

      Right! It also reminds me a bit of people claiming that they could execute drip paintings like Jackson Pollock did. Aside from the actual skill it takes to make those paintings, they probably wouldn’t have that whole history of accrued acts and talents that comes together to advance a successful execution.

  16. andrewparker

    Remember that game show “Name That Tune?” The basic premise was the two people bid on how few notes they need to name a song. Lowest bid then wins the right to try to name that song. Get it right, you win… get it wrong, the opponent wins. Simple enough.Well, I’d love to see the game show, “Code That Feature”… programmers bid on how few lines of code it takes to write a feature, and then the lowest bid has to go code it up.Of course, the output would just be a lot of spaghetti packed full of inlining and “? :”-style if statement conjunctions.

  17. jonathanmendez

    Fred- didn’t you post recently that it’s a good thing when people don’t get it? Clearly there is plenty going on with behind the service like realtime analytics, conversation tracking, semantic tech and @bitlynow that add value to people and will continue to grow into more useful services after this round. Congrats to Betaworks on a great start-up with a bright future.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for reminding me about thatI think it was the “looking for a yawn” postI guess a “yawn” would not have bothered me as muchBut the “just ten lines of code” set me off

      1. jonathanmendez

        yes it was the yawn. i think though that is the way snarky coders yawn. 😉

        1. fredwilson

          Go it. I need to spend more time with snarky coders so I get hip to their communication techniques

  18. Indus Khaitan

    Fred,Bit.Ly may be fundable/may provide value..but as someone who has lived both the web eras, I think URL shorteners weaken the net architecture. Linking & traversing is fundamental to the Internet.You don’t wanna have a single service ‘rationing’ the traversal of linked structure of the Internet. That defeats ‘openness’ to a degree.As web becomes more of data interconnected with links — it wud become difficult for researchers and everybody else outside to unshorten before processing. (Imagine a data mining application with million links requiring unshortening beforehand).I took a dig on URL shortening service on Slashdot… around a year ago and it sparked some very interesting discussion (not the silly 10-line code ones).

    1. fredwilson

      Yes, this is an important debate and I alluded to this issue in my post.This is exactly what we should be discussing and its an important issue.There is a reason my partner albert wrote his own url shortener for daily lit. Many think its best if the url shortening and the underlying service are joined at the hip

  19. Chris

    “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”People who name the classic mistake of equating a complex system to something that is preferable really irk me. I love working on difficult problems and coming up with cool solutions and some things do require a lot of deep coding and complex algorithms to solve BUT if something can be solved in a simpler way or doesn’t require a complex solution why does that devalue the solution. Well it doesn’t.

  20. yoshi

    Pot. Kettle. Black.When someone says its only ten lines of code I equate that to your comments about selling Apple or buying Google based on a discussion with some people at a coffee house. There is no depth. There is no analysis. There is no context. So I find your comment amusing at best – sad at worse.

    1. FlavioGomes

      It was as deep as necessary and the context simply and precisely framed.Not sure what you missed.

    2. fredwilson

      Well those trades worked out well for me. Its one big discussion anywayThink about the late night bullshitting sessions in collegeThat’s what’s going on here in a distributed fashionIts an important learning technique. Just because the original assertion is bullshit doesn’t mean the ensuing conversation is

  21. hypermark

    Who’s to say if they get there in terms of depth of functionality, but the goodness of in terms of aggregating analytics, the ability to morph that data into a social graph and the inevitability of extending URL “payloads” beyond the simple link to photos, videos, comments, structured listings, etc. suggests some potential for to be the flip side to twitter.Now, for twitter skeptics, that only proves the point. For advocates, however, it affirms the goodness of simple, useful and extensible.Hearkens back to a Walt Wriston comment about money; namely that information about it would be more valuable one day than the money itself. We are getting there with online data (as he clicks to re-load the info path showing click data on his most recent post). 🙂

  22. Sooperdupe

    I think you make a fair point; however, I do find it ironic that companies who don’t have that much development work to be done would need your money at all. (I’d question that alone, were I a VC. But hey, good for you.) Point is there are plenty of very sharp ideas floating around that get one-liner rejections, Fred. Music technology services, for example. Indeed, music a troubled industry… but, that in itself points to a problem that needs fixing. But rather than evaluating individual models, most VC folks tend to lump them all together into the “plague” category. Now that’s annoying. Where are the mavericks anymore?

    1. fredwilson

      Yes but I am not one of them in online music. I try not to do business in sectors where someone else holds all the cardsOne of the purposes of this blog is to get beyond the one line rejection emailIt sucks for both sides. I hate sending them as much as you hate getting them

  23. tweetip

    We’ve coded our own functions inhouse, and it’s more than 10 lines of code 🙂 I’m also thinking I should have focused on that code instead of what i’m sitting here doing right now! Otoh, as Nathan suggest, maybe in another decade, I’ll have our primary stuff in one line of, umm, “code”.Any funding flowing to twitter-ish developers is a good thing.

    1. fredwilson

      Agreed. And ppl are paying attention to what you are doing. One thing had to its advantage is the connections of john and andy and their team at betaworks. Sometimes the incubator model does work

      1. tweetip

        Thanks Fred. Our career path offers almost no peer review, so your comments & support mean a bunch. The project I’ve been working on since ’92 is important to Sylvi & I, and, if twitter stays independent, them too. I’m in awe of how Twitter is being twitter.We’ve been scaling back here a bit – tired – I’m not sure you who pay attention understand the environment we have to create to analyze the data coming in. It’s not all ‘code’ on a mac. I’m working on it even as I type this – – an EQ in LA is alarming my iphone.This project is deep. It is more than 10 lines. It is NOT fun. If I succeed, it will change our understanding of evolution and reality.If I don’t succeed, I have already answered for myself what is real, and what is hard work 🙂

        1. tweetip

          Still in fucking awe of Twitter being twitter. We love bow hunters. We love all of you. You are what the tech industry could have been, should have been ; (If you all cash out hugely tomorrow, Monday, April 13, 2009, everyone of you deserve it.13x over 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      Agreed. And ppl are paying attention to what you are doing. One thing had to its advantage is the connections of john and andy and their team at betaworks. Sometimes the incubator model does work

  24. Edwin Khodabakchian

    I think that the challenge for is not that it is 10 lines of code but instead that this is clearly something twitter needs to implement as a core component of it platform: having its own url shortening service is the only way for twitter to have visibility into the user click-through behavior when the user is using a third party client and that click through information is going to be key for improving search and fighting spam( facebook is doing this, digg is about to do this). What happens to when twitter decides to either offer a URL shortener (or relax the 140 limit for URLs)? Do you know what % of the user base is non-twitter related?

    1. Kontra

      I must have downed a few bottles of beer in frustration while traversing the thin line between the simplicity of twitter and the analytical value that remain wholly unexposed by its (external) architecture. There is something to be said about slow and steady growth, but this is one of the areas where analytics expertise behind enterprise walls in relatively old industries like finance/pharma/security/etc can bring value to consumer-facing services, if done with care.Fan of Feedly, BTW.

    2. fredwilson

      I don’t know but I use it on most everything now and particularly in email. If I could only get the app on my bberry to work, I’d use it there the most

      1. Michael Yurechko

        I usually use it for sharing a link that I’ll use a lot – for example I snagged awhile back which points to my site. It’s much easier to share that then spell out my ridiculously difficult last name each time.On another note, I built a url shortener – and while it’s a bit more than 10 lines it wasn’t that difficult. http://urli.caI didn’t build it to compete with the tinyurl’s and’s of the world – but just to see what people are sharing. We only get maybe 20 urls shortened a day, if that, but it’s a form of entertainment for me. I have a simple script that lists out the most popular links and I always find something new each and every day.I’d really love it came out with a link blog/delicious-type app that lists out popular urls based on click throughs and other metrics (ie. most popular shared links on twitter today, etc). Digg and other sites are useful, but Twitter is a much better place to find interesting information nowadays. I’m no longer bookmarking urls or blogging them, I prefer to twitter them – instant feedback on whatever you post and the same type of karma/recognition if you found something first and someone re-tweets it or gives you credit for finding it.

        1. fredwilson

          I’m with you on all of this. That’s why I told one of the commenters to think of as delicious not tinyurl

          1. joshua schachter

            i like to think i had more consideration as to what’s good for the ecosystem as i built delicious.

          2. fredwilson

            And I referenced your views in the post. they are certainly one of the reasons we sat this one out, but not the only oneMy point in bringing up delicious is that these url shorteners collect data about urls that people think are important, and like delicious, that data asset could be valuable

  25. Michael Rattner

    I use a couple of times a day, mainly for Twitter, so I get it. The primary advantage over is 4 characters, which is really what caused me to switch.But what’s keeping me with is inertia.Don’t underestimate inertia. The American auto companies relied on it for nearly 3 decades (successfully) before it failed them.Some twitter clients have been built with automatic integration; a small but important way to maintain inertia.The simplicity does cause one problem: should do anything particularly annoying or start charging money, then its users will run to the next service. But if can find a million or two a year in profit, there are 4 or 5 programmers who are earning salaries larger than mine.

  26. Andrew Warner

    Ah this post is a waste. I could reproduce it with about 30 lines of on the other hand is incredible. Like you said Fred, it’s got a ton of great data. But there’s something else that other shorteners can’t do but can: handle info at the end of a URL.So here’s the top link on Hacker News right now:…I run it through tinyurl and get this BROKEN link: it works (plus I’ll know how many of your readers clicked it): about the ramble in your comments, but there are lots of little issues like this that go into making a smart, useful service.

    1. fredwilson

      I could reproduce this comment in less than 30 lines of text

  27. Jared O'Toole

    The best ideas are the simplest. I guess you could say I had the honor of having a person like that join my ustream chat the other day. Basically saying this was nothing new and I was nothing special. Maybe you can do it better but the point is your not doing it! I’m the one putting myself out there and actually doing it, actually developing a tribe. So who cares is its 1 line or 1000 lines. It works and they are putting themselves out there.

  28. scott

    Great point, Fred.I visited Twitter this past Friday. The energy and culture was fantastic. Many fail to see that startups are much more organic than a typical white-collar firm.It’s also great to see that your capital is going towards catered lunches everyday ;-)JK — the team building there is definitely excellent.

    1. fredwilson

      Zynga also does catered lunches. Must be an SF thing. Is disqus next?

      1. scott

        If it’s a SF thing, I’m moving there.

  29. David B.

    Isn’t “10 lines of code” a rough way of saying “nearly-no-barrier-of-entry”? And then doesn’t that come down to monetization? Because early-adopters are early-abandoners, and any way you try to monetize that’s even slightly invasive and they’re on to the next competitor — who can pop-up in a day or two.

    1. David B.

      This is embarrassing — I’m going to reply to my own comment — but I wanted to add a few more thoughts. First, congratulations to; I use it regularly and I’m always happy to see a cool service get funded. Second, I kept thinking, in response to my own comment, that while the risks might be higher due to the low barrier of entry, 2 million is also small enough amount and gives them a long enough runway, that I would probably make the same choice.But then it hit me: Isn’t 2 million also what Sequoia is putting into YCombinator? Why aren’t you guys running an equivalent program? With your reputation (and YC is now west coast only) it could both net you an early shot at some interesting startups, and also serve, like this blog, to let more people know what you’re about.

      1. fredwilson

        You gotta do what you are good at. I’m not very good at spray and pray

    2. fredwilson

      I don’t think so. Its lock I but not the evil kind. I’m locked into flickr and quite happy about that. Same with facebook.

  30. William Pietri

    Heh. For my fellow snarky programmers, the trick isn’t writing 10 lines of code now (or however many it actually is). As Fred Wilson makes clear, duplicating those 10 lines doesn’t create any more value.The trick is to figure out what never-before-seen 10 lines of code can create new value for millions of people. Given that and Twitter just did that, odds are good that there are plenty more 10-line winners out there. Can you find them?

    1. fredwilson

      If you can please let me know where they are

  31. kenberger

    These “10 lines of code” quips clearly come from the clueless.”people say they could build Twitter in a weekend.” Not a robust one. Not a non-failwhale one. Not one that also catches spammers and fakesters and hackers, and succeeds in any kind of real growth/success scenario.My group is doing some backend development work on Twitter now, and if folks want to assume that the site looks so smooth that the code must be so simple, I guess that’s success a la making it look easy. (a plug? maybe)

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what happens when a grows up ken

  32. Kontra

    “I’ve heard many people say they could build twitter in a weekend”Well, that’s what long weekends are for, innit?If my history is correct, it’s ironic that twitter was the progeny of Odeo which was essentially steamrolled by iTunes in an era where everybody and his brother was positioning as the destination for podcast aggregation. Podcast aggregation as an intellectual challenge is fairly trivial. Scaling it is decidedly not. iTunes had it, Odeo didn’t. Kudos to Evan for recognizing it early.

    1. fredwilson

      Great point kontra!You have to know when to hold em and know when to fold em

  33. Rian Orie

    I’m just curious, I don’t own, or have built, or intend to build a service like it, but would you invest in a service like And more importantly, why? What kind of business model is there to get your money out of it besides becoming popular and cashing out through a sale?Equally, the “It’s built in X time so can’t be worth Y million” has some merit to me, if I can build something in a specific amount of time and provide no apparent business model, how does that warrant an investment beyond my production time? To me, it looks like it’s like selling ice to Eskimo’s and crossing your fingers you run into some eskimo’s that really feel your ice is cooler than the piece they already got.Enlighten me, please!

    1. Edwin Khodabakchian

      Rian, if they can grow and maintain the user base, there are multiple ways to monetize solutions like bitly. Example: content filtering/spam control. Example selling analytics to publishers re: people who read this also find this and this interesting. Example affiliate programs: if they see an amazon link with an tag, they can add their tag to the URL, etc..

    2. fredwilson

      The data asset they are building is quite impressive

  34. Nicholas Lovell

    I agree with your comment, Fred, because it basically boils down to the “it’s such a simple idea, it’s nothing special”.Which is true, once someone else has had the idea and made the blindingly obvious, well, obvious.Having worked in corporate finance and also as CFO/CEO in venture-backed companies, I am now completely convinced that ideas (including coding 10 lines of code) are nothing, and execution is everything. And execution doesn’t mean, for example, patenting the paperclip. It means finding a way to persuade a world that had got along perfectly well without paperclips for centuries why they suddenly needed them.In the end, it smacks of a) sour grapes and b) a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to be a good startup.

    1. fredwilson

      I love the backswipe at patents. I’m gonna use that.Its not about patenting paperclips!!!!

    2. bsoist

      ideas are nothingThis reminds me of a Q/A in a FAQ on writing I read years ago.The question (paraphrased) – “I have an idea, will you write the book and we share the profit?”The answer (very much paraphrased) – “No, but we can do it the other way around.” Then the author spells out her idea and says “you do all the research, writing, rewriting, editing, etc. and I will keep half the money.”:)

    3. Taylor Davidson

      The funny thing is that users don’t use because of the underlying code.Nicholas: spot on… the value comes from the execution, not the idea; users don’t care about the ideas but simply how things work; but moreso,’s value is determined more by the robust product integration, the userbase and the data users create (and manages) than the code itself.

  35. ErikSchwartz

    Many companies with simple products hear this (I hear it at least once a week). My response is usually “but look who is using these 10 lines of code”. That’s what matters.As for, I only use it because it’s the default shortener in tweetdeck. I don’t know if that’s where most of their usage comes from, but if it is then I would be really worried about the tweedeck guy writing those “10 lines of code”.

    1. fredwilson

      Well the firm behind is also the firm behind tweetdeck – betaworksI love that line Erick – “look at who is using these 10 lines of code”Nice one!

      1. ErikSchwartz

        If TweetDeck and have the same investors it all starts to make a lot of sense.

        1. fredwilson

          There’s a method to the madness at betaworks. Look for chartbeat to launch this week and you’ll start to see the picture coming into focus

  36. WiredMike

    One thing to remember about BetaWorks and something that is a big factor in investors deciding to put money into them — BetaWorks sold off Summize, their TWitter Search Engine to Twitter and now has some equity in TWitter. So not only are the investors getting a piece of a growing company with some popular tools being used my many people (and more tools coming) – they are also getting a piece of a company that owns stock in Twitter itself. The investment itself goes beyond just a URL Shortetning service. Expect BetaWorks to come out with other tools and sites as well in the future.

    1. fredwilson

      They own a big piece of tweetdeck too

  37. PierreSmack (Pierre Bastien)

    An open invitation to the snarky commenter: add some value in 10 lines of code and I’ll try out your service.

  38. whitneymcn

    The one good pull quote from my NYTM presentation: “code doesn’t create community, code *supports* community.”

  39. AAfter Search

    Our concern is also the one point of failure, and the structure of the web. Our web search engine creates two short URLs [including] to make it a little more fail-safe. We found out there are 50 more such services, and will use two of them in a random manner to reduce the chance of one point of failure.Here are the list of all such services that we have discovered. We hope internet will remain open and diverse with all of them..

    1. Jackson Miller

      Might as well add to the list. We are integrated with several twitter clients.Also, some other guys I know created which also has click tracking.

    2. fredwilson

      This is great

  40. The Man

    Fred, seriously, do you really believe investments like this are good? You say people tried to knock off delicious with bad results, and now there’s digg, hacker news and all it’s open sourced clones, reddit, and a bazillion others.Why are you, and your VC friends investing on Hype and a lack of understanding of technology? Why don’t you understand technology? If it isn’t hard, anyone can do it and if anyone can do it, the web gets saturated with them and if the web gets saturated with them, then the value of each one drops dramatically.The problem with your philosophy that users are what matter, is that users are fickle. They’ll jump ship from one fad to another like no one’s business. Analytics isn’t tough either Fred. If you have the data, analyzing the data is the easy part.

    1. fredwilson

      Of course I believe investments like this are goodHere’s our portfoliohttp://www.unionsquareventu…it’s full of investments like this

    2. joshua schachter

      for what it’s worth:delicious does something a great deal different than digg/reddit/etc.if you’re not a user, they looked similarly, but people use them for different things.

      1. fredwilson

        Joshua comments on AVC!

  41. Scott

    Same story with and yousendit. E-mail attachment / filesharing services are a commodity and have been around for a long time. And came to the party late. But has an extremely user-friendly interface and so many value-add feature. They’ve done a great job perfecting the fine line between free and premium.Nowadays with all kinds of open web services, platforms, stacks, it’s so easy to build a technology but to execute well on product design, features and customer acquisition and retention is now that is HARD. That’s why Twitter is worth so much even though there’s no rocket science algorithm.

  42. Seth Lieberman

    I think the most important thing that something about companies like twitter or expresses is that execution is EVERYTHING. Ideas, plans etc are cheap. It is the actual creation of community, users, tools, clients, revenue etc that is the hard part. People are snarky about simple services with light code bases because they feel like they could do it themselves- but they didn’t and they don’t (mostly). Companies and ideas are built on the sweat of grinding out results, not the pie in the sky dream. Sure, you gotta have the vision, but 97% is how you act on that vision. THAT is the value creation.

  43. Jackson Miller

    I have created a url shortener with click-tracking as well. I released it just before (ain’t that the way it goes). I definitely see the value and am finding new ways to use it and have users who see the value as well.Still, I am a little dismissive of a venture-backed url shortener. I created urlzen in a few hours as a way to play with Google AppEngine. My burn rate is $0 and I spend a few hours a month working on it. I just did a 10-15 hour push that is going to result in user logins, better reporting, etc. I just don’t get why someone would want or need venture funding for something like this. I also have a hard time understanding how a url shortener could turn into a $50 – $100 million company (guessing that $2mil was for 20% post money and hoping for 5x – 10x return).Granted, my little hobby project is no where near as successful as but I have a growing userbase that is familiar with both (and many more) services. So, $2mil behind a company whose competition is a guy who is bored for a few hours at a conference?

  44. Glenn

    If only could have a timed service (where I can schedule my future tweets, a la tweetlater or twittertise) then it would be even more powerful for marketers.

  45. Ivan Kirigin

    Here is the code to do what does in ~10 lines of code – using their API.def makeBitlyLink( longUrl ):  url = ‘’ % (longUrl, ‘ivankirigin’, ‘redacted’)  request = urllib2.Request(url, None, {“User-Agent”: “Tipjoy/1.0 +”})  try:    results = )    if results[‘statusCode’] == ‘OK’:      return results[‘results’][longUrl][‘shortUrl’]  except: pass  return longUrl

  46. projectshave

    Where’s the barrier to entry? If it’s not tech, then it is your grip on the audience. But on the net, the early adopters are fickle and will leave instantly if something marginally better comes along. When the unwashed masses use your service, then you might have a sustainable audience.

    1. Ade

      “barrier to entry” – This is the Warren Buffett theory and he has a point. $2 million to make url shortening? Personally i think it needs a better name, ‘urli’ up above was catchier

    2. fredwilson

      I am not sure about the “leave instantly when something better comes along”I didn’t see that happen to skype, youtube, facebook, etc, etc

  47. pwb

    Amen. I’m so sick of that line. Then build it already!

  48. Peter Bowen

    Ideas float in the ether… take one down, try it on for a while, and if you can’t give it a go, it will just float back up into the ether. I remember a childrens’ book by Roald Dahl called the BFG. There was a giant that would go around catching dreams and the distributing them to the children of the world. You couldn’t really see them until they were in the jar. Some were good, and some were bad, but you couldn’t always tell until it was in the jar. Ideas are like that.The guys who expect millions of lines of elegant code miss the point. You don’t build stuff and then sell it to people who you convince to want it… You figure out what is cool, you build it, and then you sell it to people who wanted it the whole time. If it takes 10 lines of code, then even better.Finally, If you could have done it yourself – then why didn’t you? Actually, why don’t you… the market is open for guys who execute better. eBay, Google, Facebook, Compaq, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car were all “copycats” that did it better. My .02…-Peter

  49. Nichelle Stephens

    I stopped by the offices a few months ago, and when they show all the tracking features, I realized that was more than a URL-shortener. It could possibly rival Delicious or ClipMarks.

  50. Malcolm

    Hmm, before I research this some more, my first thoughts are: 1) with such a low barrier of entry for clones and super low user switching costs (significantly less than community-based sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc).. the risk of losing your differentiating features is way too high2) as a TweetDeck user, I’m curious how much this has helped (and thus created a false sense of loyal users) since’s service is listed first in TweetDeck’s list of many. I know I’ve used many times without thinking about it simply because it was the default.

    1. fredwilson

      The same firm that started is the only investor in tweetdeck

  51. James C. Roberts IIi

    Code length would only be important as a defense against copying and it would be folly, anyway as an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters . . .. You get the point.Engaging the user (members of the “market”) is the key . Here is my concern: Just how many people know what URL shortening is (other than a digital baking ingredient–OK, OK, bad joke)? It is not intuitive. Adoption may be a process limited to the technorati.

    1. fredwilson

      But its baked into twitter which is slowly but surely going mainstream

  52. Winston

    I don’t think of it in terms of lines of code but TinyURL has always been one person’s side project, and while the extra features of are really cool, I’m not sure why they add so much overhead to what it takes to run TinyURL.

  53. Matthew Mamet

    The “that’s only 10 lines of code” line has gotten so tired, that at PermissionTV we use it as the title of our developer screencasts. Our version is “5 lines of code (and a button).”

  54. Prokofy

    I continue to be happy with because it is one of the few services that doesn’t stay annoying in your view for being a sharing device, but only will come up on the sidebar when you actually do something with it. It also keeps a record of how many people are clicking on your link, which is useful. And you can twitter right directly from its window after it shorts the URL.I’d like to see these URL shorteners put up a daily list of URLs most shortened from which sources, like the NYT has “most emailed”.

  55. Vivek Krishna

    The point though is that , on sites like delicious and twitter there are network effects. Even if the implementation is easy ,the actual value lies in the user base and not the code because the value of the product is directly proportional to the user base. On a site like which provides a simple url shortening service, how can a big user base be important?