Just Try It Out

When somebody tells me about a new musical act, I always just go listen to them. No point in reading about something when you can experience it.

Same with a new web service. This morning I read about DailyBooth getting funding from Sequoia, Betaworks, and an excellent group of angel investors. I'd heard about DailyBooth before. It was a Y Combinator company this past summer and some of my colleagues at Union Square Ventures had seen their pitch at demo day. My partner Albert had mentioned it to me as a company that was relevant to many of our portfolio companies.

So, I decided I needed to wrap my head around what DailyBooth is doing. And the only way I know how to do that is to use the service. Here is my DailyBooth timeline. You'll be familiar with most of those images if you follow me on Tumblr.

It took me all of fifteen minutes to set up an account, follow a few people (including Gary Vee), and post a few photos myself. I can't say that I am an expert in what they are up to, but I sure have a good feel for the service, what it is all about, and why it works. And I can't get that from reading a blog post. I have to actually use it.

That is why our firm rarely invests in a company pre-launch. We've done it a few times with successful serial entrepreneurs we know very well. But it is not a comfortable thing for us to do and we won't do it with a team we don't know well. We need to touch and feel a service to get our heads around it, understand who uses it, why they use it, what the value proposition is, and what the potential is.

I get emails all the time that are ten paragraphs or more, and include a twenty page attachment. I do my best to read them and give a good response to them. But honestly, a one paragraph email explaining who you are, why you are writing, and a link to you web service is a whole lot better. If I am going to spend fifteen minutes on your business, I'd much rather it be fifteen minutes using your product than reading about it.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Lance

    @fredilson on why you should create a product instead of writing a business plan.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, that would have been a good headline

  2. kidmercury

    can you explain what you like about dailybooth or why you think it works? the lifestreaming element?

    1. fredwilson

      did i say I like it?i’ll have to go back and check, because i’m not sure i said thatit works because it is like facebook photos on steroids

      1. kidmercury

        oh ok i initially interpreted “why it works” as meaning that you liked it, now i understand though

        1. markslater

          so DID you like it!

          1. kidmercury

            no, but i understand why it works šŸ™‚

          2. falicon

            I did the same thing as Fred when I saw the news about them getting funding…and I personally think the service falls heavily into the “interesting but not really sticky” category for me…but there def. is a niche for it (look how popular flickr is, and this is sort of like flickr + twitter)…I think it could be huge with the teen crowd, but not sure how you monetize them šŸ˜‰

          3. Mark Essel

            Kevin I’d be curious to hear your take on the direction of social media driven search and advertising. Do you think there’s room to leverage bleeding edge tools to make our web experience more personalized?I’m interested because a side project has recently survived long enough to become a blog/site widget and want to I need to gather the right metrics to aid design decisions moving forward. The idea is user owns this information, and can tweak, export, or delete it as they see fit. Plus sometimes I don’t want to see ads (no matter how well targeted), so an opt in user choice could work.My first design measure is, do geeky/tech folks like it?

          4. falicon

            email me directly at [email protected] if you want to chat about it in more detail…but the short answer is that I’m for anything that can make the web experience more personalized…the trick is in making it relevant to each user (I think it’s VERY hard to make a widget relevant)…and at the same time making it so simple to use that people don’t even really notice they are using it (ie. passive acceptance/participation with real, tangible benefits)…As an aside, I actually just posted an idea on my blog yesterday related to a system much like adwords + disqus -> http://blog.botfu.com/index

          5. Mark Essel

            Cool will check it out, I think we share some ideas about the direction of customization. Check here for more info:http://www.victusspiritus.com (blasted iPhone cut and paste:)

  3. Ryan Swagar

    Great Post. Do you think that the traditional business plan is dead?Would you agree that it’s more important for entrepreneurs to have a 2-3 page investor summary, 12 month financial projections and live working URL to obtain venture funding?

    1. fredwilson

      yes, that would be the perfect early stage package for a web service. 12month financial projections should be “this is who I want to hire and howmuch it will cost to run the business for 12 months once they are hired”

      1. sensidea

        Perfectly said! We’ve resisted talking to any investor that says ‘send me a business plan’. Rather bootstrap and deliver something that can be experienced…and at that point we’ll be knocking on your door with a one line email and a link :)Thanks,Jaafer

    2. awaldstein

      I like where you are going with this. Thinking about stuff is easy and business plans are a learned thinking exercise. Doing is hard and making something work often redefines the idea so both yourself and your investors can see what it is really about.

      1. AndreaF

        Some basic business plan may help you think through the issues you may face, costs and market considerations. Just putting it black on white helps.I am glad Fred thinks this way. I am struggling putting together more than 2-3 pages for my plan so I am spending all of the time building instead and on the projections.

        1. awaldstein

          No argument that writing it down, clarifies thinking. Getting something down that is shorter, more succinct to accompany something live is always harder…and more useful.

        2. reece

          Don’t try to put together more than 2-3 pages! Remember… “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exuper

  4. Dan Lewis

    How much time do you set aside (a day? week?) for such things?By the way, I think you (accidentally?) just shed a ton of light onto the VC process. Decks are great, but you’re much more likely to get funded if you prove concept by bootstrapping and building.

    1. fredwilson

      for reading emails or using new web services?i spend a lot of time on both

      1. Dan Lewis

        To clarify: How much time to do you set aside to use new web services?

        1. fredwilson

          at least an hour a day

          1. Dan Lewis

            Have you considered crowdsourcing *what* you review? You have apretty incredible community here, and at this point, you have anunderstanding of who they are as to allow you to filter out theself-interested who would descent upon the site.

          2. fredwilson

            i sort of do thati blog about the stuff i am looking at (without being specific about that)and i get a ton of feedback

  5. RedMaven

    Excellent post, I think too many times people get bogged down on theory and why they thinkit should work, instead of putting more time an effort into making it work.

  6. aweissman

    We were interested in Daily Booth because it fits our view and thesis of media and social distribution and fits squarely in our model.We invested because we used the product – and a whole bunch of us did – and we saw really unique use cases and patterns that never could have been explained in writing.

    1. fredwilson


    2. howardlindzon

      i am interested in hearing about the use cases.

      1. Mark Essel

        Same here Howard. I need to do more researchbut your time bankruptcy is contagious.

  7. Farhan Lalji

    what about b2b services, things like Tacoda, did you use the service before the investment?

    1. fredwilson

      TACODA no because we backed Dave Morgan as angels, he is the “serialentrepreneur we know well”but i do use this blog to try stuff like that out all the time

  8. Emeri Gent [Em]

    “Try it out” echoes for me Guy Kawasaki in “Art of the Start”, it equates Mihaly Cziksentimihyali with “Flow”, but I also keep in mind what Warren Buffett and Toyota do who demonstrate the paradox of being smartly conservative but yet moving swiftly forward with tremendous energy and momentum.With all of them it is about the experience but it is also mindful exploration. Personally I have never learned any software package via the manual and even with Ikea one has to fiddle with any form of DIY in order to connect all the pieces or forever be stuck gazing at cryptic instructions.To me exploring someone’s website for 15 minutes isn’t just a scrum or agile like experience, in a world chockerblock with attention distraction, the word loyalty is a hard earned value, but it is impossible if there is no personal traction or resonance, or at least the way all the people I have described above would either experience, explore or engage it.[Em]

  9. Satish Mummareddy

    Paul Buchheit nails the other side of this story (the guy who is trying to reach out to you) with is article “Communicating with Code” : http://paulbuchheit.blogspo

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, that’s a must read for everyone in this business

    2. Mark Essel

      Paul takes his time and methodically thinks through a space, then writes carefully about it. He’s a gifted author.

  10. bijan

    I remember when Jakob lodwick used to take a daily photo of himself and post to Tumblr. I took his lead and started doing it too. It was a lot of fun.There is also this meme on Tumblr where people take a photo of themselves on Wednesdays. All very social and fun too.

  11. Kevin

    I have one concern about Daily Booth — when I just clicked through and there were pictures of young Asian naked girls on the homepage (among many other perfectly ok pics) — was I looking at underage porn? Seriously. Obviously I didn’t mean to or intend to, and just as obviously there are implications for the company and in some cases the user. I think the site is cool, and I could care less what people post about themselves and I don’t care that I saw it … but.

    1. Berislav Lopac

      Kevin, do you work for DailyBooth? You just single-handedly created a ton of traffic for them…

      1. Kevin

        No, I don’t. But you make a good point.

    2. fredwilson

      I didn’t see that myself but I was wondering about it. You are going to get that on any photo site. Flickr had to deal with it. So has tumblr. Both have done a decent job of ‘cordoning off’ that part of the service.

      1. J.D. Falk

        it’s more evidence that if sites (particularly social sites) don’t consider abuse and illegal activity early on, they’ll have to retrofit protections in a panic later — often pissing off their existing non-abusive users in the process.

        1. JeremiahKane

          True, but there is a fine line where you can go crazy trying to deal with all the abuse and legal issues up-front and never get to the demo stage in the first place. I think you’re better off taking care of a few of the major issues up front and then just getting the site up there. It’s my personal rule of thumb that all start-ups are doing something illegal at some point anyway. If you’re really early stage you’re breaking the law somehow (licensing, zoning, HR, privacy, CPSIA etc.) and will need to go back and fix it when your business starts to take off.

  12. Berislav Lopac

    What about the products/services which are difficult to use/try casually? For example I am working on a service which a) has to be implemented by a partner Website and b) solves a very specific problem for its users (i.e. if you have that problem it’s worth a ton to you; if you don’t you just won’t look at it twice).

    1. RichardF

      interestingly so am I ! so I know the difficulties you are facing. Our site is actually built apart from the usual public pages but even if we gave access to a VC, whilst we can demonstrate functionality it is not fully working until the partner implements their side. Which is one of the reasons why we need funding because the sales cycle is longer trying to get partners on board.Actually Fred I suppose it is a little like Return Path trying to get Internet Providers and email technology providers on board.

    2. Dasher

      If your product need a partner website to be implemented, then you probably have a partner you implemented it with. You can show that to inverstors. If not, how do you know if you solve the users’ problem?

  13. Chris Pollara

    I totally agree with your assertion about taking all the filler out of your presentations. I got a laugh out of this post this morning as when I first got going my boss used to have me write a summary of my final email/presentation for a proposed project (IT services). He always would stress immediately displaying your fact based criteria and never adding in BS/filler. It is easier said then done and allows the client to quickly see any gaps. However, I’ve found over the the years people appreciate getting to the point and this begins to create a high level of trust.

  14. ADstruc

    Morning Fred,I totally understand your position on how you and Union Square Ventures approach pre-launch companies – it makes sense, especially today. For a company that is pre-launch with no serial entrepreneurs behind it but a GREAT product so far, how can we even get in the door to show somebody? We have bootstrapped it so far but with a little more funding we can build the team, add more features, and launch…As always, many thanks,John

  15. AndreaF

    Seems like twitter in pictures, with some useful basic info added on; or am I missing something?

  16. jamesblake33

    I’ll check it out and report.

  17. J.D. Falk

    A similar annoyance, even after launch: sites where the only way to find out what the product does before signing up is to watch a video.

    1. AndreaF

      With some exceptions, if you need to explain what your product does and it’s not clear from the home page you’ve failed from the start or you are a very long time ahead of the curve.

    2. fredwilson


  18. David Semeria

    I think I’ve mentioned here before that a VC’s job is not to fund innovation, it is to generate returns. These two objectives are not necessarily compatible.That said, the current obsession with lean start-ups, minimum viable products, online demos (etc) can lead, in my opinion, to innovations that are essentially incremental (evolutionary) in nature.Larger projects frequently require funding just to get to the demo stage, and therein lies the paradox: no demo, no funding. The upshot is that ‘big’ innovation mainly happens inside large corporations’ R+D departments. But these are frequently the incumbents – with the least incentive to disrupt the status quo.I have personal experience of this funding paradox, and can confirm it’s quite frustrating.

    1. kidmercury

      but i think the game is changing, which is what makes the web so revolutionary. the big innovations are going to start coming from consumers/micropreneurs/open source communities, in my opinion.

      1. David Semeria

        That’s my point, kid. Two guys bootstrapping might come up with some really cool stuff, but it won’t be the web equivalent of cold fusion.

    2. fredwilson

      I agree David. The kind of investment you yearn for is hard, too hard for me to do well

      1. David Semeria

        Sure, I emphasized this was not a failing on the part of VCs. I just see a gap in the funding market for explicitly commercial (ie. not pure research) projects which require more capital (and therefore risk) than most early stage investors are willing to assume.

        1. fredwilson

          This is an area where the sbic model (a little equity plus govt leverage) is a good solution

          1. David Semeria

            What a timely comment Fred. I had originally eschewed the notion of public funding for my explicitly commercial project – on the basis that it was, well, just a bit cheeky. After all, Google wasn’t funded this way.But only today I had a great conversation with a lovely lady in that hot-bed of tech innovation that is the Milan Chamber of Commerce. To my immense surprise, she understood immediately why a project could be ‘too big for seed and too early for VC’.Clearly, it’s still early days, but all I can say that if things do eventually work out, the Milan Chamber of Commerce will get a lot more than their money back from me.It’s definitely true: you do learn something new every day.

          2. fredwilson

            Wow. That is great news

  19. Mark Essel

    Uh oh, was my 3:30am description too long Fred ;)?Web tech leader feedback is much greater than cash to a prelaunch startup. If you don’t immediately get the value of something it probably means the founders are coming at it from the wrong angle.Anyone else feel like life is 50% developing and 50% gathering feedback. The good ole iterative design process.I admit to getting a little over excited when a project starts resembling something abstract I dreamed up a while back. I encourage folks here to give early feedback on a contextual ad plugin (I’ll link it to those interested).

    1. Dasher

      It probably needs an easier name?

  20. Kevin Smith

    Let’s say you have a software service that doesn’t lend itself to a quick trial through the distribution of a username/password. For example, I have a system that is for enterprises that allows C-level/S-level management to track business performance and see exactly where the problems are (and what’s being done to fix them). Unlike some of the social media apps, this type of system doesn’t really demo itself – it requires a little explanation and a walkthrough.So, for the above type of situation, how do you recommend one approaches a VC? I’d love to be able to send a link and have someone demo it themselves, but I don’t think that approach would give them a good sense of what the app does…Thanks!

    1. Mark Essel

      There’s gotta be something super simple that folks can grab onto immediately, at least that’s how my interest begins. Analogy and recognition then that interest feeds into digging deeper. That’s your products moment to shine, where you lock their attention in.Did I just describe pitching like fishing?Nevermind, I’m just a single example šŸ™‚

      1. kevinmsmith

        Thanks for the response. I’ve been struggling with exactly this – how do I take a fairly complex app – designed for businesses, not consumers – and distill it down down that the “aha” moment comes sooner rather than later. Ideally, it would demo itself, but so far that’s not the case. Users seem to like the app, but getting people to understand the value proposition initially can be a challenge.

        1. Mark Essel

          I believe I share a similar dilemma. I perceive great value in connecting our public shared web content to two-way search and relevant advertising. Had some luck bumping into a crack php coder who liked the idea yesterday and got a simple working alpha version of the software running overnight. The challenges in connecting what we talk about in social media (whether it’s our blogs, comments, or communities like twitter) are great but there are businesses digging into the semantic part of the problem (why not leverage what they have done, and more importantly what they will accomplish). Plus how do we convince potential users to opt into ads. The beginning is having enough trust in their judgement to let them decide when they are ready to opt in. Forcing dumb ads on browsers is a great way to alienate new potential repeat readers and contributors.

  21. OurielOhayon

    Funny, i started to use dailybooth yesterday for exactly the same reason as you after i saw the round announcement. i think it is very well done (except the outbound invitation system, i find really not well done) but i am not sure yet this is for me

    1. lawrence coburn

      They are early and likely getting bombed with traffic so they may have turned some stuff off, but some obvious things that aren’t there yet or not working: 1) sharing on other services / Twitter / FB integration is either broken or not built yet; 2) finding friends is not there yet; 3) no obvious way to toggle between everyone / my friends view; 4) outbound invitations is either poorly integrated or not there yet. Despite these product gaps, my guess is that they are seeing some astonishing engagement numbers to attract such blue chip investors so early.

  22. markhurst

    Well stated… yet another reason why the user experience is so central to any service’s success!

  23. techgolem

    I feel the same way — if I can’t play with a service, I can’t write about it. Reviews of closed betas always frustrate me. If you have a new service, open it up to feedback. Often like Twitter, you’re not going to be completely sure what how your service is going to be used until people start using it. Twitter is still finding out.

  24. liamdillinger

    DailyBooth is cool, but there is a new start-up called Flavors.me that is above and beyond anything I’ve seen in the social media space. Flavors.me allows you to create a customized and personal website using all your data from other popular services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, etc. I was lucky enough to get in on the private beta, and am counting down the days till the site launches so I can use their service for my personal home page. Check out the demo video: http://flavors.me/

  25. Chuck Teller

    Amen …. a great demo beats a static slide deck everyday. Whether it is sent via an email or as part of a meeting. Show me the product. What I do is prepare the slide deck for the prospect and send it after the meeting or just as a backup. The deck is the back up material … not the show. I have been doing it this way since the mid ’90’s when I had a analytic application company. Show me how your product solves my business (or personal) needs and we are 90% to a sale.

  26. jayfallon

    I like DailyBooth. In about twenty minutes I was able to create, upload my avatar (Gravatar anyone?) and I recreated a blog post that took me over an hour to do with Posterous. If I could post directly to Twitter/Fb/Others and import my f/f from Twitter, I’d be even happier. The mechanics are a little confusing but the end result was better that I expected. End result: yeah, I didn’t have to listen to some hype about what makes them different from Twitter and they gained a user’s user within minutes. A Fred Wilson endorsement helps, but I’ve done the same for other suggested apps and I wouldn’t bother using/recommending them after a quick use case.

  27. Julien

    I agree with the fact that a demo is always better than any pitch. However, it’s not always very easy. IĀ°’d be curious to know how an API only service (say, like GNIP) would demo it to you? Showing up demo of people using this API? How did 10Gen pitch you for example?

  28. CollegeHippo

    I am glad Fred you like actual service instead of revenue projections and 20 page business plan. One of my friends advised me to hire someone else to write business plan for my product which I think is not a sensible idea.I am completing the launch of my site and want tit to be ready in a state where it can speak for itself instead of a business plan. The home page should tell the story. It the user cannot understand your product or service from home page , then one cannot explain that to investors in one page.

  29. darwinw

    I just braced up some courage and send you an email to “try out” my web service at http://www.tripntale.com

  30. LIAD

    You said you got a good feel for the service, but didnt say if you liked it or not…Do you subscribe to the “only backing one horse in a race” theory which I’ve heard other VC’s talk a lot about or would/have you invested in companies which are similar/competing with existing ones in your portfolio?

  31. Lancelot_dL

    A question Fred: What happens when one builds a prototype-website to see how users interact with it?It is still a prototype, but then when people look at it they think of it as the finished product (expecting some small refinements). Say you have a brilliant new idea for an airplane. You build a model airplane and show it can fly, while to build the full plane you need money. People then look at the model airplane and think: that’s cute but it’s only for very short people. People can rarely see the vision from a prototype, they only imagine how it will look with some paint on it (and on the web, with millions of users). One needs to explain the vision of the airplane: what its unique way of flying would allow when it’s full size. Simply showing the model airplane without enough explanation can be more of an impediment than an aid. Given an example, there are so many ways to generalize it, and people only see the obvious ones.So if pitching to you or others, how does one show you the model airplane while avoiding the pitfall of people/you seeing the website as the full plane rather than the model airplane?

    1. Mark Essel

      Great question Lancelot. I think in the case you bring up, instead of a model airplane the “prototype” may need to be a simulation or demo of the final vision.

    2. fredwilson

      I would argue that twitter was a prototype that they decided to launch publicly and fix/scale along the wayThat approach almost killed them but worked in the endRails and other ‘agile’ languages are great for building working prototypes

      1. Lancelot_dL

        Twitter, it seems to me, was a prototype only in the sense of the back-end. The front-end meanwhile has remained relatively unaltered (feature-wise). Think of a website which requires scale before some of its key features can be enabled. When simply looking at the website people wouldn’t be able to guess the features which might be added, (or they would have done it themselves). Just as in the airplane prototype example, they might think it’s only for short people, not understanding the next steps. A possible example might be Amazon.Given such a situation, how then should one write that email to you, and make sure the website doesn’t confuse more than help in seeing the vision?

        1. fredwilson

          Start small, get funding, build it out later

  32. ShanaC

    While generally I would agree with you, and in general I agree with this, there are certain ideas, including ideas that you propose, that in order to make huge evolutionary leaps, it would be very hard to get beyond wireframing or some sort of similar business plan without cash backing.At some point, we’re going to have to face the music that there is only so much we can do via Social Networking. Certain points of it will work, certain points won’t. And facing that sort of music to get to the next stage of the internet, where it’s really much more about levering and understanding the network, will require much more investment in the wireframing before one goes into production. At a certain point, software will become the new hardware, and there will only be so much that both enterprise and consumers will stand for. And that means money for a well thought out plan, especially because those two areas are intersecting very quickly. Own the top of the ground if one goes to war, even though it is preferred to avoid it…(I’m sneaking around parts of the booklist. if you overthink the booklist, you will get worried. Especially Snowcrash, among other sections.)

  33. fredwilson

    I think your way is a great way to design software

  34. fredwilson

    I don’t know the answer but the engagement model is different than flickr or tumblr. It is more of a real time thing