Posts from Stack Overflow

Mobile & Conversations

One of the great things about the web is the ability for people located all around the world to be having a public conversation in real time in a single place. We see that in action here at AVC with the Disqus comment system. But it also exists on Twitter, Quora, Stack Overflow, Reddit, Hacker News, and a host of other places on the web. This kind of open public discourse is quite important and leads to greater understanding and ideally a progressive society that moves forward as new ideas and new ways of thinking propagate.

As the web is increasingly moving to mobile, there are opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is simple. Folks don’t need to be in front of a computer to be able to participate in a real-time discussion. The challenges are harder. Who here has tried to comment on AVC from a mobile phone or tablet? It’s not as easy. And what would a mobile app look like for commenting?

Those who solve these challenges will be the leaders in real-time discussions in the coming years. Because taking our conversations with us in our pockets will be critical.

I say all of this because of an experience I had yesterday. I had to take my son to take a test yesterday afternoon. As I left our home, I saw a tweet from Dave McClure responding to my post yesterday:

I responded to his tweet and then took my son to his test. A half hour later, after I dropped off my son, I checked Twitter and there was a lively discussion brewing. I responded to a few tweets and started driving home.

Every twenty blocks or so I would pull over, check twitter, reply to a few more tweets, and then start driving again. By the time I got home a half hour later, there was a full blown Twitter discussion.

Mark Ury did us all a favor and Storified the discussion for posterity. Mark Suster also contributed a curated version of the discussion on his blog.

What’s the takeaway from this story, other than investors get pretty emotional about things like convertible notes, priced equity, discounts, and signaling?

Mine is that I could have never participated in that discussion in real time had it not been for the Twitter client on my Android phone. But it was simple, in some ways simpler than doing it on the web, in Twitter’s mobile client.

So it’s high time for all those companies out there that are in the business of hosting and facilitating live real-time public conversations to do what Twitter has done and make your products work well in mobile. If you don’t, others will.


The Management Team - Guest Post From Joel Spolsky

Today's guest blogger needs no introduction. Joel Spolsky one of the best bloggers out there. He also runs one of our portfolio companies, Stack. And his approach to management is unorthodox at times but amazingly effective. I asked him to tell us a little about how he does it. I think you'll enjoy this post, it's great advice on many levels, and its is also full of chuckles. I told you he's a great blogger.


Very few company founders start out with management experience, so they tend to make it up as they go along. Sometimes they try to reinvent management from first principles. More often than not, they manage their startups the way that they’ve seen management work on TV and in movies. I’ll bet more entrepreneurs model their behavior on Captain Picard from Star Trek than any nonfiction human.

Most TV management is of the “command and control” variety. The CEO makes a decision, and tells his lieutenants. They convey this important decision to the teams, who execute on the CEO’s decision. It’s top-down management. All authority and power and decisions flow from the top. How could it work any other way?

This system probably works very well when you are trying to organize a team of manual laborers with interchangeable skills to sweep up the ticker tape in the street after the Giants parade BECAUSE THE GIANTS WON THE SUPER BOWL IF YOU DID NOT NOTICE.

Command and Control probably worked great in the toothpaste factory where Charlie Bucket’s father screwed the little caps on tubes.

This system is also pretty obvious, so it’s what 90% of startup founders try first.

Seductively, it even works OK for a three person company.

This is dangerous because you don’t notice that it’s not going to scale. And when the company grows from 3 to 30, top-down management doesn’t work, because it doesn’t take advantage of everyone’s brains in the organization.

Turns out, it’s positively de-motivating to work for a company where your job is just to shut up and take orders. In tech startup land, we all understand instinctively that we have to hire super smart people, but we forget that we then have to organize the workforce so that those people can use their brains 24/7.

Thus, the upside-down pyramid. Stop thinking of the management team at the top of the organization. Start thinking of the software developers, the designers, the product managers, and the front line sales people as the top of the organization.

Joel mgmt

The “management team” isn’t the “decision making” team. It’s a support function. You may want to call them administration instead of management, which will keep them from getting too big for their britches.

Administrators aren’t supposed to make the hard decisions. They don’t know enough. All those super genius computer scientists that you had to recruit from MIT at great expense are supposed to make the hard decisions. That’s why you’re paying them. Administrators exist to move the furniture around so that the people at the top of the tree can make the hard decisions.

When two engineers get into an argument about whether to use one big Flash SSD drive or several small SSD drives, do you really think the CEO is going to know better than the two line engineers, who have just spent three days arguing and researching and testing?

Think about how a university department organizes itself. There are professors at various ranks, who pretty much just do whatever the heck they want. Then there’s a department chairperson who, more often than not, got suckered into the role. The chairperson of the department might call meetings and adjudicate who teaches what class, but she certainly doesn’t tell the other professors what research to do, or when to hold office hours, or what to write or think.

That’s the way it has to work in a knowledge organization. You don’t build a startup with one big gigantic brain on the top, and a bunch of lesser brains obeying orders down below. You try to get everyone to have a gigantic brain in their area, and you provide a minimum amount of administrative support to keep them humming along.

This is my view of management as administration—as a service corps that helps the talented individuals that build and sell products do their jobs better. Attempting to see management as the ultimate decision makers demotivates the smart people in the organization who, without the authority to do what they know is right, will grow frustrated and leave. And if this happens, you won’t notice it, but you’ll be left with a bunch of yes-men, who don’t particularly care (or know) how things should work, and the company will only have one brain – the CEO’s. See what I mean about “it doesn’t scale?”

And yes, you’re right, Steve Jobs didn’t manage this way. He was a dictatorial, autocratic asshole who ruled by fiat and fear. Maybe he made great products this way. But you? You are not Steve Jobs. You are not better at design than everyone in your company. You are not better at programming than every engineer in your company. You are not better at sales than every salesperson in the company.

It is not, as it turns out, necessary to be a micromanaging psychopath with narcissistic personality disorder (or even to pretend to be one) if you just hire smart people and give them real authority. The saddest thing about the Steve Jobs hagiography is all the young “incubator twerps” strutting around Mountain View deliberately cultivating their worst personality traits because they imagine that’s what made Steve Jobs a design genius. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, young twerp. Maybe try wearing a black turtleneck too.

For every Steve Jobs, there are a thousand leaders who learned to hire smart people and let them build great things in a nurturing environment of empowerment and it was AWESOME. That doesn’t mean lowering your standards. It doesn’t mean letting people do bad work. It means hiring smart people who get things done—and then getting the hell out of the way.

#MBA Mondays

Skiing and Startups

I woke up this morning to this awesome blog post by Jeff Atwood of our portfolio company StackOverflow. Jeff says that this scene from Better Off Dead fully explains how they run the company.

Go read the post. It's a good one.

It reminds me of a conversation my partner Brad and I had when we were raising our first USV fund in 2003. We likened the VC business to skiing a mountain for the first time. You get to the top of the mountain and start heading down the cat track looking at one black diamond after another. You don't know the runs and can't see past the first steep. But eventually you pick a run and go for it. You really don't know what you are in for, but you just have to take the run as it comes to you. And when you finish, hopefully still standing, the feeling is awesome.

So I am pleased to see that entrpreneurs, particulary entrpreneurs we are skiing the same run with, see the world the same way we do. Nice post Jeff. I loved it.

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#VC & Technology

Stack Does Gaming

Forums have been around for as long as I have been on the Internet. I've always found forums useful for finding out "how to" information. But its always been a hit or miss experience. And I've always used search (google mostly) to find the forum post with the info I need.

Our portfolio company Stack Overflow is attempting to change that. As they have done with programming tips and techniques at, they are bring social networking and game mechanics and a number of other important changes to the forum model to create vertical communities that allow people to solve each other's problems for each other.

One vertical that has literally hundreds of forums on the Internet is gaming. I'm not that much of a gamer but I watch my son. When he needs a cheat code or wants to find out how to conquer something in a game, he goes to Google and does a search, finds a forum, and finds his answer. There is a huge amount of traffic to gaming forums on the Internet for exactly this reason.

So Stack has launched to bring the magic that exists on StackOverflow to the gaming vertical. I'm optimistic that gaming will turn out to be a big vertical for Stack. Gamers love to earn points, badges, and status. You don't have to do anything more than spend a week with my son watching him accumulate foursquare points in europe to see what points do to a gamer. And now gamers will be able to earn status and reputation by sharing the knowledge they have with each other.

If you are a gamer, check out and let me know what you think. It is early, the service just launched in beta this week. So there won't be a lot of content up right now. But the mechanics are in place and you can get a feel for it.

#VC & Technology


StackOverflow announced yesterday that our firm Union Square Ventures led a $6mm round of financing in their company yesterday. My partner Brad is joining Stack's board and he will post about this investment on sometime this week. 

However, given Kid Mercury's persistent advocacy of niche communities here at AVC, I thought I'd make a couple remarks.

Stack makes StackExchange, a hosted software solution for creating niche communities. It is the software that powers the super popular StackOverflow community for programmers and also communities like ServerFault (for sys admins), SuperUser (for tech enthusiasts), MathOverflow (for math geeks), and many more.

These communities are all about helping each other out. You want to know the magnitude of graham's number? Well then head over to MathOverflow and ask the question and get some help. You want to know about LVM Mirroring vs Raid 1? Then head over to ServerFault and ask the question and get some help.

We think this is a powerful new take on the broadly popular Q&A model on the web. You can go to Yahoo! Answers, Mahalo, or Quora and ask any question. But our bet is vertical communities will make better Q&A sites in the long run as people aggregate around what they know and what they need to know.

So if you have a niche community that is vibrant and in need of a Q&A solution, then look for StackExchange 2.0 which is coming soon. 

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#VC & Technology