↗ Popular now: Uber may be the greatest company of our generation • Rise of the full-stack marketerMarket first, code laterThe Goliath Syndrome

Uber may be the greatest company of our generation

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This weekend my wife and I had friends visiting from Merced, a small town in the Central Valley about two hours east of San Francisco. It was a perfect weekend that combined the best of everything the Bay Area has to offer— cloudless and spectacular 68° weather, a long hike off Skyline Boulevard down to Half Moon Bay and some amazing Greek food in Los Altos.

On Saturday night we decided to go out for drinks and a nice dinner in San Carlos and, naturally, my first thought was to fire up my Uber app and get the evening’s transportation dialed in (I’ve vowed when possible to never take a traditional cab again). “Have you guys heard of Uber?” I asked as I was making Moscow mules for our guests. “What’s Uber?” they replied. I immediately shifted into VC-pitch mode, explaining how Uber may be the coolest thing to come out of Silicon Valley in a decade and how it will transform how people and things are moved on-demand, with just the push of a button. They immediately got it.

As I hit the “set pick up location” button for our trip, we marveled at the simultaneous simplicity and intricacy of the app, watching in real-time as our driver, Fadi, made a left turn in his black Chevy Suburban off the 101 freeway and hopped on the 92 towards our house. Then I said “you guys realize this is just the beginning for Uber, right?” I described the company’s crazy growth trajectory from having just one driver in San Francisco back in 2009 to now processing tens of thousands of rides per week in cities all over the United States and in countries all over the world, while growing at roughly 20 percent month-over-month. This statement sparked an entire conversation about all the pain points Uber could solve and how great it is that we get to “live in the future”.

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We talked about a future where unreliable public transportation that gets shut down by strikes is disrupted by a more cost effective and human alternative (Uber’s fare splitting feature actually makes it cheaper to take Uber X than BART in many cases). We talked about a future where physical goods can be transported from point A to point B with just a few taps, as a network of drivers (or drones) bid in real-time to deliver your package in a matter of hours, making next-day delivery outmoded. We talked about a future where self-driving cars take the wheel, moving people and things with increased safety and efficiency, and your Uber driver transforms into an Uber concierge, focused on the critical human aspects of these transportation transactions. This was a future we all wanted to live in.

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Unbundling Silicon Valley

And spawning Valleys all over the world

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Last week, a late-night Twitter conversation with Marc Andreesen and Dave McClure got me thinking about the future of Silicon Valley in a different way.

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The perennial “future-of-the-Valley” debate isn’t a new one. Nor is it surprising that a community preoccupied with building the future is curious about how the entrepreneurial world map will be redrawn in years to come. Will the Bay Area remain the mecca of modern tech entrepreneurship? Or will replica Silicon Valleys sprout up in cities like Singapore, Moscow and Tel Aviv that eventually reach parity? In short, will the future of the Valley be a story of continued consolidation or one of global diffusion?

I’ve always been in the camp that’s long on Silicon Valley—not just as a physical space for entrepreneurs but a mental one that values putting big dents in the universe. The ecosystem here is both complex and self-reinforcing, and each component—the Stanfords, Googles, Wilson Sonsinis, weather and natural beauty—would individually be so difficult to replicate that copying the entire package would be nearly impossible, akin to building a man-made Mount Everest in the desert and convincing the best climbers in the world to abandon the original and come scale Ever-esque.

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I still believe this about the Valley. But Marc’s 140-character stream of thoughts has me thinking the entire premise of the debate may be wrong—and far too binary for what the future might actually look like. The Silicon-Valley-versus-the-world argument smacks of the mercantilist rhetoric of the 16th century that viewed global wealth as a zero-sum game—that Silicon Valley’s loss would be some other ecosystem’s gain and visa versa. Instead, Silicon Valley’s biggest export may be a model and culture of entrepreneurship routed across the globe, pollinating pockets of specialization that emerge and contribute new value to a much larger ecosystem. These geographic outposts would apply the Valley’s startup model to new domains where they are uniquely positioned to build a longterm, sustainable comparative advantage.

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Market first, code later

How the full-stack marketer breaks the rules to get started

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Most startup projects fail because they never even get off the ground. Ideas stay in the brainstorming phase on the back of napkins and never make it to the actually-talking-to-prospective-customers phase, which is the critical moment when a startup takes its first breaths of life.

There are usually a litany of excuses that go along with the premature death of a startup idea: I don’t have a technical cofounder so how will I build my product? How will I have time to work on this with work or school? What if someone just steals my idea? Nonsense.

Let’s get a few things straight.

• You don’t need a technical cofounder to start talking to prospective customers about your idea. In fact, what good is someone who talks to computers and writes code all day going to be in talking to people.Talking to people is your job; get used to it.

• There is never a “good time” to start working on your startup. You can wait for things to ease up at work or to be done with school and before you know it you’re married with kids, sitting in a cubicle talking to your coworkers about how you once had this great idea. Lame.

• No one cares about your idea. Literally no one, except maybe you, cares about your idea.Your belief that someone is going to steal your idea is an illusion based upon the bias of your own perspective. Besides, ideas are completely worthless. Execution is what matters.

Running a startup is kinda like climbing without a rope.

Since your first ideas will probably suck anyway, use them as a vehicle for learning how to execute. Climbing the steep learning curve of modern, digital entrepreneurship is what’s going to turn you into a full-stack marketer that’s a force to be reckoned with. The further you climb, the more skills you acquire for dealing with challenging situations and traversing uncharted territory. And the failure you’ll encounter along the way will innoculate you against the idea that failure signals finality; failure is just table stakes for getting into the game.

The only way to learn to climb is to start. There is no other way.

So cut the rope.

The full-stack marketer doesn’t wait for anyone’s permission to get started. There isn’t time for that. So he breaks certain rules to put himself into a position where his startup can take shape and grow. Here are four rules you should get comfortable with breaking if you want to convert your ideas into realities.

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(Source: kyletibbitts.net)

Pivots, perseverance & insights

How entrepreneurs “drill” their way to success

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The most precious asset any entrepreneur has is time.

Because time is constantly slipping away, one of the most basic entrepreneurial dilemmas is knowing when to pivot and when to persevere. When to take flight and when to keep fighting.

Like an oil prospector in search of his first strike, an entrepreneur traverses the dangerous terrain of rapidly shifting markets to find elusive black gold. You never know whether you’re meters away from hitting the lucrative depths of product-market fit or whether you should pack up your rig and find another spot to set up camp.

Great companies, however, aren’t built on pivots or perseverance, but on insights. Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to build Facebook wasn’t based on a conscious decision to pivot or persevere but instead on a core insight into a human behavior that could be ported to the Internet. Similarly, an oil prospector chooses when to keep drilling and when to give up based upon the insights and clues he collects along the way: that rock formation looks suspect, these deposits look promising, that river seems to have moved.

For entrepeneurs, there is more than one way to identify a promising spot to drill so you can start sifting through the mud to unearth these gems of insightfulness. And no one heuristic is necessarily better than another in the way that no one philosophical theory is demonstrably better than another—because they’re just models of thinking.

One way to start drilling is to identify an acute and widespread pain point, one that you’ve experienced personally or have seen others struggle with, and try to solve it. Think of Instagram making photos on your phone not look like shit. Another is to look for a large, validated market and find a better way to serve it. Think of how Amazon plans to restructure the logistics industry with theirdelivery drones. Yet another is to target a large incumbent business and use new technology to dislodge their hold on the market. Think of how Netflix murdered Blockbuster (RIP).

Even when you use one of these frameworks as a starting point, it remains incredibly hard to build something people actually want. The soul-crushing aspect of entrepreneurship is that you may never find black gold at all. And since our time is finite, you can only place a finite number of bets. The good news is that as you pivot and persevere in your entrepreneurial drilling, the insights you collect along the way go into an insight bank you can draw from to make smarter subsequent bets, increasing your odds of eventually uncovering something worthwhile.

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The Age of Context

Turning real-world locations into personal sensors

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When I was a kid, I remember reading books that depicted the future. Everything was taken care of for you by technology and no one had to work very hard because robots subsidized human productivity.

That second part turned out to be total bullshit, but in the waning months of 2013 it’s starting to feel like we do in fact live in the future. What I mean is that technology is starting to do more and more of the heavy lifting for us, which is ironic given that modern-day humans work more hours for less pay than their 20th century predecessors.

But we can’t really complain. Gold miners in the 1840s couldn’t push a button on their smart phones and have a horse drawn carriage pull up minutes later. Italian merchants in Renaissance markets couldn’t exchange gold bullion instantly with tiny plastic squares. File storage for Alexander the Great meant building a 100,000 square foot stone library in Alexandria to house hundreds of thousands of scrolls.

We work like dogs but live better than the Kings of England or Pharoahs of Egypt ever could have imagined.

At the push of the button we can get almost anything we want.

And things are just getting started. Over the next few years, I predict we will finally unlock the Minority Report-style world we were promised by Hollywood and science fiction. In this new world, you won’t even have to push a button to get what you want. You won’t even have to take out your phone. Our powerful pocket computers (and hopefully less-douchey looking Google Glasses) will be able to predict what you will want purely based upon context.

Real world sensors will be deeply embedded in everything around us, giving us information where and when it matters most. And we will be able to tap into this network throughout the day as our smart phones communicate—on our behalf—with the nodes and other devices within it. As we interact with these sensors and push updates to them, our feedback will percolate throughout the entire network, like ripples in a vast digital pond.

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(Source: kyletibbitts.net)

The Goliath Syndrome

Why big companies get slayed by startups

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It’s a paradoxical yet persistant truth in Silicon Valley that innovation is almost exclusively a biproduct of small, scrappy startups, not large public corporations.

It may seem counterintuitive that disruption and headcount would have an opposite relationship. You would think that amassing an army of thousands of employees would give you more leverage in this digital Game of Thrones, but business parks across North America are strewn with the carcasses of megacorporations that have been killed off or irrevocably maimed because they thought the clock would never run out on them (Kodak, Blockbuster, AOL, Motorola, RIM, Sun, Sony).

There are some obvious exceptions (Apple), but as a general rule bureaucratic inertia at large companies gets channeled into a death grip on the status quo, not big bets for the future.

Like the power law of distribution, innovation in the technology space follows a sort of inverted 80-20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) where the top 20 percent of startups like Square, Uber and Dropbox generate 80 percent of the innovation and the largest 20 percent of corporations like Samsung, Yahoo and HP mount 80 percent of the obstruction to that innovation through activities masquerading as progress, like patent lawsuits, government lobbying and acqui-hiring youthful competitors.

These are textbook symptoms of The Goliath Syndrome—when big companies become blind to their own vulnerability because they view their size as an asset instead of what is truly is: a liability.

But why is this the case? Why can’t more big companies defy bureaucratic gravity and institutionalize the process of innovation the way startups are naturally able to do? Apple practically stands alone as an exception to this rule—a huge company that behaves like a paranoid startup, pivoting from personal computers to MP3 players to phones to tablets as if they were a few guys in a garage about to run out of money, cannibalizing their own profits in the process.

It doesn’t make logical sense. You have companies with billions on their balance sheet that can’t innovate worth shit while teams with a dozen hackers, designers and engineers and almost zero money are able to turn entire industries on their head. The list is long: Napster → music industry, Uber → taxi industry, Square → payments industry, Dropbox → file storage industry, Makerbot → 3D printing industry, Kickstarter → funding industry, Netflix → movie rental industry, Tesla → auto industry etc. And this list could go on for the rest of the post. You also have “startups” in the financial sector like 500Startups and AngelList that are dismantling the traditional venture capital and fundraising industries, riding an historic tidal wave that is shifting power away from investors towards entrepreneurs.

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(Source: kyletibbitts.net)

Rise of the full-stack marketer

A shifting consensus around what a “seller” founder looks like

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It is often said that there is an engineering bias in Silicon Valley, but in reality, it’s a bias towards doers over talkers, of execution over ideas.

This is why you’ll frequently here the refrain that MBAs make bad startup founders, because MBAs are oriented towards administration and management (talking) over designing, programming and growth hacking (doing).

That doesn’t, however, mean that engineers always make the best startup founders either. While it’s next to impossible to imagine a great founding team that doesn’t have at least one engineer, increasingly, it’s becoming just as hard to imagine a great founding team that is comprised solely of engineers.

You can visualize the requisite skill set for a founding team as a pendulum that swings over time depending on the macro-circumstances. Twenty years ago, the technical costs of building a product were so enormous, that it made sense to stack your team with engineers and figure out your business later after you’d raised your $20 million A round; to load up on business guys prematurely would have been putting the cart before the horse. When Silicon Valley got overheated in the late 90s, VCs were writing checks for business plans with no product, so all the business guys wanted to start companies too—and we all know how that worked out.

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Over the last decade however, the cost of building a product has asymptotically drifted towards zero. Your main cost is time and the certainty that comes with a steady paycheck. With the ascendancy of the full-stack developer, you can switch between web, mobile and native without necessarily having to switch people. With technical costs going down, one of the biggest challenges a modern-day founding team will face isn’t getting the product built—although that is and always will be hard—it’s getting distribution once you’ve built a minimum viable product, nailing the killer user experience and putting your product into the hands of real people quickly.

Maybe this explains why the greatest founding teams of all time have almost always included a builder and a seller.

Think Jobs and Wozniak, Allen and Gates, Ellison and Lane, Hewlett and Packard, Larry and Sergei, Yang and Filo, Omidyar and Skoll. -@Naval

Naval Ravikant’s post from four years ago remains the single most clear articulation of why the best founding teams require a builder and a seller, and why two founders is the magic number. But if two is the magic number (and I think it is), then what do these two ideal founders look like in 2013? What attributes do Founder A and Founder B have that make their odds of success higher than average?

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In entrepreneurship, impatience is a virtue

Impatience turns wantrepreneurs into hackers, designers and programmers that focus on execution instead of just ideas

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It is often said that patience is a virtue. And sometimes it is.

The best time for patience is when you don’t have control. If you’re waiting in line at the DMV to renew your license or stuck in rush-hour traffic on the 101, no amount of impatience is going to change things for the better. In these cases, impatience is counterproductive because the stress-induced cortisol shooting through your veins will inevitably grind you down and make it harder to fight the battles that actually matter. It’s better to keep your powder dry.

In the world of entrepreneurship and startups, these same rules don’t apply. When you’re building a startup, there are a lot of things you don’t have control over: timing, the market, your competitors, the macro-economy. These forces are so powerful that they can overwhelm great products and great teams like a giant wave that capsizes a tiny boat. Building a company (at the risk of mixing too many metaphors) is like a game of three-dimensional chess that never really ends - and you’re constantly dancing on the edge of glory and failure. The only thing you have control over is yourself, and in this persistant battle to create something from nothing, impatience is your friend.

Typically you will hear people talk about “drive” as an essential ingredient to building great products and great companies. But in an entrepreneurial context, drive is really just the ability to convert impatience into action. The first time I was ever exposed to “code” was about ten years ago when I was editing my MySpace profile with one of those glittery HTML generators. I became so impatient with how shitty my profile looked that I started manipulating the code directly to get the result I wanted and Googling things like “How to link an image” so I could write simple things like <a href=”image.jpg”>link</a>. A few years later I started my first little company, a T-shirt business that made politically-oriented t-shirts and bumper stickers. I had poll-tested my first batch of t-shirt sketches with my fellow high-schoolers and when it came time to actually make the designs I didn’t want to hire a designer because I was too impatient, so I played around in Photoshop for hours until I felt happy enough to take the files to the printer.

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(Source: kyletibbitts.net)

Don’t tread on me

The ascendancy of libertarianism in Silicon Valley

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The average American looks to the West and assumes that Northern California is populated by roving packs of Prius-driving, weed-farming, granola-eating, deodorant-despising, left-wing Marxists.

For certain pockets of the Bay Area—Berkeley comes to mind—this is probably a fairly accurate description. But when it comes to Silicon Valley and the tech community more broadly, the political sentiment here is not so easily put into a left-right, Republican-Democrat box.

In fact, over the last few years, I’ve seen something much different happening here—a rising tide of libertarianism in a community that is increasingly taking on the mantle of ethical capitalism, free-markets, civil liberties, limited government and personal responsibility.

Silicon Valley’s political reawakening and realignment away from the two major parties towards a philosophy of economic liberty and social tolerance has come not a moment too soon, at a time when crony capitalism is at an all time high (Solyndra), faith in government is at an all time low (11% Congressional approval rating), the economy is in a sluggish state of perpetual malaise (2% GDP growth) and civil liberties are being eliminated at the stroke of politicians’ pens (NSA Prism).

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(Source: kyletibbitts.me)

Our new office decorations at Shutterfly
  • iPhone 4
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Exposure: 1/24th
  • Focal length: 3mm

Our new office decorations at Shutterfly

In entrepreneurship, impatience is a virtue

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Impatience turns wantrepreneurs into hackers, designers and programmers that focus on execution instead of just ideas

It is often said that patience is a virtue. And sometimes it is.

The best time for patience is when you don’t have control. If you’re waiting in line at the DMV to renew your license or stuck in rush-hour traffic on the 101, no amount of impatience is going to change things for the better. In these cases, impatience is counterproductive because the stress-induced cortisol shooting through your veins will inevitably grind you down and make it harder to fight the battles that actually matter. It’s better to keep your powder dry.

In the world of entrepreneurship and startups, these same rules don’t apply. When you’re building a startup, there are a lot of things you don’t have control over: timing, the market, your competitors, the macro-economy. These forces are so powerful that they can overwhelm great products and great teams like a giant wave that capsizes a tiny boat. At the risk of mixing too many metaphors, building a company is like a game of three-dimensional chess that never really ends - and you’re constantly dancing on the edge of glory and failure. The only thing you have control over is yourself, and in this persistant battle to create something from nothing, impatience is your friend.

Typically you will hear people talk about “drive” as an essential ingredient to building great products and great companies. But in an entrepreneurial context, drive is really just the ability to convert impatience into action. The first time I was ever exposed to “code” was about ten years ago when I was editing my MySpace profile with one of those glittery HTML generators. I became so impatient with how shitty my profile looked that I started manipulating the code directly to get the result I wanted and Googling things like “How to make an image tag” so I could write simple things like <a href=”image.jpg”>link</a>. A few years later I started my first little company, a T-shirt business that made politically-oriented (read: right wing) t-shirts and bumper stickers. I had poll-tested my first batch of t-shirt sketches with my fellow high-schoolers and when it came time to actually make the designs I didn’t want to hire a designer because I knew I would becomeimpatient, so I played around in Photoshop for hours until I felt happy enough to take the files to the printer.

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My first business - rightwingclothing.com

The difference between an entrepreneur and a wantrepreneur is that entrepreneurs use impatience as a vehicle for making progress; it’s the fuel in the tank that keeps the trip going. The roadblocks and hurdles that stop nontrepreneurs in their tracks just become the next milestone in the journey. Need to build a proto-type but aren’t very good at programming? Wireframes and photoshop are your friend and can get potential users closer to a real product than a sixty-page business plan ever will. Don’t have a “technical cofounder”? That sucks. There are so many free resources out there to start learning to code (like Stanford’s video lectures on Objective-C and Xcode) that the barriers to entry are practically non-existent.

For wantrepreneurs, impatience is usually greeted with a range of excuses that masquerade as progress (business plans, schwag, going to conferences) all of which obfuscate and abstract from the core task had hand - learning how to build a great product. When you are pouring your energy into things that are on the periphery of what actually matters, progress becomes nothing more than an illusion. This observation comes from experience because I’ve been on the wantrepreneur side of the ledger many times before. Instead of digging deep and learning to program, I’ve procrastinated and tried to fill the void with building pitch decks in Powerpoint that just fall flat. It was just a little over a year ago I finally took the plunge and started learning to build iOS apps in Xcode and I still have so much to learn. The internal struggle between being a wantrepreneur and entrepreneur isn’t a battle that ends, it’s a battle that I fight myself on an almost daily basis.

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Finally learning to program in Xcode

Impatience is a virtue because when it can be converted into action. The biproduct of this type of action, of knocking down obstacles over and over again, creates a specific kind of momentum that is incredibly important for building companies. It’s not the false kind of confidence rooted in ideas and words but the kind of confidence you can only acquire through execution, anchored by the humility of having tried and failed over and over and over again. Even though I’ve designed and launched a handful of products, I still don’t consider myself a designer or an expert in user experience. Even though I’ve been programming here and there on the web and for iOS for several years, I am the furthest thing from a software engineer. Even though I’ve shipped products that have acquired thousands and thousands of users (Gunman got over 1M users), I’m no growth hacker either. I’m just an impatient son-of-a-bitch that learned how to design, program and growth hack products out of necessity, in the pursuit of trying to build something people want. If I do my job right, I’ll be able to find realdesigners and hackers to join the cause - but they better be impatient too.

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(Source: medium.com)

davemorin: Never before seen footage of Steve Jobs in 1994

(Source: davemorin)

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