Software & technology
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to recruit friends of mine to come work with me at my super early startup. In doing so I’ve had to educate a lot of my friends on what it’s like to be at a startup, and why you might want to join one. This blog post is a summary of all that advice. Oddly enough, I wrote a similar blog post my senior year of college while interning at Redfin. And since college I joined Cloudera before they were funded and left when the company closed its Series C, or third round of funding. The advice below mostly comes from my experiences at Redfin and Cloudera.
1) Responsibility, accountability, impact: at a startup it’s unavoidable to have lots of responsibility and accountability. There’s no doubt, too, that being at a startup will put you in a position to make a huge impact. If you do amazing work the entire company and all of its customers will benefit from it. And you’ll be loved for it. You’ll get notes from the CEO and other leaders complimenting you on how awesome your work is. On the flip side, if you make a big mistake, the whole company pays for it. But keep in mind that most startup cultures prefer agility and speed to cautiousness. It’s likely that your mistake won’t actually get you in trouble, as long as you were trying to do the right thing.
2) Risk: working at a startup is riskier. The startup likely isn’t profitable, and probably only has at most 12-18 months worth of money in the bank (this is called the startup’s runway). If the company does very well, the CEO will raise more money and extend the runway. You’ll still have a job and each round you’ll get a salary closer and closer to market rate (more about this later). If the startup doesn’t do well, you’ll be out of a job when the startup runs out of money. But you’ll be forewarned if the CEO is transparent — most of them are in earlier stages. A startup is risky because you’re building something from nothing. You’re doing something ridiculously hard because you believe in it and want nothing more than to see it succeed. You’re not failing even when all the odds are against you. You’re the underdog in many ways.
And by the way, if you’re a good engineer you’ll have zero issue finding another job. Zero. Every company in software, big and small, needs more good people. This trend won’t change for a long, long time, either.
Thomas Edison once said that “genius” is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In the world of technology startups, that 99% involves a heck of a lot of coding and wireframing. If you’ve got an idea for a startup, that’s great — but odds are that an idea is all you have. (Well, maybe you have passion and some savings, too.) But you’ll need more than that to bring your idea to life — you’ll need a developer who can transform your vision into an elegant app or website.
If you’re just foraying into the land of entrepreneurship, you may wonder where the to even start looking for such a person. And even if you do find a developer, how will you know the extent of his talent and whether he’s a good fit for you?
Washington: Two young Indian-American entrepreneurs are attempting to make the traditional paper resume a thing of the past by connecting the job seeker and the employer through video resumes.
The Palo Alto Mayor, Yiaway Yeh, and several other top corporate leaders of the city which is known as the heart of the Silicon Valley – lined up last Thursday in its downtown to inaugurate the new office of GetHired.Com, which currently has just 14 employees.
Less than three weeks ago, on January 30, the duo Suki Shah and Naresh Patel announced having raised USD1.75 million in an oversubscribed round of seed funding for their GetHired. Com; which is said to be the most comprehensive video-based social recruiting platform and job board.
Shah argues that GetHired.com is the first job board to embed video capabilities directly into its social recruiting platform so that job seekers can record and submit personal, dynamic responses to an employer’s most pressing pre-screening questions at the start of the hiring process.
The path to Juber Mujawar’s American dream is through an Omaha startup.
Mujawar is a 27-year-old master’s student in industrial engineering at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a native of Karad, India, a town of about 56,000 near the country’s central western coast. His dream is to someday own his own company. But first he needs to find a job — he prefers a post with one of Omaha’s many fledgling startups as a business analyst or a position where he can serve multiple roles.
This week, Mujawar set out to make his dream a reality by attending the Startup Job Crawl, a networking and job showcase organized by the Omaha-based blog Silicon Prairie News. The event drew about 200 university students and recent graduates and 40 Midlands startups to the Mastercraft Building in north downtown Omaha, a facility that’s home to at least 20 small businesses in creative industries like design, photography, architecture and art.
For any business, small or large, the process of finding and hiring a new employee is expensive, time consuming and exhausting. After all, not only do you need to find a candidate that possesses the exact qualifications and experience you are looking for but one who also fits into the ‘culture’ of your company. For a small business with limited resources and funds, the process can be extremely challenging.
Last week, Unrabble released a new free version of its unique hiring software that is aimed at making the hiring process easier, faster and less expensive. ”Unrabble is the first solution of its kind to put hiring in the hands of the decision maker and unchain hiring from the traditional paper resume,” said Kevin Watson, CEO and co-founder of Unrabble, a cloud-computing startup that simplifies and redefines the hiring process by moving away from the one-dimensional paper resume process into a multi-dimensional online process. Their online process provides greater insight into a candidate’s skills, work history, accomplishments, work preferences and, well… life. After all, you are hiring a person and not a piece of paper, so doesn’t it make sense that you would want to know more about your candidates than what they put on an 8-1/2” x 11” piece of paper?!
So, how does it work? I watched the demo and, having been the person who has had to make their way through hundreds of resumes when looking to hire, I was pretty impressed. The most unique feature of this software is the simple fact that it moves you away from the standard resume process and into the new generation of online profiles. Candidates create interactive profiles that not only detail their career history but also allow them to provide connections to their social media profiles, integrate video, explain job transitions, rank their skills and brag about their accomplishments. And just in case you are wondering how valid these candidate ‘brags’ are, Unrabble uses a unique feature called Micro-references that allows candidates to have very specific accomplishments verified by their professional network, which adds even more weight and validity to their profile.
Paper resumes are — or should be — going out of style. They rarely give employers a complete profile of a potential hire, they’re filled with abbreviated bunches of value-less buzzwords (or in my case, action verbs), and the thought of them makes trees cry. You don’t want to make trees cry, do you? No, you don’t. So, many companies are turning to alternative, technological means to find the right candidates for job openings, some using algorithms, ranking systems, SaaS solutions like Taleo’s, and more. In fact, one in six are now finding jobs on social networks.
What kind of user generated content is often found posted to social networks? Video. Facebook was, for a time, the number three video site in the U.S. Furthermore, we’re telecommuting more and more frequently, using Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook video — you name it. Videos are helping startups to explain their products and goals. So, when applied to the hiring process, it would make sense, then, that job videos can enhance the process, for both sides, right?
This is the bet being made by a young startup, founded this year and based in Palo Alto, calledGetHired. The startup is today launching a video-based, social recruiting platform and job board that is looking to empower job seekers — allowing them to set themselves apart from the competition — by creating video and audio profiles to accompany their resumes. On the flip side of the boardroom table, GetHired believes that its platform will help employers more effectively discover and manage their applicant pools.
To help it along in its mission, accompanying the launch of the platform, GetHired is today announcing that it has raised $1.75 million in seed funding from a host of angel investors, including CEO of the Global Environment Fund, Jeffrey Leonard, former CEO of Discovery Communications and the former Under Secretary of State For Public Diplomacy And Affairs, Judith McHale, CEO of LegalZoom.com, John Suh, and Mack Capital CEO, Ralph Mack.
With its seed round in tow, GetHired is looking to be the first job board to really focus seriously on video by enabling users to embed video and audio capabilities directly into the platform so that users can replace stale cover letters with more personal, dynamic responses to employers’ pre-screening questions that kick off every hiring process.
GetHired thus allows employers to, at no cost, post open positions online in conjunction with existing job boards, ask pre-screening questions for specific postions, and hopefully search for and pre-screen candidates more efficiently, while starting and finishing the interview process online, in realtime. With video, employers can turn a static pile of resumes into real, human candidates.
I’ve spent the week in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where billion-dollar companies unveil multi-million-dollar products looking for mainstream popularity, and where startups unveil ideas, looking for angles and angels.
And everywhere you go in this gathering of the smartest people in the most exciting business category on the planet, there are marketing mistakes being made. It’s fascinating, really: most of the products and ideas shown here are tremendous — it’s the showing that is generally awful. The engineering of electronics has never been healthier, but the quality of the marketing lags far behind. To wit:
All the focus is on the features, not the lifestyle. I tell my clients that if they want to create consumer evangelists, they must begin by painting a picture of lifestyle improvement. Show the consumer what their life will look like after using your device for a while. Sure, it’s an industry show, and the press here understands technology, but how do you think they will communicate about your product if all you give them is tech specs?
For example, you don’t make a video-distribution technology. You let people enjoy their favorite movies and shows, from any device, on any screen in their home.
You don’t make wireless Airplay speakers. Rather, you liberate music from the confines of a hard drive for families to enjoy together.
Be bold, be shameless. There’s too much matter-of-fact, borderline defensive messaging here. Technology marketing needs to be shameless. It’s not a coincidence that the most wildly successful marketer on the planet, Apple, is also the most shameless marketer. Don’t worry about turning a few people off by being over-the-top. Instead, worry about not capturing the market’s attention by being ordinary and plain. Tell people what’s amazing about your product or service, as descriptively as possible. Back to our examples:
You don’t make video-distribution technology. You bring joy and entertainment to people.
You don’t make speakers. You bring beautiful music into people’s hearts.
Marketing is no place to be modest.
The people at the booths are not helpful — to attendees or to exhibitors. Many exhibitors build small cities for booths here, and they contract trade show “professionals” to “work” their temporary town. Some of these people are half-naked. Some color coordinated. All are trained in three or four talking points on the product they stand next to. And none of them are helpful. They can’t answer any questions. What if a new buyer happens upon them, or, God forbid, a reporter? You solve this problem by bringing your employees to work the booth. Your HR people and administrative assistants would be far more informed than the folks representing you currently.
There are too many agencies doing a bad job at CES. This is a year-long problem in the industry, but it’s especially pronounced this week. For example, one PR agency rep sent six press releases about one client in the days leading up to the show. The client, a smaller company, did not know this was happening, and learned through communications from angry recipients who felt they were being spammed. Ask yourself: do you know exactly how your agency is representing you, and is it helpful?
Unforced errors abound. So many harmful mistakes in consumer electronics marketing are self-made. It’s the same at CES: look at the list of marketing issues above. These problems are entirely avoidable: Get smart people into the booth. Know your agency’s activity. Focus on emotion and lifestyle. Not doing so is voluntary harmful behavior. The electronics industry is difficult enough; why not avoid putting obstacles in your own path?
Newest Version of Unrabble Adds Job Distribution Capabilities for Publishing Directly to Job Boards/Job Search Engines and Instantly Broadcasting Jobs to Popular Social Networks With One-Click
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Jan 12, 2012 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) — Unrabble(TM) ( www.unrabble.com ), a cloud computing startup focused on helping SMBs hire new employees, today announced the newest version of its hiring software, which features job distribution functionality that allows hiring managers to quickly publish newly created jobs directly to external job boards and social networks. The new release supports automated publishing to popular job boards including Indeed, job search engine SimplyHired.com and StartUpHire. In addition, hiring managers can instantly broadcast jobs to all of the leading social networks.
“Our goal has always been to simplify the hiring process and adding job distribution functionality continues on that path. Our customers can now get their open positions published very quickly with a couple of clicks whether it be through job boards or social media,” said Chris Rickborn, COO and co-founder of Unrabble. “Our integration with Indeed, SimplyHired.com and StartUpHire are an important first step and supports the simplicity-of-use that is core to our product and is what our customers expect. We are continuing to integrate with similar partners and will be releasing regular updates to our service that will rapidly expand our core capabilities.”
The newest version of Unrabble also includes options for businesses to create a branded landing page for job candidates and a branded careers page for multiple job openings. In addition, enhancements have been added to the Compare Candidates feature that allows hiring managers to quickly identify top candidates. The Colleague Collaboration process has also been updated to include an intuitive rating system so that the hiring manager can quickly see the consensus of everyone participating in the hiring process.
“One of the reasons for the success of Indeed has been the simplicity of our product, which allows candidates to do one search to find all the jobs that match that criteria,” said Ilan Lastoff, Alliances Analyst at Indeed. “As a result, we saw an integration with Unrabble as a natural fit. Both companies are focused on ease-of-use, and we look forward to Unrabble customers posting their job listings on Indeed.”
“It is important for us to find and integrate with key partners as the world’s largest job search engine,” said SimplyHired.com Manager of Business Development and Strategic Alliances, Heath Allen. “The products and partnerships SimplyHired.com builds are intended to simplify the hiring process for both job seekers and employers. By working with Unrabble, we have the opportunity to save hiring managers time and ensure a positive experience for them.”
Unrabble saves companies time and money by automating core hiring tasks, automatically ranking top candidates based on skills, verifying claims made through social networks, and providing mission-critical features that help SMBs make sound hiring decisions.
Not many companies launch by accident, but that’s exactly how London startupPusher first showed its face to the world back in 2010. Co-founder Damien Tanner had intended to invite a friend to take a look at the real-time web service he’d been working on — and then made an all-too-familiar Twitter slip.
“I meant to send a direct message, but I ended up sending a public @ message to someone,” he laughs. “Suddenly there were people who were following us both who had signed up and were saying it looked interesting.”
That early moment of calamity turned out to be a blessing, however. The initial interest was strong enough to encourage the team to keep developing and now, just a couple of years later, the business is gaining plaudits — and customers.
So what is Pusher? Co-founder and CEO Max Williams describes the service as a set of tools that make it simple to add real-time functions to other websites or services. And at heart, that’s it: an API that lets people offload some potentially tricky work.
“We allow developer to make applications real-time, so that users don’t have to refresh the page, and they automatically get information streamed to them where they are,” he explains. “But it’s a flexible enough service that it can be used for all sorts of things.”
Indeed it is, pulling in clients as diverse as MailChimp, Slideshare and The U.S. Open tennis. Gaming companies are latching on to Pusher to provide multiplayer experiences without having to build out lots of infrastructure or admin, and the business is constantly expanding the ways for people to hook into its REST API.
Should you launch at Launch? (Or TechCrunch Disrupt? Or Demo? They’re all pretty similar).
- You apply. If you have a half-decent product that is genuinely new, you’re likely to get a spot. That said, hundreds of companies apply for these conferences with unbearably awful products, so there’s always a risk that you’ll get lost in the noise.
- If you get in, you will have a chance to give a demo on stage for exactly six minutes. There will be some celebrity judges who will give you a few sentences of honest feedback about your startup. (Here’s how our demo went down).
- Even if you don’t get a slot presenting, you may have a chance to set up at a little table in the conference area where you can show off your product to passers-by.
- The official promise is that you’ll get exposure to a lot of journalists and VCs, and this will launch your startup on the way to huge success. The truth is, well, complicated, but I’ll get into that in a minute.
- At the end there is a “winner.” For example at Disrupt the winner (chosen by a panel of utterly uncorruptable, gazillionaire judges) receives a check for $50,000. There are between 30 and 50 startups presenting at each conference, and the politics behind who “wins” are murky enough that you should basically assume that the chance of winning is zero. There’s always going to be a “Netflix for Cabbage” or a “Second Life for Facebook” that the judges fall in love with. So the benefits of winning, which is vanishingly unlikely, should never factor into your decision as to whether to go or not.
So, are these conferences worth it?
Let’s look, individually, at the two big promises of the conferences: exposure to VCs and exposure to the press.
Are VCs at these conferences? Absolutely. Does going to one of these conferences get you funded? It’s complicated.
Cambridge angel and tech entrepreneur Sherry Coutu hammered home the importance for startups to harness their ventures to the right mentors and investors from Day One when she addressed a Tech Entrepreneurs Week summit in London.
Business Weekly and its new social network spin-off for startups – CambridgeElevator.com– heard Coutu deliver 10 commandments on how to choose and work with great angels and investors.
Coutu emphasised that it was a big wide world and if startups couldn’t find the most effective advice within the UK they shouldn’t be afraid to cast the net globally.
She urged startups to forge strong relationships with individuals within the angel and VC community rather than entities.
Coutu’s 10 commandments for startups are:-
1.Choose angels/mentors who have an amazing network of contacts in your industry.
2.Choose an individual rather than a ‘firm’. Personal track-record and value-add are critical.
3.Choose an angel/investor AFTER talking to their other investee companies first (thefunded.com).
4.Choose an angel investor who has gone down the path you need to go down (raising money/floating).
5.Choose an angel investor mentor who has RUN a company to chair your board.
6.DO NOT choose an investor who has restrictions which prevent them from investing more in your company.
7.Choose to listen to your investor and make sure they have time available for you.
8.Choose to communicate with your investor(s). Amazing what you can find out!
9.Know that great angels and investors help you with three sets of things: talent, customers and strategy.
10.DO NOT try to delegate the process to someone else!
Expanding on these tablets of wisdom, Coutu said startups had to realise that the choice of mentor/investor was absolutely critical to success. Some alleged gurus were poor quality and it was important to know the difference. LinkedIn acknowledges that it wouldn’t be such a success without the quality of the investors it had, she said.
In the tech startup world, technology is important for success, but it does not disproportionately determine winners and losers. Two companies can invent similar technologies; one will win and the other will lose. Focusing on technology supremacy alone is a model for failure. Over the years, I have consistently seen what I call “latent factors” — business features that are generally outside the scope of the core tech team — to be real factors in a company’s success.
For entrepreneurs in developing nations where experienced institutional investors are scarce and starting companies is very challenging, the impact of these latent forces becomes hugely vital. Though we enjoy writing about dropout tech legends, most times their success is catalyzed by others — they came up with the ideas and the investors provided the leadership and the non-tech factors (such as pricing models, branding, and promotions, among others) that propelled them to stardom. The incubation system, the ecosystem and the environment are important, but sometimes, it can be a very simple “latent factor” ingenuity that redesigns not just a company, but an entire industry.
Consider the software industry, where we have successful brands like Windows and Oracle. While these two firms have world-class intellectual properties, I think their true innovation is in the pricing model around their businesses. Microsoft would not have been as successful as they are if not for the licensing model where you never actually “own” what you paid for. As soon as you stop paying the licensing fee, you cease to own the software. This is especially impactful with their corporate clients. Imagine if Ford and GM had decided at the onset of the automotive industry that when you buy your car, you need to bring it in yearly for a checkup, with payment — and any year you miss that, the ownership of the car reverts back to them. If they had, you wouldn’t be able to resell your car whenever you want. In the software industry, that’s not easy to do because you never “own” the property. You can’t resell that CD, legally. So, while the software industry is obviously innovative, it’s the pricing model that has made it profitable, as it offers a ready source of cash flow.
For a new capital-light web startup I’m a big fan of a two person team comprised of a product manager with domain expertise and a lead developer. This type of team can move quickly towards finding product/market fit. Now, as the team grows from there the third hire should often be another software engineer. Software engineers, especially in the early stages, provide great leverage and economies of scale with their time.
At some point the product rapidly approaches the needs of the market, which are being coordinated through customer driven development by the product manager, and it ‘s time for that fourth hire. That fourth hire should either be another software developer or a jack-of-all-trades with a marketing/sales/service focus to start building a sales and marketing machine.
The startup space is getting more and more crowded with companies that want to skyrocket to fame and riches, but only a handful actually get there. Each year, Lead411, an information services company, hosts theTechnology 200, a list focused on the top revenue-producing startups in technology.
The list is ranked based on the highest percentage revenue growth from 2008 to 2010. More than 600 companies applied, all of whom are based in the United States, are private, and earned over $500,000 in revenues in the year 2010.
The list is getting tighter. Initially, it focused on 500 of the top growing startups, but the company wanted to hone in on the cream of the crop, so it whittled the list down to 200, says Tom Blue, founder of Lead411 and the Technology 500.
“Everyone’s got a top 500 list. But we wanted to see how the top 200 fared,” said Blue, “The higher up the list you go, the more trends you see in terms of what’s helping these brands succeed.”
A Diverse List
The top ranking company on the Tech 200 is inStream Media, a company that connects brands with consumers through multi-channel marketing programs. The company experienced 3,509% growth over the past two years, and brought in $3.6 million in sales in 2010.
I recently attended the O’Reilly Strata conference in New York which was themed “the business of data”. It was an incredibly inspirational week focused on the way big data is changing our world. I was most impressed by the variety of professions and activities that were represented in both speakers and attendees—scientists, government officials, software developers, marketers, designers, and infrastructure professionals. During the conference I saw firsthand the huge opportunities in “making data work” and creating value by using data more creatively and effectively.
There were too many presentations over the course of the five days to summarize all the fantastic content, but a handful of key themes were particularly relevant to the work we do with our clients:
Data provides a competitive advantage – Many presenters demonstrated that data is immensely effective for improving people’s lives, developing new products, and reinventing existing offerings. Unfortunately, where there is profit, abuse often follows—there is a thriving business in illegal data.
Data Science is a new, old profession – Although “data science” is all the rage now, it’s been around as long as data has been recorded and analyzed. The difference today, of course, is that the amount of data thrown off from on-line and real-world activities is so massive because of our hybrid real/virtual world. Software tools and infrastructure, many of which were highlighted during the week, are becoming more and more powerful and can assist in finding patterns and drawing conclusions.
Technical founders have already become prerequisites in the world of tech startups. Now get ready for the designer founder. The combination of this new duo is going to change the world of tech forever.
To quote Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind,
The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.
Although we agree with Daniel Pink’s quote and premise, we are by no means diminishing the role of the technical founder. We’re huge advocates of engineers/hackers (aka technical founders) and believe their “in-house” talents are crucial in this new tech renaissance. Our position here is to highlight the importance and opportunity of the emerging technical and design founder duo. We strongly believe that both are equally important!
High-concept, high-touch mentalities in tech startups are a winning proposition. When founders seek out talent these days, most of them (at least in our experience) are looking for designers as much as for engineers. This is mainly because, more often than not, it is the technical founders who are starting companies, and they realize that creating an exceptional user experience is a competitive advantage. Adding “Design Founders” to the mix is a potential “black swan:” hard to predict, highly improbable, and will change the world— potentially redefining the high tech landscape.