What happens when a whale dies.


I’ve always found whales to be really endearing. In elementary school, my teacher told me that whales were among our closest animal brethren in the seas. They also live for about 50-75 years, and, according to Wikipedia, can teach, learn, cooperate, scheme, and even grieve.

Those majestic creatures swim through the ocean, from place to place. The other oceanic animals I’m sure are aware of whales, but unless they’re plankton being eaten by whales, I doubt they pay much attention.

That is, until they die.

You see, whale death, also called a “whale fall,” is a pretty magical event. After the whale dies, often times they sink… deep to the ocean floor.

Curious scavengers can smell the decomposing whale from afar, and make the trip to come pick it apart.

After the scavengers leave though, all that’s left is a skeleton of this once magnificent beast.

Eventually, a “fugitive species” of  little worm-like creatures find the skeleton, and start a thriving ecosystem based on the skeleton. In fact, 30 species of tubeworm have only been found present at whale falls. Their entire life and prosparity seems to depend on the whale skeleton.

According to RadioLab from where I first heard about whale falls, the ecosystem continues on for another 50-75 years; another full lifetime of life based on what the whale left around.

Steve was a whale. His skeleton? The bicycle of the mind.

7 Tips for Scoring Your First Article


My first big shock in my journey into the startup world came after my roommate and I built our first product together. We pasted the link all over Facebook, tweeted it out, and told our friends and family about it. I even spent a week hand-drawing three hundred pictures to make a traditional animation commercial for our website and put it on Youtube. And after all that effort, my roommate and I were still the only ones using it a month later. That’s when it hit me –

Nobody on the Internet cares or knows about what I’m doing.

And that’s how it will always be at the onset of anything, because ours is the generation of noise. There is an incredible amount of noise on the Internet, even in a subject as specific as ‘startup.’ So how do you cut through the noise and reach your target audience? These 7 tips should help you get started.

1. Do your homework

There are a slew of blogs out there about how NOT to suck at Public Relations. http://proprtips.com/ is a great one, as the author is a journalist for CNET and hears pitches all the time. http://dearprflack.com/ is another blog where contributors share their PR horror stories. http://badpitch.blogspot.com/ has great general advice about Public Relations.

2. Do your homework

You can’t just cold call or email people and expect to siphon value from them without building a relationship and offering them value first. Before asking someone to write about you, your product, or your service, read their ‘About Me’ and find out what kinds of stories they cover. They might write about tech, but do they write about mobile apps? Do they do product reviews or write an advice column? If they can tell that you’ve read their recent work and you can spell or pronounce their name correctly, you’ll already stick out from the flack.

3. “Be the ball”

You need to think like your target market. Imagine, or better yet, ask what their problems are. Use their keywords to search for a solution, and see what blogs or news sites come up. Ideally, this is where you’d like your product or service to be talked about. Find out who writes about the topic relevant to your market and start building that relationship with them.

4. Less is more

Coming from a philosophy background, it pains me to say “less is more.” But when it comes to PR, lesser known blogs or news sites may be more likely to listen to you. You could spend a month trying to get one email response from a Lifestyles columnist at the New York Times, or you could be building relationships with all the mommy-bloggers that your target market reads and trusts.

5. Take notes

You won’t remember everything about every relationship you try to build. Use some sort of CRM tool or note-taking tool to give you that superhuman memory about everyone that you interact with. Take notes after every point of interaction, whether it be an email or a phone call. The more details you remember about your interaction with people, the more trust you can develop.

6. The ask

Don’t waste anyone’s time with fluff; the language you use talking to writers should be completely different from that which you use to market your product. Let them know what your product or service does in exactly as many words as necessary and no more. Thank them for their time and definitely don’t harass them if they don’t respond in five minutes.

7. Stop reading

This is something I struggle with all the time – I love reading about how to do things so much that I never do them! You can’t learn skills by reading facts; procedural knowledge and propositional knowledge are handled by different parts of your brain. So stop reading and start practicing. Experiment with different ideas and measure what works and what doesn’t work.

Bonus tip: Write your own publicity. Look for a blog or news source that is taking guest authored articles and see how you can help… This was a guest post written by Austin Ball.

You should follow us on twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

What It’s Like Being a COO at a Startup, with Jason Sew Hoy of 99designs


Engineers get a lot of coverage in the tech world (as they should) but I’ve been interested in other pieces of the startup puzzle. For example, I’ve always wondered what it’s like being a Chief Operating Office (COO) at a startup. Jason Sew Hoy was gracious enough to give me some of his time to share about his experience as COO of 99designs.com.

99designs.com is a marketplace for crowd-sourced graphic design. It connects designers from around the globe with customers seeking quality, affordable design services.

In this interview Jason walks us through his day to day life, what’s the biggest challenge he has to face, and the role creativity takes in a startup’s life. You don’t want to miss this.

What’s a typical day like for you?

My role at 99designs.com involves a lot of multi-tasking so what I do from one day to the next can be very different.

To give you a rough idea though, today my morning started off with our weekly marketing meeting, a 3-way conference call with staff from Melbourne, San Francisco and one of our founders in Vancouver. After this I made a coffee on our espresso machine and then spent the rest of the morning working through emails and yammer updates, as well as checking the performance of the business via our dashboard.

At midday I went down the road for pizza with managers from several other web startups in our building, including SitePoint.com, Flippa.com and Learnable.com. Given we’re all born out of SitePoint, we share the same culture and have a vested interest in seeing each other do well – it’s a very unique situation and awesome to be part of a group where knowledge sharing is an everyday occurrence.

After lunch, I attended an Agile sprint review with the development team. A core part of my role is overseeing product development in Melbourne, so I have several key meetings with the team during the week to ensure they have everything they need to keep moving with key projects. Today’s job was to review several demos from our engineers and approve features to be deployed to the live site.

Soon after this a customer called with questions about our design service, so I spoke to her briefly on the phone and answered her questions before getting back to prioritizing feature stories for our next sprint.

About mid-afternoon I then sat down with our Design team to review videos from the Guerrilla user-testing sessions conducted that morning to get feedback on a key part of the site. We then brainstormed ways to improve the design by making things simpler for customers to understand. Making notes, drawing on the whiteboard… it’s easy to get carried away with stuff like this and by the time we finished we were well into the evening.

What’s the difference between your role and the role of your CEO?


In general, my role as COO is to focus more on making sure our teams are executing our business priorities well and operating as smoothly as possible. Our CEO, Patrick Llewellyn is mainly focused on long-term strategy as well as pursuing sales & marketing opportunities. There’s some overlap of course but it’s no coincidence that our main points of focus also correlate with the location of our teams, with Pat leading the sales and support teams based in San Francisco while I head up our product development team based here in Melbourne.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

One of the biggest challenges is building and maintaining a passionate, high-performing team, which isn’t easy in a fast-growing startup. Regardless of how badly we need a vacancy filled, we’re very fussy about who we hire. We look for individual brilliance and a passion for technology, as well as a strong cultural fit. Because we work with such new technologies, lack of direct experience isn’t always a deal breaker, but attitude and passion are extremely important to us. Sometimes it’s a hard call, but the principle we go by is that if it’s not a resounding yes, then it’s a no. It also helps when candidates are into coffee, foosball and Macbooks!

What’s the most exciting/enjoyable part of your job?

Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of my job is hearing stories directly from customers and designers on how we’ve impacted their lives. From customers who’ve used 99designs to launch their business, to designers who now make a living off us after being laid off from their jobs, it’s the real people and the real stories behind our service that constantly inspire us to keep improving our service.

Imagine being a winning designer and being flown from Paris to the US by your customer, so that you can hand-paint your custom design on the wall of their office. Or being called by a high-profile design company and being offered an internship purely based on the strength of your 99designs portfolio. Or being able to maintain your livelihood as a talented designer recovering at home from a long-term illness.

Looking at the numbers, we’ve paid out over $20,000,000 in total to our designers and we’re currently awarding another $1,000,000 every month. It’s a huge amount of opportunity, but often it’s the individual stories that really capture the heart and give us that warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

How does one become a COO of a startup?

Good question. I think the thing about startups is that you have to be a jack of all trades, especially in non-technical positions. Drawing from my own background, I think the key skills that help me in my role are: high-level technical knowledge, an analytical metrics-driven approach to solving problems, ability to communicate well, a passion for business and a little sales experience. One other vital thing that a COO needs is a strong willingness to take ownership – in a lot of cases the buck stops with you!

How much involvement do you have with the other departments in your company — sales, customer service, engineering, marketing, etc.?

If I’m doing my job well, then I see myself being the glue that joins all the departments together. It’s crucial that we maintain a big picture view of what’s going on across the company so that we can provide the best possible experience to our customers and designers. It isn’t always easy with our staff being spread across different countries but frequent communication is the key!

How important do you think non-engineers are to technology startups? Do you find that there’s tension between engineers and non-engineers?

Engineers are great at building stuff, but they typically don’t like marketing and selling stuff or talking to our customers for hours on end – they usually just want to get on with it. That’s where the rest of our team comes in to back them up – everything from designers to marketing experts, to sales & support staff – and they’re a critical part of our ability to execute. Because we work so closely together, we don’t get any real buildup of tension – that all gets left on the foosball table!

What role does creativity play in your day-to-day job?

Creativity exhibits itself in many forms and it’s what our entire team strives for on an everyday basis. From product design, to thinking up new marketing angles, to planning our long-term roadmap, I find there’s always a creative way to approach every task. If it feels like an idea or a solution isn’t quite right then I push to come up with something better – in my mind that’s what being creative is all about.

For example, when we were nominated for a Webby Award in 2010 we had to think of a creative way to get our community to vote for us, so we promised them we’d make a video of us singing in the street if we won. Sure enough, our community loved the idea. They voted in spades and we ended up taking out the award despite some intense competition. I’ll always remember this as an example of how a little bit of extra creativity can go a long way… and what followed was one of the most entertaining days I’ve ever had at work. Check out our performance here!

—-
This is a guest post written by Steven. Steven is the creator of forlue.com – a community news website about business (aka Hacker News for Business News). Email: contact@forlue.com

 

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Let your community grow alongside you: Ship unfinished apps.


[editors note: This was a guest post written by: King Sidharth. King Sidharth is a young entrepreneur and designer. He works at Besperk while helping startups any way he can find. You can read more of his stuff at 64 Notes or say hi: king@kingsidharth.com]

Do you remember Google Wave? It was a social app that shipped in (nearly) complete form. It had all sorts of bells and whistles. It also was very confusing and much of the UI focused on solving problems that real life users weren’t experiencing. After a year or so Google canned the project for lack of user adoption.

Contrast that with Gmail. Gmail started as a barebones application that slowly grew with the communities needs. Take, for example, Priority Inbox. Priority Inbox came from users complaining that they were overwhelmed with emails. Features that grow organically from user requests make much more sense then features added because of a board meeting.

Another example of an application that grew with the community is Twitter. When Twitter first launched it was extremely simplistic. Users complained that there wasn’t a way to reply to users, so they started to use the “@” symbol to signify a response to a specific person. Twitter then adopted this practice for their official clients and made it a feature.

It’s not about adding every feature users ask for, it’s about solving problems, creating a better experience, and improving the little things. This is why the concept of MVP works so well. MVP allows you to ship the bare minimum and find out where the users pain points are located.

You cannot build a social startup in the dark corners of your room.

You need to ship it- raw, unfinished, and let your users have a taste. Then key in on finding their problems and fix them quickly.

Sitting in a dark room developing your social startup alone (or worse – having someone else work on every aspect of it while you’re the idea guy) makes it so easy to say, “add this – they might need it.” Doing that will keep you a step removed from your actual users.

Startups, like poetry, are never finished. They are always being abandoned or always growing.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry.

Turbulence and the Start Up Bubble- “If you freak out, I’ll freak out”.


Editor’s note: The following is a guest post written by Jason Lorimer from CulturaHQ.

I was recently on a Southwest Airlines flight (not this one thankfully) from Philadelphia to Chicago, sitting next to a beautiful blond woman. Her being in the same general line of work and me being a nervous talker, we passed the time by talking shop. Specifically, how we were both amazed at how few innovative ideas seemed to be coming out the abundance of start up companies popping up all across the US.

How many task tracking and photo applications does the world really need?

With all the low hanging fruit out there waiting to be disrupted, why did everyone seem to be trying to build a better version of the same dozen or so things. My seat buddy, as adorable as she is smart, said:

“They build for the funding first and the customer second.”

Obvious and insightful — Marry me I thought.

On the return trip some days later, I sat in the back row having shown up late to the gate and was greeted with some of the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced. Not so bad in it’s depth as it was in it’s length. For several minutes at varying intervals, this 747 was being thrown around like a rag doll. Being in the back row and an avid people watcher, I noticed something that allowed me to refocus my brain away from the sheer terror that was creeping up my neck. The turbulence had gotten so bad that people were starting to be alarmed. They were slowly turning their heads to look at each other as if to say:

Should I be freaking out right now? If you are freaking out, I’ll freak out.

The flight soon after settled and once the attendants lined the aisle with over-priced booze, everyone seemed to go back to normal. The next day I was telling this tale to a friend back in Philly and I laughed to myself midway through as the parallels clicked: The start up scene is that airplane, the passengers entrepreneurs and the turbulence the investment capital. Everyone looking around at each other but not speaking up. Imagine the same mental monologue from an early stage entrepreneur:

“Is it me or is my start up pointless? I mean, if you don’t think yours is pointless, mine must not be pointless because if you thought yours was pointless, you would be freaking out about that 300K of investors money you are burning every month and you are not so I shouldn’t be worried that I have no customers or even a proof of concept, let alone revenue.

Anyway, Are you guys going to the Tumblr party at SXSW? I heard Jon Hamm is going to be there.”

For the record, anybody willing to put their neck on the line to build something instead of running their mouth about what they are going to do is good in my book, but is it possible
that start-up bubbles might just be caused by vanity as much as they are by an abundance of available capital?

Are revenue models not cool?

Maybe I am being naive but I just think if most entrepreneurs would put aside the idea of being crowned the Internet King on the Month and just focus on transforming pre-internet business models into post internet. ventures, everyone down the line would be better served.

For more startup articles, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry

The Music Venture Capital Business Model (Or a New Perspective)


This is a guest post written by Wesley Verhoeve. He is an entrepreneur and artist manager, and loves to write about where business and music intersect. For more articles by Wesley please visit his website at WesleyVerhoeve.com

As the music business evolves and moves beyond the antiquated copyright exploitation model, it makes increasing amounts of sense to further explore the thoughts I’ve shared on the parallels between the future of our business and the current ways of the venture capital/tech start-up world. Every artist (the creative)and their manager (the business person, and together with the artist the product developer) should consider themselves creative entrepreneurs, not much different from the small team of Dave (the graphic designer/artist), Jason (the product developer) and Spencer(the business guy) at online portfolio start-up Carbonmade.

How It Works In The Current Tech Start-Up Business

In a simplified version of the start-up world the scenario goes as follows: a small team of creatives and business people create a product (an app, a web service, site, etc.) and bring it to market in a Beta form, while continuously improving and providing updates. They might initially be self-funded and bootstrapping, or they could be funded with the help of one or more Angel Investors. If the product catches on with a small group of passionate early adopters, and there is potential for a much wider base of users, the team might seek out additional investors to be able to shoot for this larger market. These second level investors could be Venture Capitalists(VCs) , who differ from Angels mostly in the scale of finances they can provide (bigger), the additional knowledge they can share to help speed up growth, and the support network they can provide. The original start-up shares ownership in the company with both rounds of investors. The investors are either looking for an exit (a sale of the start-up to a large company like Google), or sustained profits over time.

How It Could Work In The Future Music Business

When we translate this to the music industry we can draw some parallels. An artist and their manager start developing products together. They record demos/singles/EPs, produce a stage show and play small concerts, create artwork for branding and marketing, build a website (each of which are products!), and release them to friends/family/early adopters. This could be self-funded, or in part funded with smaller amounts of money from wonderfully nice family members, friends or through a service like Kickstarter or Pledge Music. In exchange the investors become small stake-holders in the career of the start-up team of artist and manager. (Note the difference from typical Kickstarter campaigns which are more like fancy pre-sales for the future product.)

With each product release, like a single, we build our customer base (or we could say fan base, but that’s so 2001), and as we learn from their feedback we adjust. Please note that I am not suggesting to change the art to fit an audience, but rather that we adapt the business elements(how do we offer the products, at which price point, through which channels, etc.).

As the start-up team bootstraps their way to an increased customer base, we add more members to the team to facilitate more growth and increased revenue. A booking agent can help us improve distribution of our live show product, visual artists can help us create more effective branding and marketing materials, an attorney can help us secure better deals, etc. These are contractors for the most part, and won’t take ownership.

An indie label or marketing firm might come on board in a second round of investments, and those could be considered bigger Angels, or even VCs depending on the level of investment/commitment. In exchange for a share of the profit they add value through additional manpower/skills, an increased network of supporters, additional funding, and services (royalty accounting, legal, distribution, synch pitching).

If the music is of a certain popular mass-appeal nature, an artist/music start-up can engage in a third round of investments. This time it would involve major investors (major labels). In exchange for a more substantial amount of money than a previous investor they acquire an additional chunk of equity (a co-release with the indie), or they can buy the angel’s piece of equity (upstream deal, master ownership). They can also offer additional services as part of the deal including radio support, mainstream media pr, etc.

The original start-up team won’t be looking for an exit, but a continuous stream of profits based on the different revenues streams that are developed. Angels could look for an exit in subsequent investment rounds (uncle Bob wants his money back and has no ambition to permanently operate in the music business!), and our version of VCs will look for partial ownership and continuous profit streams through catalog.

The Benefits

The benefits of this model over the current ways of the industry are obvious and plentiful.

  • Artists maintain creative control and (partial) ownership of their creations.
  • Investors gain ownership in all profit streams, but only in exchange for quantifiable contributions to the process.
  • Early investors (including managers who put in sweat equity) who have stood the most risk and exhibited the most vision, stand to benefit at greater rates than those who jump on the bandwagon later. This will stimulate a new wave of artist development, rather than the current wave of lazy “wait-and-see” A&R behavior.
  • The financial aspects of an artists career would gain incredible amounts of transparency, and accounting would be simplified.
  • The quality of music would arguably benefit from the increased artistic influence of artists and their trusted advisors (producers, indies), the decreased artistic influence of suits, and greater diversity.
  • Roles would be delineated much more clearly and people would focus on their strengths. Stay in your lane.
  • Major Labels get to remake themselves and focus on their strengths
  • Indie labels and new style management/label hybrids are better positioned to take back their rightful place as quality gatekeepers and this benefits our customers by freeing them from the clutter that has is so rampant in the world of music discovery.
  • The increased sphere of societal influence will belong to the creators, and not the financiers.
  • Job creation would take place in the music business as entire Major Label departments would spin off into a cottage industry of providers for start-ups and investors.
  • Opportunities for music industry people to act shady are reduced, and the opportunity for artists to waste a ton of money is as well. A fairness doctrine.

A Few Things We’ll Need To Make This Happen

  • An uncluttered way for Angels to find artist start-ups seeking investments (a curated myspace meets kickstarter?).
  • A template legal and financial structure that protects investors and artists alike. And subsequently, music attorneys that can practice “real law”, and not just weird mystery theater entertainment law.
  • A set of proper and relevant business analytics and post-Soundscan metrics that matter, both for artists and Angels, and a dashboard in which we can clearly track them.
  • A new perspective, vision and a willingness to let go of the broken system we operate under at the moment. This will be easy for new artists, but hard and scary for those artists still making money right now under the old system.

 

Bootstrapped Startup Fitocracy Helps You Level Up in Real Life (Beta Invites Included)

Looking for a way to make your workouts more social and fun?  Fitocracy has you covered.  The two-man startup based out of Brooklyn is intent on ensuring that fitness is fun, motivational, and social.  The basics of the site include signing up for a profile and then logging your workouts, following users and seeing their fitness accomplishments, earning points and leveling up.  There is also a leader board that ranks all users of the site and allows for them to engage in competition amongst one another.  The unique relationship between exercise and many popular game mechanics is the ability to always be able to push harder, longer, or stronger.  Entwine that with a dedicated community of supporters and Fitocracy users can be well on the way to accomplishing their fitness goals.

Before we take a closer look at how Fitocracy works we asked the founders to share 3 pieces of advice for other bootstrapped startups.

1.) Know your topic.  Know your field.  Whatever topic or arena your startup is in, it should be your passion to know everything there is to know about it.  You should be credible and knowledgeable about all the details in your space.  That knowledge should become your identity.

2.) Jump in and do it.  Too often would be entrepreneurs find themselves idling around wasting time.  If you have an idea and you are passionate about it.  Go forth and make it happen.

3.) Communicate effectively.  If you followed the advice from #1 you should be able to live and breath the topic your startup is in.  If you can do that learn how to effectively speak to other about it in an engaging and meaningful way.  Sell your idea by stirring emotions, being a hustler, and imparting your knowledge to your audience.

Delving a little deeper into the startup the user is able to log fitness workouts in the form of repetitions for strength training or minutes for cardio.  These repetitions and minutes translate into points for the user.  There are also levels, which represent the overall fitness level of that user.  In addition to points and levels, users can also perform quests.  Quests are much like they sound, and involve going out and achieving some pre-established goal.  One such quest is being able to bench press twice your body weight or working your way up to lifting as much as this guy.   The quests are also a way to break up the regular routine that many gym rats fall into thus serve as a nudge to users to try a spinning class rather than just running all the time for a cardio session.  This repetitive routine can be broken by also participating in a multitude of workouts, which results in a more rounded fitness package, and thus a higher score in the Fitocracy world.  And of course, like any good game site, they have achievements and badges that can awarded and shown off to other users similar to Xbox Achievements.

Points, levels, and quests are all still a work in progress for Fitocracy.  They launched into beta a few weeks back and one of their continuing goals is to properly map the relationship between points and levels and the amount of work that a person is doing. This challenge has been tricky since the beginning due to the unique nature of exercise.  A standard across the board does not work well because fitness is not a one size fits all.  The mapping out of the points/user system is one of the main goals of the beta run.

So where did the idea come from?  Co-founders Brian and Dick were both your typical kids playing video games on the couch. When they decided to take control of their lives, they realized that fitness and working out tended to mirror the games they had once played.  Becoming obsessed with weightlifting and working out in general, they came to the conclusion that fitness and being healthy is about the journey.  And during the journey there are opportunities to level up and progress throughout the process.  Along the way there are also “mini adventures” (or quests, if you will) that add to the story.  Realizing there was an opportunity at hand they created Fitocracy, which is now helping real people level up and progress their way through the game of fitness.

Users also have the opportunity to share their workouts, stats, and achievements with the socialized aspect of Fitocracy.  They have utilized the Facebook and Twitter APIs making it easy to connect with friends.  As their user base increases the social aspect will obviously grow as well.  Members can follow other members or friends and “Give props” to those that deserve it.  “Give props” is analogous to the Facebook “Like” button in that it allows users to quickly notify others that they are deserving of credit for their workouts.  Or that they “Like” the status of another user.

Fitocracy has some really great things going for them.  For instance, time on site is averaging between 10-13 minutes, they have approximately 2,500 page views per day, and the gamification aspect of the site is actually meaningful.  This is important because normal game mechanics tend be cutesy and somewhat trivial.  Whereas, on Fitocracy they mean the user is able to translate them into real world effects that contribute to their overall health and wellness.  Which leads to another interesting point:  all the workout stats are self-reported.  Meaning I could say I accomplished 1000 crunches and ran 700 minutes if I wanted to accumulate a bunch of points and level up.  BUT, Brain and Dick tell me that their community is very self-regulating and the site offers a way to report abuses and flag unruly users.  This in turn has kept the community mostly honest and brings integrity into the game.

The Fitocracy concept would do well in the mobile world where users could log their workouts right in the gym.  While obesity rates are spiraling out of control in America there is a growing number of people that are taking control of their lives by starting down the road of fitness.  This means Fitocracy will continue to grow once they go mobile and users can get their fitness game on right in the gym.  They will have a mobile optimized site up soon followed by a dedicated app after that.

If you are interested in Fitocracy their main site can be found at: http://www.fitocracy.com.  Or follow them on Twitter @fitocracy.  If you are currently a beta user of Fitocracy make sure to leave them feedback and suggestions in the comments.  If your not part of the beta, use this link to get in and then leave them feedback and suggestions in the comments.  The first 100 readers will get a free beta account!

To keep up with startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

This is Your Brain on One Page: Workflowy [YC Summer 2010]

My girlfriend lovingly describes herself as the “geeks tech resistant girlfriend.”  That description is quite accurate.  She has an iPhone (which she got about three months ago) that has four non-Apple apps on it.  Some days I am surprised that she can even find the Internet.  As such, I thought it would be an interesting to see what she had to say about the dead simple list making startup Workflowy.  We’ll get to that in a moment in the form of a he said/she said discussion.  First a bit on Workflowy…

Workflowy is not exactly new to the startup arena.  They have been around since November 2010.  Mike Turtzin and Jesse Patel, the two cofounders, were accepted to Y Combinator in summer 2010, but what is interesting is that Workflowy was not the idea they were accepted for.  They were working on some sort of a platform for web gurus to give and get advice.  Which just goes to show that most angels or investors are looking at the person rather than the idea.

Workflowy was a product of Jesse needing a way to keep track of lists and ideas.  While working on their original YC idea he was using an older version of Workflowy to keep notes and lists.  Other YC members were using it as well and liked the product.  As a result, they realized that they may have been on to something and the notion of keeping your brain on a single sheet of paper developed into what we now know as Workflowy.

So how good is Workflowy?  Very very good.  I have been using it for what I thought was six months.  Turns out it has only been available publically since November 2010.  Apparently it is so good it has skewed my interpretation of the passage of time.  Nonetheless, my Workflowy account has been a godsend.  I use it for anything and everything.  It works great for this geek but what about his non-tech girlfriend?

She said: There is minimal set up—truly easy for anyone.  I am the ultimate test.

He said: She is right.  She is the ultimate test.  If it involves tech and she thinks it’s easy…it is.  She thought the activation process for “Find my iPhone” was difficult.

She said: Workflowy will eliminate the need for those annoying little scraps of paper holding your notes and lists. Unless you lose your computer, you won’t lose your list!

He said: When Workflowy gains traction 3M’s Post-it notes might be put out of business.  Those scraps of paper are annoying.  Digitalize them by shifting all your hot to-do items to Workflowy.  Worried that you won’t be able to access your notes on the go?  Or that you’ll lose your computer? They’ll have an app out soon.

She said: The intuitive nature of this program would make you think it is an Apple application.

He said: I love my Apple products but not in the hyper-rabid monomaniacal way that MG Seigler does.  She came up with that one on her own.  I will say that it is super simple, which is a large part of the appeal.

She said: For the “Type A’s” out there—you will love the fact that you can hide your completed items—rather that just deleting them. You can look back at all of your “honey do’s” and feel great about your productivity!

He said: For the deadbeat boyfriends or husbands out there, your significant others will be making “honey do” lists like starved beaver in a toothpick factory.  Which is an interesting part of list-making psychology.  I find that the easier it is to input notes, lists, or tasks, the more likely I am to actually to the inputting.  Which is usually the downfall of reminder notes:  the actual writing of them to remind yourself.  And it seems that most people that use Workflowy find the same thing.  The simple Workflowy interface lacks all the bells and whistles that your usual to-do apps include, which spurs the user to use it more.

She said: I am strangely bonded to my lists, so I thought an electronic surrogate would not fit the bill. Sorry paper. After 36 years, I am leaving you.

He said: Yikes!  Pretty strong words for someone that loves her lists and note taking materials.  I will keep you posted on whether she sticks to this very declarative statement.

She said: If you love detail, let it all hang out. If you don’t, a few clicks will condense your list into more general headings and subheadings.

He said: It’s true.  I just looked at my Workflowy account.  By my estimation I have about 10-15 pages when everything is expanded.  (Not counting completed items, which are hidden).  When it is minimized it consists of nine headings taking up about as much space as this paragraph.

So what advice does this startup have for other startups?  A couple of things:

1.) Have a vision for your company and product.  That vision needs to be the basis for which you measure all decisions about your product.  In the case of Workflowy, their vision is your brain organized onto one page.  This means that requests for more features or other add-ons are weighed against that vision.  If it doesn’t make the cut, it doesn’t find its way into the product.

2.) Don’t spend eternity in beta.  A startup won’t benefit from every detail being perfected.  The less time you spend in beta the better your efforts will be because as you move along with your idea, the startup and the company will change.  If you are in beta forever there is no way to experiment with the outside world and truly better your product.

3.) Do you know when to say goodbye to your baby?  This is the perennial problem of an entrepreneur:  when to let the idea go and begin anew.  In the case of Workflowy they moved into the list making area after they realized one thing:  Their users wanted it.  If you are forcing your product on them, it’s time to head in a new direction.

4.) Jesse wanted this to be the headline for this article:  “Mike is A Champion.”  My editor wouldn’t allow it but I think the message he was trying to convey was that a successful company depends on a solid relationship between the cofounders.  Pick your cofounders wisely and once you have, make sure you cultivate that relationship to its fullest.

If you are interested in Workflowy their main site can be found at http://workflowy.com.  Or follow them on Twitter @workflowy. To keep up with startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

Standing In The Unemployment Line? Startup Hour.ly Might Have Work For You.


Hour.ly is web startup designed to find the user work an hour at a time.  It has seen tremendous growth since its launch (ironically on Labor Day 2010) and has been helping put America back to work ever since.

Ever seen those advertisements hanging in grocery stores bulletin boards or university community announcement areas?  You know the ones I mean.  They have a usually have gigantic permanent marker writing asking for a babysitter or someone to mow their grass or shovel snow off their driveway.  Somewhere along the way someone has sliced the bottom of the page to make those tear away phone numbers.  If you don’t know what I am talking about take a look at this one.  Hour.ly sophisticated.ly (pun intended) created the Internet version of these ads.

In a very simple, elegant way hour.ly is filling the niche of finding employment for people interested in walking dogs, waiting tables, acting, as well as working retail or even manufacturing positions. In fact, hour.ly provides access to just under 2800 different work categories!  The key is that listings posted on hour.ly are often “work” rather than jobs.  In other words, hour.ly is the vehicle that links up those with temporary to semi-permanent employment to those that are seeking part time work.

Hour.ly co-founders Brooke & Lynn Dixon (who both were part of the [first] dot com boom) conceived the start-up concept after looking for temporary work, and finding nutty advertisements on Craigslist like this.  Looking for to find a better resource and a better more meaningful way to advertise and find temporary jobs they created hour.ly.

The company is truly bootstrapped in sense that is has zero outside funding and is currently not making any money off of its users or though advertising.  When asked, co-founder Lynn said the current focus is to grow the base of the company and ensure that what they have is viable and useable.  Later this spring/summer they plan on adding in a pay for premium membership but still retain the free forever model.

One of the main problems with job/career websites is the sheer amount of spam.  Take a look at CareerBuilder or Indeed and it won’t be long before you encounter spam.  Craigslist is riddled with it.  But spam prevention is a top priority at hour.ly and they have been able to successfully navigate the spam problem.  Even their craziest job listing ever:  Watch T.V. For $10 An Hour (which screams spam from the title) turned out to be some research job and was actually legitimate.

Hour.ly is super simple to use and navigate.  I did a test run and had a profile set up in less than 10 minutes start to finish.  That includes filling out the “about me” and “experience” section of my profile.  Once that was done I was able to see potential employers that could use my “vast” amount of skill sets, potentially leading to part time work.  Overall, it was a sleek and well-organized experience, a result of serious amounts of thought from the founders (read:  they found a problem and actually solved it, like any successful startup should do).

So what advice does this startup have for other startups?  A couple of things:

    1.) With the growth of accelerators/incubators around the country, startups can benefit from immersing themselves with minded people, and the massive amounts of advice and mentoring that they provide.  Hour.ly took part in an accelerator called The First Growth Venture Network in New York.  Hour.ly found the mentorship they provided was worth its weight in gold. It was also beneficial to be able to ask those with experience and know how questions that would otherwise leave the startup befuddled.
    2.) A period of bootstrapping is more advantageous than one might think.  It will leave the founders hungry for more and allows them to fly under the radar in order to make mistakes while not having the pressure of investors or angels breathing down their neck.
    3.) Co-Founders are key.  This one seems obvious, but there are many startups that think they can make it as a one-man show.  The notion isn’t impossible, it’s just risky and is statistically unlikely to lead to success.  In the case of hour.ly, the husband and wife co-founder combo is unique, and an equation that is working for them.  If your significant other is up to it, it may be a worthwhile endeavor.  If you would like to explore more on the husband/wife relationship in startups, there is a great discussion of it on Quora as posted by hour.ly co-founder Lynn.
    4.) This one follows the logic of #2.  Don’t look for big money right away.  Stick with your roots and make sure that you don’t give up.  Contrary to popular belief investors and angels are not just handing out money willy-nilly.  If, and more likely when, you are turned down by those with capital, make sure you stand by the belief that spurred you into your startup idea.  Your convictions matter; so don’t throw them to the wind if you get shot down once or twice.

And the final piece of advice from hour.ly for other startups:

    5.) If you are strapped for cash and need a temporary job to get you through until an Angel saves the day or Yahoo buys you, head over to hour.ly and they will hook you up!

If you are interested in hour.ly their main site can be found at the sweet domain hack:  http://hour.ly.  Or follow them on Twitter @hourly.  If you have used hour.ly or are just discovering it, make sure you leave them feedback and/or suggestions in the comments! To keep up with startup news, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry