The Story of Cruise (YC W14): How 4 people built a self driving car in 7 months.

Cruise

The Beginning: One is the Loneliest Number

Spend any time on HackerNews and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated ad nauseam : “Find a great co-founder”.

For Kyle Vogt, this was a no-brainer. Kyle has had great success following this advice in the past (he’s the former co-founder of Justin.TV and Twitch.tv). There was just one problem; He couldn’t find one for his new startup, Cruise.

What does Cruise do? Cruise will take control of your steering, braking, and acceleration to keep you in your lane and a safe distance from the car in front of you. It will automatically slow down for traffic, even to a complete stop if needed, and will accelerate once the traffic clears.

“I talked with a lot of friends and people with domain knowledge that would be great potential co-founders, but things always broke down. Sometimes the timing just wasn’t right, or they weren’t able to commit 100% right away.”

It was the perfect storm of inconvenience.

“I ultimately decided the opportunity cost of waiting for the perfect co-founder was too great a cost, so I just got started myself.”

“Nothing but a pile of parts and a 5 minute pitch”

The second month, Kyle committed to solving two problems. Raising money and fleshing the product out.

“When I went to investors, I had nothing but a pile of parts and a 5 minute pitch”.

Editors Note: One thing that Kyle also brought was his reputation which certainly helped fill any holes in his deck.

Kyle was able to raise his target round quickly (roughly two weeks) which let him focus on the product and putting a team in place. Two weeks after that, he had his core team built and “the pile of parts” began to take shape.

Joining the (YCombinator) Mafia

ycombinator-logo
After assembling the team, Cruise joined YCombinator. I thought it was a little strange that a YC Alumn with two successful startups under his belt would join YC again so I asked him his thought process.

“It was a little strange for me too. When I first started Cruise, I didn’t think I would do YC again. I was showing Justin Kan and Tikhon Bernstam (the Founder of Parse) what I was working on and they highlighted 3 big benefits of doing YC.

First, even if you don’t feel you personally need the mentorship (having gone through it previously), it’s still great motivation for the team. It helps get everyone on the same page and there is a little competition (ex: Who can grow the most in a week, etc.) between companies that helps build comradery.

The second thing is that it helps immensely with connections inside the current YC batch.

The last thing is Demo Day. For us, that alone was worth the cost of YC. Demo Day is the best place for a startup to be. You have most of the top-tier investors in the same room, at the same time, and they’re all watching your startup present.”

Sprinting To Launch

“Our entire team was focused on Demo Day. It was an external deadline that we had to meet together. We were in sprint mode.”

ios app

I asked Kyle for a specific example (besides being more intense) of how Cruise operated differently when they were in “sprint mode” and he told me this story:

“One of our testing cars had an issue with it’s motor on Thursday and we needed to run tests on in during the weekend. We called around and nobody had the part we needed in stock. They said our only option was to wait until the next week when they could have the part shipped.

With Demo Day coming up we knew that we couldn’t afford to lose a weekend of testing.

We had to get the part no matter what. We called every shop we could find and eventually found somebody that had it 3 hours away. We sent a courier service (so the team could keep working) to go pick it up and ride back with the part in the trunk.

Under normal circumstances, we would have just waited until the following week. When your whole team is in sprint mode facing external deadlines, you have to deliver.

Another anecdote – We broke the entire steering rack on our only prototype car 2 weeks before demo day (long story). It was going to take 3 weeks just to get a replacement part shipped from Germany, and it wasn’t available at any warehouse in the US or anywhere in Europe. So we just found the exact same car online and leased it – got it to our garage in about 2 hours and spent the next 36 hours swapping our equipment into it.

“Working hard on a tight deadline is contagious”, Kyle said before quickly adding, “If done in moderation.”

After the team presented at Demo Day, everyone took a week vacation.

Do You Have Any Advice for Solo Founders?

“There are two things I think are really important to have when you’re going solo: mentors (for when you get stuck, since you don’t have cofounders) and an anchor like a significant other, family members, or very understanding friends (to help you deal with the emotional ups and downs).”

Check Cruise out at getcruise.com and follow us on Twitter (@startupfoundry) for more startup news.

I Want To Write About Your Startup – Relaunching TSF

tsfbig

I want to write about your startup. I’ve been putting together new content for the TSF relaunch and I wanted to reach out to longtime readers to see what you’ve been working on as a “thank you” for your support.

I’m relaunching TSF within the week with some killer content (Alexis Ohanian – cofounder of Reddit, Randall Bennett – On how his startup got on CNN, etc.) and would love to find a way to get your startup story in the mix.

Drop me an email – paul@thestartupfoundry.com and let’s talk about your startup.


Nasty Bug in iOS 5.0.1 OTA Update screws up Address Book on the iPhone 4S

I updated my iPhone 4S earlier today (using the OTA method), and I discovered a nasty bug. My iPhone could no longer remember the names of any of my contacts! I opened up the contacts app on my phone and discovered that all of entries were still there but if I got a text or a call my iPhone would have a sudden bout of amnesia and forget the contacts name.

It’s even more bizarre when you’re trying to create a new text. In the example above I texted Erin Hontz. After I selected her as the contact, I wrote my message and hit send. In the message pane (pictured on the right) it would forget my contact’s name and just show the number.

I mentioned this on Twitter and many of my followers had similar experiences.

How to trigger the bug:

• Use the Delta Update (The OTA version)
• Be on an iPhone 4S (I haven’t had reports with the 4)
• Be On Verizon

Disabling (and re-enabling) iCloud contacts did not solve the issue.

Have you had any issues upgrading to iOS 5.0.1?

Update: Here is a partial fix

This method fixed my incoming calls but not incoming text messages. Your milage may vary.
via TSF reader James Foster

1) Open the Phone and dial *228. This is a Verizon over-the-air programming number.
2) When the system answer press 1 for “Program or activate your phone”
3) Wait for the call to disconnect. You should get a prompt stating something like, “Settings updated.”
4) Open the Task Manager (double click the home button) and kill the Phone, Message, and Contacts Applications
5) Wait a few minutes (I waited 3 just to be extra safe)
6) Open the Message App to verify the fix.

If you are still broken, kill the Message App again, then reboot your phone.

It’s Easier to Answer to Your Code Than Your Customers

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in startups that I’ve been covering: menial work. Put another way, procrastination by being focused on things that don’t matter. I’ve identified several ways I’ve seen it manifest in startups. I’ve also discovered why it’s such a common problem for startups.

Here are the two most frequent forms of menial work I’ve seen in recent weeks:

1. Pre-optimization:

Every startup likes to think that on day one they’ll be mentioned in TechCrunch, and the onslaught of high volume traffic and subsequent millions of users will bring their server to its knees. I’ve heard of startups that delay launching for a month or two to pre-optimize everything. Sure, it’s important to have a server that won’t fall over, but it is far more important that people want your service (which you won’t know for sure until you launch).

Solution: Launch sooner. What you’ve initially built and what people actually want are almost always different things.

The most common reason I’ve discovered is…

2. It’s easier to answer to your code than your customers

Talking to your customers can be scary. The technical founders (that inspired this article) love to hack away at their codebase but hated talking to their customers. “That’s a job for my (nontechnical) cofounder” he said. He then spent a week developing a feature that their customers didn’t want and never used.

Although nontechnical founders should spend more time with customers, technical founders are missing out on huge learning opportunities if they only sit in their house and code.

Solution: Realize your customers don’t care about your code (assuming it works and is secure).

Menial work feels really good. It feels like you’re making huge strides forward but all you’re really doing is procrastinating. Don’t fall into this trap. Answer to your customers.

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

YC Alum creates TouchBase Calendar and shares App Store Marketing Tips

TouchBase Calendar launched earlier this week to much fanfare. TouchBase Calendar hit the front page of HackerNews, jumped to the 18th spot in productivity on the App Store, and is receiving great reviews. I had the privilege of catching up with the cofounder of TouchBase, Tony Wright (A YC Alumn) to talk about what he’s learned from launching his app. In this TSF interview Tony talks about marketing tricks he used to create a successful launch, an inside look at his startup, and (with the benefit of hindsight) things he would have done differently.

Don’t miss this interview and make sure you checkout TouchBase.

Points of interest

0:30 – Quick Overview of TouchBase Calendar
1:20 – Where the idea came from (and challenges with finding a co-founder)
3:38 – Working in exotic locations – How Tony took advantage of Startup Workaway
5:45 – Start of Marketing section
5:50 – Why traditional (web) MVPs don’t work for mobile apps.
7:05 – The challenge of pushing out fixes to App Stores
8:40 – “Shooting a balloon out of a canon.” Tricks to use to get noticed. How to leverage Apple’s ranking of paid apps.
8:50 – Low price high volume apps are preferred on the App Store (for Apple’s ranking purposes).
10:30- Ways of buying traffic.
16:25- What’s next for TouchBase Calendar

====================

Big take aways:

• Launching on an App Store is very different than launching a Web App.
• Your MVP needs to be of a higher caliber for App Store launches.
• The tendency of your ranking will be like a “balloon shot out of a canon”.
• Your rankings will naturally decrease to promote “fresher” apps. You need to juice your ranking.
• Don’t get stuck working some place boring.

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

On Steve

When I heard the news that Steve passed away it felt like unfortunate, expected news. The writing was on the wall when Steve resigned on August 24, 2011. Steve simply would not leave Apple unless he had no other option. Sad, but ultimately expected news.

What I wasn’t expecting is how much I’ve been personally affected. I’m not an emotional person. I knew that I’d be sad but I wasn’t prepared at how profoundly Steve’s early exit would challenge me. Steve made Apple in his own image, and then he didn’t stop. Go build something bigger than yourself.

I from the bottom of my heart, thank you Steve. You’re a huge reason why I became an entrepreneur.

Additional Links I’d recommend checking on Steve (please add more in the comments):

Read John Gruber’s Universe Dented, Grass Underfoot (This is the article I wish I would have written).

Steve Jobs Presents to the Cupertino City Council (6/7/11) – Thanks TSF reader Marcin for the link.

Moment of Clarity – Why Being in the Trough of Sorrows is a Good Thing.

“Will I be able to keep food on the table? Does my startup even have a chance at succeeding? How am I going to increase sales? Does what I’m working on actually matter?”

You encounter these sort of questions when you’re in the “Trough of Sorrows” (as Paul Graham so eloquently stated).

Being in the “Trough of Sorrows” is a good thing.

These sort of questions often stand between entrepreneurs and a full night of sleep. The questions build an uneasy tension that resides just below the surface, often concealed by a fragile ego.

There seems to be pressure in the startup community to keep a stiff upper-lip and not admit any weakness. These questions mixed with slowing sales or other obstacles can lead you right into a feeling of helplessness. You can very easily get stuck in the “Trough of Sorrows” where nothing quite seems to be working the way that it should be. It can be a ridiculously hard thing to break out of, but most entrepreneurs have had to go through it at one point or another.

The first time I experienced the trough of sorrows, I dreaded every second of it. It’s not a fun position to be in. The second time I had to go through it, I had a change of heart.

A Moment of Clarity – Breaking free

My Moment of Clarity came to me when I was at my lowest point. Sales were drying up and growth was becoming stagnant. I looked at my bank account and wrote out the tiny balance on a piece of paper. I figured out that we were going to run out of money in 6 weeks. The trough forced me to take a step back and take an objective look at our strategy. I realized I could either be depressed about the number, or let it fuel me.

You see, the trough of sorrows is a metaphorical fork in the road. You can either fold up shop or you can persevere. There is no middle ground. It’s almost refreshing to have a black and white outcome for once. If you can make it through the trough, you’ll be able to conquer any other situation. When you’re in the trough your instincts will tell you to fold, but if you’re sure of your business (after taking an honest look at it), that’s your cue to and double down. Do whatever it takes to make things work.

Since I knew exactly where we stood, I became fierce. I was determined to not let my company die. I went into overdrive and kept hustling until that tiny bank account doubled. Then it doubled again. And again. All of this happened because of my moment of clarity. I was no longer hostage to those poisonous questions and could see things clearly.

Whenever you go through your trough of sorrows, know you’re not alone (almost everyone has gone through it). Search for your moment of clarity.

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

Meet Investors, Line up Customers, and Help Others – A Guide to Startup Meetups

I had the privilege of sitting down with my friend Sanjay Parekh (from Startup Riot) to discuss how to get the most of startup events. In this interview we talk about how Sanjay went from being an introvert, to a networking machine. Sanjay discusses how he was able to get his first customer (because of an event for entrepreneurs), how he got press for his startup, and built connections with investors. You can read the highlights below the video.

Guidelines to being a good attendee:

If you see someone at all the events, chances are they don’t have anything of value.

1. Know what people are working on. This lets you figure out how you might be able to help them…
Continue reading “Meet Investors, Line up Customers, and Help Others – A Guide to Startup Meetups”

TSF is looking for guest authors to help out

I’m looking to roll out some new features (better submission process for startups, iterating on our theme, improving site load time, laying down a framework that will allow us to grow more easily in the future, etc…) on TSF and I’m looking for some help from the community. I would love to be able to just focus on code for a few days and publish some quality content from our readers.

All of our guest posts would include a 2-3 sentence intro of the author, along with a link to their URL of choice (startup, personal, etc).

How do I submit an article?

The best way to submit your article is to share it with me in a Google Doc (paul@thestartupfoundry.com). Please also state that the article is yours, and you give full permission for me to publish it on TSF.

Thanks for your support and I look forward to hearing from you!

Follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Why You Don’t Need a Startup Genie

Let’s pretend you hit the startup lottery and Paul Graham wants to help you with your startup. Here’s the catch: Paul tells you that he will only do one thing to help startup succeed. For the purpose of this exercise think of Paul as a magical startup genie. What would you have him do?

Perhaps you need help with your sales funnel. Or maybe you’re struggling with a high level strategy. Perchance your UI is riddled with Comic Sans and you’d like his artistic eye to help redesign the front end. Find a problem that (if solved) would increase your business 10x.

Continue reading “Why You Don’t Need a Startup Genie”