Anjool Malde

I don't want to write a tribute to Jools, I couldn't do better than this article so there's no point.  Since I heard about his passing away, I keep thinking of the things he did for me without asking anything in return.  I felt compelled to write them out in a list. This is it.

1. I met him on an online forum before I even started at Oxford.  There were a lot of voices in my head telling me I wouldn't fit in and I should go somewhere else.   At one point I seriously considering turning down my offer.  He calmed me down and made me excited to start studying there.

2. He got me a quote in the Oxford Student during freshers week, pretty sure he made me the first fresher to be quoted and never mentioned it again.

3. Introduced me to the Oxford Majlis society, which is where I met some of my best friends to this day.

4. Pushed me to run for a position on the Merton JCR in my first year. I was too nervous because no one else in my year had run for a position yet. He convinced me that was irrelevant and was the first to congratulate me when I got it.

5. Told me about, and pushed me to apply for the Real World Graduate of the Year awards where I ended up as a finalist and won £1,000 which I desperately needed because I was as broke as fuck by that point. The press and kudos from that award has been a massive asset in my career ever since.

6. Gave me some ridiculously cheeky advice before my interview for the Graduate of the Year competition that I'm certain is the only reason I made it to the final. Only Jools could have thought of it.

7. Emailed us (me and Kul) the moment any new competitor to our first business venture, boso, appeared along with a full break down of everything he knew about how well it was doing and who was involved.

8. Got me personal press in the Evening Standard during my second year. I never asked him once to do that.

9. When our documentary about our startup went live on Channel 4, he edited out all the shit parts designed to make us look stupid and put up a new version on youtube which we then put up on the website to show our users, which helped us immensely.  We never asked him to do that.

10. Told us that was available for sale, we bought it for an absolute steal.

11. Probably read through and edited my CV and cover letters more than I did.

I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of other things I can't remember right now. Seems like something new comes into my head each day.

The Talent Myth

Whether you're a fan of boxing or not, whether you love or hate Mike Tyson, I would really recommend seeing the recent Tyson documentary.  Mike tyson is a fascinating individual but one part of the documentary really stood out to me. Firstly though, take a second to just think about Mike Tyson. Despite all of the controversy and issues in his personal life, I think very few people would deny that he is one of, if not the, most naturally talented and devastating competitor in possibly the most demanding sport in the world.  That's a pretty incredible achievement.  The sad truth is, the majority of us (and the people we know) will never accomplish anything even remotely close to success on that scale. And yet in the documentary, Tyson describes what happened before his first fight.  

I can't remember exactly what he said but the gist of it went "I was so scared of fighting, in my changing room I told my trainer I had to go to the store and get some things.  I headed down to the store but I'd really intended to go to the train station. I didn't want to fight anyone, I thought I should just get on this train and get the f*** out of here and leave this people here".  This is someone who will be remembered as a once in a lifetime, possibly once in history, boxer who had a level of ferocity and devastation that's never been seen before and he had so much self-doubt he almost didn't even step in the ring.

Then there's his fight with Buster Douglas, when he lost his belt in what was a massive upset (Buster was a 42 to 1 underdog to win that fight). In the documentary, Tyson admits that he didn't train especially hard or take the fight that seriously.  He still trained (probably at a level that most of us couldn't handle) but just not as intensely as he usually would have and he got knocked out by a far less talented fighter.

In a television interview just after Tyson won his second belt, he talks about when he first started boxing.  He talks about sparring and his first few times in the ring and says "I won a few, I lost a few".  At some point, Mike Tyson, stepped into a boxing ring and was beaten by someone whose name we've never heard.  One of the greatest fighters ever, was beaten by a no name at some point.  But Tyson continued fighting.  I bet most of us can think of a time where we tried something new, didn't get the hang of it straight away and gave up.  I'm not saying if we tried harder we could all be Mike Tyson, I'm just saying that when you give up you destroy any chance you might have had of being great.

It's a more media-friendly story to dress people up as being child prodigies or naturally gifted in a way that makes them destined for success.  It's more interesting to read about how David Beckham could curl a football from age 4 than it is to read about the countless extra training sessions and time he spent practicing, once his team mates had gone home, to become one of the greatest strikers of a football in history.  It's more entertaining to read about Cristiano Ronaldo playing football on the streets of Portugal as a kid than it is to read about the time he spent in the gym building up his physique so he could be a complete footballer. There's also an ego element involved.  

As humans it's more fulfilling for us to appear gifted or special in a way that others aren't rather than showing how hard we've had to work to achieve a level of ability at something.  Thus the talent myth continues to be perpetuated. Obviously talent and ability is an important factor.  I doubt that however many hours I spend practicing cricket that my poor hand eye co-ordination is going to allow me to be an international cricket player.  But I know for a fact that if I spent one hour a day practicing, I'd become significantly better than I am right now.  

There's a great quote from Hernan Crespo, an Argentinean football player, in which he compares himself to Batistuta (one of the greatest strikers ever) by saying something along the lines of "Batistuta is a born champion, to be at his level I have to work twice as hard and train twice as much".  Crespo will never have the natural gifts that Batistuta had but with his work ethic, he still managed to command a world record transfer fee and score a lot of goals. The fact is that the limiting factor in most of us achieving our goals/dreams isn't a lack of ability or talent.  It's that not enough of us have the determination to stick with something until we've mastered it.  Right now there's probably a boxer out there who had the same raw ability as Mike Tyson but decided to get on that train and we'll never know his name.

Launching Early

I found this in the drafts folder of my blog. I think I wrote it around a year and a half ago but never got around to publishing it.  It finally sees the light of day.   The motto "launch early" is often thrown around as being good advice for startups. It's probably Paul Graham's second most repeated phrase (behind "make something people want") and Reid Hoffman has said if you're not embarrassed by the first release, you launched too late.  Here are some reasons supporting that argument that have been milling around my head for a while based on my own experience . 1) Staying determined - When you first have the idea for a startup you're always at a knowledge deficit i.e. there are always unknown factors that are going to come along and displace your initial assumptions, making you question what you're doing. The problem is that you don't need to be launched to go through that process - every extra bit of knowledge you gain about the market you're operating in is a step closer to finding that detail that is going to scare the shit out of you. That's tough to deal with. It's even tougher when you go through that process without being launched. There is absolutely no feeling that is comparable to having a user tell you that your product is awesome. Even if it's only a handful of people it still injects you with energy. Being launched brings with it a new level of stress but it's the right kind of stress - it's the kind of stress that drives you to work harder and faster. The stress you work with when you're not launched is a different kind altogether, it's a more destructive force and there's only so much of it a person can take. 2) Keeping the problem simple - It's much easier to start solving a small definable problem and add layers to it than it is to try and solve a monstrosity from the get go. It's the old you can't eat an elephant whole idea. If you put pressure on yourself to launch early you're forced into only being able to solve a simple problem initially. The mental exercise of taking the initial problem you're trying to solve and then breaking that down into smaller problems is invaluable. If you start simple you're less likely to make mistakes and get off the ground sooner (look at Facebook - it started off as something incredibly simple and has evolved into something else entirely) 3) Keeping an iterative approach - It's highly unlikely that you're going to have the flow of Idea --> Build --> Launch --> Lots of traffic (though there's always an exception to every rule - the most recent one I can think of is Scribd which grew like mad from day one). It's more likely that you're going to launch a first version that doesn't get many users and you need to tweak something or go in a slightly different direction (or maybe even scrap everything altogether and do something totally different). That's easy to do if you haven't invested a lot of time in getting that version one ready. On the other hand if you've spent the best part of a year getting to that version one, you've now got a big emotional investment in that product. That's dangerous because now you're going to find you have emotions that don't want to change the product. The exception to this is if your product is going to take a long time to develop just by virtue of what it is (e.g. Xobni, those guys are building something that's inherently more complex and powerful than a standard web app).   4) Parkinson's law - "Work expands to fill the time available" is a big issue when you're working on a startup.  When you're in a company, there are externally imposed deadlines that can come from clients, departments or your boss.  In a startup you set your own timetable and agenda which can be a dangerous thing.  If you're looking to raise investment you might find yourself spending extra days perfecting your executive summary or slide deck.  If you're hacking, you could fall into the trap of continual code re-factoring or working on irrelevant back-end problems that you find interesting.  When you're launched and have feedback from users, these things go away.  Now you have to focus on driving growth, if you don't prioritize and work on the right things at the right pace - your key metrics will be staring you in the face with the truth.

Addicted to Information

Once the dust settled after our acquisition closing, I decided to use the moment as a chance to change my information seeking habits a little. I'd noticed that I was beginning to develop some serious ADD issues - focusing on a single task and seeing it through to completion was becoming increasingly difficult.  This came as a surprise/shock to me - I'm generally quite disciplined when it comes to sitting down and ploughing through work, so my inability to focus was quite troubling. I self-diagnosed myself as suffering from information overload and challenged myself to take the following steps: - Turn off my iPhone data plan so I wasn't permanently checking email every minute of the day - Turn off my IM support for Twitter and remove the mobile notifications so I was only checking tweets when I went to the site - When I didn't have work to do, shut off the laptop and find another activity that didn't involve staring at a screen. So after trying that out for the past month, I can safely say that the only one I've managed to stick to is turning off IM/mobile support for Twitter. I've weened myself off the need to constantly have status updates in real time and so have one less source of interruption in my life. Unfortunately the other two steps didn't work out so well.  I thought that stopping myself from having access to email 24/7 would make me more efficient and reduce the permanent state of feeling like you're working and hence lead to less stress. It didn't work that way. Not having 24/7 access to email made me feel more stressed than ever, I was constantly worried that I might be missing something important to do with work and found it difficult to relax.Perhaps I could have pushed through but after losing my iPhone in a cab, I've ordered a Blackberry Pearl and am switching on my data plan again as of tomorrow (the Pearl is a stop gap until the 3G iPhone comes out in June - if you want to pick up a barely used Pearl in June just let me know). Also my attempt to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of my laptop failed miserably. The sad truth is I'm addicted to the thing. It's my source of work/news/entertainment/relaxation and my life pretty much revolved around it. The fact that in some free time I'm sat in front of it blogging is testament to it. This is where I listen to music, download and watch movies and now even watch TV that is streamed by services like BBC iPlayer or Channel 4 on demand. My failure has made me take a step back and think. There's certain things that being addicted to are clearly accepted as wrong (drugs being the example that springs to mind for most people). Yet here I am, unable to relax without being plugged into some form of information and cramming more data into brain and no one around me blinks an eyelid. Of course being addicted to email doesn't have as far reaching social consequences as being addicted to drugs but at the end of the day, an addiction is an addiction. It also makes you wonder whether the human brain was really built to be used in this way and whether we're putting undue strain on it, or maybe we're still only utilizing X% of it's true capacity. Who knows? Anyway, time to get back to my Google News homepage. It recommends stories I'll like don't you know.

Auctomatic is acquired. Thank you everyone who helped.

Today we announced that my startup,auctomatic, has been acquired by Live Current Media. This marks a huge landmark for Kul, Patrick and myself - we're obviously massively excited and happy that we can finally announce this (we've been in negotiations for almost six months now). Kul has done (as usual) a fantastic job of describing the story with his bbc piece. I plan on blogging more in the coming weeks about why we sold and what we learnt through the process but for now I wanted to make sure that all the people who helped us along the way aren't forgotten (and trying my hardest not to make it sound like we won an oscar rather than got acquired). Turns out this is a much longer list than I'd initially thought. The Team The most import thanks goes to the team I've been lucky enough to work with. Thanks Kul, Patrick, Phil, Brian and John for some good times. Investors Of course we couldn't have gotten anywhere without our investors:
  • Our UK angels who first believed in us: Michael Lewis, Patel Family and Harry Clarke
  • Y Combinator for taking a punt on two non-hackers and introducing us to Patrick.
  • Paul Graham for his candid advice and Jessica Livingston for the countless introductions and help along the way (special note: without Jessica's help, Kul and I would not have our US visas).
  • Paul Buchheit for first beating down our idea each week at YC dinners and then giving us money
  • Chris Sacca for teaching us to grow some balls
Advisors We've been incredibly lucky to have been advised by some very smart people:
  • Judith Clegg - when we were back in the UK Judith did more than anyone to help us with our first fundraising for boso. We owe her massively.
  • Naval Ravikant - has the most information conveyed per spoken word of anyone I know. His advice always turned out to be (sometimes frustratingly) correct.
  • Evan Williams - gave us two desks in the Twitter offices during our YC program. Pretty much the best welcome to the Valley present possible. He's also always been an immense source of help and advice all along.
  • Allen Morgan - though we didn't raise a Series A, Allen was always a great source of help and advice
  • Katherine Barr - recommended reading "Getting to Yes", a fantastic book that helped immensely
Peers We've also been lucky to have an amazing peer group, especially all the YC guys, some special mentions:
  • Robby from Zenter for letting us crash at his place while we were homeless
  • Tsumobi's for hosting us while we were in Boston
  • The Zenopy crew for being an incredible source of support and help from the early days
  • The Songkicks and other founders who came along to help us pitch at eBay Live
  • Srini from YouOS and Project Wedding for being our first hacking tutor (and his dog Amber)
  • Bob Goodson and Kirill Makharinsky from Younoodle for showing us the way to Silicon Valley
Everyone else
  • Wilson Sonsini, in particular Carolynn Levy, for being our legal counsel from the beginning and doing a great job
  • Chris Wright for preparing our all important US visa petitions
  • Groovytrain for giving us office space when we were young and still working on boso in London
  • All investors we spoke to but didnt close, your advice helped us nontheless - in particular thanks to Mike Maples, Mark Pincus and Rajeev Motwani
  • Everyone who signed one of our visa reference letters who's not already been mentioned - Mitch Kapor, Max Levchin, Chris Anderson and Biz Stone
  • Ankur Pansari for his time and insigh as a powerseller
  • Thanks to everyone who interned with us, especially Hiroki for coming out to San Francisco, but also all the old boso interns - Keren, Jean, Clarissa and crew
  • Friends and family who have supported us along the way
Apologies if I've missed anyone, thank you all!