tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Harj Taggar 2020-04-07T17:02:16Z Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1455266 2018-04-08T19:00:00Z 2020-04-07T17:02:16Z Sleep
Recently I’ve been getting great sleep (without any major changes in general lifestyle or stress levels). I made a bunch of changes at once. One, all or some combination of them are having an effect. Here’s the list:
  • Comfortable mattress: This is obvious. What’s not obvious is how much effort people have already put into testing every available mattress and writing up their findings in detail. It’s worth spending time on Sleep Like the Dead and Sleepjunkie before buying a mattress to find one that suits you. (It’s possible spending a lot of time researching a mattress makes it feel more comfortable through placebo effect, which is fine by me).
  • Eat dinner early: I’d often eat dinner within an hour of going to sleep. Now I’ve been eating at least 4.5 hours before going to bed (related to starting a Intermittent Fasting protocol).
  • Oil diffuser: I turn on an oil diffuser with lavender scents about 45 minutes before going to sleep.
  • Reading fiction: I read an hour of fiction. I typically don’t read much fiction and would use any spare reading time for non-fiction/learning. That makes my mind too active though and it’s also tough to focus on dense material after a long day.
  • 10 min meditation: After reading I do a 10 minute guided sleep meditation on Simple Habit or Headspace. I think taking long deep breaths is 90% of the benefit vs the actual meditation.
  • Sleep stories: Calm has a feature called Sleep Stories, which are exactly what they sound like — bedtime stories for adults. I was skeptical at first but I’ve found them amazing for keeping you getting wrapped up in your thoughts and staying awake. I’m usually asleep before the end of one.
  • No phone in bedroom: The only electronics allowed are my Kindle and an old iPhone with just the Spotify, Calm, Headspace and Simple Habit apps.

Two other things I’ve used for a while are:

  • Blackout curtains: Make your room as dark as possible (I don’t like using a sleep mask)
  • Sunlight alarm clock: Wakes you up gradually.

Finally, the best advice on getting good sleep I’ve heard was from Naval — “don’t run a company” :)

(Edit: As many of my friends have noted, all of these suggestions will be utterly useless if you have kids).

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/674099 2014-04-09T21:50:16Z 2016-02-09T05:56:06Z My experiments with preventing heart disease

I wrote previously how learning that I had a family history of early heart disease prompted me to take a more proactive approach to managing my health. After getting tested for a number of markers associated with heart disease, and scoring in the high range for some of them, I began forming an action plan.

Of course I knew the basic plan would be to "eat well and exercise", as per the advice most doctors would offer. But I wanted more specifics. What's *my* optimal diet for preventing heart disease? Which has the greater effect, diet or exercise? Is focusing on one alone sufficient? How much should I be exercising?

Diet

I began by focusing on just diet. Generally I eat pretty well, avoiding sugar and refined carbs. This helps keep my weight under control (I have an endomorphic body type) but I do eat a fair amount of meat (minimum twice a day) and especially red meat (minimum twice a week). There seemed to be much literature advocating a plant-based diet as a means of not only preventing heart disease but reversing it. The physician behind much of this work, Dr Dean Ornish, worked with Bill Cinton to help him recover from his quadruple bypass in 2004.

I decided to try a modified version of the strict plant-based diet. I cut out all meat, fish, dairy and restricted eggs to a maximum of twice a week.  I found this change much tougher than I'd expected, I felt gassy and low-energy after the second week.  After one month I made a modification and switched to occasionally having lean, white meat or fish for dinner but still no red meat at all. I found this more workable and would still often go days without any meat at all.

After two months I ran another set of blood tests to see if my heart disease markers had changed:

Marker Change Target
Total Cholesterol 206 mg/dL (+/- 0%) < 200 mg/dL
LDL (bad cholesterol) 127 -> 119 mg/dL (- 6%) < 100 mg/dL
HDL (good cholesterol) 70 -> 77 mg/dL (+ 10%) > 40 mg/dL

I was happy to see improvement in the ratio of my LDL and HDL.  Even though it'd only been two months,  I was somewhat surprised that my total cholesterol hadn't changed at all though.  This made me curious about the exact link between diet and cholesterol.  I began looking into the research connecting them. I discovered something that stunned me. For 70% of people, diet supposedly has minimal effect on their cholesterol levels (more detailed explanation below).

More concerning to me was that my dietary change had negligible effect on two of the more advanced heart disease markers, in fact they showed a tiny increase:

Marker Change Target
Apo(B) 98 -> 102 mg/dL (+ 4%) < 80 mg/dL
Lp(a) 148 -> 151 nmol/L (+ 2%) < 75 mg/dL

I found there was considerable evidence that Apo(B) may actually be a more important predictor of heart disease risk than LDL cholesterol. The Canadian Cardiovascular Society has included Apo(B) in its heart disease management guideline since 2009.  A quick explanation of the theory is that the number of cholesterol particles you have, is more important than your total amount of cholesterol.  Apo(B) count is a proxy for the number of cholesterol particles because each particle has exactly one Apo(B) molecule. 

There were some more notable changes in two of my other makers:

Marker Change Target
Triglycerides (fat in your blood) 80 -> 49 mg/dL (- 39%) < 150 mg/dL
hs-CRP (Inflammation) 3.1 -> 0.8 mg/L (- 77%) <1 mg/L

I was happy to get my triglycerides down but they were already in the healthy range, unlike my other markers. It was also hard to know what to make of the inflammation decrease, since it's a notoriously variable reading (intense exercise or a recovering from a cold could both raise it). Frankly, it was a surprise to me that I'd scored so highly in the first place and I suspect it could have just been a funky reading (human involvement in the testing process means there's an inevitable margin for error on these tests).

Exercise

During these two months I'd not been exercising at all. Now I kept the same diet and signed up for a crossfit gym, working out there 3x a week. Two months later I ran the tests again. This time I found even fewer changes in my cholesterol levels:

Marker Change Target
Total Cholesterol 206 md/dL (+/- 0%) < 200 mg/dL
LDL (bad cholesterol) 119 mg/dL (+/- 0%) < 100 mg/dL
HDL (good cholesterol) 77 -> 73 md/dL (- 5%) > 40 mg/dL

However I saw some significant movement in my other markers:

Marker Change Target
Apo(B) 102 - 90 mg/dL (- 12%) < 80 mg/dL
Lp(a) 151 -> 88 nmol/L (- 42%) < 75 mg/dL

Given the importance of Apo(B) in particular, as I mentioned above, this was really encouraging. My remaining markers showed some mixed results:

Marker Change Target
Triglycerides 49 -> 61 mg/dL (+ 25%) < 150 mg/dL
hs-CRP (Inflammation) 0.8 -> 0.5 mg/L (- 37.5%) < 1 mg/L

I'm not concerned by the rise in my triglycerides though, as I'm still well within the healthy range. I plan to continue monitoring it and if it keeps continues moving upwards, I'll have plenty of time to figure out a strategy to course correct.  

Conclusion

Given the importance of Apo(B) as a predictor of heart disease and its non-response to my diet-only modification, regular exercise is clearly an essential component of an effective heart disease prevention plan for me.

Looking at my LDL trend, the lack of change in the past two months is interesting. I can think of two explanations; 1) my body is sensitive to dietary cholesterol and I'd have to adopt a strict vegetarian/vegan diet over a longer period of time to bring it down into what's considered the healthy range, 2) my exercise regime increased my body's production of LDL and cancelled out any decrease from my diet modification (there is some precedent that increased muscle mass elevates LDL levels, and since starting crossfit I've gained just over 3lbs of muscle mass).

I plan to continue with my regime of limiting meat intake (I actually quite enjoy it now as it gives me a reason to explore new places and foods for lunch) and regular exercising. Hopefully in another couple of months my Apo(B) in particular will continue moving towards the healthy range.

I've always known that eating well and exercising are things I should be doing but tying them to specific data that affects how long I'm going to live for, gives me a level of motivation I've not felt before.

Thanks to Dr Mager for reading a draft of this.

HN discussion here.

---

Notes

For the full explanation of how cholesterol works, I'd really recommend reading The Straight Dope on Cholesterol. It's an incredibly detailed set of articles though. This is a fairly good summary of the main points, though still a decent read itself. I'll attempt to give a super simple nutshell explanation here:

  • Cholesterol comes both from the food you eat (only animal food products) and is also produced by your liver (it's present in every cell in your body).
  • The type of cholesterol from food is typically too large in size for your cells to absorb it, so it just passes straight through.
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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/614442 2013-10-30T16:06:57Z 2014-04-09T23:49:07Z Avoiding Heart Disease

This summer my uncle went to see a doctor after complaining about experiencing shortness of breath. He's an officer in the Indian army and has a regular medical checkup every six months so he wasn't expecting to hear anything too shocking. This time, after some prodding from a cardiologist family friend, the doctors did a more extensive checkup. They told him that four of his coronary arteries were severely blocked. It was amazing he hadn't already had a heart attack. He underwent a quadruple bypass and thankfully is recovering well now.

I happened to be traveling in India at the time and learnt from my family that my grandfather had a fatal heart attack around the same age my uncle was now (mid 50's). He was also an officer in the army and seemingly in good health. I began wondering if a similar fate lies in store for me. The more I considered it, the more ridiculous it seemed. How could someone spend years thinking they're in good health with no idea that they're actually a ticking time bomb?

I decided to be proactive about managing this risk. I wanted to know what data I should be looking at and tracking over time so I could avoid being completely blindsided one day. I went to see a doctor and explained everything above. Her response, "you're young and healthy, come in for a physical once a year to check your cholesterol numbers and don't worry about it - just eat well and exercise regularly". I found this quite frustrating for two reasons:

  1. My cholesterol numbers came back fine (just like they were last year) but I knew cholesterol couldn't be a sufficient indicator of a healthy heart. My uncle had cholesterol numbers that were fine too.
  2. The advice to "eat well and exercise" didn't seem particularly insightful. To me it felt a lot like saying "don't worry about things for now, come back in 20 years when you have some actual symptoms".

So I started doing my own research into predictors of heart disease risk beyond monitoring cholesterol numbers. I came across three blood tests that seemed important; Apolipoprotein_B (ApoB), High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) and Lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a))[1]. There appeared to be evidence[2] that all three taken together could provide a more accurate overview of heart disease risk than cholesterol alone.

I ordered these tests[3] and found that my levels for all three were elevated and fell into the "at risk" category.  There were a few conclusions I drew from my results:

  • While it's not exactly good news discovering that you have an elevated risk of heart disease, it made me feel better that I wasn't flying totally blind anymore. My mind immediately switched to researching ways to improve these numbers.
  • There seem to be fairly clear guidelines on how to go about reducing Apo(B) and hs-CRP numbers e.g. exercising reduces Apo(B) (though interestingly not LDL ("bad") cholesterol) and eating omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation.
  • Lp(a) seems trickier to manage. It appears to be mostly hereditary and I can't find a clear consensus on how to reduce it. It occurs to me that while I thought I wanted to gather data on every aspect of my heart, perhaps what I actually wanted was just the data about the things I can control.
  • My cholesterol numbers were checked again during these tests, in just two weeks my total cholesterol had dropped 14%. It seems incredible that such an important number can fluctuate so much over a couple of weeks and yet most people only measure it once a year, at best.

I've been thinking about whether taking this approach to managing my health is a good idea or not. It's certainly a slippery slope. There's always a new study to read indicating some additional marker or factor that should be taken into account. After a while it can seem somewhat overwhelming. I've been wondering though why didn't I have this level of discussion with my doctor? There are of course the obvious practical reasons. Doctors are busy and explaining heart disease risk to a healthy 28 year old isn't  viewed as a priority. Also running blood tests costs money and it's hard to see the insurance companies being willing to foot the bill for tests that aren't deemed necessary.

Ignoring these for a moment though, I've been thinking about the possible philosophical objections to treating managing your health as a data project. Here's what I've come up with so far:

Heart disease is complex and there's still debate about the validity of these additional markers
There's also debate about how useful linking cholesterol with heart disease risk is and yet that's still a standard test. There certainly appear to be enough studies and trials arguing that hs-CRP, ApoB and LP(a) are important so surely these numbers can't be completely irrelevant. If I want to take a proactive and preventative approach to managing my health, surely gathering the most information possible to form a plan of action seems reasonable?

The advice i.e. manage diet/exercise/stress is still the same. You should be doing it anyway.
True but I find that tying actions to specific numbers/metrics is better e.g. it's easier to lose weight if you weigh yourself regularly. Generic advice to eat well and exercise is not as effective as having a specific number you're trying to improve on e.g. lowering your ApoB count. Being specific also allows you to create a more personalized plan of action.

Optimizing for specific factors before fully understanding them can have unforeseen consequences
An example would be the conclusion by Ancel Keys in the 50's that animal fats caused heart disease, resulting in the American Heart Association pushing the idea of low fat diets to the public. By promoting fats as evil, the real danger of sugar and refined carbohydrates were ignored[4].

I'm not advocating pushing any particular theory or medical opinion on people. What I want is a system where I can choose to have access to my data with the explicit acknowledgement that the behaviour of the human body is inherently complex and uncertain. It's then my decision what course of action I want to take, taking the informed opinion of my doctor into account.

Numbers are constantly fluctuating, monitor them too frequently and you'll get stressed
This is actually a direct quote from my doctor. In my opinion it's still not a reason to ignore the numbers. I can opt out of knowing them if I wish but if I want access to that data, why should anyone but me have the right to make the decision? The role of a doctor should include telling me what fluctuations are normal and which ones aren't, rather than just checking in with me once a year.

I'd really like to hear more about what people think about this. Am I missing other major downsides to taking a more proactive approach to managing my own health?  Are there other things I should consider looking at to get a complete picture of my health?

---

[1] ApoB: This is a protein found on the surface of LDL ("bad cholesterol") particles. A regular cholesterol test tells you how much cholesterol is contained within the LDL particles but doesn't tell you either the number or size of these particles themselves. Each particle contains one molecule of ApoB i.e. ApoB count == the number of LDL particles you have. This means you can also make an inference as to their size. If you have a high ApoB value, your LDL particles are likely to be small and dense which are believed to be a stronger indicator of heart attack risk. There seems to be some debate both for and against the importance of ApoB as a heart disease risk indicator that's more valuable than just measuring LDL. The existence of the debate alone seemed reason enough for me to add it to my list of data to track.
hs-CRP: This is a protein found in the blood and its presence is a sign of inflammation in the body, which is a risk factor for heart disease.  While testing for hs-CRP alone isn't more predictive of heart disease than a regular cholesterol test, it does provide valuable additional information. If your hs-CRP level is higher than 3.0mg/L you're at high risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Lp(a):This is a different form of LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein - also known as "bad" cholesterol) which attaches to a protein called Apo A. It's apparently unclear what Lp(a) actually does but if your level is greater than 30mg/dL it's deemed an increased risk factor for heat attack.

[2]http://www.lipidjournal.com/article/S1933-2874(11)00606-4/abstract, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/108/12/e81.full, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/714264

[3] I looked into how I'd get these tests ordered myself and found these options:

  • WellnessFX: A nice looking website that has various packages of tests you can run. The cheapest package that included hs-CRP, ApoB and LP(a) was their Baseline (http://www.wellnessfx.com/baseline), priced at $149. It also includes a variety of other tests
  • Directlabs: A dated looking website but offering the option of a la carte tests. Total cost for these three tests: $205
  • Health Tests Direct: Another dated looking website, again with the option of a la carte tests. Total cost: $115.50
I decided to go with WellnessFX since for marginally more money I could get a variety of other tests too.

[4] The opening chapters of Good Calories, Bad Calories contain a detailed explanation of the history involved.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/588024 2013-07-10T10:52:24Z 2013-10-08T17:27:11Z Traveling

It's been a little while since it was announced I was stepping down to part-time partner at YC. I'd been meaning to say something about it sooner but I've been afk for a while (quite literally as my only electronic travel companion has been my iPad).  Better late than never though.

I joined YC in 2010 mostly out of curiousity. I was amazed how much it had grown since I'd gone through the program myself and it was fascinating to think about what kind of scale it could reach.  The next three and a half years were more interesting than I could have imagined.  Every batch presented a new set of unexpected and novel problems to solve.  We funded over 300 startups during that time and learnt an incredible amount. It's something I'm truly grateful to have been a part of.

I knew though that I missed working on a startup and I decided at the end of 2012 that Winter 2013 would be my last batch as a full-time partner.  'Twasn't an easy decision but I knew it was the right one.

I had various thoughts and idea about things to work on floating around in my head and my instinct was to start building things immediately so I'd be ready to announce my new project within 0.5 seconds of stepping down.  When I took a second to breathe though, one thing kept bugging me. I'd been wanting to go away and travel for the past decade and apart from some short trips here and there, never had. 

I'd first thought about taking a gap year and travelling in 2003 but starting university asap seemed more important. I then thought about doing it after graduating, even started planning with some friends, but I was working full-time on my startup pretty much the day after my final exam.  Now I found myself with the same desire to travel but a new realization that ten years go by pretty fast and having periods of time with no commitments seldom occur, especially as you get older. So this time I decided to actually do it.  By biggest surprised when I mentioned this to people, especially those older than me that I looked up to, was just how unequivocal the encouragement to do it was. 

I've been on the road for 7 weeks now. So far I've visited Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, The Philippines and Hong Kong. The past month has felt like a year. A barrage of new experiences that have slowed down (my perception of) the passage of time and that's felt wonderful.  I've been exposed to a huge amount of new ideas, information and people over the past few years and it's been great having some time and distance to look back and filter through them.  

If you have any travel trips or suggestions for places to visit I'd be most grateful. Having planned things out in advance over the past few weeks, I'm keeping the next couple of months more flexible and playing things by ear.

If you're thinking about doing something similar and taking some time out, I'd highly recommend reading this post from Michael Wolfe. I also found this post from Naveen, co-founder of Foursquare, quite motivating.

Look forward to seeing everyone when I'm back in September!

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/417374 2013-04-18T22:11:11Z 2016-02-07T06:20:12Z Co-founder breakups

The relationship between co-founders is usually the single biggest risk to a startup in the earliest stages, it's certainly the most common reason for failure we see at YC. Having (unfortunately) seen a lot of co-founder breakups over the past couple of years, here is a list of some common causes I've seen that underly the final "we can't reach an agreement on anything, one of us has to leave" conversation.

Being the CEO

The most common reason for breakups is usually when more than one founder has aspirations of being CEO. It's true that titles are generally meaningless when a startup is just two or three people but I believe that being able to answer the question "Who is the CEO?" is important. In fact, it's probably a bad sign if it even needs to be asked. The counter example people often use here is Sergey and Larry but if you speak to people who knew the two of them from the early days, you'll hear that Larry was always the dominant founder.  Over time, one founder usually emerges as the public face of the company e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Of course they're not the only ones doing the work but you should decide early on how important being this person is to you.  If you find yourself having simmering resentment that you're not the CEO on day one, it's unlikely those feelings will dissipate over time.  

Commitment

Sometimes one founder will be more committed to the startup than the others, even if the equity split is equal. Perhaps one founder came up with the idea and recruited his friends, who wanted to try out a startup but aren't as passionate about the idea.  This can turn out not to be a problem if the startup hits some reasonable growth (growth is usually a solution to such ails as long as it continues). If not, the "attached" co-founders might start wondering whether they really hated it as much at BigCo as they thought or start debating whether they should return to grad school. In particular if the "main" founder is seen as the public face of the company, the others may not feel as though their personal reputation/identity is intertwined with the startup and thus they have less to lose by leaving. An extreme example of this is when a non-technical founder convinces a technical founder to join the company and gives them 10% or less of the company. Such relationships rarely (if ever) work out.

Uneven equity splits

It's not necessary to have 50/50 equity splits all the time but there should be a good justification for moving away from it dramatically. If one founder came up with the idea, is investing money, has spent a decent period of time working on it, built the first version of the product and found an initial group of users then it can make sense. However if you're still at the idea stage and one founder has significantly less of the company, this can often cause simmering resentment.  In particular this causes problems for companies that started outside of Silicon Valley and move here. The founder with less % will start realizing during conversations with other founders that 50/50 is the most common configuration and inevitably start questioning why that isn't the case with him/her. Remember that if the startup is successful, you'll be working on it for the next 5 - 7+ years of your lives. The majority of the work lies ahead so compensate accordingly.

Different priorities

People enjoy and value different things. To some, solving hard technical problems is more important than anything else. That's great if your company is e.g. Dropbox but not so great if you're starting Airbnb.  If one founder places an emphasis on design above all else while the other treats it as an unnecessary luxury, there will always be constant tension between the two. You might argue that this works fine provided there are clear divisions of responsibility but such divisions are not so black and white at the early stages of a startup. Resources are finite and stretched, it's unlikely you'll be able to accomodate differing top-level priorities, which will seep into the prioritization of everyday tasks. There are broader versions of this e.g. different approaches to work/life balance, different personal weightings of goals such as money/power/status.

Lack of candour

This isn't as specific a cause as the others but I've noticed it a lot so it seems worth mentioning. Sometimes I'll see a team acrimoniously break-up one day over a seemingly trivial thing, despite having seemed calm and fine for months. It almost always turns out there was some simmering ongoing issue that neither founder brought up e.g. perhaps one feels like the other doesn't meet deadlines often enough. Not bringing up these issues immediately causes them to build up over time, where each incident by itself doesn't invoke full-out rage but one day something snaps .  This often happens with shy hackers who don't enjoy dealing with confrontation.  You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't bring up what's on your mind. If you feel like you can't, then you should probably question whether you have the right co-founder. I don't know if this is a recipe for fixing a relationship, it may be that this is just the sign of a broken one, but I do know that these things never just go away by themselves.

Have you encountered or experienced other causes?

Should you find yourself in this unfortunately position of breaking-up, Elad wrote a great blog post detailing your options for dealing with things.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/417093 2013-04-18T17:41:29Z 2016-02-09T11:22:37Z Humour

I recently watched this wonderful video of a lecture by John Cleese on creativity. Full transcript here. I'd really recommend watching it in its entirety.

Here's a part I particularly enjoyed:

So, here's how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going.

One: Allow subordinates no humour, it threatens your self-importance and especially your omniscience. Treat all humour as frivolous or subversive.

Because subversive is, of course, what humour will be in your setup, as it's the only way that people can express their opposition, since (if they express it openly) you're down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let's get this clear: blame humour for the resistance that your way of working creates. Then you don't have to blame your way of working. This is important. And I mean that solemnly. Your dignity is no laughing matter.

During college I was interning at a law firm. I remember the exact moment when I realized this wasn't going to work out for me. We were being shown around the (very large) offices by one of the partners, who commented "During the 60's this building actually used to be a factory". To this I jokingly replied "I guess some things never change!" I was quite proud of myself but apparently this kind of humour was quite taboo. Throughout the rest of the internship I never did quite figure out what type of humour wasn't taboo. I did however figure out that I couldn't function in environments where a sense of humour wasn't valued.

(For more thoughts on humour PG talks about it in the context of good design in his essay Taste for Makers, search for "Good design is often slightly funny").

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/173646 2013-03-15T15:47:51Z 2016-02-09T11:25:56Z Rejection

PG recently posted an email I sent satirizing a VC passing on investing in a startup:

We'll be Circling Back
(Rapgenius version)

I sent the YC partners an email saying I was growing increasingly impressed with one of the startups in the current batch and asking what they thought of them, and Harj Taggar replied with this brilliant piece of VC boilerplate.

From: Harj Taggar
To: Paul Graham

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your note and sending ⟨startup⟩ our way, we really appreciate it and always enjoy meeting with YC founders. Keep 'em coming!

We loved ⟨founder⟩ and are impressed by both his background and the progress he has made thus far. It's exciting to see entrepreneurs tackling "real-world" problems in important areas, which aligns well with our investment thesis.

However it's currently a little early for us to step in here. We'd like to see ⟨founder⟩ show a few more proof points and validate a couple of the core assumptions underlying the business. We've offered to introduce him to a few value-add partners, within our network, who we think could really help him work through and shape some of the strategic issues he'll face in the coming months. We plan on keeping in close touch and will be circling back once he's at a more appropriate stage for investment.

On a separate note, I feel like we could be doing more to help YC companies. We're in awe of what you've built over there at the Y and we'd love to grab a coffee and talk more about how we could be helpful to both the companies and you.

Best,

Harj

Writing rejection emails is hard, it's definitely the least enjoyable part about working at YC. They don't have to sound like this though. Here's a real email from an investor (with company/investor specific information removed), explaining why they were passing on a company:

Here are some candid notes on the Company X pitch as experienced by one prospective investor (us) -- may be helpful for future pitches --

  • It doesn't work to start the pitch by saying "we are experts in virality" and then not be viral.
  • Given lack of virality, need some #'s from marketing experiments and some theory on cost of customer acquisition and lifetime value.
  • Need more numbers beyond # of installs... # of actives, cohort data, etc.
  • A bottoms-up market sizing/segmentation would be good, as opposed to the very broad top-down market sizing they gave. Very vague on how they think about the market and which segments to go after first.
  • Need a better/fuller competitive analysis particularly given how competitive and superheated the whole "____" space is.
  • Need an articulated plan of what's going to happen with the money raised in the new round.

Overall it seemed that the right thing would be for their existing investors to bridge them until either (a) they get viral or (b) they generate experimental data on cost of customer acquisition (at least).

Investor

It takes more time to write something like this but it'd certainly be better for everyone if it became the standard.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26625 2012-01-30T00:24:33Z 2013-10-08T15:27:14Z Quotes about education

"Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. In college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand could get you anything - from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it." - Robert M. Persig (Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance)


 "Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more 'respectful' teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many 'well-adjusted' adults are bitter, uncreative, frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that's what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing." - Keith Johnstone (Impro: Improvisation and the theatre)

 

"And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.” – Steve Jobs 

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26677 2010-09-27T20:40:59Z 2013-10-08T15:27:15Z what happens at y combinator this is a question i am frequently asked. people don't seem to realize just how much stuff we do for the companies we invest in. pg just answered the question, in depth, here http://ycombinator.com/atyc.html]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26689 2010-05-18T18:59:41Z 2013-10-08T15:27:15Z eminem's best verse allright lets pretend Marshall Mathers never picked up a pen
lets pretend things would have been no different
pretend he procrastinated had no motivation
pretend he just made excuses that were so paper thin they could blow away with the wind
marshall you’re never gonna make it makes no sense to play the game there ain’t no way that you’ll win
pretend he just stayed outside all day and played with his friends
pretend he even had a friend to say was his friend
and it wasn’t time to move and schools were changing again
he wasn’t socially awkward and just strange as a kid
he had a father and his mother wasn’t crazy as sh-t
and he never dreamed he could rip stadiums and just lazy as sh-t
f-ck a talent show in a gymnasium bitch you won’t amount to sh-t quit daydreaming kid
you need to get your cranium checked you thinking like an alien it just ain’t realistic
now pretend they ain’t just make him angry with this sh-t and there was no one he could even aim when he’s pissed it
and his alarm went off to wake him off but he didn’t make it to the rap Olympics slept through his plane and he missed it
he’s gon’ have a hard time explaining to Hailey and Laney these food stamps and this WIC sh-t
cuz he never risked shit he hopes and he wished it but it didn’t fall in his lap so he ain’t even here
he pretends that…
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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26703 2010-04-26T18:46:00Z 2016-08-11T10:58:24Z human brain

yes this is actually a real human brain, well half of it. I touched it.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26712 2010-02-22T01:29:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:15Z my colour palette

thanks to the colourlovers.com guys for a great party last night they brought in a professional photographer and created cuztomized colour palettes for people, check out my one and create your own one at http://colourlovers.com

 

photo credit Greg Hennes, www.ClutchCamera.com

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26719 2009-10-26T23:02:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:15Z Post-startup school thoughts

This weekend was Startup School (thanks to Jessica and the YC team for organizing). The event was thought provoking in a different way for me this year. Usually it's a raw feeling of inspiration and wanting to build a successful startup so one day I can be a speaker and not an attendee. This time it left me more reflective.  Differences in the talks this year were Tony Hsieh and Mark Pincus going into the psychology of why people start companies and Paul Graham talked about what startups are really like i.e. for the most part they're a brutal experience.

My motivations for doing my first startup were simple and mercenary. I wanted to get never-have-to-work again rich and thought a startup represented the best chance of achieving that goal.  I didn't question that motive in any great depth. I'd never had much money growing up and the desire to be rich was hardwired in me since as far as I could remember. The time I spent on a startup was by far the most intense and stressful period of my life.  I've now seen first hand just how hard building a business is and I've been around enough failed startups to confirm it. The net result of this is I can't use mercenary motives to justify doing another startup. My brain just won't let me delude myself on the chances of that outcome like it used to.  

We were incredibly lucky to be in the group of first time entrepreneurs to get a profitable exit.  It wasn't never-have-to-work again profitable but it significantly changed our financial positions.  It still doesn't change the reality though. Startups are hard and big exits are rare. That's where my thinking was at before going into Startup School.  In this context, these parts made me think the most: - Tony Hsieh presented an interesting thought experiment. Ask yourself what one of your goals is. Then ask why. Then ask why again and keep going. It should end with to be happy. We set goals and do things because on some level we think they will make us happy. He touched on the ideas presented in Stumbling on Happiness (a fantastic book I found via Kul) namely that although we do things because we think they'll make us happy, humans are notoriously bad at correctly predicting which things will actually make them happy.  

Unless you're fortunate (or have a low bar for happiness, which is arguably in many ways a good thing), knowing which things and actions will make you happy is not a trivial exercise.  It's something everyone should spend time thinking about but especially in the context of startups and founders, not enough of us do.  There's so many external forces pushing us (peer pressure, societal expectations, family, circumstances, etc) that make it hard for us to listen to our inner voice when there's so much value to be had in doing so. - Mark Pincus talked about how even after selling a few companies and being successful he still had the desire to start another one. I spoke with Mark after his talk and he articulated why selling a company can be an anti-climax.

Once you sell, you reap the financial rewards but if it wasn't a product that really mattered to the world you're left with nothing to really show for it. That's what drove him to start Zynga - he wanted a product that really mattered to people. So far I've managed to distill two (very vague) motivations/goals that I want to optimize around for whatever I do next: - Work on something that positively impacts a significant number of people's lives. - Work with people who can improve me I'm curious to see where the thought process will take me. If anyone is/has been in a similar position, I'd be interested to hear about your experiences.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26728 2009-09-17T23:15:00Z 2014-06-09T14:47:11Z Laser Eye Surgery

I had laser eye surgery last week and have repeatedly been asked about the process by people thinking of having it done.  There's two types of laser eye surgery, Lasik and PRK.  In a nutshell Lasik has a faster recovery time but isn't suited to people wanting to do contact sports e.g. martial arts. PRK takes longer to recover from but leaves the eye more structurally sound in the long term.  I went for PRK. Cost was $2399 (CAD) - I think that's on the expensive side but the clinic I went to was highly recommended and I didn't think my eyes were something worth cutting costs on.

Week before procedure: You're not allowed to wear contact lenses for a week before the procedure.

Day before: Consultation where they check you're eligible for surgery.  Nothing uncomfortable or invasive - just a vision test, looking at blurry images while they take pictures of your eyes and some eye drops to dilate your pupils.

The procedure: I was seriously nervous beforehand. I hate having people do anything near my eyes - it took me over an hour to put my first pair of contact lenses in. I was surprised by how easy the procedure actually was. You lie down, they put a clamp like thing to keep you from blinking but they wet your eyes so it's not actually (that) uncomfortable.  Then they use drops to numb your eyes (slight sting but nothing much) and put a ring over your eye (you don't feel it). You're basically looking at a red light (given I was -5.5 in my left and -5.75 in my right eye it was a very blurry light). Then they pour a cold liquid into your eye. Doesn't hurt but it's pretty cool. Next they wipe your eye (they're removing a thin out layer that grows back by itself) and then the laser starts moving around and making noises. You can smell burnt hair which is pretty gross. This whole process takes about 2 minutes and once they're done the red light is no longer blurry. They then put a protective contact lens in the eye that you wear for 6 days. Process repeated for other eye.

Directly after surgery: Your eyes are still numbed so you don't feel anything in them. Everyone has different levels of vision after but mine was pretty clear - it wasn't 100% but pretty sharp. You're given three sets of eye drops, one you put in every 3 hours and 2 that you use three times a day. There's a final set you use if you have any pain.

Few hours after surgery: My vision stayed relatively clear but my eyes started stinging quite a bit and had some pain.  Not a crazy unbearable amount but definitely a uncomfortable level.  The pain killing eye drops are great, you can put them in and they instantly numb your eyes for 3 hours. I used them a couple of times that day.  I was also super sensitive to any light.  I tried to sleep as much as possible (advice given by doctor).

Recovery Day 1: I'll be honest, my eyes hurt quite a bit this day and I was getting freaked out. The pain killing drops are great but you're not supposed to overuse them as it can delay healing.  Stuff I found that worked great was putting an ice pack over my eyes. Also you're given artificial tear drops you can use whenever. I chilled these in the fridge and then used them - helped a lot.  I had a checkup at the clinic, they said everything was fine and the pain would go away. I slept as much as possible again and rode out the day. It's worth noting that not everyone has pain e.g. I know Kul said he didn't have any stinging but did have really dry eyes. Everyone reacts slightly differently.

Recovery Day 2: After waking up in the middle of the night to numb my eyes after they were stinging again, I woke up and found the stinging wasn't there. I kept icing and resting and got to lunchtime still without any stinging or need to use the eye drops. My vision was definitely blurrier (supposed to happen as the thing layer of your eye grows back).  Made it until the evening without needing the pain killing drops.

Recovery Day 3: Eyes felt much better. I slept the whole night and there was no stinging at all. I kept icing a little anyway as I found it helped moisten my eyes a little but there wasn't any pain. Vision became progressively cloudier during the day.

Recovery Days 4 and 5: No pain. Vision was seriously cloudy on day 4 but became a little better by day 6.

Recovery Day 6: Eyes were feeling a little dry from the contact lens but no pain. The contact lens were removed. Felt a bit irritable at first, like having an eye lash in your eye but this only lasted for 15 minutes. I've heard from others this sensation can last for a few days but I was told my eyes had healed perfectly so it wouldn't last long. I'm pretty sure that sleeping a lot and not using a computer i.e. properly resting my eyes since the procedure really helped optimize my recovery.

Recovery Day 7: Woke up today with pretty sharp vision and eyes feeling good. I don't think I'm at 20/20 yet but I feel pretty close and every day they should get better. I now have one eye drop I use 5 times a day and a gel type thing I put in before I go to sleep. Next check up is at the end of the month. Touch wood my recovery continues going smoothly.  Apart from the first two days everything has gone really smoothly and I'm really glad I had the procedure done. Not worrying about glasses or contact lenses is an amazing feeling.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26733 2009-09-05T07:23:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z Leaving Live Current and Vancouver

This week I left my role as Director of Product at Live Current Media.  I'm grateful to Live Current for having faith in the Auctomatic product and team and acquiring us last year.  I've enjoyed the past 15 months but the time is right to move onto something new. For me that means moving back to San Francisco.  

I've loved living in Vancouver, it's an amazing city and I've bonded with people here in a way I had never anticipated when I moved out here.  I'll miss everyone a lot and leave behind a lot of amazing memories.  However I always knew that at some point I'd move back to San Francisco.  It's the best place to be as an entrepreneur and I'm looking forward to being back and getting sunk into something new. I've no specific plans about what I'll be doing next beyond knowing that I want to start another business.  

This time around I've lost the naivety of a first-time entrepreneur, which is both a strength and weakness but leaning more towards the former.  Having experienced the incredible stress of a startup  I'm under no illusions about how hard building a business is but having had time to think about things, I honestly can't think of anything else I'd want to do. My first objective is to put a team together. If you're interested in working together and want to bounce some ideas around drop me a line. I'll be back in the Bay Area from 1st October.

P.S. For everyone in Vancouver, I'll throw a leaving party before I head off. It'll be less than a month after my moving in party. That must be some kind of record somewhere.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26740 2009-07-11T02:10:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z 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 ibtalk.com 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.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26743 2009-06-11T19:07:00Z 2015-05-11T12:24:36Z 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.

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Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26746 2008-12-25T12:50:29Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z 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.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26748 2008-05-08T19:51:53Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z 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.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26749 2008-03-27T09:33:51Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z 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!]]>
Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26750 2007-11-08T04:13:24Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z The Age Distortion Effect It seems that the press are no longer oblivious to the influx of us British entrepreneur types to Silicon Valley. Wired write about it here and Director Magazine also picks up on it as well. Discussion inevitably turns to the debate about whether you have to move to Silicon Valley in order to build a tech startup, and with the annual Silicon Valley comes to Oxfordevent taking place in the next few weeks (with myself, Kul and our friends Bob and Kirill will be speaking - all of us young guys who made the move out to SV) it's sure to be picked up on again. The UK we've come back to is very different to the one we left in January. Seedcamp is off the ground, first time entrepreneurs are raising their seed rounds in the UK and things generally seem to be far more buzzing than they were when we were building boso this time last year. Nothing shows the progress that's been made more than the growth of Zenopy - which started out as a bunch of us working on our first startups reaching out to each other for the support we all desperately needed. The group has come a long way since then - there's been successful exits, acquisition offers, angel rounds and VC rounds so it's pretty clear that the trend is heading in the right direction. Something that's taken me by surprise though is that whenever I'm back in the UK - I always feel like working on a startup is that bit more difficult than it was in SV. I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Ultimately a lot of that is personal - my family are not overly enthusiastic about what I'm doing but it's pretty easy to escape that when you're on the other side of the world and not so much when you're staying at home with them again. There's also the fact that returning to the UK also means brief separation from co-founders, which obviously adds to the mental load slightly and a general sense of feeling like you're away from where you should be i.e. where the network you've built up is. But what I've realised is that the bulk of it comes from an age distortion effect I feel when I'm back here. It first struck me when I read this recently, a sentence from an old PG essay:
"If you try something that blows up and leaves you broke at 26, big deal; a lot of 26 year olds are broke".
I knew there was something that bothered me about that sentence when I first read it. When I read it again it was obvious why - because for my data set (i.e. my peer group/friends) that statement is false. As a result of attending a good university, inevitably most/all of my friends are embarking in lucrative careers whether it's in banking/law/consultancy/tech. None of them are going to be broke by the time they're 26 - they've still got 3 or 4 years to reach 26 and they're already talking about mortgage payments and buying apartments or houses. I know that's not representative of the general population - there are plenty of 26 year olds who are broke in the UK but ultimately we judge ourselves against our peers and not the general population. What I mean by an age distortion effect is that whenever I come home - I suddenly feel like I aged 5 years and the amount of time I've got left to achieve some success is running out. I have to undergo the mental exercise of reminding myself that I'm still young - I've only missed out on one years worth of salary (in reality not even that as I'd have spent the past year in legal training if not for doing a startup) and in the grand scheme of things that really is not a big deal. I can afford to stay calm! However for my peer group in SV - it's different. Almost everyone is pretty much broke and will carry on being that way unless their startup takes off. Just look at the examples - Evan Williams didn't start Blogger until he was 27, Paul Graham didn't form Viaweb until after Grad School, Max Levchin had, I believe, three failed startups before he started work on Paypal. That's why there's less mental pressure for a young entrepreneur in SV - there's social proof. That social proof is taken to the extreme by Y Combinator - where you're instantly put into a large group of people in the exact same situation as you. The cross-fertilization that goes on between YC groups that fail and the ones that stay alive only serves to strengthen that. The power of that social proof really can't be understated - it's why Y Combinator founders are all so close, it's like a big fraternity because everyone relies on the support of each other so damn much. Balancing up the scales on this one will again take time - but hey the first step was getting young people starting companies and getting them funded and that's happening. As those entrepreneurs fail the next challenge is making sure they learn from their mistakes and stick at it and go onto their second companies. Universities have a massive role to play here - they have to fight the saturation of recruitment material on campus at the top universities (at Oxford it was difficult to walk for very long without seeing another piece of recruitment material thrust in your face) and that's why organizations like Oxford Entrepreneurs and Imperial Entrepreneurs are so crucial to the effort.]]>
Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26751 2007-06-14T07:34:44Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z Kul&#8217;s blog post about YC Network I've spent a fair bit of time blogging about why YC has been a fantastic experience for me and I've also expended a fair amount of time arguing with people on Techcrunch/other blogs about why it's justified giving YC a decent chunk of equity in your company. Well Kul has puts it all fantastically into context, in just a single blog post, by using concrete examples of how the YC network has helped us. I'd really recommend you read it here. It's a great post.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26752 2007-05-14T01:52:51Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z Facebook Marketplace stirs up old dreams So today the day finally came when facebook launched their marketplace. While the launch of FB marketplace wasn't particularly surprising my reaction to it has been. As you probably know I was a co-founder of boso.com, the first attempt at a national marketplace for students in the UK (and from everything I've seen, still the most succesful one by some distance). However it's coming up to four months now since Kul and I decided to change direction and get out of the student marketplace space and until the online auction space with auctomatic. So with that in mind the release of FB does not impact on me in any way at all (so long as they stay out of building tools for eBay sellers I'll be fine). However I still can't stop thinking about it and on some level it still feels like being punched in the gut and here's my attempt at explaining why (and then I'll talk about what I think FB marketplace means for the student classifieds sector). So boso did quite simply change my life. If it wasn't for starting up boso while at university, I wouldn't have seen how amazing doing a start up is and things may well have worked out very differently. It's not surprising then that I had a HUGE amount of emotional attachment to boso - who doesn't get attached to their first start up? Even though it's no longer the project I'm working on when I saw facebook marketplace, my initial reaction was still the same as if boso was still my life. I suppose that by virtue of doing a web start-up you have to accept the fact you're always sailing pretty close to the wind. With such a low barrier to entry and big boys in the space you face a bewildering range of threats to your livelihood. I can imagine just how seriously it would have hurt to have seen FB marketplace if I were still working on boso and it's something I guess you just have to face up to as an entrepreneur, sometimes the big boys can just decide to crush you. The other thing that makes it all slightly surreal is actually seeing and using the facebook marketplace in real life. As facebook continued to grow we always knew it was a potentially serious threat. I reached a stage with boso where I had a quick comeback for any criticisms of the boso concept but the one I always knew I was fudging was "what would you do if facebook did this?". So after expending latent mental energy on trying to answer that question (if only to myself) now actually seeing it as a living breathing entity is strange. Having the relief factor of not being in the space is obviously comforting but in a way that's just coincidental this time around. There's a seriously big chance that next time I won't be lucky and it'll actually be my livelihood being threatened by someone. If that day comes then I'll have to decide whether to knuckle down and get ready for the fight or call it a day. One thing I won't do is start remaining "emotionally detached" from my startup. I've heard people give that advice before but that's no way to run a startup. I do believe you need to reach a level of emotional balance where you're not continually swinging high and low but that doesn't mean you're in any way detached. If I wanted to be emotionally detached I'd work in a bank. I want to do a startup so I can carry on dreaming (and executing on) changing the world in some way. Anyway so my personal feelings aside, what do I think about FB marketplace itself? Well I don't think it was always going to be an instant success. Norms of behaviour are important on the web and facebook has always been careful about which ones they promote. The reason I think marketplace will be massive now is because the users have started using it for that purpose. I've seen my friends start using facebook notes to list things they're trying to sell or putting the names of items they want in their status updates. That's not what they used facebook for a year ago (if marketplace had launched then I still think it would have been beatable but maybe my vision is a little clouded on this one) but that is what they're using it for now. For me that was the final nail in the coffin and I've been expecting to see this development since. As with all facebook features it's been very slickly implemented and it's hard to imagine how you'd compete with it (though I wish they'd make it easier to just see a whole facebook marketplace with all listings on facebook, marketplaces need to at least give the impression of liquidity and I'd be happier starting from the position of a generic marketplace and then drilling down into the networks I wanted rather than vice versa). You could try and focus on facilitating the trades themselves in a way that facebook couldn't replicate but a lot of the sales will be low value items which are suited to quick and easy trades anyway. What I might be interested to see is the potential for API spinoffs (assuming the developers who tried using the API to build their own classifieds solutions aren't too disheartended of course). Maybe you could mashup ticket sales for events on facebook with the marketplace and make that trading experience better than facebook can, like StubHub did to eBay, though once you start getting into niches of niches you're getting further away from big business. As far as I'm concerned, sites like Chegg or DormItem (college classifieds) should stop trying to compete with FB and see if they can do something complimentary to the marketplace service. Otherwise they're in big big trouble.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26754 2007-04-15T19:26:46Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z What I Expected From YC and What I Got I was re-reading the blog post I wrote the night before I left from San Francisco and it got me thinking about the experience of the past three months. I've been asked the question of whether YC was what I expected by numerous people now (mostly current interviewees) so it seems to be something people are interested in knowing about. Here's a blog post laying out exactly what were my expectations were pre-YC and what I actually got during YC. I want to start by explaining how we got to YC which people also seem to be interested in. 1. How we got to YC I think a lot of people assume that Kul and I made the decision to move to Silicon Valley from London once we got accepted by Y Combinator. That's not true. We arrived at that decision independently of Y Combinator. It first started when Kul went out to San Francisco last year with the intentions of just meeting some people to see what people thought about boso. On that trip he met Max Levchin, Evan Williams and Naval Ravikant (Founder Epinions). He had some pretty intense sessions with these guys and when he came back he couldn't get over just how higher a level the conversations he'd had with these people were compared to our experiences of talking to people about boso in London. That's when the seed was first planted. The tipping point came when I read Paul Graham's blog post about the mistakes that start ups make - near the top of the list was location - and forwarded the link to Kul. His response was pretty brief, "Well why don't we just move out there then?". One thing I like to do is look at things from the opposite view point of my co-founder and present the opposing view, that often results in arguments but it also means that we fully utilize the fact there are two brains working on a problem (having a honeymoon type set-up where you both tell each other how great you are is pointless in my opinion). So I tried to make up a list of reasons why we should stay. It was a futile exercise - not a single argument stood up and that's when it was pretty obvious that we had to move. As much as the thought of leaving everyone I knew behind was incredibly scary it was time to make the move and so we started looking into places to stay/people to hire/office space/etc. It was after this that we actually applied to Y Combinator. At first we'd thought that YC was only for US companies so we'd always dismissed it. Then I think I read a FAQ on the website that said foreign companies could apply (there hadn't been any funded at this point though) and we figured we'd at least give it a go. We put together our application pretty quickly and sent it off (it really was completely speculative but as I've seen over and over again, it's often the most speculative actions that yield the most fruitful results) - then we headed out to Boston for our interview. Our interview was probably a more person focused that product focused interview. At that point we had a launched product, bosowith a few thousand users but we didn't do any demo. Our interview was centered around our story so far - how we'd got the site launched, what problems we'd faced, where we saw the idea going, which competition we were most worried about. Then we talked about why we wanted to move out to SV from London and how we planned to get around the fact that neither of us were hackers. From other people I've spoken to - their ten minutes revolved more around product demo and product talk so I guess if that tells you anything it's that there's no formulaic approach to the YC interviews. After that we got the call frm PG on the same day and a month or so later we headed out to SV to begin the adventure. 2. What I Expected From Y Combinator So just going over my old blog post again in terms of tangible goals I guess the biggest one was to find a technical co-founder. As I mentioned, with neither Kul or I having a hacker background our biggest weakness has always been plugging that gap in our skillset. We'd gone through an outsourcing attempt where we had some offshore developers working with us. Although that wasn't a spectacular blowup failure, it became clear very quickly that we weren't going to build a successful startup by outsourcing. We also tried hiring developers to work with us in-house. The problem with this was that they weren't co-founder material. They were just average people who happened to have spent time at some point in their lives learning the keystrokes needed to code something. In essence we were hiring people with a 9-5 mentality and it became painfully clear to me that when you're a startup, you're not going to take on bigger companies by having a smaller number of 9-5 people. You're only going to have an advantage if you have a special group of people together who are greater than the sum of their parts (how many 9-5 employees worth of output do you think Steve Woz had in the early days of Apple?). To sum up the point I'm making is that we had always craved having someone who had all the "ingredients" of a co-founder like we did (e.g. passion for startups, smart, driven, ambitious, etc) and also had the technical skills we lacked. At this point in time, it became clear we weren't going to find that in London. Quite simply there were not (or we did not find) enough people in London who fitted our criteria who were prepared to join a startup rather than accept a job at a bank/law firm/management consultancy. We knew that YC would increase the frequency with which we met people who would be prepared to join a startup so that was possibly the most important expectation we had. The next most "tangible" expectation we had was removing a large amount of the headache involved with investment raising. Kul quit his job at Deutsche Bank in February last year and until August the vast majority of his time was spent trying to raise investment. We got there eventually but seeing just how much of a time and resource drain it was made us extra determined to minimise that drain for any future rounds of financing. Going to YC we expected to reduce that drain in two ways:
  1. There is a greater density of investors based out in Silicon Valley who understand the Internet and have already made a lot of money from it. In London we were dealing with investors who just didn't "get" the potential for making successful web businesses (the state of the London investment scene is a whole debate unto itself, you can read about the issues here and here) and that was a time drain we didn't need. Just from talking to PG for 10 mins in our interview we saw how much better it was dealing with an investor who understands what we were doing and that made us hungry to be around those types of people.
  2. The YC brand is incredibly powerful and when we learnt about how the investor day process worked we knew just what an amazing opportunity it would be. Having so many investors in the same room was exactly the kind of situation we'd craved for so long and we knew it'd be an incredibly efficient way of raising more money if we needed it.
In terms of expectations that could be loosely termed as "tangible" those two would be it. The other intangible expectations were: - You often hear the phrase "better to be a big fish in a small pond" thrown around. Kul and I have always had the opposite mentality to that. If there's one thing above all else that studying at Oxford taught us, it's the value of being around people you perceive to be as smart/smarter than yourself. At times that can be uncomfortable (I remember going from being the (academically) smartest guy at my school to now being one of many studying law at Oxford and finding that a strange adjustment) but it's the only way you can really fulfil your potential, or at least that's true for me. I feel more comfortable feeling like I need to step up a gear if I want to be noticed. Moving out to SV, where just doing a startup is no longer newsworthy (most of the early national PR we got for boso was more down to the fact Kul and I were young and starting a company than the actual idea behind boso) material, made that true and it was a challenge we wanted to face. - It's been said many times now but doing a start up is lonely. Even when you have a great co-founder, it's still lonely. This was especially true for us - all of my peer group started jobs in banks or law firms and it was tough going when they were getting nice pay checks while we're struggling to get any seed funding. There's a massive difference between going through a graduate training programme with 100 other people and building a startup with one other person. I love my friends but there was a big part of me that wanted to be around other people who were doing the same thing I was. That type of ecosystem was starting to form in London when we left (we helped start a group called Zenopy) but it wasn't anything near the scale of SV. - I generally had always wanted to live and work abroad in some point in my life (the only reason I'd accepted a job with law firm Latham & Watkins was because they'd let me move out and work in Silicon Valley for 6 months during my training). I've always wanted to see what it's like to be exposed to a different culture and all the stuff that comes with working abroad. I never expected it to happen so soon but it did and I definitely felt that on a personal level, I'd learn a lot from living abroad. 3. What I Got from YC So let's start off with the tangible goals. Co-Founder: Within a few weeks of being out in SV we were introduced to the guys behind, YouOS. As fate would have it, one of the founders (Srini) was actually living in the building next to us and we started having informal hacking lessons where he'd teach us how to hack. We got on really well and we agreed to work together more formally for the three months of YC - he'd help us build our product and teach us how to become hackers. Once the three months were up he rejoined the YouOs guys to work on their new product, Project Wedding. Shortly afterwards, again through YC, we met Patrick Collison - a young whizzkid hacker (he wrote his own programming language when he was 16) who'd applied to YC with an idea relating to the online auction space. We got on fantastically well and we've now joined forces with Patrick so we have the co-founder we've always wanted. It's left us incredibly excited about our future and its going to be an awesome ride. We've got some more potential additions to the team lined up as well which have got us even more excited and I'll blog about them in due course. During the three months my initial expectations were all confirmed, we met an incredible number of talented young people who didn't need convincing to join a startup but were pro-actively seeking startups out. The biggest sticking point for me has been the sheer rise in my internal meter of assessing the people I want to work with. It's risen from essentially "anyone who can code" in the early days to people who have worked at companies like Google, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft - the thought of being able to work with people like that had just never been an option before and that's part SV and part the power of YC. Investment: This one is easy to sum up, everything we expected came true. It is quite simple, YC will save you an incredible amount of time in the investment raising process. And that's not just because of the brand name. A lot of you might be thinking about competing incubators but one thing you have to ask yourself is will those guys work as hard for you as YC? One thing people don't realise is just how hard the YC partners actually work for you - PG is continually pitching YC companies to investors investors and I've lost count of how many "I met this great person and told them about you" emails I've had from Jessica now. It's made the investment raising process this time around infinitely better than the last one. As for the intangible expectations, it's probably quite obvious from the rest of my blog posts that they've all been met. But just saying they've "been met" is a massive understatement. Perhaps what I didn't expect was just how amazing it would feel to actually have all of those expectations met. I've never had a problem with self-confidence so saying that YC gives me a new feeling of self-confidence wouldn't be accurate. I think what has done is given me a new sense of belief and that has come from being around people who have been a success. When you're having dinner every week with people like Joe Kraus, Evan Williams, Paul Buccheit, PG it suddenly dawns on you that there's actually a chance you can succeed despite stupid odds. Logically speaking you can argue that I'm looking at it from a skewed data point - for each of these success stories there's a 100 failures you might say. And you might well be right. The point is that sometimes you just need to forget what logic tells you and just go after something because you want it that bad - YC gives you the belief to do that by placing you in the perfect environment. When I look back on the past three months, YC has been by far and away the most happy/amazing three months of my life. I can barely recognise myself from when I first started out in January, it feels like there's been a lifetimes worth of knowledge crammed into my brain and once I'm back out there - I fully expect to have that same feeling another three months down the line. It's that process of learning from your peers that makes YC special and it's the way they make that happen that makes YC unique. Just putting a bunch of smart people in a room together isn't enough (if it were there would be a ton of successful incubators all over the place) there has to be something else going on to make it special. I've got a lot of ideas about what that X factor might be but whatever it is, the important point is that YC has it. That's not to say YC is the only way to start a company (of course it isn't - there were successful startups before YC and if YC disappeared tomorrow there would still be successful startups somewhere) but it is a great way to do it. Right that post should definitely be long enough to get out all my pent up blogging cravings for a while.]]>
Harj Taggar
tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26756 2007-04-05T01:03:59Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z How to Kung-Fu battle with investors So I have lots of pent up blogging to do, it's been a while and now I'm back in the UK it's a good point at which to pause for a little reflection. The first post I want to do is about the process of raising investment. I've been through it once when we raised our first round of angel funding back in August and then since YC investor day although we've not gone all out on raising another big round (for reasons I'll explain below) investors have still found us and we're going through the investor dance once again. Actually when we practiced our pitch at Obvious HQ before investor day, Jason Goldman referred to the whole process a "weird kung-fu battle" and that analogy has stuck with me. I think it's a good way to look at it. I don't pretend to offer anything new here, I'm sure this advice is available around on the net somewhere but here's a collection of all the lessons I've learnt re investment raising since YC which hopefully may be of use to some of you, they're in no particular order. 1. Believe you're a hot deal- When you're a first time founder and you've never raised funding before, the whole investment raising process takes on a disproportionate level of importance. I think this often leads to founders creating a mental unbalance between how important they are to potential investors and how important those investors is to them. Always remember investing is a two way process - you need the money but the investors also need good deals. You can't afford to act desperate or not full of belief, you have to convince investors that you're the next Google and that starts by believing it yourself. It's harder to do this if you're not in the Valley, where there are literally way more investors than there are good deals, but it still needs to be done. 2. Investor and founder intentions are not always aligned - One thing to keep in the back of your mind is that what's in the best interests of your investors is not necessarily in the best interest of you as a founder. This generally applies more to VC's than angels but it's still true to some degree for both. Investors are looking for one thing - a MASSIVE hit in their portfolio - and that is built into their mentality. What might be a good result for you, might not be a good enough result for your investor and that has potential to cause friction further down the road. This basically comes down to managing your investors well and if you've retained control of your company then you don't have to worry about it so much (and it's not necessarily a bad thing to have that think big mentality pushing you) but what it does mean is that you should always make your own decisions and not blindly follow advice. 3. Know the investor - I'm going to use two speakers from YC dinners to highlight this point. First up is Ron Conway, probably the most prominent/well-known angel investor of all time. When asked what he criteria he looked for when investing he replied "Obviously I want to see an opportunity I'm excited about but generally I don't invest in ideas. By the time a startup reaches the point of being successful it's hardly recognizable from the initial idea anyway. I invest in people and teams - I want the founders to be flexible and have the courage to change their business model". Next up is Greg McAdoo of Sequoia Capital, who said that the first thing he looks for in an investment is the market opportunity. He wants to know how big the market is and see in-depth research of it. So it's pretty obvious then that in your one-pager to Ron, you want to place a little more emphasis on the team and with Greg you might want some more market data. I know this is pretty obvious advice but when you're in the midst of the fundraising storm and meeting a load of investors, it's easy to forget the importance of researching each investor you meet. Do it ruthlessly, know their best investments and which ones blew up in their face. Treat knowledge like ammunition, the more you have the better off you are. 4. Talk is cheap - They say a picture paints a thousand words, if that's true then a well rehearsed demo of your product must paint a million. I've now seen tons of people pitching ideas to investors and I can categorically state that nothing is as powerful as a well rehearsed demo. Being able to sum up your idea in a few sentences is not a competitive advantage/something to feel good about - that's the minimum standard just to enter the game. Showing a good demo to an investor has a lot of positives 1) It shows you're not talking bullshit, you can actually build something 2) It saves investors time, you can paint a clearer picture in a 5 minute demo than 5 minutes of talk 3) A demo is visual and sticks in the memory more than talk/one pager. Always have a demo ready - of our current YC batch Weebly and Zenter have awesomely slick demos and it's not a coincidence that they're doing very well in the investment raising process. 5. Don't think in % equity, think in % success - This is something PG has said countless times and is a v important point. Don't waste time trying to hold onto every last grain of equity, you're better off deciding how much that particular investor increases your chances of success and use that as a guide as to how much to negotiate with them. There have been enough blogs about this point so I'll leave it at that. 6. Don't let your ego dictate your valuation - It's very easy to take the bigger is better approach when negotiating the valuation at which investors invest in you at. It's not as simple as that - if you're a first time founder the one thing you really don't want to do is lose all your investors money. You want to give them at least some form of return on their investment - even if it's just 1x or 2x. The likelihood is they'll put that money straight back into your next venture and so the circle continues - having a set of angels you can always call on is an incredibly powerful asset to have. But let's say you are a superstar/superhuman negotiator and you manage to raise $5 million and only give away 5% of your company. You might pat yourself on the back and congratulate your success. But what that really means now is that your company is valued at $100 million already - so if you want to give your investors their expected return (about 10x) you need to create a $1 billion company. Even just to give the investors their money back, you need to create a company worth $100 million. Of course you should be aiming high and believing in yourself but you can see why trying to get the highest valuation possible can actually limit your options somewhat. 7. Think of money as a commodity - This is something we only did this time around and it's incredibly liberating. When you first raise money it's tempting to grab the money from the first person to make you an offer, after all cash is cash right? Logically though it can never be that simple, if all investment was about was putting money into a business then it'd be totally irrelevant where the money came from. That's obviously not true though - having $100k put into your company from Ron Conway is worth ALOT more than $100k from Mr X who made all his money from pharmaceuticals (assuming you're a web startup). When you realise that it's somewhat liberating, you start to ask the right questions about investors which naturally gives you more power (linking in to point 1) and means you're less likely to end up with an investor you don't get along with. 8. VC or not VC - One thing a number of YC speakers have repeated is how the VC's think behind the scenes and why founders should be careful. To sum it up - VC's raise their cash from Limited Partners (a VC is really nothing more than a fund manager who takes money from rich people and invests it - they just happen to invest it in startups and not stocks). There are a few implications of this:
  • VC's get a % of the fund they raise so it's in their interest to raise as big a fund as possible. They have a lot of money.
  • They need to invest this money but there are only so many investments a VC can physically make in a year (only so many hours in the day and board seats one person can handle
  • So now it's pretty obvious - if VC's have a lot of cash but only so much investment capacity, they have an underlying motive to pump a lot of cash into the investments they do make (Limited Partners don't want to see their money sitting around gathering dust). For a lot of startups this means VC's offering they way more cash than they actually need.
  • So that's the first big thing to keep in mind about VC's, they have incentives to offer you more money than you probably need. That's not by definition a bad thing but it can be (a lot of people argue that the best innovation happens when a startup has to bootstrap for survival - having $5 million sitting in the bank isn't bootstrapping but you might counter that eliminating financial concerns lowers stress and helps founders concentrate on the business). Either way, keep it in mind. Another thing to remember is that VC can also limit your exit potentials - once a VC invests a successful exit = BIG bucks and quite simply, there are not as many $500 million deals happening each year as there $10 million ones. This comes down to what you want to do, if you're thinking big then this isn't an issue but worth keeping in mind (especially if you give away control and wouldn't be able to sell even if you wanted to). (Just a quick note on this: VC's are increasingly allowing founders to cash out so if you did get a lowball offer, you might be able to cash out i.e. the VC buys some of your stock which could be a nice compromise if you're torn). So I think that's about it - as I said this is nothing new but I figure it's probably useful to have this stuff collected together in one place. Good luck with the fund raising!]]>
    Harj Taggar
    tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26759 2007-03-13T07:41:59Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z 71 Miles I've been hearing more people say they want to come out to visit me in San Francisco - both tech people wanting to check out the startup scene and friends who just want to see the city. If you're in the lucky position of being out here on a vacation then make sure you check out some of the surrounding areas - there's so much I wish I had time to do by way of day trips to places within driving distance of here. Also thankfully there's now a web site that actually lets you unearth all the hidden gems by way of daytrips - make sure you check out 71miles.com to plan what you want to do. Web stuff aside - the Bay Area is a fantastic place to visit. And you thought all I could blog about was web stuff. Depth and breadth of character = me.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26760 2007-03-11T09:15:03Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z The lessons I&#8217;ve learnt during Y Combinator So investor day is now a memory - it went well.  Our pitch went pretty seamlessly, I was happy with the way we presented and we have a fair few leads to chase up on over the coming weeks so that's good.  It's strange though, I wasn't really quite sure how I expected to feel once investor day was over.  I wouldn't say I had the level of stress/worry about it as I did for something like my final year exams but at the same time - there was definitely an amount of latent stress that had been built up over the past few months.  Even back in November when we interviewed for YC we knew about the infamous investor day so now being able to say I've gone through the process and ended up on the other side is kind of bizarre.  It's had an unexpected effect on me - I've felt quite pensive/thoughtful/reflective the past couple of days.  We decided to take the day after investor day off to actually see some of San Francisco (we'd kept Alek and Tom in the apartment since they got here so we felt we owed them something) and just relieve some of the stress.  That's when I just generally started thinking about the past few months on YC and I felt the urge to just list everything I've learnt since I started on YC.  Hopefully some of them will be useful for some people.
    1.  The first stage of any web idea should be building a product that works i.e. taking the idea and making it something real.  Anything else is seriously irrelevant.  With boso in the early days I spent way too much time worrying about getting the marketing and sales teams in place and getting PR.  I left the actual building part of the site to Tom who put something together very quickly using some old code and we launched it after a couple of days- which was totally the right thing to have done but it needed to be followed up with continued iterations of the site.  The time I spent drumming up press should have been sent on asking people how the product could be improved.  That's what we're doing with Auctomatic now and I see now why it's so important.  By asking users how to improve your product you gain something more important than just a better product - you give the users ownership of the site.  That's the first step to building what I think is the hardest aspect of any web product - a real community.
    2. It's not a coincidence that almost every successful tech founder could code in some capacity.  There really is no excuse for not taking the time to teach yourself the basics of building the product if you're not a hacker.  You don't need to be a master hacker - you just need to be able to understand the processes involved in building a product.  It's much less frustrating for you as you actually appreciate why things take longer than expected.  That applies even if you have a tech co-founder, you'll get along much better if you have a basic understanding of what's going on in the product side.  After all in the early stages it's really only the product that matters - if you can't contribute to that you should ask yourself what can you actually contribute?
    3. The benefits of being around other startups and founders simply cannot be described properly in words.  If you are stuck somewhere trying to do things by yourself without any other startups you only have one choice. Move.  Yes there is always the chance you'll get uber lucky and launch your killer startup and suceed from Alasaka but why make it so hard for yourself?  Why not have the statistics work for you rather than against you?
    4. Do not react to competition negatively - in a perverse way you need it to suceed.  I remember in the early days of boso having a near neurotic approach to potential competition.  I saw every competitor as a threat and expended far too much energy digging into every detail about them and worrying they were going to overtake us.  This time with auctomatic we're entering a market where there is probably an overload of similar products but now I see it as a positive because 1) having competitors who can display some moderate success/user uptake validates that there is a real problem to solve 2) you can learn from competitors - ask their users what mistakes they've made and make sure you don't 3) having competition forces you to up your own game.  I have a strong competitive streak in my personality and I'm never more focused than when I make it my personal mission to take something on directly.  Also when you're in the Valley, competition is a fact of life - if you're doing anything remotely interesting there are just too many people out here for someone to not go up against you.  You have to deal with it and move on.
    5.  Respect the advice mentors/people you look up to give you but don't mindlessly follow it.  You need to do what you think is right because ultimately no one knows your company better than you do.  You'll gain more respect from mentors by taking your own path and following it through than just doing what you're told.  I think there is some element of taking the pressure off yourself here - if things don't work out you can always turn around and say "but X said to do it like that" right?  Sure you can - but you may still have killed your startup when your gut was telling you to do something different.  This is much harder to do than it sounds, especially when your mentor is a hugely respected personality with bags of charisma, but it needs to be done.  If for no other reason than to enjoy the real benefit of doing your own startup - namely being your own boss.
    6. Recruiting the right people is more important than anything else.  This is often thrown around as a piece of advice so Im not offering anything new and it's pretty obvious but I just can't express how fundamental it is.  And what makes it worse is that the best people ALWAYS have other options.  In fact be suspicious of any candidate who seems to have no other options than joining your startup.  If no one else wants them then why should you do?
    7. Investors can smell desperation and it will make them run a mile.  When we raised our first round of angel funding for boso - we had pretty much reached breaking point.  Kul had emptied out his savings account and I didn't have enough money for lunch so I was making my own (disgusting) sandwiches.  But we never let our investors know this, we always kept up the front of being eternally optimistic and in control.  When negotiating terms we made it clear we wouldn't be walked all over (when in reality it was far from clear if we'd be able to survive any longer without funding).  As soon as you let an investor know you're desperate for their money you dramatically reduce your chances of getting it.  In reality money is a commodity - with a bit of selling raising cash is not hard, especially not in the Valley.  What's more difficult is getting good money from good investors - once you realise that you'll be less desperate to accept the first cheque put in front of you and investors can sense that.
    8. Don't think you know what you're doing because you don't.  Just focus on getting anyone and everyone onto the first launch of your product and iterating it like hell - let users do the hard work for you.  Your product might be barely recognisable in a few months time from what it launched as (we've gone from student marketplace to online auction tools) - just accept that.
    9. Level out the highs and lows.  Im offering this piece of advice but I've still been unable to achieve it.  Sam Altman says he has finally been able to get some sense of detachment and not let the highs carry him away or the lows drag him down.  I've not been able to get there - I'm still on this ridiculous emotional rollercoaster which see my views of how we're going to do swing around on a daily basis.  Thats just startup life and you have to deal with it.  For me this is the toughest part of startups because I find it emotionally draining but I also appreciate that right now I'd find it incredibly difficult to return to a "normal" life.  I'm hooked on this way of doing this now.
    10. Finally - visualise the qualities you think you need to be a good founder and let them creep across into all aspects of your life.  For me I felt like I needed to project a greater air of confidence when talking about my startup (hiding the highs and lows going on beneath the surface) and that has now come from just generally acting more confident about anything.  Personality traits can be faked - decide what you need to be in order to be a success and just become it.  There is no such thing as not being a good presenter/a morning person/technical/assertive/socialable.  People are generally stupid, they can be fooled into believing you are whoever you tell them you are.
    Ok I think I'm done, I've probably missed a load of stuff - there have just been too many great speakers and people at the YC dinners for me to recall everything I've picked up from them.  Most of the stuff I've learnt along the way should be covered in my other blog posts. Time for bed. Over and out.]]>
    Harj Taggar
    tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26758 2007-03-05T11:48:17Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z The Big Week It's actually been a while since I properly blogged about what's been happening with us in SV and as we're about to enter the biggest week of our YC experience, I figure now is a good a time as any to pick up the slack. As I write there are currently four people staying in our apartment - Kul and I (obviously) but also Alek and Tom. Alek is the second hacker we employed back in London and Tom is a graphic designer who has been working with us remotely for the past couple of weeks (the incremental redesigns on boso are his work). Alek is here for the week (he's natively Bulgarian but studies in Boston) to help us gear up on the boso side of things for investor day this Thursday (the climax of YC - each company presents to a roomful of the biggest investors in the Valley). Tom is going to relocate here more permanently and will be waiting for us when we sort out our visa issues and get back out here to carry on with the momentum we've been building so far. Alek and Tom are both great of examples of how sometimes things just work out without you trying. When we first raised Angel money back in August/September we went on an interview spree to find good coders - we tried recruitment agencies and interviewed more candidates than I can remember. None of them worked out. Alek randomnly replied to a speculative ad we posted on Craigslist - the CV looked impressive, Google funded his project for their summer of code so we thought let's give him a shot. When he finished his two hour tech test in less than an hour (only one other person ever managed to complete it and they used the full two hours) we knew we were onto something. Then there's Tom - again another speculative response to an ad we placed on the 37signals gig board. The CV looked good but he was based in Paris so we didn't really follow up on it. Then we decided to give him a shot and asked him to build a boso landing page for when users first sign in - the stuff he came back with was amazing. Then we worked with him remotely and continued to be more and more impressed (boso looks better than it's ever done) so we asked him to fly out here and join us. It's all a bit spur of the moment/generally chaotic but it shows just how small the world is - people from Paris and London, who have never met, join together in Silicon Valley to work on a tech startup. I have a good gut feeling about Tom and I'm learning more and more that when it comes to startups, your gut feeling is probably the best tool at your disposal most of the time. So what's been happening on the business side of things? We finally launched our eBay selling tool - it's now live at auctomatic.com. It was a totally different experience to launching boso for a few reasons: 1) This time it wasn't a student side project and we have all the experience from boso this time around 2) I've been learning more and more code and have been very closely involved in the actual product, coding all of the views and some of the back end stuff. It's a pretty amazing feeling to feel like you've been a part of building something which is something we never really had with boso. More importantly, I have full access to all aspects of the site and can do bug fixes myself as and when I see them. It takes me a while to figure out what's happening and a lot of the time what takes Srini five minutes will take me more than a couple of hours but I have to learn at some point and there's no better way to learn than by just doing. 3) With auctomatic we've really stayed very very faithful to the idea of launching early and continually iterating. It definitely feels like we launched too early as there is not much functionality on the site but I heard a podcast from Reid Hoffman recently where he says "if you're not embarassed by your first release of your product, you launched way too late" and I see now why it's so important. Getting something out there early and receiving feedback from actual users (in our case eBay powersellers) is like gold dust. We could have spent years on the site and we wouldn't have been nearly as perceptive as actual users are. They tell us what they want, we build a better product and they feel a sense of ownership. It's pretty much a win win situation. Also once stuff is live, there's no hiding and it's one hell of an incentive to never let up the pace. There's no point trying to build the perfect product without users, let them do the hard work for you. I'm feeling excited about auctomatic, we've already had sign ups and positive feedback about the site. There's a long long way to go but it's definitely solving a very real problem and it'll be interesting to see how it goes. Learning about subscription based business models/businesses is also another good experience and piece of knowledge to have. Once we start charging users I'm sure it will feel like a whole new ball game once again. So as I mentioned this week is the big week in terms of YC. I'm feeling quite confident about the pitch itself but there's plenty of time for things to change. Emotional rollercoaster is a term often used in connection to entrepreneurship but I can't express just how true it is. I'm not sure how I would cope with a regular existence any more - I've become so used to one day feeling on top of the world and the next day wondering what the hell I'm doing that it feels as though I've almost become dependent upon it. No matter how hard I tell myself to stay emotionally detached and not get carried away by the highs and lows I can never manage it. So sod it, I'm going to enjoy the highs and work through the lows. Probably not good for my blood pressure but that's just the way it goes. I feel on a high right now because even though having Alek and Tom working remotely was going well - there's never any substitute for working in person with someone. The apartment feels like a real startup environment right now and it actually feels good to have the feeling of being in charge and responsible for making sure things go slowly. Working/leading a team is definitely one of the things I enjoy the most and this next week should be pretty awesome. So on the speaker front our last YC speaker was Ron Conway - the most prolific angel investor in the Valley (which probably makes him the most prolific in the world). He gave a great talk with some great tips for founders looking to raise investment. Things that stood out for me: - He has an index fund approach to investing i.e. he invests in as many companies as possible and often his companies are in direct competition with each other. That obviously seems like a slightly strange set up but you also have to remember that Ron Conway can get you a meeting with essentially company, however big or small, in the Valley which is a pretty good reason to have him involved in your company. - He wants to see flexibility in founders i.e. that they are prepared to adapt the business model when needed. It reinforces the whole concept of failure being a badge of honour out here - investors are more impressed by someone who can admit their business model isn't working and they've had to restart the company than someone who just sticks to their initial business plan. - A lot of the time he doesn't even care about the actual idea, in his words "in a year the idea will have changed so much anyway it makes it pointless to invest on that basis alone". Ron invests in people, a real cliche but it's so much easier said than done. The difference with Ron is that he's done it, several hundred times. So all in all, looking back it's been an incredible experience this far. I expected to learn a lot but I couldn't have imagined just how much in such a short space of time. By the end of this week, having pitched to that room full of investors, I'm sure there'll be a ton more experience/knowledge into this head and that's a pretty cool feeling to have. Right I'm going to catch some sleep now, probably won't be getting all that much this week so may as well grab it when I can.]]> Harj Taggar tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26761 2007-02-27T11:54:42Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z Silicon Valley vs The Rest of the World (or not) I've not bloged in a couple of weeks now - mainly because I've now completely lost any sense of time and the rate at which it passes/flies by. So a lot has gone on since I last blogged so I'm starting this post with the intention of doing another post right after it (hopefully today but we'll see). Before I start though I want to point out two awesome resources you should check out:
    • news.ycombinator.com - This is essentially a digg/reddit type site but only for stories related to startups and the web. This is a good way to quickly find out what the most interesting web stories of the day are and Paul Graham also has plans to turn this into a virtual "recruiting" ground for his future YC investments - you can read more about that here
    • startupping - An online resource for web entrepreneurs, includes wiki's but what I find the most useful is the forum. This needed setting up for a while (perhaps even a social network built on top of it?) and I'm glad Mark Fletcher has been the one to do it.
    Ok so the title of this post probably gives away what I want to write about. After Kul's article for the BBC there's been a lot of talk of the Silicon Valley vs the rest of the world - some people arguing no one can replicate SV and others saying it doesn't have a strangehold on innovation. Saul Klein wrote an interesting post here about the growth of innovation in Europe and there have been a number of spin-off posts around the place about the topic. Since I've been out here I've blogged indirectly about SV vs the UK (based on my experiences obviously) without directly writing a post about it. I feel like I have some stuff to say about the topic so I'm going to do that now. One thing I think it's important to lay down before talking about the issue is the problem of over-generalisation. The speaker at our last Y Combinator dinner was Paul Buchheit - employee #23 at Google and also the founder of Gmail. His talk was definitely the least conventional of the talks we've had so far - he began by telling us to ignore the advice of other people because ultimately "people are just talking monkeys". The point he was making is this - people generally give advice based on their own experiences and as a result they inevitably end up over-generalising about things. I think that applies hugely to the context of the Silicon Valley debate - people can only write about their own experiences and so a lot of the time they end up taking this all or nothing position which really doesn't do justice to all of the issues involved. So with that in mind I want to lay out some variables that will inevitable lead to some degree of generalisation by Kul or I when we write/talk about our experiences of the UK v SV:
    1. We had a very hard time trying to raise early stage funding for our venture in the UK. There are a number of different reasons why that could be the case and they don't all lead to the conclusion that the UK will never give birth to a Google or Yahoo. The point is that was our experience so that's all we can talk about. The best way to show that our experience can;t be used to make generalisations from is to show everyone a group of young entrepreneurs, just out of university, with early stage funding for their ventures.
    2. We came out to the Valley to take part in Y Combinator which instantly handed us a fantastic network to draw upon. Not everyone who moves out to the Valley will have access to immediate angel funding + the YC partners + a massive group of people their age who are also starting companies and feel a sense of loyalty to each other. We're lucky to be in that position but we know that isn't the case for every single person starting a company in the Valley. The telling thing is that to find a Y Combinator set up we had to move out to the Valley.
    3. On a personal level we already had a network out here before we came - largely due to the annual Silicon Valley comes to Oxford event held by the Said Business School, Oxford. It's through that event that Kul met Evan which is how we're now working from the Obvious offices, he'd also worked closely and is good friends with Bob Goodson of Yelp. It's at the same event that we met Chris Sacca of Google and we also had one of our friends Kirill, working out here on Slide (Max Levchin's venture). All of those contacts were obviously a great help to us and shape our experiences of the Valley. The most powerful thing to take away from that though (at least for me) is the fact that we probably had a stronger network over here while we were still in the UK and that's not something we engineered - it just happened but the fact it was easier for us to make contacts in the Valley than in London must be indicative of something.
    The point I'm trying to make my laying these things out is that I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to the question of what's better for each individual - starting their tech company in SV or somewhere else. It's perfectly feasible you might find a fantastic group of people to work with and an angel investor you have an awesome relationship with if you're based out in the Isle of Man. If that's your situation then great for you but statisically speaking, however it's far less likely that you'll have that set up somewhere outside of Silicon Valley. That's just a fact and one that can't be argued with - if you were to look at things completely objectively and wanted to give yourself the mathematically best possible chance of making your startup a success you would want to be based in the Valley. Of course statistics are statistics and both Kul and I are fully aware of the fact that coming to the Valley does not magically guarantee you success and nor does staying in London make failure inevitable. What I liked about a recent podcast I heard from the Future of Web Apps conference held recently, was when Saul Klein said it's time we stopped worrying about why we're (Europe) not Silicon Valley and started focussing on what we're going to do to drive tech innovation. So the question becomes not how does Europe compete with Silicon Valley - incidentally one thing I have to say is that since I've been out here this notion of competing with SV has not been heard/seen once. I find that people don't walk around with a "SV is the best place in the world" t-shirt each day because for them this is normality. SV wasn't engineered it just happened and for people out here, this is reality and I myself have not encountered any smugness from people. Sure they accept the fact they're lucky to be in such an amazing place but they don't try and make out like they are the be all and end all of the web world. That notion is one I think has been fabricated more by external parties who take creative interpretations of articles about the Valley. So if you were somewhere in the world and wanted to learn from Silicon Valley and set up a start up hub what would you do? Well my thoughts are this:
    • Be prepared to lose a lot of money. There is no way of hiding from the fact that the majority of startups fail. When you're talking about first time founders being involved those odds become incredible - it becomes incredibly unlikely that any startups from young founders will actually suceed. But the problem is that to institute a real startup culture it's the young founders who need to be starting up companies. Silicon Valley is amazing because by the time people reach their mid-twenties they have already started a few companies. Some of them may have suceeded but most will have failed but the overall experience floating around will always be rising. Everything else builds off that - the more founders you have, the more startups = more startup opportunties for other young people = more networks forming = more success stories = more people doing startups. It's not complicated but to get to that stage will not be cheap - those startups that are going to fail have to be invested in. Simple as that.
    There is also a wisdom of the crowds theory at work here which is illustrated by drawing analogies to bees. Bees are good at finding nectar because a large number of bees will fly out and find the flowers they need - each bee who doesn't find a flower creates a path that is then crossed off the list of potential paths to follow. The same applies to startups - for the really good ideas to take off it needs more people to be working on them. Every time someone tries an idea and it fails, that's one less fruitless path for people as a whole to follow which has an overall net benefit on the ecosystem. I think failing startups are actually the backbone of what makes SV so successful.
    • Stop focusing on getting the really motivated/"natural" entrepreneurs involved. I'm sure that in every city there will inevitably be some people who will naturally just gravitate towards startups and any hubs that are formed. Much like the early adopters of a website. You don't need to expend too much effort on finding these people because they'll find you. What you do need to focus on are the potentials - the people who have the potential to do a startup but just don't realise it yet. I know the importance of these people because I was one. I was no Richard Branson and there was no sweet selling in the playground for me. I stumbled into startups (or was pushed into it by Kul) and now I can't imagine doing anything else. But I am not alone - for every one person like me who ended up in startups, there are hundreds who did go through with that job offer and are now sitting behind a desk somewhere. Focus on those people and get their attention and make them think about what they can achieve. SV is amazing because it seems like the majority of these potentials do end up going into startups rather than getting safe jobs (it's probably not the majority but it definitely feels like it).
    • Get rid of the notion that startups are born from lightbulb ideas - it's rubbish and it does no good. Google was not born because one day an angel from above came into Larry and Sergey's dream and told them they should build an amazing search engine and then a few years later introduce adsense and then start taking over the world. Google started because those two guys wanted to do improve the search at Stanford, they did it and the rest is history. I recently read an article on the Guardian about the boom of online entrepreneurs in Britain. What depressed me most about it was how much it played up to the lightbulb stereotype. This is a bad thing because it puts people off - it's too easy to hide behind the "i would do a startup I just don't have the idea yet" excuse when you're obsessed with those lightbulbs. If you read Jessica's book Founders at Work, you'll quickly realise that remarkably few startups orginate in this lightbulb way. They usually start because the founders buy into the idea of being their own boss rather than one specific idea - they start something and then go with the flow. If they're (very) lucky it pays off otherwise they try something else. Without fostering that kind of culture, which flows through the Valley, I don't think your startup hub is going to get the traction it really needs.
    I think I'll stop there before this post becomes far too long. That basically sums up my thoughts on SV v the rest of the world but I deliberately haven't framed it as good points of SV v bad points of everywhere else. That's not where the debate needs to go so I don't want to add to it. This stuff is really not that complicated. It'll take a lot of money and time to see the full benefits so any notions of short term profits need to be put aside. Short termist investments or motivations are not going to get people anywhere. Personally do I think it will happen? I'd like to sit on the fence and say it's too early to tell but my gut tells me this. There isn't going to be some sudden destruction of the Valley and in the next tech boom (not trying to imply there'll be a bust in the meantime) I still think SV will be the hub of it. But I think the landscape will change and it'll become flatter - like Greg McAdoo from Sequoia said, they are going further afield to make their investments than they have ever done. SV will always be the best place to start a tech company but it doesn't always need to be the only place. Then again what to I know? Like Paul Buchheit said, I'm just a talking monkey so you're better off ignoring everything I say. Time for bed now. Night.]]>
    Harj Taggar
    tag:harj.posthaven.com,2013:Post/26763 2007-02-13T21:14:30Z 2013-10-08T15:27:16Z Demo Day Ok so yesterday I went through what was possibly the most terrifying experience of my life so far - Y Combinator demo day. Demo day is when each of the Y Combinator groups does a ten minute presentation to all the other groups demo'ing what they have done so far (5 weeks into the programme). That might not sound like a big deal - it's only the other groups (and the YC partners) that you're presenting to - and indeed I had generally been relaxed and not worrying about it much. That was until this weekend when the fear suddenly hit me and I realised - this was DEMO day and NOT presentation. Presentations Kul and I can do - we've made so many presentations and pitches to investors that I've lost count. We have it all nailed down, practiced and presented - from the opening "this is the problem we're solving" to the "here's how we plan on going after the market". You'd think that presenting to VC's and angel investors would be far more nerve wracking than to a group of hackers right? Wrong. Very wrong. Demo day pretty much sums up the difference in attitudes to tech startups out here in the Valley and anywhere else. Out here people aren't interested in your Powerpoint slides and the typical "The market we're in is an X billion dollar/pound industry so we only need to take 1% of it to be worth a lot" lines. They want to see what you have done - they don't want you to explain what you're doing, they want you to show them. In all our time running boso in London (granted it wasn't very long, 6 months full time for me and 10 months for Kul) not once were we asked to demo what we were doing. Sure we had plenty of longwinded conversations about our idea and what we wanted to do but not once did someone say "whip out a laptop, connect to the wifi and show me what you're all about". Believe me if people had that attitude we would have paid 100 times more attention to every single nook and cranny of our site. To put it quite simply, when you demo your product there is no scope for bullshit. Either you have a product that works well and is impressive or you have a piece of crap that breaks every two seconds and it's obvious no one would ever use it. There is no scope for fudging around the edges and making excuses - for those ten minutes you're presenting the audience is not interested in how hard the fight to raise angel money has been or how you can't find the right people to join your team. There is only one thing they are judging you on and that's the projection on the wall that's hooked up to the laptop from which you're running your site. That's a scary thing - peer pressure is a powerful thing and I was amazed at just how much I wanted to impress these people, who are all the same age as me and at the same stage in start-up life. Well it all ended well, the demo went ok and we were voted as one of the top three most promising companies in the current YC batch (by the YC partners and fellow YC founders) which was quite nice. But it's got me thinking a lot about the power of actually sitting down and taking someone through what you have built. The three hours before we had to leave for Mountain View (where the YC offices are based) were by far and away our most productive hours since being out here. We've been working hard but when you have the pressure of a demo it forces you to raise your intensity up a notch that you didn't know existed. Kul and I spoke about this on the way back - if we had the mentality that we had to demo at the end of every day life would be a lot more stressful but it would also make us raise our game a whole new level. Maybe every day is too excessive but at the very least - I think getting into the habit of actually demo'ing things when you meet someone important i.e. someone you really want to impress is a powerful one. It also makes the meeting more productive, as the saying goes a picture paints a thousand words and that can be applied across here. A five minute demo gives a much clearer understanding of what you're all about than half an hour of revenue projection and market research talk (that stuff is obviously very important but I think it's more later stage - the first five minutes of a meeting are when you really need to engage and make people interested in what you're doing. If you have a working product to demo you're already one step ahead of the rest of the pack who are just talking). I'm going to suggest to my friends at Zenopy that they hold regular demo days for each other as I think it will have a big benefit. Ok so besides demo day this week we also went to the Powerset Series A funding party. I find Powerset to be a very interesting company - they're going after what is an incredibly hard problem to solve, they've raised a lot of money (from very smart investors) and have generated a lot of hype around their prototype. It'll be interesting to see what happens but I did have the feeling in the back of my mind that perhaps I was going to my first bubble party and would look back in a few years and think about the free food and drink that was offer and say that's when the crash all began. Time will tell but people like Reid Hoffmann and Peter Thiel don't invest in average start ups so I'm sure the Powerset guys have something special under the hood. At the party though I ended up meeting a load of Facebook people - including Mark Zuckerberg himself which was pretty cool. It probably sounds a little pathetic but I was actually kind of star struck, I'm still adjusting to the fact that the guys who have started all these amazing start ups actually live in the same neighbourhood as me now and I'm going to bump into them every now and then. I was met Aditya (one of the first engineers at FB), Ruchi (another early engineer) and Jeff (who I knew from a house party in my first week out here). The first thing that struck me is just how young these guys were - they're managing teams, making recruitment and strategic decisions and they're only a couple of years older than I am. When you think of Facebook as being one of the most exciting companies in the Valley right now and then you realise it's being driven by a young team it makes you question a lot of assumptions. So my "intended" career path had been law - where your pay and rank is determined purely by the number of years you have worked at the firm for. When you hit a certain age maybe you make partner and maybe you don't. But the point is that age and experience rule in that culture and not raw ability. Why do we have to assume that we can measure the ability to perform well purely by the number of years someone has worked in a particular field? Mark Zuckerberg doesn't have 10 years experience of running companies worth $1 billion but he's doing a pretty good job of it so far (he obviously has an awesome team around him but he's the one who put them together in the first place). And that tapped into something else I've noticed since being out here in the Valley - age is nowhere near as a big a deal as it was in the Uk. I remember one of our first conversations with a Financial Director we brought on board for boso in the early days - it revolved around our next hires. Apparently we needed to get some grey hair on the team to give us credibility and make sure we didn't make rookie mistakes. No. What we need were grey haired investors who would lend us their resources (of which money is only a small part) and leverage their experience where we needed it without trying to run the show. The management of the company had to come from us and so what if we're just out of university/college. Why does someone who has spent 10 years analysing financial markets have a better chance of making a success out of an idea we live and breathe everyday? The attitude in the Valley is that your age is determined by the number of startups you've gone through - there are people here my age who have already started and scrapped a couple of companies. That gives them experience and all the "grey hair" they need. If you want to replicate the Valley and develop and ecosystem you really need to start believing in young people. And believing in young people isn't patting them on the back or giving them an Enterprise Week where they can network. It's giving the money and telling them to go away and make something happen with it. Even the VC's (the most risk averse of all investors) in the Valley do it (Sequoia invested in Loopt, of which the CEO Sam Altman was still in college at the time and the Youtube guys weren't exactly planning their retirements when they raised VC). It's also why the Y Combinator set up is special - it focuses on smart young people and gives them just enough to go away and build things. It's not complicated. What I'm realising everyday is that a lot of this stuff isn't complicated. Building a startup is not rocket science and it doesn't need 15 business analysts. It's all the peripheral distractions (raising money, budgeting, investor relations, sales, etc) that are complicated and hard. The actual part of just building something and tweaking it until you've made something people want and need to use is actually fairly simple. You sit down and work and focus all your energy on that. Knowing what to do is not the hard part, actually doing it is. That's why you can get away with Powerpoint slides but you can't bs your way through a live demo. Right we're running low on food and I need to shower so catch you all soon.]]> Harj Taggar