Founders At Work
The book Founders At Work is a collection of interviews by Jessica Livingston with various startup founders. The book captures the founding and early moments from companies like PayPal, Flickr, Blogger, Yahoo!, Apple, Craigslist and many others. This blog post is about 3 traits that are common to most of the startup co-founders -
###Determination and Persistence
Excite was founded in 1993 as a Database Technology company. They got funded by VCs in 1994 (Vinod Khosla of KPCB) and then pivoted to a web search engine. They were trying to get more traction and was trying to strike a deal with Netscape (the most popular browser back then) for the search button. Excite had only $1 Million in the bank but they bid for $3 Million due to the tough competition from other search engines like MCI and also the importance of the deal. However, they lost the bid to MCI.
It was a terrible loss to them and they were completely devastated but they never gave up. They kept meeting with the executives of Netscape, showing up in their lobby unannounced. They called them constantly and acted like the bidding wasn’t over. Later that year, MCI couldn’t keep their end of the deal and Netscape decided to go with Excite. That’s how Excite landed a deal with Netscape. They then went on to become public in 1996 and were the fourth most popular site in the late 1990s.
Three key learnings from this story -
Persistence is really important as most startups face a lot of rejection - naturally as they’re trying to do something that has never been done before.
Just like Microsoft built itself off IBM and Google built itself off Yahoo, Excite built itself unwittingly off Netscape.
Persistence is tricky as in hindsight, if you succeed, it’s called persistence, but if you fail it’s blindly following the wrong idea.
This leads us to the next theme.
Adaptable / OpenMindedness/ Ability to Change
Steward Butterfield and Caterina Fake started a company named Ludicorp and their first product was a massively multi-player online game called Game Neverending. The back-end development of the game fell far behind the front-end, and while waiting ,the back-end engineers built an instant messenger application in which you could form little communities and share photos. This side project was built in eight weeks as a feature in the game and this is what turned out to be Flickr.
Soon, Flickr started to take off and in 2004 they had to shut down the game. However, doing this was not an easy decision - all the employees loved the game and they had around 20,000 users. However, Flickr was gaining momentum and they had to shut the game down!
My learnings from this -
Things don’t go according to the plan in a startup and you’re always executing either Plan B or Plan C.
Quit early, quit often, pivot and never get attached to an idea, a feature or a product.
BiPolar moments are moments when sometimes you feel like you can conquer the world, and some other times when you think who am I kidding… this will never fly. You shouldn’t try to analyze or question yourself during these moments. You should rather embrace them, learn from them and enjoy the ride!
Code. Learn. Explore