David Carboni makes a great point in this piece: successful powerhouse businesses, paragons of scaling up (your Netflixes, Googles, Ubers, et al), could never build the disruptive, fast-moving products that made them successful from their positions today:
Admired and respected as towering giants of our digital world, our hero companies emanate an almost mythical quality. The scale, power and inspiration they command are the stuff of legend. Glib statements about “business” distort their stories into gaudy two-dimensional caricatures whilst organisations seeking Digital Transformation aspire to emulate what they see in this theatre. Paradoxically our...
The late Dee Hock, founder of Visa, was a business legend in many respects. Like many of the most revered founders, his ideas were years ahead of their time, and his writing is clear, concise, and super interesting. He famously organized Visa around a decentralized management model, in an era when the norm was the extremely centralized, hierarchical structure. Companies like Amazon, Johnson and Johnson, Uber, Valve Software, and others have adopted the same principles Hock pioneered to make their companies more resilient in the face of challenge.
Geospatial analytics company Descartes Labs recently sold to private equity, in what former CEO Mark Johnson calls a “fire sale.” This post is his perspective on the nature of the business over time, their missteps along the way in both company identity and fundraising, and some of the shenanigans that can happen as stakeholders start to head for the exits.
Not knowing much about Descartes’ actual business, either the original vision of the product or its actual delivery over the years, I don’t have...
Sam Gerstenzang wrote an excellent piece a couple weeks ago with operating lessons for growing companies, driven by his learnings from the product team at Stripe. Personally, I’ve got a decade or so of experience as an “operator” at a “startup” (two words I wouldn’t have used to describe my job during most of that time). Since 2011 I’ve led the product team at Fulcrum, a very small team until the last few years, and still only in the medium size range. So...
A classic from Mark Suster on patience and pattern recognition for investors:
The first time I meet you, you are a single data point. A dot. I have no reference point from which to judge whether you were higher on the y-axis 3 months ago or lower. Because I have no observation points from the past, I have no sense for where you will be in the future. Thus, it is very hard to make a commitment to fund you.
For this reason I tell entrepreneurs the following: Meet your potential investors early. Tell...
The construction market for startups (one that I’m fairly involved in, but only as a segment of our market) has been a historically tough nut to crack for technology companies.
This is a great breakdown from Brian Potter on the past couple decades of construction startups and funding amounts, with a useful segmentation by category into slices like builders, materials, energy use, construction software, digital twins, and more.
It wasn’t surprising to see builders taking such a huge proportion of the funding — after all, trying to scale a soup-to-nuts homebuilding company is enormously capital-intensive. Management software scoops in an ~8%...
If you’re on the internet and haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve heard about the startup Clubhouse and its explosive growth. It launched around the time COVID lockdowns started last year, and has been booming in popularity even with (maybe in-part due to?) an invitation gate and waitlist to get access.
The core product idea centers around “drop-in” audio conversations. Anyone can spin up a room accessible to the public, others can drop in and out, and, importantly, there’s a sort of peer-to-peer model on contributing that differentiates it from podcasting, its closest analog.
In his article “Strategy Under Uncertainty,” Jerry Neumann contrasts the traditional Porter model of business strategy with one more suited to startups, the former being modeled around mature organizations operating in known competitive spaces, the latter around startups moving in opaque environments with higher uncertainty and more moving parts.
In the piece he defines “strategy” as a framework for “how to make decisions in situations that are not yet known.” To have a purposeful, intentional approach to an objective, whether in war, sports, or business, you have to formulate a model for predicting...
I rediscovered this great piece from Patrick McKenzie, an SEO primer for startups, but actually valid for anyone trying to generate traffic, interest, and business from the internet for anything at all.
The first cut of your SEO strategy will be wrong, just like v1.0 of your product will be non-responsive to the needs of your users. That is OK: after you start you’ll begin collecting insights and data which let you refine it. You want to get something out the door as soon as possible so that you can begin collecting links, other indicia of trust, and data on what...
Biologist Stuart Kauffman on biological functions and the “adjacent possible”:
The unexpected uses of features of organisms, or technologies, are precisely what happens in the evolution of the biosphere and econosphere, and the analog happens in cultural evolution with the uses of mores, cultural forms, regulations, traditions, in novel ways. In general, these possibles are novel functionalities, in an unbounded space of functionalities, and so are not mathematizable and derivable from...
A new piece from Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen (beautifully illustrated by Maggie Appleton). Can we make reading a more engaging and interactive learning experience? This builds on previous ideas from the authors on spaced repetition.
Every cherished mistaken assumption has a dead zone of unexplored ideas around it. And the more preposterous the assumption, the bigger the dead zone it creates.
There is a positive side to this phenomenon though. If you’re looking for new ideas, one way to find them is by looking for heresies. When you look at the question this way, the depressingly large dead zones around mistaken assumptions become excitingly large mines of new ideas.
I always enjoy conversations with Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. This interview (conducted by Slack founder Steward Butterfield) reviews their experiences as founders back in the pre-bubble era and compares and contrasts that thematically with the tech landscape today.
This post from Eugene Wei has been making the rounds in tech. It’s a lengthy article dissecting how status is really the secret currency of success for social products — not individual utility or entertainment. He draws some interesting parallels between social networks (as status-building entities) and cryptocurrency ecosystems. Just like with crypto exchanges, “proof of work” is an essential prerequisite for success on a social network:
Why does proof of work matter for a social network? If people want to maximize social capital, why not make that as easy as possible?
This post from Hiten Shah tells the backstory of one of the more interesting startups these days, Airtable. Like the title states, the objective of Airtable is to build a no-code system for data management and application-building. At a billion-dollar valuation now, they’ve clearly knocked it out of the park with their product-led growth strategy.
Even in the face of the 5,000 pound gorilla of Excel, they’ve broken things open and are beginning to attract mass-market users.
Microsoft had been the undisputed king of productivity software for 20 years by the time Airtable went...
When I first heard about his company Opendoor (a real estate startup with the goal of creating faster liquidity for home sellers), I started following Keith Rabois. His Twitter account is a good follow.
This discussion covered topics as diverse as his political views, his original ideas for his companies, and investing principles.