Posts Tagged ‘Flickr’

Becoming an entrepreneur & the things that inspire us

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

This week’s article for The Industry Standard is more personal than other articles that I’ve written for them in the past. It’s here: How to Make the Leap from Corporate Hack to Entrepreneur. I give some tips, but mostly the article is a first-person account of my transition from working at a big company to founding my start-up.

In the article I mention a vacation that I took to Arizona. That trip happened in May 2007 – Chris and I went to Phoenix, Sedona & The Grand Canyon to celebrate our first anniversary. At the time we went, I wasn’t thrilled with my job any longer. I was getting the itch to leave, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I loved the people I worked with, I had a good position, relatively good money…but I wasn’t really happy anymore and I couldn’t figure out why.

Then I went to Taliesin West.

I am not a huge architecture fan. I mean, I like architecture, but I don’t know much about it. Chris studied architecture for a year or two in school before switching to industrial design, but even so, going to visit an architecture-related exhibit isn’t what we would normally choose to do. But we were on a road trip and wanted to stop wherever the wind blew us, and however it worked out, we ended up at Taliesin West.

We took the tour. It was an hour-long, guided. In the tour, we went through various buildings on the school campus – Wright’s office, the studio and gardens, the private gathering room and even the family’s bedrooms. All along the way the guide kept telling us all these cool facts and interesting things, totally creative stuff that had my mind racing. Here are a few things that I saw and learned:

- There was an observation point on the grounds where Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his wives (he had three during his lifetime) used to bring chairs to every single night in the spring and summer, to look at the valley around them. There was nothing as far as the eye could see. Standing at that point today, the entire sprawl of Phoenix/Scottsdale was visible.

- The students who attended the school actually built the school before they could attend. They used only the materials that were available on the land. All of Wright’s designs were built to make sure that the buildings blended into the surroundings, and brought the outside inside, as well. This is called organic architecture, and he was way ahead of his time with it.

- Even after the grounds were built, new students didn’t get to live in the buildings. Their first year, they had to go out into the surrounding wilderness area and build their own dwelling on a slab that was there for that purpose. This was like a crash course in architecture – if your dwelling wasn’t good, you would be living with the insects and other animals. Married students often brought their families to experience this with them.

- Frank Lloyd Wright was a major movie buff, so there is a movie theater on the grounds. It’s pretty dark inside the theater, however, so he had the builders dig small cut-outs into the rock along the floor, and installed lights – the first track lighting ever.

- When Wright was a boy, there was a certain set of blocks that he always played with – Froebel blocks. He often credited these blocks as laying the foundation for the basic principles of architecture that he used throughout his career.

Ok, so those are some random things, and you might read them and think “so what?” Or you might think that some are cool and others are mundane. But I left Taliesin West with my mind racing about all the ideas that I had heard, and with the need to be creative burning up in my chest.

It took me a bit of time before I eventually left my job to start Pure Incubation. But this visit to Taliesin West started the avalanche. After this visit, I knew in my heart that I had to leave my corporate gig.

And this visit also reminded me just how important it is to find things that inspire us. To visit new places, see new things, meet new people, take a chance on something unexpected. You never know where inspiration might strike.

These pictures are all from various people on Flickr – all better than any of the pictures I took that day. They are all from Taliesin West.

Taliesin West
Photo by andy54321

Taliesin Sculpture
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Japenese taliesin
Photo by bluecanary_dreams

Furniture taliesin
Photo by andy54321

Two sites where you can get great free images for your blog

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

People ask me all the time where I get the images that I use on my blog. There are two sources – and one tool – that I use to find and manipulate the images.

1. Flickr – This is by far my favorite site for free images because of the wide variety and types of images that are available. The community of users that upload their pictures to Flickr – from all over the world – ensures that there is a vast collection of images of varying quality (some are incredibly good). The trick with using Flickr images, however, is that you need to use images that are governed by the Creative Commons license that fits with what you’re doing.

Attribution licenseHere is a list of Flickr’s Creative Common licensing policies. Basically, the “Attribution License” is the most liberal, and allows you to use anyone’s image, manipulate it how you want to, and do most things that you would want to do with it – as long as you give the author of the image credit. My suggestion if you don’t want to get into the intricacies of Creative Commons licensing is to stick with these images. As of today, there are more than 7.5 million images with this license on Flickr, which is certainly a big pool of images to choose from.

Here’s the link to the images with that license.

Just make sure that whatever you do, you give credit back to the photographer. I use “Photo by photographer” with a link to the Flickr page at the bottom of posts. You can do that attribution any way that you want, however. (Hat tip to Skelliewag.org)

Young photographer
Photo by muha…

2. stock.xchg - This site has a database of very good free images that you can use for your blog. Just type in your search, and look to see what you can find. You will have to register to download images, and make sure that you check the “Availability” of each photo. If it says that “standard restrictions apply,” you can use the image. Sometimes, however, the photographer must be notified or approve the use of the image before you post it. So be careful to check this out.

BONUS- A great cheap tool for screenshots and minor editing of photos

If you have Photoshop or another major image editing tool, use that. But if you don’t have a great image editing tool, consider using SnagIt from TechSmith. There is a free 30-day trial and the tool is only $39.95 for a single-user license. I use this tool ALL THE TIME and it’s been really helpful. The learning curve is short and it can handle all the simple editing tasks that I do on my blog.

Do any of you have any other great free image sites that you use? If so, please post them in the comments.

The #1 most important personality trait of an entrepreneur

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

There are a lot of things that go into starting a business – fearlessness, dedication, risk-taking, money and perhaps a bit of stupidity. But the number one characteristic that seems to be common in all entrepreneurs is their adaptability - their willingness to change plans and go in a different direction when needed.

In her blog today, Penelope Trunk wrote that it really isn’t possible to know if your idea for a start-up is any good. I agree with her. And I believe that this is the reason that founders need to be so adaptable. If you don’t know if an idea is any good before you start, it’s highly possible that along the way you might find out that it isn’t that good. Or that there is a better idea. If that happens (and it often does), you need to be willing to make a change, and quickly. “Founders need to be adaptable,” says Jessica Livingston, author of the book Founders at Work. “Not only because it takes a certain level of mental flexibility to understand what users want, but because the plan will probably change. People think that startups grow out of some brilliant initial idea like a plant from a seed. But almost all the founders I interviewed changed their ideas as they developed them.”

Changed priorites ahead signYesterday, Chris came home from work and told me that his company received their third FDA approval. This is a big deal in the medical device industry because it’s the point when a company can start marketing and selling its products (i.e. making money). I started to congratulate him but he told me not to bother. It turns out that after they had sent the application for approval, the designers discovered a flaw, so they are already working on version 2 of this device. Although they got the approval, the product is essentially going to be tossed out. He didn’t seem too phased. “Things change,” he said.

This flexibility is something that I’m working on as a key component of my start-up. I have to be flexible since a core part of my business model is starting a lot of businesses at the same time, some of which will not go as planned. At my first board meeting, one of the board members suggested that I start a software company as one of my launches for Pure Incubation. This wasn’t one of the original plans, but it seems like a good idea – possibly even a great idea (no one knows for sure yet!) - so I’m going to be flexible and incorporate that business idea.

Here are some other stories from the people profiled in the book Founders at Work:

“Over the years, I’ve learned that the first idea that you have is irrelevant. It’s just a catalyst for you to get started. Then you figure out what’s wrong with it and you go through phases of denial, panic, regret. And then you finally have a better idea and the second idea is always the important one.” – Arthur von Hoff, cofounder, Marimba

“We built this app for the Palm Pilot, which was getting pretty good growth. We were getting 300 users a day. Then we built a demo for the website, which was functional, so you could do everything on the website that you could do on a Palm Pilot, except the website was unsexy and we really didn’t care. It was like, ‘Go to the website and download the Palm Pilot version. It’s really cool.’…Sometime by early 2000, we realized that all these people were trying to use the website for transactions, and the growth of that was actually more impressive than the growth of the handheld device, which was inexplicable because the handheld device one was cool and the website was just a demo…We had the moment of epiphany, and for the next 12 months just iterated like crazy on the website version of the product, which is today’s PayPal.” – Max Levchin, cofounder, PayPal

“I came up with the idea to do a simple-to-install database at the back end. Then you’d use the browser as the front end. It could store any piece of information at the back, but the browser would be used to display it…So I wrote a business plan and didn’t know what to do with it…I knew Jack and knew that he was a great software and hardware engineer. So I shared this idea with him…While we were putting the business plan…together and were working at FirePower Systems, they installed a firewall around our corporate intranet that prevented us from dialing out to our personal email accounts. I had an account at Stanford and Jack had one at AOL, so we would dial out and email each other. but we couldn’t do that anymore because the firewall prevented us from accessing our personal accounts. So we ended up exchanging information on floppy disks and on physical pieces of paper. That’s when it occurred to us, ‘Wait a minute, we can access any website in the world through a web browser. If we made email available through the web browser, that would solve our problem.’ ” – Sabeer Bhatia, cofounder, Hotmail

“Entrepreneurs have to keep adjusting to…everything’s changing, everything’s dynamic, and you get this idea and you get another idea and this doesn’t work out and you have to replace it with something else. Time is always critical because somebody might beat you to the punch.” – Steve Wozniak, cofounder, Apple Computer

“[Our original idea was not just a DVR.] It was this flamboyant, home server network thing. And we actually got funded based on that. When we got into the technology, we realized, ‘Hey, network technology isn’t quite there yet. The idea of a server is fine, but how do you explain it to the average consumer?’ We learned very quickly that this was going to be a hard sell and a hard thing technologically…We went back to the VCs and said, ‘Thank you very much for the money. We’ve changed our minds. Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s why we think it’s a good idea.’ ” – Mike Ramsay, cofounder, TiVo

“Flickr was kind of a lark. It was a side project that we built while we were in the process of building Game Neverending. The back-end development of the game fell really far behind the front-end development, and so while we were waiting for the back end to catch up – being restless hacker types – we built this sort of instant messenger application in which you could form little communities and share objects. And we just added the ability to share photographs. So Flickr started off as a feature…Eventually, we had to put the game on hold and stop development on it because Flickr was really taking off.” -Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

What do you think? What’s the most important personality trait of an entrepreneur?

Photo by Redvers

7 ways to raise money for your start-up

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

One of the biggest issues with starting a company – and keeping it running – is finding the cash to stay in business. Even if you work hard at saving money, only spending on the things that are necessary, it is fairly likely that there will be a time when you need more capital.

I am still in the early stages of my start-up, and only have first-hand experience with angel investments, but the following is a rundown of the common ways to raise money for your start-up. Once again, I’m drawing heavily on the stories of the entrepreneurs from Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston for the quotes included here.

SevenThe good news for anyone who has limited resources when starting a company is that entrepreneurs seem to agree that this can be a good thing. The need to conserve resources often leads to creativity, hard-work, and a drive to succeed that can be missing when money is available and things are easier and more comfortable. So the first piece of advice when you’re thinking about raising money is to make sure that you really need it before going after cash.

“One of the things we’re seeing that we really don’t care too much for is that way too many companies are taking money when they don’t need it. And the whole idea we had was that having too little money is a great way of getting great product because it’s a way to get focused.” – David Heinemeier Hansson, partner, 37signals

“The money was scarce, but I’m a big believer that constraints inspire creativity. The less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become. I think that had a lot to do with why we were able to iterate and innovate so fast.” – Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

“I really liked the discipline that came from a bootstrapped startup. I think that everybody that goes and does a startup – even if they don’t do a major startup that way – should start a business that is having to make people happy with them day one, through contracts, through small scale sales, whatever it is. How low can you go? How can you build something really inexpensively? How can you not spend money on furniture and matching carpet and those sorts of things?” – Brewster Kahle, founder, Internet Archive/Alexa Internet

“The advice I would give is to avoid [raising money]. I would say spend as little as you can, because every dollar of the investors’ money you get will be taken out of your ass – literally in the sense that it will take stock away from you, but also the process of raising money is so horrible compared to the other aspects of business. You can’t work your way out of it like you can with other problems. You’re at other people’s mercy.” – Paul Graham, cofounder Viaweb

“I think in general being overcapitalized is a path to failure. The VCs want you to spend. There are general ills with being overfunded.” – Joshua Schacter, founder, del.icio.us

1) Use your own money
In my opinion, this is the best way to fund a start-up if you have the capital to invest. Not only will this ensure that your decisions are not controlled by outsiders, it will also guarantee the highest percentage of profit if you sell. It’s also incredibly motivating if your own money is on the line every day. Of course, if you don’t have extra capital and you’re trying to self-fund, that can be a painful process of skimping and saving every dime – as well as living day-to-day with poverty and uncertainty. So this is probably only a viable option if you have significant personal wealth, or have put money aside in savings.

“There are pros and cons to taking money. The best kind of company is one where you don’t have to take any money…I funded the first few years myself. But eventually, I took some money from Mitch Kapor and then others. Not so much because I needed it at that point, but because I knew that, ultimately, you cannot accomplish something completely on your own. You really need to develop a network of people who win when you win.” – Ray Ozzie, founder, Groove Networks

2) Get a loan
There seems to be a general sentiment that small businesses and start-ups are not able to get bank loans. The truth is, there are loans that are earmarked for small businesses. Bank loans can require collateral to secure them, however, and the terms make all the difference in the world, so be sure to read the agreement closely.

“We lucked out and got an interest-free loan from the Canadian government. We’d applied for it, and gotten rejected, and then just sent the same application in again when it was open again, and much to our surprise, we got it.” - Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

3) Apply for grants
From the research I’ve done, it appears that the United States government does not have any grants for small businesses owners, but there are state-based grants available. This list from About.com includes links to the state-based programs. If you’re based in Canada or elsewhere outside the U.S., you may have more luck finding government grants.

“We heard about these government programs, and we started applying for them. It was a lot of work to actually apply for these things, and then it was a lot of paperwork to maintain them. In the early days, they weren’t really big grants. They were rather small, and sometimes you wondered if it was worth all the trouble. But it was very helpful when we needed it. As you become experienced, and as the government agencies that we were working with became comfortable with what we were doing and recognized that we were onto something, the grants became more interesting.” – Mike Lazaridis, cofounder, Research In Motion

4)Put it on your credit card
While it can be difficult to get a bank loan or a government grant, most small business owners (depending on their personal credit histories) are able to obtain some kind of business credit card. The typical issues related to spending on credit apply, with the biggest concern being that the business will fail leaving the entrepreneur with a huge credit card bill to pay off. According to Joe Knight, co-author of the book Financial Intelligence, in a BusinessWeek article, “the worst thing in the world is to have your business fail and be stuck personally with $50,000 in debt at 21% interest.”

“There are more choices nowadays for people – angel money, for example. And many things are much less expensive to do now. You can go further on your credit card than you could before. I want entrepreneurs to make informed choices when it comes to financing. Understand what the impacts and implications are for different financing options.” – Mitchell Kapor, cofounder, Lotus Development 

5) Get consulting work or side jobs
This suggestion is something I covered in an earlier article about how to save money on your start-up. It’s a popular way for flexible start-ups to get some extra cash - money earned from side projects assigned to the company or one of the start-up founders can then be used as an infusion of cash for the business.

“The first year was entirely self-funded. It was just doing this work mostly for HP. HP basically funded Pyra for the first year, unbeknownst to them, because at the time you could charge a decent amount of money for doing pretty simple web application development. If one of us was working on that full-time, it would pay for three of us (not that we were paying ourselves much).” – Evan Williams, cofounder, Pyra Labs

6) Find angel investors
Angel investors are typically wealthy individuals who use their own money to fund a start-up in exchange for repayment of the investment (with interest), or a percentage of the company or both. Angel investors are often friends, family members or previous business partners or associates – or people who are in the start-up founders’ extended network. (This is a good reason to start networking now!)

Angel investments provided me with the initial funding for my business, and angel money has been an excellent way to make sure that I have the capital to fund my start-up, while at the same time having the flexibility to work on a variety of things in different markets without too much outside control. This is how Chris’ company is funded, as well, and it is an increasingly popular way to fund companies, especially in high-tech.

“We all tried to get $3,000 from each of our parents, and five of the six parents put up, so we had $15,000. After graduating, three of us lived in one house in Palo Alto, and three of us lived in another. We set up shop in the garage of the house that I was living in. It was the classic setup. My parents came up and they saw the garage and wound up buying us some nasty carpet. The tables were all Formica. I won a fax machine at Office Depot. We stole our chairs from Oracle Corp.” – Joe Kraus, cofounder, Excite

“We were very encouraged that the angel investors wanted to invest. We gave demos to two investors. We only wanted to raise $50,000, but both of the investors who saw the demos said yes. So we thought, ‘All right, we’ll raise $100,000 then, since they both said yes.’” – Paul Graham, cofounder, Viaweb

7) Take on venture capital
For me, and for most of the founders featured in the book, venture capital is the type of money that is surrounded in the most mystery. Typically, start-up founders don’t understand venture capital or how it works until they go through a funding round with the venture capitalists. There is also a great deal of fear surrounding the idea of working with venture capitalists, and often a great deal of resistance to taking money from them. However, for companies that need a lot of cash to see their idea come to life or to push them to the next stage of growth, venture capital can be a good option.

“Once you start down the treadmill of taking venture capital, it’s ‘How many rounds before people give up on your or you have a positive exit event?’ So you’re really setting yourself up. The best by far is to structure it so that you don’t have to take money.” – Ray Ozzie, founder, Groove Networks

“We took no investments because there were so many horror stories about what VCs would do to you. ArsDigita was the most public one, obviously, of kicking out the founders and then mismanaging the company and bringing in the so-called professional management.” – Joel Spolsky, cofounder, Fog Creek Software

“We didn’t have any desire to take money. We had heard all these horror stories about people receiving venture money, and even though we didn’t think we could have the aspirations to be something huge, we certainly didn’t want to crash and burn because we took money when we shouldn’t have. And we didn’t know anything about it. Are you supposed to pay them back? We didn’t understand that investors put money in and they own a part of your company. All we had heard were bad things that happened, and we didn’t know why.” – Mena Trott, cofounder, Six Apart (they eventually did take VC money)

“It’s one of those things where, if you look back now, when everyone walked away with a ton of money, everyone loves everyone. We had this great time, etc. It’s generally more complicated than that where, when the company is doing well, they’re happy and they think they’re great. The company’s not doing well; they’ve overpaid and they’ve been too nice. It’s half and half.” Max Levchin, cofounder, PayPal

“Then we found one venture capital firm, Brentwood Venture Capital. Jeff Brody, a VC there, saw it and he thought it was great. He said, ‘We want to invest.’ And they were prepared to put in $4.5 million…It was great, since we were plumb out of money. I would have lost everything; my house; I would have been deep in debt; the company would have folded; it would have been a bad scene.” – Steve Perlman, cofounder, Web TV

The next article in this series on start-ups will talk about one of the key attributes of an entrepreneur – the willingness and ability to change plans quickly, and to adapt to outside pressures and influences.

5 ways to save money on your start-up

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

After you’ve made the decision to start your own company, and have gotten past some of the early emotional hurdles, the next issue that comes up is usually money. Specifically, how you can you use the money that you have – which is usually limited - and make it last as long as possible. In fact, when Jessica Livingston asked the founders that she interviewed for the book, Founders at Work, about their advice for would-be entrepreneurs, it was often “spend as little as possible.” (All the quotes that are used here are from that book.)

Here are five great ways to save money with your start-up:

1) Take as little salary as possible. When I quit my job to start Pure Incubation, I took a huge pay cut. I didn’t go salary-free, but Chris and I came to an agreement about the lowest salary I could take so that we could still afford to live the lifestyle that we wanted. I still take trips, I still eat out, but we have cut back in a lot of areas. Some people are even able (and willing) to not take a salary at all. Obviously, if you can go this route it’s ideal. Overhead costs from salaries often are a huge burden to businesses, and the lower the salary you take, the longer your money will last.

Some people aren’t able to take such a huge pay cut, so they keep their day jobs. This works for some people, who either don’t work long hours, have a job that isn’t very demanding, or don’t need to put in a ton of hours to get their business off the ground, either because they’re patient, or their business/idea isn’t time-sensitive. This is a great way to keep your salary down if you can do it - essentially, you’re being paid by the company for which you’re working 9-5, which is helping to support your start-up.

“We were…both working, so we decided to spend all of the time on the weekends and evenings building this product. Then it came to a point that one of us had to quit our job to focus full-time on it, so I told Jack, ‘I’m single and don’t have a family. Why don’t you quit and start working on this and I’ll give you half of my salary?’ So at least he could support his family. I didn’t need that much money.” – Sabeer Bhatia, cofounder, Hotmail

“Initially we put in a little bit of money, I think $25,000 each. If you don’t take a salary, that can last you a long time.” – Arthur van Hoff, cofounder, Marimba

2) Don’t get traditional office space. I live in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s a great apartment, second floor, ocean view – and it’s plenty of space for me and Chris. When I first started thinking about starting a company, I was planning on setting up shop in our second bedroom, which is where Chris worked when he was starting his company. But as I looked at the space, I realized that I wouldn’t be happy in that room. So I got a new desk (from IKEA, definitely don’t spend a lot of money on office furniture!) and it matched the rest of the house well enough that I could set it up in our sunroom – the view from my office is of the ocean and I love “going to work” every day.

Front porch officeIf you have a space in your house that you use for your office, do it. After overhead, the next biggest cost of business is often office space – and renting office space is like throwing money out the window. If you work with other people, see if they can work from home, too. Use IM, email and phone calls to communicate, and have meetings at your local coffee shop or at your dining room table.

If you must be in the same location, find as inexpensive a space as possible. When Chris got his first office, it was a tiny little space that cost about $400 per month in the Cummings Center, a converted shoe factory in Beverly, MA. But the great thing about that space is that there are hundreds of other office spaces in the building, so when he outgrew the space (which happened quickly), he was able to transfer the lease to a bigger office. The other great thing about the Cummings Center is that it’s close to the commuter rail, so when he needs to hire more people, he can look in Boston, as well as the outlying communities for talent.

“[We worked] in Robert’s apartment. His housemate was away that summer, and I moved into his room. Robert used to get up early, whereas I stayed up till four and got up at noon. So we would kind of work a 24-hour schedule.” - Paul Graham, cofounder, Viaweb

“We had a friend who was subletting a space, and he had a contract job that kept him out of the office all the time, so we sublet his subletted space. This was in 2002…there were failed dot-coms all over the place, so office space was cheap.” – Caterina Fake, cofounder, Flickr

3) Hire contractors vs. full-time employees. There are many reasons to start off hiring contractors vs. full-time employees. For one thing, contractors usually expect to work from home (allowing you to forgo the office space), and they often have their own equipment. Employers aren’t expected to pay for healthcare or 401k costs for contractors, and if you hire a contractor and they aren’t doing a good job, you can fire them without paying a severance or feeling completely terrible since contract work, by its nature, isn’t permanent. Chris’ first full-time hire didn’t end up working out, so he had to let her go, and it was one of the most traumatic things that he had to do in the early days of his business. He didn’t sleep for a week, and they ended up paying her a month’s salary in severance (mostly out of guilt, I think). Since then, he’s started hiring contractors and moving them to full-time when he’s ready.

I’m currently working with about 20 contractors. I’m the only full-time employee, but I am still able to get everything done, and I don’t have the worry about overhead depleting my bank account. And if there is a month when money is tight, I can cut back on contractors. Plus, often when you’re starting out, you don’t need 40 hours a week of a specific skill set – or if you do, it’s a temporary thing that will end after a project is complete. It is only when your business is at a point when it needs a dedicated 40 hours per week committed to a specific task or set of tasks that it’s time to hire a full-time employee.

“One of the things that I did…with Bloglines was rely upon an outsourcing site, in this case eLance, for a lot of things…So, if I wanted to put together a presentation and I needed a couple of graphics, I put up a proposal on eLance and ended up working with some lady in Australia who turned things around in 6 hours, for $50. So sites like that are so amazingly powerful, which is just one more reason why it’s really easy to do very small companies, because you don’t need a graphic designer necessarily.” – Mark Fletcher, founder, Bloglines

Save money sign4) Cut back on everything you possibly can. The other places where you can really save money will be different for every business. For me, I have kept expenses down by taking a chance on some less-experienced writers and designers who are working on building some of my sites and writing content. When I need a stellar design that only someone with vast experience can pull together, I’ll hire that person – but until then, I’m comfortable with getting my business cards designed professionally for $150 and printing them out at Staples (on high-quality card stock, of course). Other people find other areas to save.

“Do everything as cheaply as you possibly can.” – Paul Graham, cofounder, Viaweb

“Reduce. Do as little as possible to get what you have to get done. Do less of it; get it done.” – Joshua Schachter, founder, del.icio.us

“Even if you raise money, spend it as if it’s your own and you have none. Your organization has got to remain smart and lean. Be cheap. There’s no shame in being cheap. I still fly coach.” – James Hong, cofounder, HOT or NOT

“We basically sat in the garage coding for around 18 months. In retrospect, it was really fun…It got cold in the garage and we didn’t have a heater, so we would use the dryer for heat. We’d tape the little button down that made it run with the door open.” – Joe Kraus, cofounder, Excite

5) Take on some contract work. This isn’t exactly a money-saving strategy, but it is a way to build a little extra cash, which amounts to the same thing. I have been offered a number of contract projects since starting Pure Incubation, most of which I’ve turned down. But on a selective basis, I have taken on a few projects. The ones that I’ve chosen have either been in my power alley of experience (meaning that I didn’t have to work too hard to get them done and could charge a premium for my expertise), or have allowed me to be paid to extend my skill set in an area that I didn’t previously have experience.

For example, I recently took on a marketing project that involved sending out a direct mail piece. I own an Internet-based company, I do everything online, typically. But I realize that I may need to do some direct mail at some point in the future. By taking on this project, I learned about the issues with the U.S. Postal Service, international mailing and made contact with local printers and marketing copywriters. The best part – I was paid to learn.

“The consulting company was a means to an end. It was to get cash flow, so that you could build a real software company.” – Joel Spolsky, cofounder, Fog Creek Software

“We were chosen under a Request for Proposal bid to build a student accounting system for a vocational school in the state of Minnesota, which helped us focus on what we were going to do…It was really a one-off. It also told us how we could underestimate a project, how we would manage a project, how we would manage engineers, how we would manage or own time. And we got paid for learning on the job.” – Ann Winblad, cofounder, Open Systems

Although it’s great to save as much as possible, there are times when you still need to spend. I’ll talk about those times tomorrow.

Front porch office photo by Daniel Morrison
Do it Yourself photo by colros

Microsoft vs. Yahoo: And the winner is…Flickr!

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

By now, everyone has heard about Microsoft’s unsolicited (and unwanted) bid to take over Yahoo. You’ve read Google’s evil(ish) response. And Microsoft’s counter. Perhaps you’ve even followed the commentary for, for, for, for, for and against, against, against, against, against the deal. And the analysis about whether it would be bad or not bad for start-ups.

My opinion: either way, everything’s going to be alright. If Yahoo is absorbed by Microsoft, the world will continue. If there are services that Yahoo offers that Microsoft eliminates, another company will build products and services to take their place. If Yahoo and Google make a deal and Microsoft is left hanging, and Google turns from the good guy to the bad guy and Microsoft starts being seen as the underdog, well, that will be weird, but it will be OK. If some third-party comes and bails out Yahoo (which is not likely at this point), things are going to be fine.

Either way, some people are going to be happy. Some people are going to be unhappy. But business will continue. Something similar happened when Adobe bought Macromedia, a deal that was bemoaned by many as the demise of good creative software. But the deal went through and there is still good creative software. There will be tough times, there will be struggles, but change sometimes fosters creativity and innovation – and both of those can be better than a company withering away on the vine, which may have been Yahoo’s fate if no one stepped in and did something.

But all of that aside, I think that the real winner in all of this hubbub is Flickr. Not Yahoo, even though they own Flickr, but Flickr itself.

I noticed early on in all the discussion about the possible Microsoft/Yahoo deal that various pundants would write an analysis of the situation and then would say something like, ”No matter what happens, don’t you dare hurt my Flickr.” I commented on it, and thought it was interesting.

Then a whole movement erupted.

Currently, 2,672 Flickr users have banded together to fight Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo because they are afraid that it might hurt their Flickr. This is just one of the thousands of protest photos that have been uploaded:

Microsoft Yahoo Flickr
Photo by robsv

You don’t see users of Yahoo e-mail worrying. Yahoo Small Business services, which are popular and have a lot of users, aren’t protesting. It’s just the Flickr users.

So in my scorebook, Flickr is the winner. They built a brand that people love, and not only do they love the brand, but they are willing to fight for the company. Flickr did this by creating a service that’s easy to use, allows interaction, fosters community, and is free.

Or do you think that these Flickr users really just hate Microsoft that much?

What is Creative Commons?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Creative Commons logoCopyright has gotten a whole lot blurrier with the Internet. Copyright is one of those things that used to be very cut and dry – someone would write something, it would be printed (on paper) and there would be a copyright notice on it. No one else was allowed to reprint that thing without permission or quote marks and an attribution. End of story.

But on the Web, things are much more hazy.

First of all, content is much harder to control. If you write and publish something (or take a photo or a video or record a podcast), it’s out there in all its digital glory for all to see – and copy. Sometimes it’s copied with the OK of the original creator, sometimes there is an attribution, and sometimes things are just stolen – total copyright infringement, difficult to prove, harder to enforce.

For example in the earlier days of the Web (early 2000s), a company that I worked for had a network of about 40 Web sites. Overnight, all of the sites were completely de-listed from Google. The reason? Some other company had, unbeknownst to us, stolen ALL OF THE CONTENT FROM ALL OF OUR SITES, and created duplicate sites based on that content. Google saw this as “duplicate content” and a “spam island,” and we were kicked out. We eventually got back in, but not after a whole world of trouble and difficulty and pain and anguish (you get the point).

So it is with this issue, this difficulty in mind, that the Creative Commons licenses came to be. To quote exactly from the Creative Commons site, this is what the license are:

“Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.”

In my words, these licenses allow content providers on the Web to allow other people to use (or not use) their content based on a clear set of guidelines.

The following are the different Creative Commons licenses and how they are used. Again, I’m taking this straight from their Web site:

Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc)
by nc cc license logoThis license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution No Derivatives (by-nd)by nd cc license
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution Share Alike (by-sa)
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even by sa cc licensefor commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Attribution (by)
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon yoby cc licenseur work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

For more information on Creative Commons, here’s the Wikipedia listing. Flickr’s explanation of the licenses is here.

Globalization, the Internet & Montreal

Monday, September 24th, 2007


Montreal flagThis summer, my husband Chris and I took a vacation from our home north of Boston to Montreal. When we were preparing to go, I asked a number of people who had traveled there in the past if it would be a big deal that neither of us spoke French. They all told us that it would not be a problem, that everyone in Montreal speaks both French and English. They described the Canadian city as being “very European” but said it was accessible, that we wouldn’t have any trouble traveling there even with our complete lack of French-language comprehension.

After hearing their reassurances, I admit that I didn’t think that Montreal was going to be much different than the United States. So I was surprised when we got to the city. The language wasn’t a barrier, exactly, but it was a differentiator. Although everyone I spoke to in Montreal did speak English, it was usually evident that they all would prefer to be speaking French. Every street name, sign, menu and all the directions that we came across were in French (although sometimes there was an English translation). And there were other subtle issues that made us feel like we were away – the food, the fashions, and the intangible but definite feel of the town that was so, well, different.

For me, our experience in Montreal served to highlight how hard it is to “go global.” I don’t mean this in a technical sense, because it isn’t difficult to set up a Web site that will reach an international audience. What I’m referring to is the ability to create an experience on the Internet that feels local to an international audience. That is very difficult indeed.

Certainly this isn’t a new challenge, and there are some companies that have been working on their international Internet strategies for years. The Global by Design blog has a great analysis of  the top 10 global sites. This list is comprised of both Internet companies (Google and Wikipedia) as well as more old-school technology companies (Cisco Systems and Phillips).  Along with these leaders, there are a number of Web 2.0 companies that are beginning to effectively reach into global markets. Flickr, the community-based photo sharing site, offers eight language options along the footer of every page. The site also greets its users with a welcome in a different language every time they come (today my page says “Shalom 16thletter! Now you know how to greet people in Hebrew!”) in an effort to make the global community ”feel” part of its users’ everyday experience. Myspace.com announced in late 2006 that it would be extending its site internationally, and they now offer international options as part of each users’ account settings to allow people to customize their local experience.

But even though most companies have globalization top-of-mind when building their sites, it is still a challenge in the details. In this post from Angela Randall on allfacebook – the unofficial facebook blog, she lists the subtle issues that make Facebook annoying for her to use in Australia. Her complaints include issues such as the seasons (which are different in the Southern hemisphere), states (international states aren’t included in Facebook) and study levels (Australia calls different levels by different terms than are used in the U.S.). All of these issues create enough dissonance for her to write, “Yeah, we know Facebook was developed in the US and has evolved from there but it’s time to extend some of the usability to international users.”

Ikea logoAnd another example that I would offer up is Ikea. The Swedish furniture retailer is perhaps one of the most successful global sites today – the company’s home page features a list of countries from which to choose to customize my Web experience, and they do a good job when I arrive at the United States version of the Web site. But in a subtle way, perhaps because of that initial global landing page or maybe because of the slightly different design style that is the signature of the company and permeates the site, I am constantly reminded that this is not a U.S. company. This leads to the feeling that I am not “at home” on the site. It isn’t 100% comfortable and familiar.

And this is the heart of the matter – what does it mean that I don’t feel at home on the site because it isn’t 100% comfortable? That feeling, that experience – it’s not quantifiable or measurable by any scientific methods or usability testing. And it is just this type of intangible that we have to get right in order to effectively “go global” on a local level. And it is also what makes the process so difficult.

~ Today’s view: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13799608@N08/1432924547/