Jan Kubr

Founders at Work quotes part 1

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2008 at 22:27

I have been reading this great book Founders at Work which consists of interviews with many startup founders about their beginnings. I’ve read a little bit over a half and realized I’ve bookmarked too many quotes already. So I decided to put them up here in two parts instead of doing the traditional one “A book read” post.

Max Levchin, Paypal

Livingston: “What can big companies do to preserve a startup culture?”

Levchin: “I don’t know. Less PowerPoints. (…) As you grow larger, you need more structure and organization and meetings. My theory is that you sort of subdivide, and you make smaller units and you give them a lot of power and responsibility. You let them make it or break it. But I have no practical knowledge as to whether this works or not.”

“I think we didn’t know what we were doing. I think the hallmark of a really good entrepreneur is that you’re not really going to build one specific company. The goal – at least the way I think about entrepreneurship – is you realize one day that you can’t really work for anyone else. You have to start your own thing. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing is. We had six different business plan changes, and the the last one was PayPal.

“‘We’re trying this, this week.’ Every week you go to investors and say, ‘We’re doing this, exactly this. We’re really focused. We’re going to be huge.’ The next week you’re like, ‘That was a lie.'”

“‘We changed our business plan.’ And these guys were like, ‘What?’ They just put down $4 million to see something happen, and we said, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to do that; we’re going to do this.'”

Joe Kraus, Excite

“You never know anything. The hardest part in a startup is that you wake up one morning, and you feel great about the day, and you think, ‘We’re kicking ass.’ And then you wake up the next morning, and you think ‘We’re dead.’ And literally nothing’s changed.”

“Even up to the time when Excite was several hundred people and we were the fourth largest website in the world, it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like you’re really doing something huge. On some level it feels like you’re fooling people – like, are we really doing this?

“It’s the whole sausage and sausage factory problem: when you’re outside and you only see the sausage coming out you think, ‘That’s pretty tasty.’ When you’re on the inside and you know how it’s made, it’s terrifying. (…) It’s never, ‘We set out this well-orchestrated plan, we’re executing it, it’s going exactly according to plan.'”

Ray Ozzie, Iris Associates

“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.”

Steve Perlman, WebTV

“What I would typically do is not sleep for 2 nights; then I would get 4 hours of sleep and go back to work for another 2 days in a row, and then get 4 hours, and so on. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Sometimes I’d take 10-minute cat naps by just laying my head down on my shoulders – just so I’d get some REMs. As soon as the dreams come, it resets your brain a little bit and you’re able to work again. “

“A synchronized view of the world doesn’t mean you don’t argue about things, that you don’t have disagreements. You must agree on the philosophy, though, and on the vision. There are many ways to get there, but if you can’t agree on the vision, then obviously you’re never going to agreee on who to execute.”

Mike Ramsay, TiVo

“Hide the technology from people – that was the challenge.”

Paul Graham, Viaweb

“This was the beginning of the Internet Bubble and I think all of these guys saw themselves as some kind of grand CEO, while we programmers labored in the kitchen cooking the food and washing the dishes.”

“The way not to raise money is not to spend money. Do everything as cheaply as you possibly can. What you want in a startup is this feeling of cheap and hip. Not miserly cheap, but cool, bohemian cheap.”

Joshua Schachter, del.icio.us

Livingston: “Why did you choose not to focus full-time on del.icio.us and what finally tipped the scale?”

Schachter: “The economics didn’t make sense. It still made sense to keep the day job. (…)”

“There’s a great deal of crap that has to be executed better than competently that is no value for you to actually do yourself. So outsource that.”

Constraints breed creativity. So now, instead of only having 15 minutes two or three times a week, it would be more like, “I have the entire day to work on it, very day.” I don’t work in bursts like that. I do a little bit of work and then go wander around the city adn come back. Then work all night.”

Livingston: “What do you think about technical founders versus business people founders?

Schachter: “I have never had a grate deal of trust for people who don’t execute on core ideas. (…) So if you are someone who can’t execute and all you can do is come up with ideas, how do you know if they are any good? You don’t really know if it’s a good idea until you’ve executed it. You need to understand the cost of execution and so on.”

Mark Fletcher, Bloglines (This guy made me super happy; we have a lot in common and he’s been successful, so that’s great to know)

“I guess my advice is: solve a problem that you have, first and foremost, and chances are, other people may have the same problem.”

“Doing startups like this is so cheap that it just doesn’t require a lot of money. I think I put in a total of $200,000. And I didn’t do it nearly as smartly as I could have. I ended up buying all the computers. My recommendation would be: don’t buy any computers. Just use the virtual dedicated hosting services.


With ONElist, we didn’t own machines until years into the company. We did the virtual dedicated hosting thing. So we had 40 or 50 machines at Digital Nation in Virginia, that we had never seen. Which is smarter.”

“But there was no planning. It was just me trying to solve my own problem.”

“Because I fully believed in the thesis of ‘these companies can be really cheap to run if you do it with even just a little bit of intelligence.'”

“So just get something out there. If you find really early version of ONElist or Bloglines on archive.org, the websites are horrible. They are crap, they don’t have any features, they just try to do one thing. (…) It’s critical just to get something out quickly. Just to start shipping and then you can iterate. Because shipping is just this huge hurdle.”

“I also think a lot of people don’t know about all these outsourcing sites, which are absolutely wonderful. (…) 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 (…)”

Livingston: “Can you remember any moments in ONElist that where harrowing?”

Fletcher: “Sure. Many times. The first year especially when I was still working the full-time jo at Sun and doingt this on the side.”

Livingston: “You were still working?”

Fletcher: “Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? In most aspects of at least my fiscal life, I’m very conservative. I had a mortgage and didn’t want to take the leap of faith to do this without a salary, and so I started ONElist while I was still working full-time at Sun and did that for the first year.”

Caterina Flake, Flickr

The money was scarce, but I’m a big believer that constraints inspire creativity. The less money you have, the fewer poeple 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 itreate and innovate so fast.”

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