Jan Kubr

Founders at Work quotes 2

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2008 at 15:11

Finally I finished reading Founders at Work. My biggest take away? It is incredibly hard to bring your startup to success. You need to work super hard for a few years and have incredible amount of perseverance and passion. And I doubt it is only the examples Jessica Livingston shows us in the book. It even discouraged me a bit to start a “real” startup.. At least without a strong co-founder or a very very good idea.

Building a startup is not about getting rich easily. If this is your main goal, you’re going to fail. You need to love what you’re doing and want to change the world. The money might come as a nice side effect. If you’re lucky.

The second thing I realized is the are million and one way to build a startup. If someone says something doesn’t work, he might actually mean, “It didn’t work for me.” It might work just fine for you though. And the other way round as well; purely replicate someone else without paying close attention to your own situation will kill you.

Brewster Kahle, WAIS Internet Archive, Alexa

“The Macintoshes were helpful because they had TCP/IP for them, where Windows didn’t. It wasn’t until Windows 95 came out 6 years later that Microsoft caught up.”

It made me think: Will Microsoft catch up again when there’s enough money in this “new web” stuff?

“We’re now in 2006, and it’s hard to believe how pathetic things are. We don’t even have books online yet. I don’t know why the world moves so slowly. Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s moving so fast.’ And it’s like, ‘No, I don’t think so. It’s been forever.'”


“Oh, I think it’s much easier to do a startup on the West Coast. (…) In fact, most bedrooms I think are startups! The idea that you can start on a shoestring, that you can hold a meeting in a coffeehouse and that’s OK, is perfectly legitimate on the West Coast. (…) San Fransisco is full of dreamers. It’s the people with the new ideas. (…) This is a city of dreamers, and that’s what makes it just a wonderful place to live and to work.”

So here he is comparing the two US coats. How would either compare to Europe? I don’t think I even want to know..

Charles Geschke, Adobe Systems

“…about how to treat our customers. Listen to them very carefully. Understand what their requirements are and what their needs are. Not necessarily do what they asked us to do, but to have the vision to do more than they expected. (…) That you are responsible for that customer’s success and, if you fail at your job, you may cause their business to fail.”

”Fortunately, the other five [competitors] all executed that business plan, and we didn’t. And they all disappeared. It shows you the power of getting good advice and having the nerve to take that advice.”

“So the other lesson is that you have to be willing to move on, even if you’ve got a real success. That was, in fact, the same problem that Xerox had. Because the 914, the original copier, was so successful, they couldn’t look at a business that didn’t have a ‘b’ in the dollar amount. Unfortunately, new businesses start out small and grow. You have to be willing to make some risky decisions and invest in them in the hopes that a few of them will succeed.”

“What we believed in very strongly was that the rules of quality for what [design] was produced were not set by the computer industry, but by the publishing industry. It didn’t matter whether or not some guy at IBM thought it looked good. What mattered was someone at Random House or Time-Life or Ogilvy & Mather or someone like that appreciated it.”

“If you aren’t passionate about what you are going to do, don’t do it. Work smart and not long, because you need to preserve all your life, not just your work life. One of the things that I felt really good about is that we – from the very first employees, including John and me – enabled telecommuting from day one.”

Philip Greenspun, ArsDigita (Totally the best interview of the book!)

“For example, if there were two or three programmers working for Hewlett-Packard, then those guys would be solely responsible for the project and making sure that it got delivered on time and that the customer was happy and the thing was profitable. Implicit in that was that, if it didn’t go well, we’d know whom to blame.”

“Almost all of our marketing and sales was educational. We just thought, ‘We’ll teach people stuff, and some tiny fraction of those people will become our customers.’ It seemed to work just as well as running ads, which were a hard sell and kind of empty and a waste of people’s time.”

“Programmers are isolated. They sit in their cubicle; they don’t think about the larger picture. To my mind, a programmer is not an engineer, because an engineer is somebody who starts with a social problem that an organization or a society has and says, ‘OK, here’s this problem that we have – how can we solve it?’ The engineer comes up with a clever, cost-effective solution to address that problem, builds it, tests it to make sure it solves the problem. That’s engineering.”

“The programmers were in the corner doing what they were told. That’s one reason they were so easy to outsource. If a programmer really never talks to the customer, never thinks, just solves little puzzles, well that’s a perfect candidate for something to offshore. So I said, ‘I don’t want my students to end up like this. I want them to be able to sit at the table with decision-makes and be real engineers – to be able to sit with the publisher of an online community or an e-commerce site and say, ‘OK, I’ve looked at your business and your goals; here are some ideas that we can bring in from these 10 other sites that I build, these 100 other sites that I’ve used.’ And be an equal partner in the design, not just a coder.”

“I was very careful about trying to encourage these people to have an independent professional reputation, so there’s code that had their name on it and that they took responsibility for (…) I tried to get the programmers to write, which they didn’t want to do. People don’t like to write. It’s hard. The people who were really good software engineers were usually great writers; they had tremendous ability to organize their thoughts and communicate. The people who were sort of average-quality programmers and had trouble thinking about the larger picture were the ones who couldn’t write.”

“When they’re young, people need to work pretty long hours to build experience and get things done. But the benefit was that then they get a big chunk of the project, and they are able to say, ‘I built half of the site for the customer.’ They put their name on something, instead of their resume just saying that they were part of 20-person team.

You never really know what most programmers have accomplished. There are a handful of people that you can say that about. Linus Torvalds built the Linux kernel, but it’s hard to say what the average programmer working at a big company has ever accomplished.”

“Programmers have not been professionals because they haven’t really cared about quality. How many programmers have you asked, ‘Is this the right way to do things? Is this going to be good for the users?’ They reply, ‘I don’t know and I don’t care. I get paid, I have my cubicle, and the air-conditions is set at the right temperature. I’m happy as long as the paycheck comes in.”

“Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world’s leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they’ll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it’s just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you’re growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn’t know?'”

“I still think it’s more efficient – this is just and old Lisp programmers’ standard way of thinking – if you have two really good people and a very powerful tool. That’s better than having 20 mediocre people and inefficient tools.”

“The VCs delegated very junior people to sit on our board. One guy had been a management consultant at Bain. He had never run a company; he never had profit-and-loss responsibility, which is the key. And he never started a company, and that was true with General Atlantic board guy as well. (…)

Fundamentally, if you have lemonade stand, you have to sell your lemonade for more than it costs you to make. That’s really all you need to know to run a company. I would have been so much better of it the manager of the Central Square McDonald’s had been on my board, because at least he would have understood how to do accounting.

The guys on my Board had been employees all of their lives. You can’t turn an employee in to a businessman. The employee only cares about making his boss happy. The customer might be unhappy and the shareholders are taking a beating, but if the boss is happy, the employee gets a raise. By contrast, the businessman cares about getting a customer, taking his money, not spending too much serving that customer, and then selling something more to the same customer. These are totally different psychologies.”

“In IT, you have people who think, ‘I’m a really great driver, I’m a great lover, I’m a great programmer.’ But here are the metrics that are going to prove them wrong? Traffic accidents are very infrequent, so they don’t get the feedback that they are a terrible driver because it’s so unlikely that they’ll get into an accident. A girlfriend leaves them – well, it was certainly here deep-seated psychological problems from childhood. Their code fails to ship to customers. It was marketing’s fault!”

Joel Spolsky, Fog Creek Software

“And if you need to make some interactive websites or MTV needs a web server or whatever the thing is, then you don’t even hire programmers; you hire some people who know some people who might know something about the technology. Eventually, you get somebody who thinks, ‘Let’s get some promrammers in here,’ and they actually hire a programmer. And if they are lucky, they get a good programmer, but they will torture that programmer until that programmer wants to cry and leave.”

“They were all magrinally good marketing ideas. Unfortunately we spent a lot of time chasing them. The one thing we learned over 5 years is that nothing works better than just improving your product. Every minute, every developer hour we spent on any one of these crazy things – although they had some marginal return on the work that we put into them – was nothing compared to just making a better version of the product and releasing it.”

“If it’s like, ‘The competitors are going to do feature x,’ well, if that’s such a good feature to do, why aren’t we hearing about it from our customers?

In other words, why listen to our customers indirectly through what our competitors do when we can just talk to our customers? So my mantra has always been, ‘Listen to your customers, not your competitors.’ I don’t know who our competitors are. (…) [But] I do want to talk to people who evaluated our software and then decided to go with a different product instead. I want to know why they did.”

Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor

“Because the difference in almost any position between someone who does a good job and someone who does a great job might be 20 percent more in salary, but it’s 100 or 200 percent more in throughput. If you can have enough people in the company that work twice as efficiently as the person sitting next to them, because they just know what to do, what not to spend time on… I mean everyone, they’re more or less all working the same number of hours. It’s rarely a work ethic issue It’s just, you give this engineer a task, and it’s just done right in half the time as the next person. That it’s done right, that’s the first important part; it’s done quick; and there’s just less communication if the teams are smaller, because everyone’s getting twice as much done.”

Ron Runger, Alliant Computer Systems, shareholder.com

“Because we asked them some extraordinary things. We said, ‘This project is going to take about 2 years, and it’s going to be a lot of work. Furthermore, we are going to institutionalize it by saying, ‘We need you to work every other Saturday.’ (…) ‘You gotta be here. It’s a regular work day. And the other Saturdays and Sundays you might have to be here too, but every other Saturday is a regular work day, gotta be here on time, full day, no monkey business. And that’s for 2 years.'”

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  1. THANKS!!!! I found your quotes via facebook and they were tremendously valuable. Will now check out the rest of your pages…

  2. My pleasure. It’s just small bits I liked; there’s a lot more interesting in the book, so you might want to check it out as well..

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