Mark spoke last night as part of a week-long entrepreneurship conference at Stanford sponsored by ASES. Two things that really stood out from his speech were:

1. Pay attention to surprising successes, even if they’re small

When Mark was running Small World Software, there was a die-hard group of about two million fantasy sports players who—get this—would play on paper, calculating all the statistics and scores by hand (obviously this was before Mark brought fantasy sports to the Internet). What tedium! Point is, if there were that many people who would play on paper, there would surely be many, many more who would play on the web.

2. If you can make it so that the customer doesn’t see the money leaving their wallet (i.e. they don’t have to take out their credit card), they will pay for your service

Loopt does this with their “social mapping” software by charging subscribers $3.99/month, but it just appears on their cellular phone bill like any other feature, such as voicemail or text messaging. Genius. Pure genius.

Founders at Work

March 20, 2007

I’ve just started reading Founders at Work and I’ve got to say I love it for the most part. I’ve read four of the interviews so far. The one with Max Levchin (founder at PayPal) was incredibly interesting, as was the one with Sabeer Bhatia (founder at Hotmail). It was somewhat shocking (but at the same time not entirely surprising) to hear about the funding problems with DFJ. I’m tempted to ask Tim Draper about it at our upcoming lunch.

The interview with Steve Wozniak was the only one that I ended up skimming so far. The guy obvioulsy loves to talk and the interview was slightly too technical for me, although it this particular section about Jobs was inspiring for me since I’m not an engineer and I just want to build a company:

Livingston: Way back then, how did you guys divide the work between you?

Wozniak: We actually never talked about it even once. If there was any engineering to do…I did it. Never did [Steve] look at a circuit and suggest anything. I don’t want to mess around running a company—my whole life’s engineering—so he’s on the phone talking to reporters…talking to dealers, ordering the parts, negotiating process, getting brochures made up for ads…

Livingston: So you two fit together nicely in terms of your skills.

Wozniak: Well, we added up to the total everything that was needed. If there was anything that neither one of us knew how to do, Steve would do it. He’d just find a way to do it. He was just gung ho and pressing for this company to be successful.

And finally I read the Joe Kraus interview. The long and short of it is that he is one of my favorite role models. He graduated from Stanford in PoliSci without honors. I’m going to—or at least am planning to—graduate in Economics without honors either; there are better uses of my time than writing an Honors thesis, such as working for a startup. As a senior he decided that he just wanted to start a company. He didn’t really care what it was in the beginning. Sounds familiar. Now he’s wildly succseful. Hopefully fortune will guide me down a similar path, whatever that path may be.

I’m excited to finish the book. Reading it makes for a great study break from Econometrics.

Just Do It.

March 19, 2007

From The Myth of The Great Idea:

Success almost never comes from a mind-blowing idea, so sitting around trying to find one is a waste of time. Success comes from a basic idea executed amazingly well. Ideas are rarely found by thinking. They’re found by doing.

So true, but it is fun to think about ideas every so often…

This was a very clear and concise post by Josh Kopelman of Redeye VC that just made me think “Wow, what a great post” after I read it so I figured I’d share. He’s talking about creating asymmetrical competition and “shrinking” a market (and justifying FRC’s investment in Jingle Networks by doing so).

Some excerpts:

On the First Round Capital website we write that: “We love investing in technologies and business models that are able to shrink existing markets. If your company can take $5 of revenue from a competitor for every $1 you earn – let’s talk!” I’ve often been asked what we mean by that – so I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post.

This is the reason why I’m so excited about our recent investment in Jingle Networks. Jingle is the owner of 1-800-FREE411 – the country’s first nationwide provider of free directory assistance. Launched late last year, the 1-800-FREE411 service offers consumers a free alternative to the high cost of 411 service provided by traditional carriers. By including a ten-second advertisement before giving out a phone number, 1-800-FREE411 saves consumers on average $1.25 each time they look for a phone number from their telephone. Since American consumers use traditional 411 services 6 billion times a year, 1-800-FREE411 has the potential to shrink an $8 billion market. I believe (and hope) that as consumers shift to ad-supported directory assistance, we will take a significant share away from the entrenched carriers.

The greeting card industry could use some shrinkage as well. They pull in over $7B each year on nearly as many cards sold. And that’s just in the United States. Unfortunately, eCards tainted the whole concept of a legitimate online greeting card, but I have faith that a new breed of online greetings will eventually prove popular and shrink that market as developers embrace the power of Flash and broadband connections. Smilebox is pioneering this movement (and evidently quite succesfully) by targetting middle-aged women with young children. However, their solution is a desktop-based platform which I don’t think will reach ubiquity as fast as a web-based system could, but we’ll see.

The Real Problem

March 18, 2007

I was reading this post by del.icio.us founder Joshua Schacter about what to do and what not to do when starting a web company and this snippet really caught my attention:

Don’t look for problems you don’t have, because someone else who is passionate about it will solve it better than you can.

After reading this I realized that I spend a lot of my time trying to come up with problems to solve. I so desperately want to start a company that I compulsively brainstorm for ideas. Even after I’ve committed to spending the summer working for other startups and gaining experience before I take the reins, I can’t stop trying to come up with ideas.

Maybe now that someone else has said that such an approach is futile I’ll be able to stop. Hopefully. Sometimes I just wish there were a big problem in my life that I could solve. On the brightside, since I can’t come up with an idea, there must not be any big problems in my life! That’s not to say that there aren’t big problems worth solving out there, just that my worldview is extremely limited as a sophomore in college.

O’Reilly is singing the praises of Grand Central, a new service that claims to give you a “one [phone] number, for life.” The gist of it is that you give them all of your phone numbers (cell, work, home, etc.) and when someone calls your Grand Central number it calls all of those other numbers so that you never miss a call. The service has some other neat features too, but I think it’s going to get annoying, here’s why: People have different numbers for a reason, and a good reason. One’s home number is generally for calls unrelated to work. What happens when all of your work calls starting ringing at home too? Annoyance. What happens when all of your home calls start ringing at work? More annoyance.

The system would be great if people lived in their own isolated worlds, but most people don’t. We live and work in environments with other people who either use the same phones or have to hear them ring. Do you want to be getting your wife’s phone calls at work or on your cell phone? Probably not. Your wife probably doesn’t either. Would my parents or dormmates really want to hear the phone ring every time my girlfriend calls my cell phone? I doubt it.

It’s kind of like information overload for email, but each message comes with a ring tone attached.

A Great Quote

March 8, 2007

“Passion knows no logic.” – Shaukat Shamim, speaking on the characteristics of succesful entrepreneurs. He prefaced this with a discussion of the statistical improbability of starting a succesful venture.