I started playing around with Google’s programming language called Go yesterday. There’s a tour of the language found here. Clearly, Go has been designed by a group of incredibly smart people and makes a series of terrific design decisions that enable a tremendous amount of flexibility and performance while reducing the amount of code an engineer has to write. But after spending about 90 minutes running through the tutorial, I decided to throw in the towel.
I’m asked with some frequency which startup sectors are booming. Mobile messaging and big data are knee-jerk reactions at this point. But these days I often respond “financial services.” In the last two years, financial services startups have been innovating impressively quickly and challenging some of the fundamental ways in which capital and credit are distributed. I count seven major categories of innovation to date: Math Based Currencies/Payment Networks - Bitcoin might be the most well-known and best publicized math-based currency, but there are a handful of others in the market, like OpenCoin and LiteCoin.
At about 11pm on a Tuesday night in 2006, I began coding a skeleton CRM web app for our internal use at Google called Toothpaste that tracked the key details of our larger inside sales customers. It was my first real Rails project after spending quite some coding Java. After I ran “rails server”, I watched the terminal as the program spit out a few lines from the built in app server, Webbrick, and refreshed my browser to see the Ruby on Rails Welcome page.
When I first started in venture capital five years ago, I wanted to create a programmatic way to analyze companies well. My goal was to be able to step into a meeting with an entrepreneur with some kind of form that I would fill out throughout the meeting, so that by the end of the meeting I might have an understanding how the startup fits into its ecosystem. It took quite a while to devise this framework and to revise it until it became useful, practical and insightful.
What is a social product? This was the question Sandi MacPherson, founder of Quibb posed to me, over lunch earlier this week. In Startupland, we bandy about terms like social, social media, virality and community when talking about products but it wasn’t until that moment that I stopped to think a bit more about what each word really means. Sandi has thought a lot about these concepts while building Quibb and she has some of the clearest points of view on social products I’ve encountered.
There’s an adage that is being passed around by entrepreneurs that goes something like this: “As soon as you raise this round, it’s time to start worrying about the next round.” I think it’s a wise adage. It’s similar to my most important principle of fund raising which is “Raise enough money to achieve a set of milestones that will attract a subsequent round of investment from new investors.” Those two ideas are simple and logical.
One of my favorite courses in engineering grad school was Marketing which was taught by a brilliant quirky professor. On the first day of class, our professor wrote on the board this equation: Innovation = Invention + Go To Market Addressing a group of engineers who prided themselves on their technical skills, this professor of marketing tried to instill in us that invention alone isn’t enough to create innovation.
In the past 12 months, we’ve seen at least three major acquisitions of social networks by larger social networks. Facebook acquires Instagram. Google acquires Waze. Yahoo acquires Tumblr. And we are likely to see quite a few more given the dramatic growth of mobile messaging clients and social networks of all different kinds. While each of these acquisitions has their own particular motivations, underpinning all three is user engagement. Engagement means activity which translates to advertising dollars.
Recently, hardware companies have been popping up in all kinds of places. Nest is building the next thermostat. Sonos sells seamless and beautiful soun systems. Thalmic Labs and Leap Motion are innovating in alternate forms of computing control. Electric Imp is building the platform-as-a-service to connect devices to the web via Wifi and so on. Hardware investments are blossoming because software is reinvigorating the market. Hardware companies face deeper logistical challenges, greater likelihood of margin erosion, and more complex go-to-market strategies than their software cousins.
In the center of Google’s campus lie a cluster of four buildings: 40, 41, 42 and 43. Contained within building 42 was the epicenter of product management: Jonathan Rosenberg’s office. Immediately next to his office stood a collection of three bookcases containing a library of different books on various topics that JR curated. I used to pass that library every day on my way to meetings and each time I walked past, I would pause to see which new volumes had arrived.