ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

2 Years of Entrepreneurship

1/18/2013 3:39:00 PM

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Well, actually I’ve been doing something like entrepreneurship for the past ~14 years, but the last 2 mark the first time I went all-in, hence the title.

This write-up is mostly for my future self. It’ll be interesting to read this in a few years and compare to my thoughts/experiences on the subject. You are more than welcome to tag along, though. If you have any thoughts or arguments either in agreeing or disagreeing with me, please, do not hesitate to express them in the comments.

On starting up

iStock_000011756085SmallI had an idea for AdDuplex in December 2010. There’s nothing radically new about it. That said, for some reason, no one thought of it at that time (at least as far as I know). Anyway, I decided to scratch my own itch and implement it on Windows Phone. Some thought (and probably still think) I was stupid not to jump to iOS and Android immediately once I got proof that developers really needed and liked a service like this. Some also said that should’ve moved to Silicon Valley immediately and I would’ve been “golden” by now. Well, I didn’t and I didn’t.

I think the most likely outcome of both moves would be either dying because of money running out before we get to something meaningful across all the platforms, or, in case I managed to secure enough funding to start, being forced to “pivot” to something that has a better theoretical chance of becoming “a billion dollar company”. More on that later. Anyway, I’m enjoying being an important part of the Windows Phone and now Windows 8 ecosystems. And I like living in Lithuania. And we will see about that summer house in California ;)

One thing that really helped me start this was the fact that I had reasonable semi-passive income from now defunct .NET part of amCharts. Ironically other 2 big pushes came from really bad news from Microsoft. First one came in a form of only 30 countries “allowed” to develop for Windows Phone. This is now resolved, but If not for that blow I would probably be developing some mediocre WP apps at the moment. Another big blow came right at the time I’ve started seeing traction with AdDuplex. At the first Windows 8 announcement event Microsoft has famously “forgotten” to mention WPF/Silverlight or any other XAML/C# based development technology as a platform to create Windows 8 apps. This resulted in the sales of our (amCharts) WPF/Silverlight controls dropping to virtually zero. It was a clear signal that I needed to find a new occupation and a source of income ASAP. So I jumped from being 50/50 involved with AdDuplex and amCharts to something like 90/10 and then going all-in with AdDuplex.

As I mentioned having a passive income was very important, so I think you should always think about having some passive income so it’s way easier to jump aboard your next crazy idea. Check out The 4-Hour Workweek for some ideas on this. In case you don’t have that, but itch to start something, I think its more productive to stay at a 9-to-5 job and moonlight, than trying to mix entrepreneurship with some consulting work. I’ve tried to do that for more than 10 years and it never actually worked out. Both sides suffer, but the startup side suffers more. Consulting brings real money in after all.

There’s always an option of getting an investment for your startup. Good luck with that. Unless you have a Name or are a world class bullshitter this is a waste of time in the very early stage, imho.

On being a solo founder

Right when I had the idea and got unreasonably excited I’ve shared it with a fellow developer (who should probably remain nameless). He tried to cool me down by saying he doesn’t think it’s such a good idea, and even if it is, we would be blown away by the big boys once they figure there’s something in it. My next several attempts to “recruit” co-founders failed in a similar fashion. I guess it’s the main (only?) disadvantage of being a startup founder in mid-thirties – most of the people you know have families, mortgages and other commitments, and their minimum viable income expectations are much higher than when they were 10-15 years younger.

Anyway I decided that enough is enough and I’m not going to look for co-founders just for the sake of it. There was a limited list of people I’d like to team up with and I’ve exhausted it. And, after all, I thought I had everything needed to for the first step – I can do the server side myself, I can do the SDK on my own, and I have a sense of “ugly”, meaning I know that if I really try to Design something it will end up ugly, so I should keep it simple.

They say being a solo founder is hard. There’s no one to kick your butt when you are slacking off. There’s no one to say something optimistic when you think you are screwed. Etc., etc. Well, I don’t see this as anything tragic. Sometimes it actually is really productive to slack off a little. No matter how counter intuitive this sounds. There’s also a benefit of having no one to fight for “who deserves more” and there’s only one “because I said so”. Decisions are way easier to make. Sometimes even dangerously easy. In any case I think there are obviously cons of being a solo founder but there are pros too. Definitely nothing tragic about it.

On investments/investors

iStock_000013909045SmallMy idea of a perfect business is something in the middle between what VC world calls “lifestyle business” and “a billion dollar company”. In other words I’d rather run a $10m 5 person business, than a $500m 300 people company.

Unfortunately in my experience most of the Silicon Valley crowd is anally fixated on the “show me how this is a billion dollar company?” question. And by Silicon Valley I don’t mean the exact location in California (even though it is in high concentration over there), but places all over the world trying to replicate SV. The question is totally understandable for large VC funds. This is how their mechanics work and it’s fine. But all the lower levels of the ecosystem are very focused on how you are going to raise your next round, therefore everyone looking to invest $10k is asking the billion dollar question. Some people tell me this is not the case and there are lots of investors who don’t care about that and “I totally see you being acquired for $50m”, but immediately follow by “but we only care about $100m+ opportunities”. Anyway I’m obviously exaggerating and I don’t have enough experience in this since I never seriously looked for an investment, but from the limited experience that I had I came out with this takeaway. Take it or leave it.

I came really close to getting a sort-of institutional Angel/Seed investment once. As close as having all the investment papers reviewed and negotiated with lawyers, but things fell through in the end due to something you could probably call force-majeure. I had a technically less attractive (from pure economics) offer from my friend/previous business partner on the table, but I wanted to get a more “formal” investment at that point. One of the reasons I wanted that, was my belief that having an outside investor would indirectly introduce more discipline in my solo act.

Anyway, I ended up getting that FFF (friends, family and fools) investment. The reason I need it was that half a year after I’ve started I found myself deadlocked most of the time. I was a developer (server and client), designer (ahem), marketer, sales person, support and everything in-between. Once this thing has taken of I couldn’t perform any of these things effectively. I was making some money. More or less enough to feed me, but not enough to safely hire someone to help with some of those functions. So I needed a buffer to get to that next level. And I got it.

On hiring

So far at AdDuplex I’ve only hired one person, so not much wisdom I can provide here. That said I ended hiring based on cultural fit over (perceived) competence more than a year before reading a post by Brad Feld of the same title. I’ve interviewed 4 people. All had very similar salary expectations. I ended up hiring the youngest guy with less experience on paper, but the one my hunch told me was a right fit. I’d be lying if I didn’t see the most potential competence in him over the other 3, but most likely the decisive factor was the fact that he just felt like the best fit. One year later I’m totally happy with that decision.

On accelerators

Once I’ve got accustomed to people calling what I’m doing a startup, I started paying attention to startup accelerators. Not that I ever seriously considered setting going to one of them as my goal, but I’ve sent a couple of half-assed applications to TechStars and some others. In late 2011 I’ve learned about Startup Sauna and applied (again half-assedly) via their referral track. Needless to say half-assed applications don’t get you invited. When Startup Sauna had their warm-up in Kaunas in early 2012 I applied and prepared more carefully. My reasoning for doing this is documented in this post. Long story short, we’ve got invited to the final program, traveled to Silicon Valley and talked to a ton of smart people and investors (smart people too ;). It was great and it was a great way for introvert technical geeks to expand social horizons dramatically, learn a few things about running a business and get a real life experience pitching your product to real investors.

In short, I think if you can get into a great accelerator like Startup Sauna you shouldn’t think twice. It really does accelerate things for you. Even if the thing it accelerates is failure, it’s still a good thing. “Fail fast” and blah blah blah.

On networking, PR and marketing

One of the main realizations over these 2 years was that personal connections are as important in the capitalist community of the 21st century as they were in the Soviet economy of the 20th. Great product is as important as ever and likely more important than it was in pre-internet days, but lack of visibility could be more tragic than before too. The main asset of PR agencies (besides the ability to write boring press releases with stock CEO quotes) is personal connections to media. If you start working on your connections after you launch your product its probably too late and using a PR agency is probably the easiest way to get in front of the media.

Luckily for me I loved Twitter way before I could so conveniently claim that I’m using it for work ;) For an introvert geek like me Twitter is an awesome tool and the channel I made most of my personal connections through. That said real life interactions help deepen the connections you make on Twitter and this is one of the things I wish I realized sooner. I was averse to the idea of going to social gatherings, conferences and such, but I’ve started changing my outlook on it and I can even say I started liking it recently. Obviously the process is long and you have to go through a phase when no one knows you anywhere and it’s really boring and even depressing, but as I said, this is the large part of this entrepreneurship thing and not doing it handicaps your business in a pretty major way.

I have a whole post on the subject of networking for the geeks like me. Hopefully I’ll get to posting it soon.

On travelling

I didn’t count, but I’m pretty sure I’ve travelled more over the last 2 years than in the previous 35. It’s amusing to see how my own view on the travels changed. Just a few years ago I would thoroughly prepare for each trip I take. I would be puzzled by the lack of desire from, say, conference speakers to go sightseeing during their trips. I’m not at that point yet, but I already feel that quite often I have to force myself to go check out the surroundings during one of such trips.

It also takes its toll on vacations. The thought of going to some all-inclusive-lazy-laying-by-the-pool resort was nauseating to me just a few years ago. Now this is my most coveted type of vacation. Second only to not going anywhere at all.

On growth

We are at a point again, like I was a little more than a year ago, when we just have too much stuff to juggle for just the two of us. Again, we are making enough money to carry on with what we do, but not enough to expand comfortably. And I’m confused as for what to do next. Should I look for investment? Should I double down on the money making side of the business even if it means sacrificing the growth? These are the questions I have opposing definitive answers to every time I wake up in the morning. Oh, well, uncertainty is probably the most certain thing about entrepreneurship.

Onwards

Anyway. This was probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I should wrap it up and go do some real sh*t. Overall I’ve enjoyed the last 2 years very much and wouldn’t change anything for the world. I’ve been out of the real job market for too long (12 years) and I don’t think I want to go back anytime soon or any time at all. So, I love what I’m doing and this what I hope to be doing until I get rich and lazy (not that I ever wasn’t lazy) or until I die trying. We’ll see how it goes.

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Monetizing data!? Yeah, right!

11/19/2012 5:19:00 PM

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Over my current ~2 year stint in the startupland I’ve seen a number of startup founders claiming selling of the data they collect as their monetization strategy. This statement always makes most of the serious serial entrepreneurs and investors smirk. “Yeah, right!” – they say. And I agree with them.

I’ve never thought about the data we collect at AdDuplex as a direct source of revenue. After some time, I’ve discovered that it’s a pretty good marketing asset, though.

Last week a story on AdDuplex blog was covered by CNET, CBS News, Neowin, ReadWrite(Web), PC World, Computerworld, LA Times, Tom’s Hardware, etc. This story was totally based on the data we have. And was only possible because of it.

And the effect of it was actually undermined by the fact that I underestimated the fact that there are only a few companies in the world that have any data on the penetration (I don’t want to infer sales, but some pundits did ;) of the Microsoft Surface. And apparently there’s a lot of interest in these numbers.

Unfortunately I treated that blog post the same way I treated all the previous statistics blog posts that were mostly of interest to people inside the “Windows ecosystem” and didn’t make an attempt to break out of the specialized media loop. But even without it the post found its way into mainstream. I’ve got my first “urgent request for comments” emails from multiple media outlets, etc. That makes me feel great and at the same time a little sad that I didn’t anticipate it upfront and didn’t approach this PR opportunity properly.

Last week I’ve attended Silicon Valley Comes To Baltics conference and the best talk there (at least for me) didn’t come from Silicon Valley. It was “Insurgency Marketing: How to get attention for your startup” by Andris K. Berzins from the neighboring Latvia. One of the points of that talk was using interesting stats to attract attention to your under-the-radar startup. Because, you know, no one cares what you actually do.

Build 0.11 - Andris K. Berzins from HackFwd on Vimeo.

So it’s still very unlikely that you’ll be able to turn your “data” directly into a revenue stream. But I can definitely attest that it can be a very valuable marketing asset.

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The Last Act of App Gold Rush

10/11/2012 3:46:20 PM

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App gold rush is over. Creating an app and going straight to refreshing your bank account is not a feasible plan anymore. Even if you are extremely naïve, it’s unlikely that you still think it’s possible.

There are more than 700,000 apps on iOS, almost 700,000 on Android and, even on Windows Phone, we have more than 100,000 apps. Yes, analysts still predict that the mobile app market will grow to $25 billion by 2015 and I don’t disagree with them. It’s just that the lions share of that grows will be collected by the likes of Electronic Arts, Zynga or Rovio. Not hundreds of “2-guys-in-the-garage” teams like it was possible just a few years ago.

So no, you won’t get a medal or a pile of cash just for posting an app into the store in 2012.

The app gold rush is over. Almost over. There’s only one act left.

More than 16 million people have tried pre-release versions of Windows 8. That’s more than iPad 1s ever sold. One of the early apps on the platform – Cocktail Flow – has already seen more than 100,000 downloads, even though the OS is not publicly available yet. Microsoft expects to sell about 400 million copies of Windows 8 in its first year.

And there are only 2,000 3,600 apps (the number is growing fast but it’s still very low) in the Windows Store at the moment. And the official public launch is only few weeks away.

So, the app gold rush is almost over, but there’s still one act left. And you are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Being there at launch means that you have great chances to be mentioned in early OS reviews across the web, get early adopters who will spread the word about you to their friends, low competition, etc., etc. This is a luxury that costs a lot of money and effort later on, but you can get it for free by acting fast.

I encourage you to jump on the bandwagon while it’s still hot. I’m pretty sure this is the last opportunity in this cycle and it won’t repeat until someone invents some new revolutionary concept. App stores are done for the small guys and this is the last launch that matters.

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Why Every Sane Entrepreneur in Baltics and Nordics Should Apply To Startup Sauna Warmups

8/31/2012 2:26:04 PM

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Yesterday we had BarCamp #15 in Vilnius and one of the VIP guests was Antti Ylimutka, former Wingman and current Captain of Startup Sauna. I must admit the Wingman title sounded cooler, but I guess Captain sounds #LikeABoss and it’s all that matters, right?

Anyway, I was contemplating saying a few words there, but being an introvert developer lagged. So my Sauna comrade Mawuna beat me to it and following his in vitro fertilization metaphor was kind of hard. So I stayed put and am spilling what I wanted to say here. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I prefer typing on my keyboard to talking to real people. So here goes…

A few months ago I've read an article in Forbes and it had a punchline that said "If you are accepted to an accelerator; you don’t need them." And the reasoning was that accelerators are not charities (even though Startup Sauna is as close as it gets to being a charity). They are basically investors and they pick the teams they believe have the biggest chance of succeeding ... with or without them.

So it got me thinking about the reasons why I applied to Startup Sauna Warmup in Kaunas about half a year ago? Well, I guess the answer is that I wanted some outside validation that what we are doing at AdDuplex is interesting to business minded people outside of our pretty closed developer community. Whether we were invited to the final program or not was secondary to hearing that feedback and being approved (or not) by people who have seen a fair share of startups.

This reminds me of my school/university years. I've been the king of mathematics in my pretty crappy school. Then I went on to study at the faculty of mathematics at the university and guess what? I was one of the dumbest students at math there. So it motivated me to work hard and get at least somewhat decent at it. Something that wasn’t possible without external powers showing me that I suck.

So what I'm getting at is that you can be a super fancy startup founder in your own sandbox, but only by stepping outside of it you can learn your own worth, get hard but important questions about your business and improve your pitching skills. And one of the most cost effective ways for a Lithuanian (or any Baltic/Nordic) startup to get that experience right now is to apply to Startup Sauna warmup in Riga (or any other city). And then if you manage to get an invitation to the final program you can decide if you want and can make the commitment.  Well, of course you do, you are not stupid, but think about the warmups first and the real value you are getting from that one single day trip to Riga.

And regarding that "you don't need it" phrase. Sure, you don't need it. "Need" is a desperate word, and you are not desperate, right? So you don't need it, you want it!

Apply now!

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Don’t Quit Your 9-to-5 Job To Start A Startup

7/9/2012 7:02:51 PM

Yeah, click bait. Guilty! No, I mean do quit your day job, but only when you are ready to go all-in with your startup. Don’t think that “I’ll work on my idea and do some consulting on the side to pay the bills”. That’s what I thought in 2003 when I’ve launched SPAW Editor. The reality is that you will “do consulting to pay the bills and maybe work on your idea on the side”.

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Back in 2003 SPAW Editor was one of the first web based WYSIWYG HTML editors in the world. And I’m willing to claim it was the best. I will write a separate post about it in my startups series someday, but what I want to mention here is that I was doing contract work to support the development of SPAW Editor and I was so busy doing it “on the side” that I totally missed the timeframe when the required capabilities became available in other browsers than IE (yeah, IE was on the edge of progress less than 10 years ago). So other editors got ahead and even though I think SPAW Editor v.2 was once again the best editor out there (imho) it was too little too late.

Your 9-to-5 job is just that – a job from 9am to 5pm (with some minor variations). You then have all the time in the world to work on whatever you want to do. In a consultant/freelancer world all of the 24 hours in the day could potentially be monetized so you are constantly in a conflict between making extra money and spending time (and money) on your idea. And that’s a loosing position for your startup. At least in my perspective.

So unless you have some investment or passive income to support your startup, I would suggest doing it as a side project while working at a job (provided there are no legal barriers to that). Consulting will just eat all of your time with nothing to show for it in the long run.

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Is Silicon Valley Thinking Too Big?

7/5/2012 5:12:50 PM

Disclaimer: this is going to be ranty and might bite me in the ass in the future or I may change my opinion, but it’s my personal blog and I felt like venting this out :)

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Photo by Benh LIEU SONG

One of the main shortcomings identified in European and especially Eastern European startups is that we are thinking too small. I’m not arguing with that. It’s probably as true as any generalization could be. That said, I would argue that Silicon Valley is thinking too big. Again, a generalization, but since I’m not arguing about the former one, I guess I’m allowed to make the latter.

On our trip to Silicon Valley with Startup Sauna I’ve met quite a few entrepreneurs and the reason for a pivot for their startup most often sounded something like this: “we figured out that this can’t be a billion dollar business (even in theory), therefore we dumped the idea and moved to the next one”.

And most of the time their initial idea was pretty good and potentially a multi-million dollar business (with “multi” in 2-50 range), but the new idea is crazy enough that no one can identify if this is a total nonsense or a billion dollar idea. Sometimes this turns into an awesome thing (e.g. Twitter) but I’m pretty sure most of the times it just goes nowhere.

Another phrase I’ve heard multiple times is “it takes as much effort to build a billion dollar company as it takes to build a million dollar company, so why not go for a billion?” [I’m pretty sure some real (and smart) person said that first, but I don’t know who that was so I can’t attribute it]. This could be true, but it’s as true as “it takes as much effort to place a chip on a number as it takes to place it on red”. Except chances of winning are totally different.

VCs to blame?

I understand that this whole mentality comes from the nature of venture capital and the fact that if an average fund plans to invest around $10m into your company (over several rounds) they will only be happy with $100m+ exit. And angel investors are considering early stage investments mostly through the prism of “will this company be able to attract the next round from VCs?”.

So this makes a 5 person company making $5m a year a bad business? I know, they don’t call it a bad business. They call it a “lifestyle business”. Which is a Silicon Valley way of saying you are a boring loser.

I think this mentality turns really smart people with good ideas away from being successful “lifestyle entrepreneurs” into being real losers. Because their billion dollar ideas most of the time are not worth a $100 and they’ve scrapped really good ideas just because they were too modest.

The VC model is fine-tuned to tolerate 20 losses for 1 big win, but can you say the same about your life?

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Startup Sauna Diary. Part 3. Silicon Valley trip

5/29/2012 4:19:08 PM

We have just returned from the Silicon Valley trip with Startup Sauna and here are some quick notes about the trip.

1. Do your car rental homework

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We’ve booked a car through Avis (via Lufthansa) even though “on paper” it wasn’t the cheapest option. But I got tired researching cheaper options and booked with Avis. In the end there were no surprises (except for free upgrade from intermediate to a full-size class) and we’ve paid $250 for 8 days. Other teams tried to save and paid $500+ in the end (because insurance, etc. wasn’t included in the quote).

2. Leave your car “at home” when going to San Francisco (unless absolutely necessary)

We were stationed in Palo Alto but had to go to SF quite a few times. First time we went to San Francisco by car even though we had no use for it in the city. The morning trip was during rush hour and took as long (if not longer) as train ride would, parking cost $22 and is hard to find and messy. Our friends got their car towed away and ended up paying $400 to get it back. Next time I had to go by car (cause I had meetings in Palo Alto and in SF back to back). I chose the wrong lane on the street – only 1 of the 3 lanes turning left was actually turning left and the other 2 were going “slightly” left and I ended up on the Bay Bridge and had to go extra 5km over the bridge to Treasure Island and back in heavy and slow traffic. Ended up being 30 min. late to the meeting. Next time we went by train and it was an absolute pleasure and relaxed experience.

3. Phones

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You can get prepaid plans at AT&T and T-mobile but you have to go to the actual stores and go through a rather lengthy procedure. It literally took AT&T guys an hour to figure out how to set me up with a $25 prepaid option that would include data. T-mobile were quicker but (as far as I understand) 3G won’t work on most European phones when using T-mobile and you’ll be limited to 2G. The quality of the cell networks is pretty low too. Lots of times I have literally no bars on the phone and I wasn’t in a forest or something.

We’ve also tried to buy a Nokia Lumia 900 w/o a contract and unlocked, but failed miserably.

4. Things just happen in Silicon Valley

I had a few meetings planed upfront for the trip but a couple more happened just because of the Silicon Valley ecosystem and the fact that lots of companies are based there. At the same time as with all the densely populated communities, the startup community in SV is filled with all kinds of “leeches” trying to sell their services to you during the networking events.

5. Silicon Valley VCs are not that scary and Sandhill Road is a nice place

It is often stressed that European VCs are just a bunch of nice “bunnies” compared to sharks in Silicon Valley. We didn’t go there expecting to raise money or something, so maybe that was the important factor, but I found pitching to VCs that we’ve met to be a pretty nice and not really stressful experience. That said the level of technological expertise and diversity of some of these guys was really impressive.

6. Entrepreneurs think big in SV… often too big, imho

Several times I’ve met entrepreneurs who pivoted not because their initial idea sucked, but because they figured it was “only” a $100 million idea, not a billion. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but that pretty much describes the difference I’ve noticed. We’ve also got feedback from VCs that our group was noticeably different from local startups in a way that our businesses were built around our passions and most of the SV entrepreneurs are in the game for the sake of game itself.

7. Co-working spaces are quiet

It’s always pretty noisy in the Aalto Venture Garage but 2 co-working spaces I’ve been to in SF (RocketSpace and I/O Ventures) are pretty quiet. That is definitely a plus in my book.

8. Office space is expensive, but everyone takes twice as much as they need

I guess it’s a mix of optimistic growth expectations, scarcity of available office space and rent terms, but it feels that companies get offices at least twice as big as they currently need.

9. It seems that the technical talent in the Valley is pretty scarce

Provided that you have a proper visa (or other form of work permit) it should be really easy to get a job for technical people in the Valley. That should make it an unattractive place for R&D activities of startups (imho) but the counter argument is that only there you can find people with proper experience building really massive and scalable projects. There’s probably some truth to that, but in general I think it’s BS. There’s lot of talent all over the world and only a few companies manage to grow to a scale where real high end scaling skills are necessary. So I would say moving a technical part of your company to SV is pretty much lame.

10. If you ever plan to look for funding in the US, establish a Delaware corp. now

There’s lots of crazy law and accounting stuff involved but the bottom line is that a non-US startup should establish some “empty” company in the US at least a few months before it starts seeking for funding. There aren’t many expenses involved in keeping this company alive, but it’ll pay off beautifully if/when you decide to “flip”.

11. Startup Sauna rocks!

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And most importantly, thank you to Startup Sauna for getting us there, taking us places we wouldn’t get to otherwise and organizing a great Silicon Valley demo day (even though I had to start a pitch to a half-empty room due to the last minute champagne stunt).

And thanks to all the other Sauna teams for the company. You guys rock!

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Startup Sauna Diary. Part 2. Week 1

4/28/2012 7:42:52 AM

So week #1 of Startup Sauna is over. It was pretty busy so it went really fast. 2 of the bigger sessions of the week were dedicated to pitching and even though they had slightly contradictory advice both were really good.

On Tuesday we’ve spent almost the whole day with Mike Bradshaw and tried pitching without slides for a random number of minutes. We just had to fetch a pool ball from a bag before we went on stage and the number on it told you how long your pitch should be. Challenging, interesting, useful.

Then we had a team-building exercise. As a totally introverted  geek I was skeptical and “annoyed” by the fact at first but it turned out pretty cool. We were randomly divided into 6 teams and had to make 2 dishes. And we actually even managed to win by just taking edible stuff and making a salad out of it :)

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On Wednesday Juha Ruohonen had a session on pitching and we tried to pitch again. This time the time was known upfront (2 minutes), still no slides. Very good tips and feedback.

And then in the afternoon we had a chance to pitch to actual VCs from Infocomm Investments. Just like that. On day 3 of Sauna. It’s unclear if the investors were actually interested in our batch as real potential investment targets but it was a really good real life practice nevertheless.

On a side note there were only a few PCs in the room and they hooked up to a projector without a hitch, but half of the Macs failed :P

Overall I kind of thought that pitching tips and advice is always the same and generic, but these 2 days proved me totally wrong and were very good, useful and to the point.

Then on day 4 we had 1on1 meetings with coaches. Every team got to meet a different set of coaches. We get to meet 6 of them and they were really good. That was were I realized that even though Finland is only slightly bigger than Lithuania in terms of population, we have still a huge way to go in terms of startup ecosystem people. It’s hard to explain this but I’d say that Ilja Laurs, the only startup “god” in Lithuania, would fit in there but not stand out. And that was only the first batch of coaches.

Overall we got mostly positive and useful feedback and were really challenged by 1 coach which didn’t feel all that great emotionally but was really to the point and extremely useful.

The last day consisted of the weekly summary session called “Kick the shit out”. Luckily no shit was kicked out (at least not that I know of) and we will continue sharing the Aalto Venture Garage with all the awesome teams next week.

But that’s not all. On Friday night we had a housewarming party at Goodbuzz’s recently rented apartment and even though someone (no, not me, I’m always driving here) had too much to drink and got pseudo-offensive, hopefully the other guys understand that it was vodka talking and we will continue to have the awesome atmosphere in the batch we had so far.

And to wrap this up  (I should take more pictures) here’s a pic of a nice Finnish tank:

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Startup Sauna Diary. Part 1. The Trip and Day 1

4/24/2012 6:46:56 AM

So we are here in Finland and Spring ‘12 batch of Startup Sauna kicked off yesterday.

Finding a place to stay in Helsinki wasn’t an easy task and the upcoming Hockey World Cup definitely doesn’t help. The best price/performance option we were able to find was about 20km away from the Aalto Venture Garage and it takes about 1.5 hour to get there using public transportation. So we made a decision to go by car. This also allowed us to bring more stuff (monitors, etc.)

The trip and Helsinki sightseeing

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Luckily the trip was pretty uneventful. Except for missing a Hesburger in Parnu due to a new road that goes around the city, there were no surprises. The most memorable thing was a ferry trip from Tallinn to Helsinki.

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And the most memorable thing on the ferry was the sheer amount of alcohol Finns were buying to bring home. Looking at their carts I don’t think I could consume that much alco in a year.

The trip took the whole Saturday and on Sunday we went shopping for stuff for the apartment to the nearby huge shopping mall appropriately called Jumbo. The funny thing is that it hosts 2 different enormous supermarkets next to each other.

And then we went for a sightseeing walk around Helsinki center. The weather was nice, the city is nice, great stuff!

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Startup Sauna Day 1

The official part of Startup Sauna was scheduled to start at 3pm but we’ve arrived to Aalto Venture Garage early – around 10am.

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That turned out to be a good idea because even though there’s probably enough room for all the teams, we brought our monitors and wanted to secure a suitable desk. I’m also a little picky about chairs (due to the old programmer’s back) and the ones we have upstairs are really good. So, without further ado let me introduce the Finnish AdDuplex HQ:

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At 3pm the official program started, the teams were introduced, orientation given, t-shirts and flip-flops presented and the heat is officially on.

The first guest was Christopher Karltorp – CEO of Zerply – who gave a horror story talk with a happy ending which mostly concentrated on their struggles fundraising. It was both scary and inspirational and a really interesting story. Add a little Aaron Sorkin and you can get a decent Social Network sequel.

And then was traditional Wednesday BBQ (on Monday this time). We had burgers and most people had beer, but not me, because I’m driving and Paulius is younger than my car insurance would allow. But that could be a good thing. Beer is ridiculously overpriced here anyway.

So, that’s it for now. The easy part has ended and serious stuff starts today…

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I Cover 99 Platforms but Ain’t Hit on One

3/29/2012 6:03:24 PM

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Photo by Ewan-M

A couple of days ago I’ve read Loic Le Meur’s post on having to let half of his team at Seesmic go. I’ve never met Loic, but from what I’ve read and seen and from couple of minor online interactions he seems like a really nice guy and a hard working entrepreneur. I’ve also used quite a few of Seesmic’s products over the years. So I have nothing but respect for him and it was pretty sad to read the a/m post.

About a year ago I have inadvertently insulted Loic in comments on his blog

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This wasn’t my intention and could be attributed to my limited command of English. By “mediocre” I meant “quite good” and by “quite good” I mean “good, but there are better options”. I wrote it a year ago and I still mean it – for most apps it doesn’t make sense to spread thin and try to cover as many platforms as humanly possible. It doesn’t matter if you are quite OK on 5 platforms if on every one of them there are more popular options.

I basically use 3 devices: my main PC, our home living room PC and my Windows Phone. I have Seesmic apps installed on all of them, but I don’t use them on any. On my main PC I use MetroTwit because it’s the best twitter app for Windows. On my Windows Phone I use rowi because it’s the best twitter app for Windows Phone. And on our multi-tenant home PC I just use twitter.com because it’s good enough for the glance-and-go nature of that computer. I don’t care about using the same “brand” of the app on every platform. I’m happy to use different apps on different platforms for the same task as long as these apps are the best for me on that platform and that usage scenario.

Even for social networks, where it would seem that being everywhere is the only way to go, it’s not always true. Instagram, for example, is only available on iOS and “coming soon” on Android. And one may argue that it is successful because it stayed focused and small (in terms of team).

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Why am I writing this? We’ve been pretty successful on one platform and I’m under a constant peer pressure (as well as internal pressure) to expand into other platforms “with way more fish”. Most of the time I resist it and I’m pretty sure that would be a bad idea at this stage, but sometimes I feel urges to go “big” myself.

I blame it on the VC oriented startup culture. Due to the nature of venture capital they can’t be interested in “how your are going to change your niche”. They want you to tell them “How are you going to change the World?

Changing the World could be your end play, but I think you should only go there once you have nothing important left to do in your neck of the woods (be it niche, location or platform).

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