Friday, March 30, 2007

The new startup. young-old teams

'I wish I had the boy' the old man said aloud. 'To help me and to see this'
(The Old Man and the Sea)

Sorry but I am on a roll here! I am going to blog this idea when I finish some stuff on juwo. I think this can potentially be an answer to the peculiar employment problems in the software industry.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A better business model for incubators - innovation by collaboration? (orphanage vs. foster parenting)

My employer (he is an entrepreneur himself with a bootstrapped and established startup) is interested in my product, juwo (or so he says he will be, when his business stabilizes - and I dont know when).

I am applying to YCombinator. Since I have not found a cofounder - a serious disadvantage, I am wondering if I should list him as a cofounder - my boss is quite willing. He said so.

But then it struck me. What if an established company were to consider prototyping an idea. Starting a Startup for the purpose of launching a new product. They wouldnt mind giving up 6% - of the new company. What better avenue than something like YC? With all the connections, guidance and advice - much better than doing it in-house.

Is this unfair?

I am sure YC too would prefer this since the risk is greatly reduced. An established company can shoulder the gruntwork and paperwork.

Or instead of looking at is as abuse, could this be a new business model for tech-savvy VCs and gurus?

For example, companies could send their teams to Silicon Valley for 3 months to build a prototype, overseen by YCombinator or Wozniak, Godin etc. (lets call it 'Cubator'). They would even pay living expenses for their own teams and give up 6%.
This is a win-win situation for all! The gurus get to 'advise' a larger number of projects thus ensuring success, putting their eggs in many baskets.

To put it another way, incubators like YCombinator are running an orphanage; get a batch of orphans, grow them and then release them into the world. The 'Cubator' way calls for them to become foster parents. Look after them for short periods, and then release them back to their parents.

Companies will have to pick nicknames to protect confidentiality - but they will have to accept that their idea will be known among the teams - the collaborative part.

Questions: How is this different from the traditional incubators? Will the traditional startups with only founders plus an idea be the losers? Will this 'Cubator' spawn a new burst of innovation by collaboration?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

idea-team matchmaking. The shore is crowded; get into the boats!

'I worked the deep wells for a week, and did nothing', the man
thought. (The Old Man and the Sea)

With that random quote from Hemmingway to give my post respectability :)
let me begin.

A few days ago, Subbu, a former coworker called and we chatted. He still works at the cellular telco. Subbu told me that someone wrote a test simulator for Wireless Local Number Portability or WLNP and it has become the industry standard; that the telco had purchased it. (Background: when you switch cellphone carriers, you retain your old number. The new carrier must receive the phone number and subscriber details from the old carrier. This is usually done through a Corba or XML interface).

As a struggling, burning out, entrepreneur, my first thought was, "What a stupid idea!". My next thought was, "What a great idea!". It seemed stupid because when the client part of a server is being written, a server stub must be tested against - to simulate the server. Usually the worst programmer in the team gets tasked to write this because it is throwaway code and doesnt really do anything. Unimpressive.

However... when you have different companies that must test together and they are actual competitors where one has persuaded a customer to switch e.g. from Verizon to Sprint, then the testing issues become testy. (think of wife and ex-girlfriend communicating!).
So the simulator is a great solution to the problem. It does not take much brains to write one, but the point of being an entrepreneur is not to dazzle people with your brilliance. It is simply to sense where there is pain and to write something, even stolid, that will reliably ease the pain.

But what does this have to do with my post?

When I look at the list of companies that are being funded nowadays, there is a sameness to them. for example, a cursory look at a few of the companies YCombinator funded with their taglines:

Kiko - online calendar
Loopt - find your friends fast
ClickFacts - software for Internet advertising to prevent 'click fraud'.
Thinkature - online whiteboarding
Likebetter - ? (had fun playing it but couldnt figure it out)
Buxfer - track your money online
Pollground - online surveys
Wufoo - online HTML forms

The founders are undoubtedly highly intelligent, talented, young and hard-working. However one cannot help getting the feeling that the ideas they have developed have come from their consumer experiences. Online, music/video, checkbook, advertising. Even the names are 2 syllable! (like juwo, but I coined it in 1994 before the dot-com era). Look at what famed Fred Wilson (of Union Square Ventures) has funded...

In other words, the shore is getting crowded. Too many fishermen clumped together trying to catch the little guppies near the shore. Time to get into the boats and go out to the deep waters where the marlin, dolphin and sharks are.

Now back to the main thread.

I am sure there are many workers, managers, secretaries, programmers, janitors in dull and boring industries who have noticed some specific pain in the areas where they work. they even have jotted down something they think is a solution. But they dont know what to do with them. They cannot implement them. Even less incentive to pass them along for free.

Ideas are closer to earth than dreams, but they need executors to make that final connection with earth. With intelligence, youth, talent, energy and knowledge.

Can we come up with a site that will perform matchmaking for these two? What does the originator of the idea get? a 2% stake in equity as advisor. What do the teams get? a deep water idea that just might grow into a whale.

So an online, 2 syllable, matchmaker for ideas and teams (and if you implement this idea, I fully expect my 2% share!).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

co-founder match making?

I see many people searching for cofounders.
Here is a nascent idea that I just had. May be stale, I dont know (I am embarrassed to write something down without more than a perfunctory google search):

As part of signup at YCombinator, FounderFinder and other entrepreneur sites, ask a large number of direct questions. The answer should be a simple yes/no.

Do you have a prototype? Y/N

Do you have a large number of contacts in the domain? Y/N

Are you easy to get along with? Y/N

Is it a web app?

Do you already know VCs? Y/N

and so on...

  1. Then you can use some kind of mathematical function to come up with a match-making arrangement.

    So for example, if I answer

    Y N N Y Y N N Y N

    And John is

    N Y Y Y Y N N Y N

    And Joe is

    N N N Y Y N N Y N

    Then John is closer to my profile.

    On the other hand, I can specify that I am looking for

    N Y N N Y N N Y N

    and then be pushed to the profiles of those people.

  2. Another thing (I find cool):

    During signup, I should pick my questions from a bucket, and in the order that is important to me. So the above can actually be a binary number! Or it can be a vector.

    So then we can now make comparisons.

  3. One can come up with so-called "personality" types and the quantitative number associated with them.

    Then a person browsing can ask:
    Show me all entrepreneurs within a 'personality vector distance' of 2 from type E.

The vectors rather than numbers are now a self-assessment. We can have mutual-assessment numbers where these 'scores' become dynamic. This is not a am-i-hot-or-not rating scale from 1 to 10, but a measure of how close you are to a 'type' in vector space. For example, the Bill Gates type =(4,5,12,6).

There can be online 'dates' or interviews where potential cofounders assess each other using the same questions as guidelines. these meetings take place via Instant Messenger chat - or if in the same city, a face-to-face meeting.

The more 'dates' or interviews you have, the more other people can assess you and presumably, the more accurate your score. The mutual rating scores would have to be combined in some way.

Is this just an application of vector spaces?

Friday, March 2, 2007

I need your advice! Startup Failing. Should I simply release the product?

I need your advice! Startup Failing.
Should I simply release the product?
(See my last post on where I am.

What is juwo?
A "Swiss Army knife" piece of software that gives more power to consumers to structure audio, video and text as a bullet list, to more easily index and annotate them, and to share the lists with others. Its benefits extend to multimedia as related to more enriching broadcasts, collaboration and organizing.

In October 2005, when the initial prototype was finished, nothing came close to juwo. Now, I find several, with quite a few of the same features. It still has an advantage - the concept is still unique and (In My Humble Opinion), powerful. It has many potential applications and uses.

The more I delay, the more likely someone else will catch up and move ahead. And then it will really be wasted breath, sweat, years, money.

Potential competitors:,, supcast, abazab, wiki,, podcasts, filenotes organizer, Media Matrix.
Sure, there's overlap. I have done a competitive analysis matrix, and feel that juwo has its own niche. It can be a useful tool for the layperson.

The problem is: It took me 12 months, full-time, to iterate through and develop a prototype, plus another 6 months to unsuccessfully try and build a business.
I calculate that, conservatively, $120K was sunk into this. How?
Cash used up + missed regular salary = $120K.
All of my Savings. Will I lose all this if I give it away?

I needed about 2 months of full-time effort to do thefollowing
  • to make it more user friendly (help wizards etc) as people said it wasn't.
  • support other media players (right now, only Windows Media Player supported).

But even so, I lack co-founders, customers and investors.

Now I have a job, and can barely do it on the weekends.
Should I just release what I have?

So I am thinking of adding a legal disclaimer screen, and a feedback form and then releasing it.

However, here is the conundrum:

I am sure potential competitors will download it and perhaps copy any concepts they didnt think of.

But on the other hand, I have always been profoundly impressed by those who follow this saying, "Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again".

Is it lose-lose?

How can I make it Win-Win? (get some money out of it).

P.S. I can share a percentage of any profit from juwo - for a certain time eg. 1 year with those who will help out with concrete help.