startups


31
Jan 11

GSB Talk on Mozilla and Scaling

Last week I got to attend a class at Stanford Business School taught by one of my favorites, Huggy Rao. The course is on “scaling” — an over-used word, but one that Huggy’s been really digging into lately — resulting in some great insights. This particular class covered a case study authored by Huggy with Bob Sutton on the rise of Mozilla and Firefox, so it was fun to participate in.

Huggy asked me to do a quick 10 minute introduction to the class. I chose to talk about the differences between then and now — how much has changed in the 5.5 years since Firefox’s initial 1.0, and what the new challenges of scaling are. So, naturally, my first comment to the students was that most of the case was irrelevant to today’s world. That Mozilla was amazing and unique and special — for lots of reasons that include (1) breaking the MS/IE monopoly distribution and usage of the browser, (2) doing it in a way that enabled lots of innovation and competition that we’re seeing now, and (3) finding our own way through the journey — not behaving like anyone else in the market ever really has. So that’s cool. In that battle, though, access to users was probably the biggest challenge — it looked impossible when Mozilla started, and it’s remarkable — incredible, really — that we ultimately have gotten the reach we have.

But fast forward to today’s world, where we have more than 600M users on Facebook, more than 400M users of Firefox, and networks like LinkedIn and Twitter with global reach of a hundred million or more. Combine that with the rise of the Apple App Store and mobile devices — with something approaching 200M user accounts that all have credit cards associated with them. (And if there’s any doubt, these numbers are truly huge. I put in some cultural references in my talk — about 100M people will watch the SuperBowl. And only about 20M watch the nightly news in America; 30M listen to NPR. We think of these institutions as huge, but they’re nowhere near Internet scale at this point. The new networks have left them behind, quite handily.)

So now a huge part of the world is accessible, a huge part of the world is ready and able to download an app or click on a shared link. Which means that access is no longer the chief initial obstacle to scaling. That means you can see companies like Zynga or Groupon rise from nothing to massive practically overnight. Clearly, the initial challenge is about rising above the noise of an increasingly crowded field of ways for people to spend their time and money, but it’s very, very possible to get to tens or hundreds of millions of users quickly. Which means that now you’ve got companies that are dealing with huge, complex, global user bases at an extremely early point in their history. My view is that scaling successfully — which means sustaining that scale over time — will be dependent on figuring out how to make the teams and processes in rocket ship organizations operate effectively.

I know not all the analogies in the slides are apples-to-apples, but what’s clear is that we’re living in an era of hyper-distribution, where things can change very, very quickly. I’m really glad that smart people like Huggy and Bob are thinking about how to help us all learn how to manage these in the future.

Fun conversation, thanks to Huggy for the invitation! My few slides are below — they’re very incomplete and mostly served to provoke some interesting discussion. (PS — the deck is sort of a tweener deck graphically between my Mozilla-style slides and what I’ll use here at Greylock — haven’t been here long enough to monkey with the Greylock slides yet. :-))


30
Jan 11

Congrats to SayNow

It’s been a busy January for the companies I know the best — first TripIt was acquired by Concur and last week SayNow announced that it’s been purchased by Google. I was a minor advisor to SayNow, and have been involved since the beginning — since before the beginning, really, and I could not be happier for Nikhyl & Ujjwal — these two entrepreneurs deserve all the success and recognition they’ve gotten and will get, and really deserve a lot more.

They started SayNow with a bunch of intuitions that voice communications were an undervalued and underused part of the web — it’s obvious in hindsight, but they were quite early to that conclusion, nearly 5 years ago now. The road from insight to today was anything but obvious, though. Nik & Ujjwal spent lots of time experimenting, building, listening — really trying to figure out how to make the most useful voice service they could.

What impressed me most about their journey is that they were very often working so hard without the adoration of the TechCrunches and GigaOms of the world — they were working on relatively unsexy problems that really mattered, but maybe weren’t the most tweetable. They pivoted many times, they worked incredibly hard, and they just wouldn’t give up.

I’ve known Nikhyl pretty close to forever — probably since my second year at Stanford — and he’s one of my very closest friends and confidants — we’ve talked about so many challenges and successes over the years that it’s hard to imagine my career (or life) without him. And I’ve known Ujjwal since SayNow’s founding, and always been blown away by his commitment, hard work, intelligence, friendliness, and ability to just get things done.

For the two of them and the whole SayNow team, I’m incredibly, incredibly happy for them, and impressed by them, and I can’t wait to see what they do at Google.


13
Jan 11

TripIt Congratulations

This morning TripIt announced that it’s signed an agreement to be acquired by Concur, a publicly traded travel & expense company. It’s a fantastic outcome for all involved, and I’m very proud to have been involved as a member of the board of directors over the last several years.

For me, it’s a great example of doing things right. It’s an awesome team that made an awesome product that lots of people can’t live without — simple as that.

I started using the product way before I got involved in the company. I can still remember waking up in Tokyo at 4a suffering from jet lag, going through my news feeds and noticing a financing round in 2008 that Mark and Bryce from OATV had participated in (they did the original round of financing in 2007 — great foresight!). I sent them a short note, saying something like: “Awesome investment, it’s a terrific product. Couldn’t live without it.”

That led to Mark introducing me to Gregg Brockway and Scott Hintz, the founders, and over time we developed a relationship that turned into an outside board seat for me. It has been a wonderful relationship. If you’ve ever met Gregg and Scott, you know what I mean: they’re extremely hard working, smart, humble, thoughtful founders — really everything you could ask for in a founding team. They’re always ready and willing to engage on any aspect of the product or the business; they’ve always put building a great business at the top of the list of concerns. I love working with both Gregg and Scott, full stop.

And they’ve put together a team that is like that as well. The developers, marketers, designers and other managers — everyone’s been committed to building something great. (Andy Denmark, in particular, deserves an award for being patient with me as I nitpicked various things over the years — to his eternal credit, his response was always very positive.) And it includes the other members of the board as well — Mark Jacobsen from OATV and Mike Kwatinetz from Azure — they’ve been amazing and fun to work with, and I can’t imagine the past several months working with anyone else.

So I wanted to say thank to you the whole team — it’s been deeply gratifying to be involved, and I know you’ll continue to do amazing things with a bigger platform like Concur. To my mind, it’s a testament to doing things the right way, and to building products people love.

Onward and congratulations!


21
Nov 09

Zeo Thoughts

Lilly Sleep Chart

As I blogged a bit ago, I recently picked up a Zeo — it’s a sleep monitor for tracking states of sleep each night. Ive always had trouble sleeping and so have a bit of a fascination with understanding sleep and how it affects me personally.

After about 30 days, I’ve decided to return it, because I have suspicions that the data collection isn’t very accurate. I woke up several times each night — times that I was alert enough to get out of bed, walk to the bathroom and back, and then eventually go back to sleep — but the Zeo didn’t seem to register those periods of wakefulness. There are some disclaimers that it doesn’t trigger for periods of less than 2 minutes, which I understand, but these were more than that. The waking periods aren’t such a big deal — obviously I don’t really need to track them since I’m awake & alert enough to manually note them. But the fact that the unit wasn’t tracking them correctly made me feel like the rest of the data was suspect as well.

So I sent it back today — I’m really disappointed. I’m optimistic, though, about both the Zeo company and the future of sleep sensors (and really a huge variety of biometric sensors). The product design and execution of the unit were both outstanding, and the way it integrates with an online coaching system is excellent. (The chart above is actually a chart I generated myself in Numbers with the CSV export of my sleep data.)

I loved the product, loved the way it made me mindful of sleep patterns & factors that affect it — just didn’t trust the data, ultimately, so felt sort of silly to keep it.


4
Nov 08

Chandler Changes

I’ve been involved with OSAF since before its inception — my relationship with Mitch (and his investment in Reactivity) led us to collborate on a bunch of different things (and to become close friends), and building a new, modern sort of PIM was one of them. So over the years, I’ve been on the Board of Directors, helped with some thinking and recruiting, things like that.

Sheila’s got a new post up about changes to OSAF — and the move to a mostly volunteer organization. As part of the transition, it’s made sense for Mitchell, Katie and myself to step off the board, and to bring in some exceptionally interesting and talented new members.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the results of the last few years at OSAF have been mixed — with significant contributions coming in the areas of CalDAV (yay!), and thinking about user interface for task management — but without as much implemented as everyone would have liked. For the record, the chronicling of the project in Dreaming in Code, was not, it seemed to me, quite fair or accurate, and I feel that there were significant missed conclusions in it.

The recent 1.0 release is significant and has many diehard users.

I’m proud to have been associated with OSAF and the leadership there, including Al, Mitch, Katie, Sheila and many others, and I’m happy that there’s a new, stronger board in place to be stewards going forward. I’m looking forward to watching what comes next. Congrats to Sheila, Jared, Andre, Alex & Eugene!