Archive for the ‘startups’ Category

Twitter is down again… this time a partial outage due to S3.

However, this time it’s their own fault for not using a caching proxy in front of S3.

This is just getting to the point where it’s embarrassing.

Roger Ehrenberg posted a post mortem of Monitor 110:

Writing a post mortem is hard, particularly when the result is failure: a failed deal; a failed investment; a failed concept. That said, without a post mortem, without deep reflection, honesty and introspection, how can we get better and do better the next time? Quite simply, we can’t.

I had considered writing an in-depth post mortem after leaving Rojo and decided that it wasn’t really a good idea.

The only major lessons learned were already discovered a LONG time ago by the tech industry (too much money, lack of focus on the customer, slow innovation, etc).

Too often raising VC forces a company to make the same mistakes made by past failed companies. Basically, the VCs force your hand and a year later you’re looking at the skeleton of your startup beached on shores of Web 2.0.

Needless to say I’ve avoided raising funding for Spinn3r for just this reason (Ehrenberg’s post is significant evidence that my anti-VC hypothesis is correct – see below).

It’s working too. We’re profitable and growing fast. I need to hire 2-3 more people this month.

It seems like they really should have used Spinn3r and not partnered with PubSub… the timeline wasn’t really right because Spinn3r has only been up and running for a little over a year now.

As an aside, I now think that avoiding VC is a significant competitive advantage. It allows you to avoid all the mistakes that caused Monitor 110 to fail.

Specifically you avoid a number of their seven deadly sins:

1. The lack of a single, “the buck stops here” leader until too late in the game

This is easy. I’m the founder. The buck LITERALLY stops here because I sign all the checks and fully control the organization.

3. Too much PR, too early

Not a problem. Wasting money on PR is not a high priority for a bootstrapping startup.

4. Too much money

Pretty hard to waste money when you’re focused on closing deals and scaling the team.

5. Not close enough to the customer

This is really easy to solve. Spinn3r is highly prioritized by customer requests. If we aren’t then they’re not going to be cutting us checks every month.

We talk to our customers frequently and are constantly implementing new features per their request.

6. Slow to adapt to market reality

This can often bite a startup because they might not have the architecture or hardware to move fast enough.

We’ve hit a few snags (which is inevitable for most companies) but all and all I’m pretty proud of our architecture.

7. Disagreement on strategy both within the Company and with the Board

That’s easily solved. If you’re a single founder you’re the CEO and Chairman of the Board. If you have two founders that see eye to eye then problems are also easily rectified.

Two founders that are at odds can really doom a startup though…

I’ve had Tailrank and Spinn3r outlast other well funded startups. We’re still in business and profitable and they’re dead, buried, and six feet under.

By mid-2005 the system worked, but spam was becoming more prevalent and caused the matching results to deteriorate, e.g., too much junk clogging the output. Around the same time we started to dig into natural language processing and the statistical processing of text, thinking that this might be a better way to address the spam issue and to get more targeted, relevant results.

We’ve seen this a number of times with new Spinn3r customers. They switch from Feedster, Technorati, or PubSub and are immediately encouraged by the lack of spam and tuning options available with our crawler.

The problem isn’t necessarily that these guys can’t build a spam-free crawler it’s that there’s a disincentive to spend time building out these features because it’s against their main focus – selling to consumers.

Selling data and competing with Spinn3r is a secondary goal. They want to compete with Google and sell for a billion. They’re funded to accomplish this task so building a smaller product with high quality isn’t in their interest.

This hasn’t been true with Spinn3r. The less spam we index the better. Our index capacity right now is 13M weblogs but we’re quick to point out that the vast majority of these posts come from the top 1M weblogs.

I’ve been quick to criticize Technorati in the past for their ‘state of the blogosphere’ and hyper-inflation of the numbers.

They were NEVER able to prove that the blogosphere wasn’t a scale free network yet we kept seeing their hyped numbers.

This isn’t really as much about being not focused on customers as having too many and somewhat incompatible customers.

Jeremy Liew , Brad Feld, Don Dodge, and Fred Wilson have more on this topic from the VC perspective.

Jeremy correctly notes that there are a number of deadly sins that bootstrapped startups must avoid too.

I need to do a better job of noting these in the future. I’ve bootstrapped a number of OSS projects and I’ve already come to accept these as standard wisdom by now.

These might bite a younger or first time entrepreneur though so it’s probably important to point these out.

Note that raising VC probably isn’t going to help you avoid these pitfalls.

Hopefully, this large WordPress 2.5 release will cause a few people to upgrade.

We just found another 200 or so sites that have been compromised today.

Not fun.

When I started looking at SSDs I compared the various Mtron models and they have a 32GB drive (vs 64GB) that prices out at $15/GB.

That’s a sweet spot so I decided to go with that model.

Well now it looks like that specific model is being discontinued in favor of the higher end mode that’s selling for $30/GB. Ouch.

However, with Fusion IO apparently RIGHT around the corner I’m expecting the price to fall VERY quickly.

Not only that, but Monday OCZ Technology is going to ship their drives at the $16/GB mark. That’s a 64GB drive for about $1k. The drive can read at 120MB/s and write at 100MB/s.

If they can get these out in volume and pull off decent random write IOPs we might have a winner.

It looks like there’s another competitive SSD on the market. The Stec Zeus IOPS.

I foolishly dismissed this drive before because I thought they weren’t disclosing their write rate (which all the other vendors are doing to lie about their performance).

Turns out they’re claiming 200MB/s with 100MB/s write throughput. If these numbers are accurate the then this would be 2x faster then the Mtron SSDs.

Storage Mojo has additional commentary. They’re comparing these drives to the RamSan which is not a fair comparison since this is a DRAM based SAN device. The RamSan-500 should trounce everything on the market but the pricing is astronomical.

The key win for SSDs is that they’re cheap and will soon be commodity. By mid-2008 I imagine 20% of the laptop market will be using SSDs and vendors like Toshiba, Samsung, Stec, and Mtron will be feverishly attacking each other in the enterprise market.

The key here with the Zeus will be price per GB. The Mtrons are about $15 per GB which is the price point I’m looking at for real world horizontal/diagnol scaled applications.

I’ve been planing around with microformat and nanoformat[1] parsing today using real world HTML. One feature I’d like is the ability to reliably detect the CMS version a website is running.

For example, the Moveable Type site is running some version of Moveable Type (probably not Typepad) but which version?

They’ve stripped the generator meta element from their HTML (I’m pretty sure it’s in the default MT). I can’t check the RSS feed (it’s there sometimes) but they’re rewriting it via FeedBurner.

A number of CMS systems how there are nice enough to include a generator meta element but it’s often excludes any specific version number.

GigaOm is nice enough to include one but it doesn’t include any versioning information.

PhotoMatt was nice enough to include a generator AND version – “WordPress 2.4-bleeding” – whatever that means. I assume it means 2.4 from version control?

However, at present a robot is at the mercy of the author/designer to preserve the generator information. It’s possible to accidentally strip it which leaves a robot confused and could possibly hurt the SEO of the blogs owner without their knowledge.

Ideally there would be some type of generator discovery protocol hereby a robot could easily discovery the generator which wasn’t vulnerable to these type of flaws.

A straw man proposal would be to have a fixed URL (/generator.xml) which would return this metainfo. It would even be a static file.

Again. Straw man proposal. I don’t really know the solution right now – just identifying the problem.

Of course, maybe the best solution is to just have CMS vendors include the generator, and add a comment in the HTML saying DO NOT REMOVE.

1. Nanoformat parsing is indexing semantic HTML with real world deployed templates used in the major CMS platforms like WordPress, Typepad, etc.

Update: Of the top 100 high ranking Moveable Type blogs in our index, 57% of them just had a generator of http://www.movabletype.org/. This isn’t very helpful if you need to know the exact version of MT. At the very minimum it would be nice to have this for computing statistics.

I’m very excited to announce that Spinn3r 2.1 is now available.200712311502

A number of major new features have been implemented in this release which has taken us more than three months of hard work to get out the door.

We’ve also finished up another stage of our backend and are planning on buying a few more toys in 2008 which should make things interesting moving forward.

Read the full post on the Spinn3r blog.

This LA Times article is a great xmas present for the MacAskill Family:

The company now employs 28 people — all MacAskills, family friends and SmugMug customers they hired — in five countries. The MacAskills have signed up more than 100,000 paying subscribers despite mounting competition from free services, in part by emphasizing their family-friendly approach. They post their own family photos and home videos on the website, spend countless hours chatting up their users in the company’s online forum and send lively customer service e-mails such as “Who loves you, baby?”

Our industry is far to monoculture. There are only two types of companies – VC funded startups and BigCos like Google Yahoo and Microsoft.

We don’t talk about it much but there’s too much corruption here. We need more companies like SmugMug that pop up and break the mold.

I’d like to think Spinn3r is help solving the problem but I won’t be that arrogant …

Since the new Web 2.0 dot boom (yes… boom) I’ve noticed a new strain of entrepreneurs who’ve taken the new strategy of bootstrapping and avoiding VC at all costs.

Tailrank is one of them. Both Spinn3r and Tailrank are actually profitable companies who have customers who love our services (in this case our web crawling APIs)

We’ve been around for about two years now. During that time there have been a number of implosions in the tech industry including the recent problems at Podtech and Edgeio and now Feedster.

In fact – most honest VCs will give you advice to avoid them at all costs. Venture Capital is the MOST expensive money you can take. Much better to raise your cash from actual customers.

Now, apparently, creating a startup without raising VC, and focusing on actually building a profitable and stable company is a bad idea:

Generally speaking, experience counts for something. So you’d expect entrepreneurs who’ve been through the ups and downs of a tech startup to have an advantage over the newcomers. Or at least have an equal chance at success. But in fact the opposite may be true. A number of venture capitalists I’ve spoken with have said that too many “old guard” entrepreneurs are not being bold enough in their business decisions, and it’s hurting their startups.

The first VC to bring this up to me was CRV’s Saar Gur at a recent conference. Since then I’ve brought it up with a number of other VCs. Across the board they agree – many entrepreneurs from the first bubble are overly cautious, and hurting their businesses.

I’ll be the first to admit that raising a VC round can be the right thing for certain companies. However, there are a lot of companies that are crushed as soon as they take VC.

There’s a major conflict of interest here. Most VCs are convinced that that they want to invest in a Facebook or a YouTube. They’re not going to put $5M into a company for just a $50M exit. They need the CEOs they’re funding to take risks or they won’t make any cash.

So the major question is whether the numbers here actually hold up or whether the VCs are bitter that they can’t manipulate entrepreneurs into jumping of the cliff in the hope of catching flight and becoming the new Facebook.

Is that you do NOT TALK ABOUT LOBBYCONN!:

“The sessions at technology conferences are often like plots in porn films,” said Ben Metcalfe, a technology consultant from San Francisco who said he lobbycons about four conferences annually. “It’s required for the context, but it’s not really what you paid for.”

In any case, Rafer will be conducting his business outside the Web 2.0 halls this week.

“I already have too many good meetings scheduled to bother going inside,” he said.

You guys are out of the club!

I was asked to participate for this story – but I follow the rules!

Mint seems cool and all but:

CEO Aaron Patzer reports to us that, in just the past three weeks, Mint has already helped organize more than $2 billion worth of people’s personal financial accounts, and identified more than $40 million in potential savings for those members.

First. This is potential savings. Also. this works out to $500 per user. Saving $500 is great but if this is divided across ALL of my transactions the overhead might not be worth it.

That said, I’m not going to use Mint. Not because I don’t trust it but $500 isn’t worth entering my data into another service that the government could illegally monitor.

This is a big day for us. We’re announcing new versions of both Tailrank and Spinn3r.

The first big announcement is Spinn3r 2.0:

After nearly a year in development, I’m pleased to announce the release of Spinn3r 2.0.

We’ve also been heads down working on Tailrank as well and are announcing Tailrank 2.5 today as well.

All of this has been possible due to the sheer amount of work we’ve invested into our software and hardware infrastructure. We’re pretty ambitious and now that we’ve completed the majority of our infrastructure work we can ship more applications at a faster rate.

And of course Tailrank 2.5:

Not only are we announcing Spinn3r 2.0 today but we’re announcing that a new version of Tailrank is being released as well.

If you’ve been a regular reader of Tailrank over the last few months you might have noticed a number of incremental improvements. Tailrank 2.5 is far more evolutionary than revolutionary.

We’ve spent a lot of time focusing accuracy of Tailrank’s core internal algorithms. What works for one blog or even 1M of blogs in our index tends to fail from time to time when working on 12M blogs.

You should read both blog posts because there’s a lot more detail here.

We’re going to follow up with a Spinn3r 2.1 release in a couple of weeks. There were a few more features we wanted to integrate but weren’t able to ship at the last minute.

Update:

Another point I forgot to mention. We’re making Spinn3r available 100% free of charge for researchers! Should be interesting to see what happens here!

I sent off an email to the Facebook Fund platform submission email address and received this response.

During this process, however, it has become clear that we will receive proposals which contain similar or even identical ideas. As a result, and in order to protect other developers and us from claims that we or anyone else copied material without the creator’s permission, unless we agree otherwise in writing, we can’t promise that any materials or information you submit here will be kept confidential, or specifically that we or others might not develop similar or identical products or services. Accordingly, we ask that you not submit any materials or information you consider to be confidential or proprietary to this e-mail address.

Why can’t they keep it confidential? If they like my idea is Facebook just going to clone it?

Interesting response… I understand the need to protect themselves but it seems reasonable to assume that fbFund will keep all submissions confidential and not share them with anyone else.

Google is getting closer and closer to cloning Rojo with Google Reader.

First they added search and now they’re apparently adding more functionality.

The search functionality in particular was interesting because I implemented the first round of Rojo search based on Lucene.

An internal presentation leaked onto the web and apparently they’re going to be implementing more social functionality:

The Reader team is going to integrate more social features. Currently items can be sent to friends by email, and there are no plans for creating a Reader-inbox for that.

Google’s recent big social effort is called Mocha-Mocha (or Mocka-Mocka?), and will become the infrastructure for all social stuff across all of their applications. As a part of this, a new feature called Activity Streams will be introduced or at least implemented in Reader this quarter. This will be comparable to Facebook’s News Feed (Minifeed?) feature, and integrate Gmail’s addressbook and contact list.

I’m not sure this is a bad thing either. Rojo had a lot of cool features but I think it was a year or two too early. Part of me thinks that social news reading might never take off. I’d love to be proven wrong though.

This morning Arrington decided to put Tailrank in the deadpool:

I emailed founder Kevin Burton late yesterday to see what the problem was. He responded “Just in the middle of a big uprade to Spinn3r which is causing more work for Tailrank. Basically a large infrastructure upgrade.” Shortly thereafter the site went live again, but all of the stories are days old. The most recent story in the Technology section is 3 days old, for example.

Long story short. This is totally and complete journalistic incompetence.

It’s also factually inaccurate. There was NO downtime for Tailrank other than a few ranking issues which were soon corrected.

I told Michael there was no story here via email (and that we’re working on a BIG upgrade) but that didn’t seem to matter. There was perceived blood in the water and he needed controversy to drive page views.

We’re at the healthiest point we’ve ever been as a company. We actually need to start hiring again in the next few weeks and installing a few more racks of hardware. (We deployed a half dozen servers this weekend. We’re going to be buying another half dozen by the end of this week.)

Sounds pretty healthy to me!

What the HECK is Scoble smoking here? Is he REALLY asserting that somehow Dave Winer deserves credit for inventing offline aggregation?

A built-in RSS aggregator. That let me read feeds in a river-of-news format. It even worked offline (I used it back then to read feeds on plane rides and I could write blog posts while in a plane and sync them up when back online).

Hmmm, I swear I’ve seen this all before. Thanks to Dave Winer for providing the roadmap to Google. Bummer that we didn’t make any money off of it, but it’s nice to see that Dave’s ideas, if not his implementation, continues to prove interesting in 2007.

Jonathan Moore and I watched this stream live over the web today. What was funny is that during the talk we kept saying “check” as we had a lot of the infrastructure work they implemented. For example, they’re doing vertical table partitioning in Big Table.

Anyway.. There’s more information surfacing here. I’m going to have to buy Jeff Dean a beer/coffee sometime. Seems like a smart guy and there aren’t many of them…

StartupSearch

Check out Startup Search…. (which True was nice enough to sponsor). Tailrank is there of course… Looks like we’re one of the top ranked companies!

Also, check out The Funded which is kind of the inverse.

Apparently, Twitter is raising a VC round:

VB: Are you raising a round of capital now?

Williams: We are raising our first outside round.

VB: Can you disclose the amount?

Williams: No.

VB: You just starting that round now?

Williams: We are about half-way through the process. We’ve been trying to decide who we want to work with, and we’ll probably be done in the next few weeks.

VB: Why are you raising the money?

Williams: There’s so many pieces of the application that we haven’t really built out yet: simple things like search and being able to find other people in the system are pretty much non-existent at this point.

… but wait. Isn’t raising a VC round the non-obvious thing to do (pun intended) …

In a list of ways that Odeo screwed up Ev adds:

“Raising too much money too early” – Williams seeded the money with $70,000 of his own money, and after the TED excitement added another $100,000. After he tied up over a million in angel funding, a term sheet came through from Charles River Ventures at three times the angel round valuation. They took the money.

… they’ve gone down this path before with mixed success:

Today it emerged that Evan, Biz Stone and the other Odeo folks have acquired the company, buying back the share owned by the investors – Charles River Ventures, Mitch Capor, Ron Conway, Josh Kopelman and others.

I’m not saying that Twitter shouldn’t raise a VC round of course. The right amount of money at the right time can really help a certain class of startups. It just seems a shame that they’re going down this path as Obvious seemed like the anti-VC startup based on past statements.

Update:

Ev follows up……… sounds like they’re just looking for the middle path.

200705302030Google Gears launches today and brings together a lot of open loops in my career.

While at Rojo, we spent a lot of time talking about offline storage. NewsMonster was the first RSS aggregator that added full offline support (which I’m still proud of – only took Google five years!) and we generally wanted it for Rojo as well.

Brad deserves a lot of credit for pushing this forward with Dojo offline storage. In fact, I’m a bit shocked that Google didn’t approach Brad to hire him to push this forward. If they don’t hire him now they’re insane.

What’s interesting here is that Gears is Open Source which really puts and end to the browser vs desktop debate:

Google Gears is open source software, licensed under the New BSD license. Generally speaking, this license is very permissive. You should, of course, always consult an attorney if you have any questions about software licensing.

There are generally two ways to use Google Gears: by embedding the API or runtime software in an application you distribute to end users, or by writing a web application which makes use of installations of Gears on end-users’ computers.

The only thing left I think is a local installer to keep shortcuts for online apps available in the start menu and on the desktop.

I’m not sure where this leaves Dojo offline. There were some significant limitations due to the fact that it was using flash and cookies and other ‘hacks’ (in the clever sense of the word) to store content locally.