I recently met Shane, the CEO of Joyride.com. Six weeks ago, he found my blog about our SOMAcentral office and inquired about space there. That inquiry kicked off a camaraderie that led me to ask him today if he'd let me follow his progress as he worked to launch his business. He agreed, so here's the setup:
I am surrounded by San Francisco based startups every day. And one of the things I forget about is how different SF's "lean startup" mantra is from other parts of the country. New York may be like this as well, but I'm not sure other urban centers are (if you disagree, I'd like to hear about it in the comments). Among the big proponents of the lean startup philosophy are Dave McClure (check out his Startup Metrics for Pirates deck / video and presentation at FounderConference 2010-- 3rd video from top) and Paul Graham via his essays, among others.
Shane has been working hard to launch Joyride. When he came to SF to visit, we had a very animated discussion about how he could pare his concept down to the "MVP" to launch sooner, and then iterate quickly on his core feature set. What functionality did he really need to launch? How could he launch with less? What was the absolute core product? You can imagine what side I was on -- point #2 of the Socialize Core Values Manifesto guarantees that we launch early and then iterate quickly.
There's a strong argument to the contrary, though. In April of last year I wrote a post titled "Could the 80/20 principle be wrong?" where I speculated on the importance of focusing on a few things but doing them very well. But exactly where does the line between "MVP" and "very well" lie? How do you know when you've reached your MVP? It's a hard question to answer, but in my experience everyone always overshoots it by a mile. A great example of a business that didn't overshoot it is CloudApp. It has a very limited feature set but executes on it super well. I just checked, and I've used CloudApp 48 times today. Just unbelievable that I use it so much -- and I don't know how I survived before I had it (I had to email the screenshot as an attachment? gasp!). And everyone in our office uses CloudApp all the time as well. Just one sorely needed feature -- the ability to communicate a picture I see to someone else (via a screenshot), executed flawlessly.
So when Shane emailed me today, I was thrilled. He wrote:
Subject: JOYRIDE Shifting Into HiGear and Doing It "Lean"
I want you to know that you've been part of the inspiration for a rework of
JOYRIDE. Leaner. Smaller product. But launching in 90 days. And our offices
have been reworked since my first trip to San Fran. Our landlord knocked
down two offices to make a large co-working space (pic attached). Prior
to this we were split into 5 offices.
Thanks bro. Keep in touch.
PS Shane -- I think it's especially cool that you knocked the walls down. I'd love to hear how you feel about that decision after a few weeks -- was it the best thing to happen to your office, the worst thing, or no big change? Of course I'm hoping it leads to more collaboration, but let me know if that's not the case. I've found that Ikea sells some great, inexpensive partitions, which you can find here, if you need to restore some semblance of privacy, especially for people who need to be on the phone a lot.
I'll be following Shane's progress on Joyride as he launches, encouraging him to guest post on my blog if he wants to, and I'll be posting my own updates. I'd also love to hear about your experiences paring your product down so you can launch sooner, and if you're happy you took that approach. I'd especially like to know if you feel that you launched too early, before your product was ready.
This is all fresh in my mind as well, as we just launched the Socialize SDK for iOS and Android (see TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb coverage) and we've been iterating like crazy to get the SDK to a point where developers are excited to integrate it (the good news -- just got our first live app, an Android app, running Socialize!)
Want to see a bit more eye candy? Check out the JOYRIDE offices and many of their sweet rides they use for marketing and shooting drives around the world: Click here for a full photo gallery.
Daniel, .....I like that you are constantly asking yourself questions. There is a business axiom that states the well defined problem contains the seeds of it's solution. Re-framing those questions only happens by seeking those answers outside of ourselves through other people. We are not taught How to Succeed in "Business" but when We see it our instinctual response tells us to look closer, at least it does me .
Some of the questions you bring into play are answered at www.READABILITY dot com in it's simplicity. I am too verbose naturally to even attempt to point out the parallels or answers and leave it to your intuition.
It turns what I wish to read into a simple document not cluttered with visual noise.
I don't think SF and NYC have the "lean" concept cornered. I recently moved from SF to Honolulu after 10 years in the Silicon Valley startup world, and have discovered that pretty much *every* startup over here is lean, including my own. I'm a one-person shop and went from idea to launch in just a few months by talking with future customers, uncovering 2 or 3 critical functions, totally focusing on the MVP, and outsourcing to save money.
I've seen that same attitude from many of the local startups in Hawaii. Why? Because unless you're in SF or NYC, the typical VCs won't give you a second look, so you don't have the resources to be fat. The local tech community has adapted by focusing on being lean. Many of the tech shops here are 1- or 2-person outfits, and they're doing well. There are even new co-working spaces popping up (higreenhouse.com and theboxjelly.com) to meet the demand for office/meeting/networking space for these lean startups.
There's also a sense of togetherness here because of the seeming lack of interest from the mainland financial backers. It's as if a good idea can't be either created or executed on unless you're within a few miles of your VCs. That's obviously not true. If it were, then why are so many collaboration startups getting funding and traction? After moving away, I've realized that being in the Silicon Valley bubble actually HURTS many startups because they have so much access to capital and no reason to be lean. It's almost like a welfare state, where VCs support tons of companies who churn for years with no real traction, and essentially reward companies (with more investment) for doing poorly (because the *next* version/CxO/market will really drive revenue!).
"Lean" might be the cool new trend in the valley, but everywhere else in the country, it's reality.
Will do ... looking closely at options currently. Saw another startup move out - so thought you might be heading out too. Glad to hear you'll be around ;-)
Shane - glad to hear that ;-) Look forward to seeing you at a PHX event too - but my next one is up there (panel at Health+Tech Next Generation in SFO - Aug 12). Not kidding about sub-leasing a desk ;-)
I think that's what leading the exodus. The one we do have here isn't all that "lean" (starts with a 10% stake for $20k). Quick - let me check PHX ---> SFO schedules!
I received an email from the CEO of another SDK-based technology company asking how we've been so successful getting developers to adopt the Socialize SDK.
I like to have conversations like these in public so that other entrepreneurs in the same position can benefit from what we've learned, and share their knowledge as well. What he's asking about is a very sensitive subject: Mobile app developers are already suffering from SDK overload, and the problem is just going to get worse before it gets better. Knowing how to successfully get developers to adopt and implement an SDK is a huge tactical advantage. Having said that, I'm not going to give away the many things we do at Socialize, but I'll give a bit of knowledge away in the spirit of doing so, and I'll hope that other entrepreneurs do the same.
First things first: For those of you who don't know the difference between an API and an SDK, here's a high-level analogy to baking a cake:
What Socialize has developed is an SDK that gives any mobile app developer the ability to drop social functionality into their app. I recently wrote a related blog showcasing how these social features can help any company create Instagram-type viral growth through social actions.
In the spring of 2008 I was a junior in college and the main thing going on in my life was playing in a rock band with my friends. One especially exciting weekend, my bandmate Ben and I were driving from Cleveland to Williamstown, MA to play a big show at Williams College. En route however, we had lined up some time to stop by a major recording studio in New York City called Clinton Recording Studios (RIP) to be considered for internships for the summer. We arrived outside the studio but our contact there said he needed more time because Yo-Yo Ma was recording and going over-time. We needed to wait somewhere close by and Ben had a cousin who was working as a line cook at a restaurant called Esca, just a few blocks from the studio. We headed to Esca to hang at the bar.
As per usual when we'd kill time, Ben and I ended up talking music. Since at the time we were each deep in music history classes at school, we were talking about pretty esoteric, OLD music. I don't remember exactly what we were discussing but probably something in-between Gregorian Chants and Einstein on the Beach, and that was enough to get the attention of the gentleman sitting next to us. The stranger jumped in and started enlightening us to a number of aspects about the pieces we're discussing that we hadn't learned about. The three of us proceed to nerd out on everything from the romantic era to the The Talking Heads and it's a lot of fun. When we finally ask who he is, it turns out he's an acclaimed contemporary downtown composer named Mikel Rouse. Cool! Eventually we leave for our interviews at Clinton, head up to MA, and prior to crashing in the hotel I friend Mr. Rouse on MySpace (remember MySpace?). With no expectation that meeting him would provide any relevance to the rest of my life, I go to bed.
Fast forward to the fall of 2008. Now I'm a senior in college. A senior who majored in music in college. I knew I needed to spend most of my time finding a job for after graduation.
The majority of my time on campus during those college years I spent cooped up in a recording studio. So it made sense to me to find a job in the audio/production world. But I had spent the summer of '08 interning for a major Manhattan recording studio (not Clinton) and realized that many of the people that end up working in that environment just weren't happy people. So I thought I'd take a look at post-production instead. I applied to intern/work/whatever at every reputable mastering house in NYC. No one responded.
I had thought I ran out of leads when one bored night I went back on good old MySpace and saw that I was still friends with Mikel Rouse. I decided to look him up and saw that he had his own writing studio in Manhattan. I looked up the address and noticed that on Google Maps there's another business located in the same building called "Vault Mastering". I look up that business and lo and behold, it's another Mastering House I hadn't yet applied to! Amazing. I read the bio of the principal engineer and he just so happens to have the same alma mater as my school, The Cleveland Institute of Music, and interned at the same company while in school as I did, Telarc International! I was furious that my school hadn't already connected me to him, but that's a different rant. I contacted the engineer, and got an interview for my next visit to NY. Long story short, he couldn't afford to hire me, but very kindly introduced me to a very successful mastering engineer who had just purchased a legendary mastering house, Masterdisk. I got an interview at Masterdisk and was accepted! Second semester of my senior year hadn't even started yet and I had a job lined up. Mission accomplished.