Archive for September, 2010

Startup Networking Pro-Tip: How to Exit a Conversation

Posted on September 30, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Last night I went to Charlie O’Donnell’s Shake Shack 3 event.  As I bounced from person to person, as is the protocol for networking events like that, I stumbled upon a few very creative solutions to an often awkward occurrence.  What do you do when your conversation with someone has expired, and you want to go talk to other people?  It’s very difficult to gracefully say “okay, I’m done talking to you because I’d prefer to be talking to someone else, I don’t know who, but I’m going to walk around because I’m sure there is something better than prolonging this conversation.”

So, the most creative exits to an unproductive networking conversation that I heard last night were:

1)   “I’m going to circulate a bit, very nice to meet you”: This came from a 60 year old super experienced guy.  There was something about the word “circulate” which was unapologetic about his purpose of doing business at the event, and yet classy and not at all ingenuine.  Left me feeling great about being “event dumped.”

2)   “there are a couple of people here that I really want to hunt down”: Again, recognizing explicitly a purpose beyond socializing,  this exit said “it’s not that I don’t think you’re interesting, I just have a very specific goal”

3)   “I am on a mission to find [explicit name of person]”: Same gig as above

Personally, I tend to wait it out until someone else comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and I sort of  “break off” from the group I’ve been talking to.  It’s a much more passive style of moving through an event, where I probably don’t meet as many new and interesting people as I could, so I think I am going to take a page out of these creative networkers’ books, and be a little more active about how I move through a crowd in the future.  Had I done this last night, maybe I would have met the one person I was hoping to see there: Marco Arment, you are going to be my [explicit name of person] at whatever the next thing I go to is.  I am slowly becoming obsessed with Instapaper.

Nothing earth shattering here, just some reflection on being thrown into a 300 person professional pinball machine.

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If you’re building for $1B, is “Focus” a Farce?

Posted on September 14, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

The word “focus” has been coming up a ton in my meetings lately. Like many product minded entrepreneurs, I have a ton of ideas about what Jumppost can become, and what we need to build to get there. As I begin to communicate those ideas to experienced folks around the table, I am getting repeated words of advice to “focus.” Today I met with one of our portfolio companies who’s product DNA was the main reason for our investment in them, and again I watched a conversation emerge around the balance between possibilities and focus on a single direction. I can think of at least 5 other examples where product minded founders are drawn toward rapid testing and iteration around a general direction as opposed to deep build around a more focused mission.

Conventional wisdom and the “smart money” seems to say that singular focus is the path to success in the startup game. When I started my first company, I eschewed conventional wisdom in the name of intuition, which was a strategy that worked occasionally, but more oft failed. I am now smart enough to know that I am not smarter than the composite operational advice of seasoned and accomplished entrepreneurs. As such, I have the word “FOCUS” written in digital permanent marker at the top of my to Google to do list.

That said, I find myself wondering if changes in the product development lifecycle are not giving birth to a new type of non-bootstrapped operation/execution that is more forgiving of experimentation at the expense of focus (think extension of the lean startup methodology). If it only takes two weeks to push a product that used to take 2 months to develop, does that not change the risk/reward around more loosely focused experimentation (especially in consumer applications where you are so heavily rewarded for tapping an unlikely/semi-predictable viral vein)?

I think it largely depends on what type of outcome you are shooting for. Is there an operator out there who is focused on highly experimental signal detection over linear progress that will discover the next viral consumer app? David Karp at Tumblr was building 4 other things when he decided to “focus” on just one. Facebook launched 3-4 distinct applications in the course of 4 months before running with the now behemoth. Twitter was a side project, etc. etc. etc.

If you are really shooting for the high risk, huge numbers, consumer app, how much resource/data is required to know if what your building is it or not? And if the answer to that is discoverable in short amounts of time through a team with low burn and efficient development cycles, is a deliberate “unfocussed approach” a more likely road to outsized numbers and a mega-viral product? (I don’t know the answer to this, but some of the smartest young founders I meet are intuitively drawn toward an approach that is inconsistent with the experience of previous generations of entrepreneurs. So either young founders always make this mistake and you can’t actively execute with an eye toward step function signals and virality, or a new style of early stage execution is emerging within consumer focused startups).

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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