by Ivan Kirigin

CEO at YesGraph. Previously Dropbox, Facebook, and Tipjoy (YC W08)

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A Personal Note on Immigration

My parents are immigrants, so I grew up respecting the desire to pack up and move to a better life. It is brave and takes grit to make it.

My dad was an engineer, so I also grew up with a respect for building things. I’ve since become a software engineer and startup founder. In technology, immigration is a hot topic.

The conversation usually goes like this: there is a big national debate about immigration, but there is a small corner of immigration that disproportionately affects technology companies. High skilled immigration is a critical part of developing the latest and greatest technology we all love so much.

But I’m not here to talk about high skilled immigration. That debate is settled for anyone who actually works in a technology company. The demand for talent is incredibly high, and we’d all be better off if we let high skilled immigrants come into this country to build the...

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One Surprising Reason You’re Not Getting Honest Feedback

Fundraising can be frustrating for companies. There are a myriad of reasons, including the time it takes from making a real product and helping customers. Beyond that, the most frustrating aspect for me personally is the lack of feedback.

I had thought that the million ways investors can say “no” indirectly was about keeping optionality. They want to be able to come back later to invest, and this desire blocks the honest negative feedback you’d expect with a direct “no”.

I recently learned something surprising from an ex-VC about what is really going on. If investors gave a direct “no” with a detailed explanation, the problem isn’t you, but other bad founders.

A good founder would listen attentively to any feedback. They’d try to understand if it was a problem with clarity in their pitch. They’d seek to find where they could make their company better.

A bad founder will think the...

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So Your Friend Launched an App. Here Are 7 Ways to Help.

If you’re reading this, hopefully a friend sent you here to find a list of ways to help promote a recent app launch. Friend launches are surprisingly common, at least in Silicon Valley, but I’ve only ever seen tutorials about promotion for app makers, not for their friends. Well, here it is. If you see something missing, please email me.

1. Use the App and Give Feedback

Download the app, signup, and think about your experience. What was hard? What was easy? Deliver this feedback as fast as possible.

Please try to be precise. Instead of “it felt slow”, say “when I connected with Facebook, it took a few seconds to respond”. Trust me, this makes a world of difference for new apps. Consider giving this feedback in private, though a positive public response to your constructive feedback is good PR.

2. Rate the App 5 Stars, and Write a Positive Review

This is disproportionately important....

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The New New Foursquare

I think splitting up apps is probably a bad idea for most companies.

I just read two explanations as to why Foursquare split things up. I find this a bit odd, and there is almost certainly a model that works better in a single app.

For background, Foursquare built up an amazing amount of location data based on checkins. When they added background tracking, their sharing model needed to evolve because people don’t want to constantly share location, even with friends. So the new Foursquare has no checkins, just search and reviews. A separate app, Swarm, is about checking in and meeting up with friends.

I understand the privacy implications, but my running assumption is that they have turned a hard problem (privacy) into much more serious problems (usability and traction). They also have two apps to promote and distribute, which is incredibly confusing for users. They have upset their...

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The Story Behind @Dropbox’s 58,449 Retweets.

Before I started YesGraph, I was helping Dropbox on their growth team. I ran a quick campaign on Twitter for Dropbox that produced the most successful single tweet ever published from the @dropbox twitter account. Here is a quick story behind the tweet, and why it worked so well.

lots of tweets


Dropbox is in an interesting position. It solves problem many people don’t know they have. It does so magically in the background, so you don’t really think about how you use it. People love it, tell their friends about it, and can earn extra space that way.

But because the product is so magical, it lacks the same surface area of other products. This makes messaging about features hard, including about how to earn extra space. Those reading this post might find it hard to believe, but many users don’t even know there is a referral program.

Part of the effort of boosting usage was just getting...

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Startup Idea: Robot Cars

human driving sunset.jpg

I left iRobot to start Tipjoy in late 2007 in part because I didn’t think there would be any new robot products in 5 to 10 years. It turns out that timeline is pretty accurate. I’ve had ideas for robotics companies since then, and the most exciting idea is automated driving.

The market is absolutely huge [1], as is its potential impact on society. People will change how they live and work. Both cities and suburbs will change. Millions of people will be freed to work on new things, though I am worried what might happen if this transition is too fast. The point of this post is not about these effects. If you wanted to start a robot car company, how should you do it?

With all the chatter about robotics, let me stress my credentials. I have a Masters in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. I focused on field robotics, with an office down the hall from Red Team Racing’s first DARPA...

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Building A Portfolio Community

My last startup, Tipjoy, was funded by Y Combinator and Betaworks, and YesGraph, my current startup, is funded by A16Z, Accel, NextView, Founder Collective, Quotidian and some awesome angels.

That’s a pretty long list, and it helps me see how different investors are organizing communities around their portfolio companies, and specifically their founders. The goal is to give value to portfolio companies with distributed attention. This can be incredibly valuable because if done right that attention will scale with the community. This is in stark contrast to the unscalable resource of a partner’s time.

Below, I explore what I’ve seen work. Hopefully firms copy the good stuff from one another. I also have a few ideas that no one is doing yet. If something is missing, let me know.

Mailing List

This one is obvious, but surprisingly uncommon. Make a mailing list with every founder on it....

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The 10 Steps of WhatsApp’s Onboarding

I heard WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for billions of dollars, so I thought I’d finally check out the app. I recorded the screens as I walked through and thought that others might like to see the steps.

You can get them all in a Dropbox folder here.

You can get future blog posts right to your inbox here.

The App Store.

I skipped screens of this. I searched for “WhatsApp”, found it, and installed it. It isn’t so easy for other apps like Secret because the AppStore is starved of attention at Apple. So the first screen is within the installed app.

Immediately, two popups appear requesting permission. Designers hate this, but it works.

Permission to get contacts:

00 permission to get contacts.png

Permission to send push notifications:

01 permission to push.png

Enter phone number. Keep in mind, I haven’t really even been told what the app is at this point.

02 enter phone number.png

Connecting my number:

03 connecting my number.png

Receive the verification code and enter it:

04 receive verification and enter.png


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How to Grow, Part 1: Pick a Goal

This is the first post in a series about how to grow your startup. Click here to subscribe to new posts.

The very first step in growing your startup is to pick a goal.

It is surprising how often this isn’t mentioned as part of the process. When you hear people from Facebook’s growth team describe their process, they keep it simple: measure, test, deploy. This shows how deeply ingrained the growth ethic was at Facebook. Every employee knows they want the whole world on Facebook to the point that their advice skips goal setting.

To understand the importance of goal setting, just look at applications where the goal isn’t obvious for external observers. Before Twitter focused on monetization as a media company, they floundered with platform decisions along with the tension of getting regular users to publish vs consume. Is Foursquare a location API, a consumer local search utility, or a...

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How To Prepare A Great Presentation

I follow a step-by-step process for preparing presentations. I just prepared a talk for the 2013 Growth Hacker Conference, so I thought I’d share how I prepared to illustrate the process.

For Your Audience

The first step is understanding the audience and creating content that would be compelling for them. As much as I’d like to talk about zombies and nukes, a growth conference audience wants to hear specific tactics and strategy around growth. Below is a snippet copied straight from an email sent to the conference organizers about the talk. This was the first thing I wrote for the talk.

Off the top of my head, here is what I would discuss:

  • the relationship between free & paid tiers, and how social promotion to get paid features for “free” fits in
  • the relationship between engagement, retention, and subscription. The big problem with gating engaging features with a paid plan is...

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