by Ivan Kirigin

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

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If a Startup Founder Does This, Don’t Take the Job

If you’re offered a job at a startup, your offer probably comes with a stock grant. If you don’t know how much of the company you’re getting, this grant number has almost no information.

You need to know what percentage of the company you’re getting. Founders know this, so they sometimes lie by omission to pay you less. This isn’t ethical and you shouldn’t work for such founders.

Not knowing how much of the company your'e getting is like being told you’ll get 100,000 units of currency every year, but not which currency. US Dollars? Zimbabwe Dollars? You have no idea what you’re getting.

This currency analogy is apt because stock inflation has no cost at the founding of a company. You can form a company and just pick the number of shares to be whatever you want. It can be 10K or 10B.

There are a few ways to package this information. Let’s walk through them so you can understand your...

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Ask-Me-Anything about Growth

I’m doing an AMA about growth on GrowthHackers.com RIGHT NOW.

Go here, vote up the story, and ask me a question.

I’ll post a synopsis of the thread here, so save this link.

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The Secret to Work Life Balance

I don’t like most discussions around “Work Life Balance” because so much advice is just personal experience. The problem with giving advice via personal experience is that it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. This post is going to try to start from first principles. I want to show you why this is a hard problem.

Let’s start with your home life. This might mean your spouse, maybe your kids, maybe your pokémon collection. Whatever it is, it isn’t your work, but it is important to you.

You can let this part of your life suffer with neglect. This might mean you’re not meeting someone that might be your future husband or wife. It might mean you’re leaning too heavily on a spouse to take care of your kids.

You can spend more time, and this life will get better. You’re going to little league games. You’re reading more to your kids.

You can also spend too much time and get obsessed....

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Startup Idea: The Future of Digital Work

future of work.jpg

I’ve been giving my startup ideas away because I’m too focused on YesGraph to work on other ideas. I try to describe the idea enough to give you a head start in taking on the problem. If you like it, share it, try YesGraph, and subscribe here to get future posts.

This latest idea has been brewing for a while. In short, I think we can change how we get work done using computers. To set the stage, here are a few trends that feed into the idea.

Trend 1: Technology as Substitutes or Complements

The frequent prediction that robots kill jobs misses the fact that not all technology is the same. Technology means doing more with less. This can mean people can get more done, or it can mean the technology replaces the people.

For example, a surgical robot makes a surgeon richer, not poorer. She isn’t replaced by the machine, but is made better by it. An ATM is a replacement for many...

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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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