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

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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 that...

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Startup Idea: 3 Compelling Photo Experiences

I’m giving away my startup ideas because I’m focused on building my new startup, YesGraph. We help your app grow virally, so if you like this post go try out YesGraph!

Photo sharing is incredibly popular, and there are a huge number of photo applications. It is surprising there there is still room for innovation here. Considering the recent history of both Instagram and Snapchat, it is incorrect to treat the market as finished. There is a lot left to do, and when people build something valuable, it very quickly becomes very valuable.

There are a lot of details to get right when building a service, but I’m not going to delve into the nitty gritty of product and distribution. Instead, I just want to explore three different experiences I’m missing.

Screenshot 2013-11-13 12.22.24.png

Align Age

I have three kids. I was once a kid. So were my parents and grandparents. I find the idea of aligning the age of people in...

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Startup Idea: Used Car Leasing

I’m giving away my startup ideas because I’m focused on building my new startup, YesGraph. We help scale referral recruiting, so if you like this post go try out YesGraph!

Applications that open up spare capacity are a big deal. First eBay did it with the spare capacity of stuff in your attic. When counting pro sellers, eBay is the largest employer in the world. Next Airbnb took the spare capacity of your spare bedroom and turned it into the largest hotel in the world.

Cars could be next. There are ride sharing services, but they are modeled after Zipcars. That pattern works well for cities where driving is rare. For me, driving is extremely regular: get the kids to school, go to work, get groceries, etc. Getting a Zipcar daily doesn’t make sense, so the car sharing equivalents don’t either.

The model that does make sense is leasing, but leasing today stinks. First you have...

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Startup Idea: The 6 Steps To Solve Personal Analytics

I’m giving away my startup ideas because I’m focused on building my new startup, YesGraph. We help your app grow, so if you like this post go try out YesGraph!

I love the quantified self movement. I have avoided the space because the market seems small. If you consider the number of people that want to lose weight, quit smoking, or get better at something, I’m probably wrong about the market size. It’s huge.

No one gets it right today. Here are a 6 things you need to do to win.

1. Grab Everything With An API

If you want to use data to make lives better, you need to first get the data. It isn’t just your Withings scale weight or some pedometer data. If you want to find correlations to deliver insight, you need to get as much data as possible.

consume all the data.png

Every word written: email, docs, dropbox, sms, tweets, status updates.
Every piece of content created: mobile camera roll, instagram...

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I’m Going To Give My Startup Ideas Away

I keep a secret list. It has every good idea for a startup I’ve had. Are any really good ideas? I haven’t done the work to find out. The first step would be to explore them in depth, maybe with an essay. The real test is actually doing it.

I’m on my second startup right now, YesGraph. YesGraph helps grow by recommending exactly who a user should invite. I’ll probably work on it for a long time. If things go well, a really long time. So what am I doing sitting around on this pile of other ideas?

There is a tinge of fear that if I open up, I’ll somehow lose out. Upon reflection, I think this fear is baseless.

If the idea is bad, I will have lost nothing in opening up. I might even be convinced it’s bad and avoid wasting my time working on it.

If the idea is good, but I don’t get around to it, I will have lost nothing in opening up. I might even help make the world a better place by...

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Open Corp Dev: An Idea Too Bold For Facebook Or Dropbox

My first experience on the selling side of the startup acquisition dance was a lot like middle school dances: awkward. I behaved as I was trained for dealing with investors: sell the dream showing no intent to stop. But companies that might buy you are different: they want you to stop and join them. The whole process is opaque, including how to begin the conversation about selling.

Fast forward to my time at Facebook, where I proposed an idea for corp dev (the people at companies that help buy other companies). It would boost transparency, and overall make the process much easier. Later at Dropbox I proposed the same idea. Both times, I heard the same objection, and I think the disagreement shows a misunderstanding of startups.

Corp Dev should openly declare a minimum price per head for the team.
For example, Yahoo could declare that the price is $1M, so a team of 7 would get at least...

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