Visiting YouTube and the Infamous Slide

Rounding out our last field trip for the year – we rendezvous’d over to San Bruno to visit YouTube HQ! Thanks to Jarek Wilkiewicz, Brian Glick, and Shiva Rajaraman for hosting us.

Where the video magic happens

Brian kicked it off with a presentation on how to engage your audiences online via YouTube.

Among the many nuggets of valuable info in his presentation, this one in particular was interesting. The 4 rules of engaging audiences online, per Brian:

 

    1. Create Buzz

 

    1. Build Loyalty

 

    1. Optimize for the Platform,

 

    1. Cross-Promote

 

 

Next up was Jarek, who talked about the YouTube APIs and some interesting tips and upcoming features. Interesting to note that several 500 Startups companies utilize the YouTube API, includingSwitchcam (who’s also in the current Accelerator batch), VidCaster, and 955 Dreams.

 

 

Finally, we couldn’t bear to publish a blog post about YouTube without including a video or two, so here are a couple of the 500 Startups companies having fun on YouTube’s indoor slide.
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The design we built, and threw away for a good reason.

Jeannie Nguyen (@omfgjeannie) is a designer for Lexity (@lxty).

What up. Jeannie here, designer at Lexity.

So, you know our current site?

Yeah. Definitely not what we first designed.

We took a couple of months to design and build our new site, and threw it all away at the last minute – building what you can see now at lexity.com.

In fact, we were going to launch with this:

Totally different! So why did we scratch this design after we took a lot of time building it? I’ll start from the beginning.

5 months ago, when I was still an intern, I randomly made a very rough draft of what I thought our site could look like:

I wanted to have a park as a background, which gave Barry (our User Experience Lead) a whole vision of a city. We imagined a whole different world for Lexity, and about a month later from the first mock up, we finally started to create a new design for our site:

We decided to get rid of the bridge, and to focus more on the city. We wanted a friendly tone, bright colors, and really wanted Sophie to drive a car. We wanted a video of Sophie giving a tour of the city which would represent our product. We wanted our images to animate in each slide. So 20 days later, we created a new design, and made what you saw earlier in this post:

One day, we had a copy meeting for our four slides. Barry wrote out the copy on a glass board in large text so we could all clearly read what was on the board.

Suddenly, a new design idea hit me. Big white helvetica. A colored background for contrast. And that’s it. So simple.

But I wondered if it’d be crazy to scratch up all the work we’ve been doing for the past month, and to start over again. To just throw away the time it took to make all the drawings and for Kent (aka our Web Guy) to build all of this. I pitched the idea anyways.

It brought us back to the idea that our company is built on 3 columns: affordability, effectiveness, and simplicity. It made us rethink our site design. Did we really need all the festive colors? Did we really need our pigs to fly and animate? Did we really need Sophie to drive through the city? Then we realized our website design should reflect the third column our company was built on: simplicity.

So we got rid of many colors. We got rid of the animated images for the slides. We got rid of the buildings, the trees, the road, and took away Sophie’s driver’s license. We stripped out many things. Then we came up with the design you currently see on our site:

Simple. : )

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Google Friday

After a fun field trip to Facebook, next up was Google! The 500 Accelerator batch spent last Friday morning at Building 1950 on the Google campus in Mountain View, CA. We were hosted by the Google Developer Relations team. Thanks Stephanie Liu, Martin Omander, and all the DevRel team members who took time out of their busy schedules to spend time with us.

After some caffeine and food, the day kicked off with lightning presentations from each Google speaker. In about an hour, we zipped through the following topics:

Iein Valdez opened the show with an overview of how Google views the Cloud, and App Engine

Pete LePage spoke on Chrome, HTML5 and shared tips and tricks for getting featured in Chrome WebStore.

Reto Meier wow’d us with some amazing stats and tips for Android and Android Market.  We learned there are 200MM Android devices out in the wild, 550K new daily activations, and 10B downloads from Android Market.

Paul Saxman made us realize we spend far too much time watching TV and how developers can take advantage of that with Google TV.

Circles, pages, and hangouts – Timothy Jordan regaled us with info on Google+ and how startups should be using the various features.

Paid acquisition works! Carl Damerow from the AdWords team shared several examples of how to effectively use AdWords, including putting 500 company Switchcam in the hot seat.

Nick Mihailovski of the Analytics team talked about how to use Google Analytics in your day-to-day operations.

40MM active users and 4MM+ businesses can’t be wrong. Ryan Boyd covered building for Google Apps and Auth.

Brendan Kenny of the Geo team shared best practices for the Google Places API.

Money money money! Mihai Ionescu delivered an overview of ways you can monetize your apps with Google.

Finally, Derek Slater from Google’s policy team ended the morning with a BANG talking about fundraising regulations in the U.S., EngineAdvocacy, and putting an end to SOPA/PIPA.

After an educational morning, we were treated to a 5-star lunch at Nourish, one of Google’s many cafes. Great food and great 1:1 Q&A/discussion with the speakers ensued.

Thanks to the Google DevRel team for making this happen!

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Hanging Out At Facebook

Field trips to platform companies are one of the most anticipated events of the accelerator program. Yesterday, the current 500 Accelerator batch visited Facebook in Palo Alto, CA. Lots of fun was had by all, and everyone enjoyed meeting the Facebook team. (as well as the delicious snacks and drinks in the kitchen!)

Cat Lee, Facebook Platform team and 500 Mentor, kicked it off with an overview of the Facebook platform and Operation Developer Love. The rest of the afternoon was filled with great speakers on Open Graph, Facebook Ads, mobile distribution, and more. 500 Mentors Luke Shepard, George Lee, and Brian Rosenthal were also in attendance. (Brian spoke about Ads)

All in all, it was an awesome field trip and the first of several for this batch. Next up – Google and YouTube.

Thanks Facebook! We had a great time. Hope we can fill up that wall with more 500 company graffiti.

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Building a Startup Is Still Hard

Jeff is the CEO and cofounder of Daily Aisle. It’s the only place where engaged couples can search for their wedding venues based on date availability, price and head count. Prior to Daily Aisle, Jeff managed the Brokers Web insurance affiliate program and was an investment banking analyst.

Authors Note: I originally posted this on an obscure blog that very few people follow, and it was intended for a few close friends. I didn’t notice that the “send to twitter” option was checked as I published.

I am generally a pretty private person and wouldn’t share something so soul-bearing to the world, but I’ve received an overwhelming response from other founders after the post went viral. All of their responses have empathized with what I wrote.

I decided to keep the blog post up and allow 500 Startups to reblog in the hopes that it might reach other founders who are struggling with the ups and downs and entrepreneurship. In light of the recent tragic news of Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy, I think it’s a healthy thing to be honest with each other about our struggles. I was actually supposed to go to a party at his house the night he passed away.

Despite the semi-negative tone of this post, this is not a cautionary tale against entrepreneurship. Things are hard, but what you are experiencing is “normal.” Everyone around you is experiencing something similar. It’s part of what makes the journey so rewarding.

It was supposed to be easy. I keep hearing and reading that Amazon and Rackspace were making it easier and cheaper to build web apps. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook make it easier to acquire customers. Angels and VCs are throwing money at seed stage companies.

That’s all true. But unfortunately, it’s not easy.

My co-founder, Kim Dowd, and I had a good laugh yesterday reading Michael Arrington’s new blog UnCrunched.

We’ve recently had a tough couple of weeks. During a server migration, our dev accidentally deleted our bridal dashboard, which set us back a couple of days. We also decided to switch to a new CSS/HTML toolkit from Twitter called Bootstrap. It made oursite look better, and it should save us time in the future, but it set us back a week because we had to backward integrate our existing pages.

Personally, I feel a bit demoralized. I find it entertaining observing other startup founders. We all ask each other how everything is going and we all answer “GREAT” and then like a PR firm, we spew the latest good news spin. I then go grab drinks with a few close founder friends and we order stiff drinks, stare off like zombies, and talk about all the things going wrong with our companies:

“I yelled at my co-founders and called them all idiots yesterday. I think they are still mad at me.”

“I can’t close. XYZ VC won’t invest unless we have a lead and our lead wants to give us super pro rata rights.”

“No one likes our CEO.”

“My co-founder won’t talk to me.”

“I have no idea how we are going to make money.”

“My co-founder went home with the guy I brought out to the bars… WTF!”

Those are all real quotes from founders I know, whose companies are perceived by the tech press to be doing well. That’s why reading Arrington’s post was so comforting.

We thought this was written by someone at 500 Startups this year:

Well the kids went out to get drunk, or rather, more drunk. I think they might have actually gone out to a strip club again. How classy is that?

Oh good, the kids are back, and they are well hammered. None of them can walk properly, and they keep bumping into the cubicle walls and making everything on my desk shake. Since I’m not drunk, the impedance mismatch makes it impossible for me to carry on a conversation with them, so I’m just trying to block them out. But now they’re all playing networked DOOM at top volume, so in order to concentrate, I have to wear headphones with music on at top volume, and even that doesn’t quite work. Since, as I mentioned, they keep making the mistake of trying to walk, and they’re making all the shit on my desk bounce around.

It’s a saturday night, and I’m in my cubicle surrounded by a bunch of drunken farmboys from Illinois who haven’t been more than two miles from our office in scenic downtown Mountain View in four months.

My ears are going to be ringing after this. Fuck it, I’m going home. (Check that — my ears are ringing.)

But this was written in 1994 by a Netscape employee. It’s kind of funny to think that someone as brilliant as Jamie Zawinski had similar experiences to ours but only 17 years earlier.

The past 2 months have been pretty difficult for me. We were close to raising $1M twice but couldn’t quite cross the finish line. We decided to put off fundraising until after our product launches. The product has taken longer than expected and feel helpless, watching my cofounders kick-ass, and wishing I had learned to code (we are launching the private beta sometime this week!).

My relationship is on the rocks. She’s in Boston and I’m in SF, and we’ve been doing long distance for as long as we’ve been dating in person. I didn’t mail her anything for her birthday and she’s pissed. We both want her to move here but she won’t move here without a ring. I can’t blame her. Her entire life is there and moving for someone is risky.

The problem is I can’t afford a ring, and I wonder if I’m mature enough to take care of someone else. I can barely take care of myself, eating 1.5 meals a day. I’ve taken up the same time sleep schedule as the engineers, waking up at noon… on a good day.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I don’t want to be another startup founder that tells you that everything is going great. We are funded by 500 Startups and most recently participated in Lightspeed Venture Partner’s prestigious summer program. Things are still hard. My professional life is hard and so is my personal life. I can relate with you.

The problem is, most people who are not founders don’t care how hard it is. Investors don’t care, my girlfriend don’t care. I don’t tell my parents how hard it is because they would probably just tell me to quit and get a real job. No one really cares.

Which is why I think about Ben Horowitz blog post almost every day “Just win.

That might be the best CEO advice ever. Because, you see, nobody cares. When things go wrong in your company, nobody cares. The press doesn’t care, your investors don’t care, your board doesn’t care, your employees don’t care, even your mama doesn’t care. Nobody cares.

And they are right not to care. A great reason for failing won’t preserve one dollar for your investors, won’t save one employee’s job, or get you one new customer. It especially won’t make you feel one bit better when you shut down your company and declare bankruptcy.

All the mental energy that you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one, seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. It’s best to spend zero time on what you could have done and all of your time on what you might do. Because in the end, nobody cares, just run your company.

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F U Dave McClure (I learned it by watching you!)

Meet Professor X, aka 500 SuperMentor Hong Quan (@hongdquan). An entrepreneur and recruiter building cars and startups, Hong has even hired a real honest-to-goodness rockstar (#3 on Billboard charts).  He uses his superpowers of recruiting and abilities to read and influence human minds to bring young Startupers in to the 500 Institute.  After hand-picking a game development team for John Romero, Hong worked in Corp Dev for Gazillion Entertainment, resulting in the Lego Universe game and an upcoming Marvel MMO. Similar to his namesake, Hong rolls around in a vehicle of his own creation and is going bald working on Outgrown.it.

Over the past year I’ve seen 67 startups in the accelerator program,  ~25 co-working at 444 Castro and another ~25 Clients for Quantum Startups. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Dave makes starting a startup easier.

I’m not going to rehash how it’s gotten cheaper to start now versus 10 years ago. I ain’t talking about how gender and race play into who gets funded or Uncrunched. I won’t mention the proliferation of incubators, accelerators, hairy angel investors and startup weekends. But I will say that Dave is a one-man army making startups as egalitarian as possible, funding anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere. No longer do you think “nerd frat house” at a gathering of Founders, now it’s more like United Nations junior council at 500 Startups. Dave’s not practicing affirmative action or anything like that, but he’s as close as you get to a meritocracy in VC.

Now everyone can play the game and no one has any excuses.

2) Dave makes hiring for startups harder.

The biggest downside of point one is point two. You can’t hire anyone. You can call yourself a hustler until the cops come, but technical talent is still the demand-side. While the money flow is going to dry up (maybe soon) it’s still easier to raise money than to hire talent. Sean Parker calls it a “diffusion of talent” – too few Developers spread amongst too many startups. VCs on Sand Hill are (meta alert) staffing up their recruiting teams to recruit recruiters to join their portfolio companies! Any Engineer worth her GitHub account is starting a company. Why should they join your startup and take 1% when they can go on a 48-hour coding binge and call themselves a Founder? Forget the fact that the first 12-18 months till funding is the HARDEST part. It’s more fun to call yourself a CEO! I did this (again) the first quarter of this year. I had a decent idea, had a team building it and even got some money committed. But then I quit. Why?

Because I’d rather be part of a winning team than be the captain of a sinking ship.

3) Dave makes being a VC really hard.

When planning out my second decade in Silicon Valley, I would earn a desk on Sand Hill Road in years 17-20. It seems like such a cushy job, talking to Founders all day, passing judgment on their foolhardy “visions” and cashing fat checks from the “2 and 20”. Turns out Dave is one hard working motherfather. I bet that no other VC puts in more hours than Dave, and the dude travels like a Lonely Planeteer on crack! I honestly couldn’t keep the same schedule. I also lack the knowledge and experience that Dave brings to bear when evaluating Founders. And I have to be on my best behavior when I hear some of these ridiculous “Entrepreneurs” pitching unimaginative copycat startups. No wonder the guy curses so much.

Great VCs work their butts off for Founders. Maybe I’ll stick to recruiting.

I don’t mean to sound like Eminem professing his love for Dr. Dre on the Chronic. I’m trying to learn this game like everyone else. But looking back on this past year, in comparison to the decade before, why am I doing so much better?

All I can tell myself is this: It’s the people stupid.

Work with amazing people. Surround yourself with the best people you can. You will become like them. Don’t hang out with wannabes and whiners. They will drag you down. Stop playing startup and build stuff people actually want. Make things of value. Build companies of consequence. Stop wasting time. Have fun!

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