Sunday, July 30, 2006

some things i've noticed

So we've been doing this startup for a little over a year now. Steve and I had just graduated from college when we moved up to Boston (Medford, to be precise) to start reddit. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, we thought we did, but we didn't. In fact, we still don't. But we did have a great group of folks to learn from and learn with.

Oh right, and we also had some rather smart, experienced, and helpful investors.

We've learned quite a bit over the last year. There's a new batch of summer founders now and we try to be the ones with A's to their Q's. Having started a year earlier, we certainly had our share of advantages; once Web 2.0 was on the cover of Newsweek, it was clear that things were going to get crowded fast.

So I suppose this is for those summer founders (who I'll inevitably spam with six emails telling them to read this) or anyone else interested in starting a startup.

Unless you're going to create a reddit-killer. If so, you'd better just move along.

For those of you who don't know, let me preface this by warning you that the following is coming from someone who is neither the hacker behind reddit, nor the co-author of RSS, nor a frigging experimental atomic physicist -- I draw the aliens and do the things hackers shouldn't have to think about (like writing frivolous blog entries about startup life). As a naive 23 year old, I probably have no right to be giving advice.

With that out of the way, here's some unsolicited advice:

Karma exists (not just on reddit)
With a startup, I think there's a tendency to cultivate the "us vs. the world" mentality. Fact is, people -- especially in the geek community -- are incredibly helpful, so try and be even more helpful.

Gut check
Figure out early what you're in it for and have a chat with your co-founders about it. You're going to need that motivation when things get difficult (and they will) because you'll rely on one another to push on. No matter how much your mother loves you, you're married now -- only there's no sex.*

Listen to your users
Granted, a site like reddit facilitates this sort of thing, but I think it could be applied to plenty of others. Respond to every feedback email, especially early on. There will be good suggestions and bad suggestions, but the final decision needs to be your own -- just always be respectful to whomever you're dealing with.

Don't hawk snake oil
It's just not safe. It's also a terrible startup idea.

Wake up every morning to your competition
It helps to know what's going on with all of your competitors, try to learn from their mistakes and keep track of their successes. Google news alerts are great for this.

Lame companies exist, and will continue to, despite being lame
Verizon, the Cingular Store @ Porter Square, AOL, Bank of America,, have all done really lame things to us (and likely others) yet don't suffer the kind of wrath a startup would. Get over it. Keep a list, but get over it.

<3 Bloggers
This is where your early traffic is likely to come from (no, not just TechCrunch). Courting mainstream media publications probably isn't going to bring you the traffic you want, either in quantity or in quality. Most of the early adopters you're looking for don't read technology sections for the latest and greatest innovations. It wouldn't hurt to monitor a feed from a blog search of your website. Ask for more feedback from bloggers who've trashed you and try even harder to get it from the bloggers who've praised you. It also helps if you get Paul Graham to mention your site in his essays.

Everyone is going to give you advice
See? Always be open to it, but never take it as dogma.

None of this really matters
Ultimately, there are more important things in life than your startup.

*I realized later that this isn't necessarily the case, but the sentence just didn't read as well. After writing that sentence, I realized that it's actually just like a marriage, precisely because there is no sex.