Monday, July 2, 2007

Founders at Work: Blogger

Take-aways from interview with Evan Williams, founder of Blogger
  • Evan Williams started Blogger by solving a personal problem: wrote his own script to turn his personal website into a blog.
  • "The idea that I could have a thought and I could type in a form and it would be on my website in a matter of seconds completely transformed the experience. It was one of those things that, by automating the process, completely morphed what it was I was doing. If I could have a thought and then put it on my site, then obviously I am going to potentially do that much more and it is a stream for communication of a whole different type."
  • "We took the script I wrote to publish my site, and we made an internal site where we could do the same thing."
  • He learned from his first startup that it's important to focus--concentrate your efforts
  • "One of the big lessons from my first company was to focus. After my first company died, I did an inventory of the projects I had worked on in the last year. There were something like 30 projects that I had started on and had not finished. My total weakness was not focusing on things."
  • Blogger was initially designed for geeks. "It wasn't a mass consumer product... It didn't explode at first because it was fairly technical... You had to know a bunch of stuff, but things that you would know if you were a web geek."
  • Blogger was not a technological breakthrough. "It wasn't based on any new technology. But that made sense to me because it was not that the technology was new, it was that we had figured out this medium, at least one of the native forms of what the Web was good for. It was about freshness and about frequency, and it was about the democratization of media and giving power to every body and the universal desire for personal expression and the attraction to a real, compelling personal voice."
  • Started to run out of money in Jan. 2001 (almost 2 years after launching). Appealed to users of the product to send money to keep it running. They had such passionate users that they were able to raise $17,000.
  • Everyone in the company left except for Evan. They went from $50K/month in payroll to $0.
  • Stick to your guns: "One of the things that kills great things so often is compromise--letting people talk you out of what your gut is telling you. Not that I don't value people's input, but you have to have the strength to ignore it sometimes, too. If you feel really strongly, there might be something to that, and if you see something that other people don't see, it could be because it's that powerful and different. If everyone agrees, it's probably because you're not doing anything original." Reminds me of Reid Hoffman's advice: make accurate contrarian bets.
  • Roll with the punches. Sometimes things that seem bad are actually a blessing in disguise. "Luck comes in many forms--and often looks bad at first. I always look back on the deals that we didn't do and the things that didn't work out, and realize what seemed like a bummer at the time was really lucky. Like the early acquisition opportunities. These obviously would have been really bad, as opposed to what happened later. Through that whole experience that's one of the biggest things I've taken away: if you have some plan and it doesn't go that way, roll with it. There's not way to know if it's good or bad until later, if ever."
  • Simplicity is key. "I was surprised by the success of something so simple. That's a mantra for many people in the technology world--simplicity. But what we built wasn't that amazing. It was the idea of putting a couple of things together and being able to establish a lead by doing something really, really simple. How far you can get on a simply idea is amazing. I have a tendency to add more and more--the ideas always get too big to implement before they even get off the ground. Simplicity is powerful."

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