Like most people, I don't like to be tracked more than I need to be. I believe in privacy policies that do the minimum collection needed as opposed to the maximum collection possible. I am also the founder of the search engine that doesn't track you, DuckDuckGo. For these reasons, I personally don't use Google services where I don't absolutely have to, and honestly it's not very hard to do because there are good alternatives. I get asked a lot what I use instead of Google services, and this post answers that question.
Practically, switching away from as many Google services as possible will help alleviate the most obvious issue of the bulk of your personal data being in the hands of one company since Google already passively collects click/browsing history through Google Analytics and their ad networks embedded across the Internet. It will also alleviate some non-obvious issues like ads following you around the Internet and getting trapped in your personal filter bubble.
I'm glad this is my 300th post because it is about another milestone: the release of Traction. I've been working on this book for the past five years on this blog. Early on I did a series of interviews exploring the subject here and on Hacker News. These resulted in a few early theses. Then I partnered with Justin Mares to more rigorously research, interview and expand this early work into a book.
Six weeks ago we announced we were taking pre-orders. Now I'm proud to say our book is available for purchase in print, Kindle and audio! The first few chapters are available for free by signing up for our list at tractionbook.com.
We really appreciate your help over the years providing feedback on our traction tactics and strategies. It has made Traction a much better book. We promise it will make you think differently about getting traction.
I was recently in a traction discussion with Loveseat and Iqram (co-founder of Venmo) gave this awesome traction tip:
In the age of analytics tools, staring at your server logs somehow seems anachronistic. However, I've had the same experience many times, especially early in the life of projects. It kind of puts you in a trance and ideas and things to investigate just start flowing. At least for me and Iqram.
If you are in a successful market, then you face or will face competition. If you face competition, then you must differentiate or suffer the fate of a price (margin) war.
There are several standard ways to differentiate including on features, distribution, design and values. Another way to cut up differentiation, however, is if you're differentiating on things your competition can copy easily, or not.
If you differentiate in ways your competition can copy easily, then you're in the arms race. If you're in the arms race, then you're in war time. If you're not in the arms race, then you're in peace time, which affords you the opportunity to walk your own path.
My default framework for decision making is what I call upside-down because it focuses on upside and downside risk. It involves answering the following questions and has served me well across a variety of situations, including day to day in startups, investing and in my personal life.
Richard Stallman has a famously awesome rider he gives out to hosts when he travels to speak. He also has a much smaller personal FAQ for public consumption. These documents increase the probability that meeting with RMS will be a success.
I think this concept has wider applicability. When you meet someone for the first time, it would help to know a few things about their preferred meeting parameters. A meeting primer, if you will. To that end, below is a basic @yegg meeting primer (for myself).
Ben Horowitz put out an informative post entitled How to Ruin Your Company with One Bad Process. It explains how a naive budgeting process--one where you empower department heads to propose their own budgets without global constraints--will create perverse incentives and result in sub-optimal outcomes. At the earliest stages, startups don't have this problem yet because they simply don't have the money and headcount to even encounter it.
For seed-stage startups, there is another similarly perilous budgeting mistake that unfortunately happens all the time. It's not budgeting enough for getting traction. This is the number one traction mistake.
I'm happy to announce that you can now pre-order Traction Book on Amazon! My blog has been silent this year because I've been using all that time to finally get this book out the door.
I have a hunch that one the key ways to maximize the probability of startup success is periodic and consistent questioning of operating assumptions. For example:
- What are the premises that underlie your vision/mission/strategy/etc.?
- Are these premises still valid?
- How valid are they?
- How will you further validate them?
- Are all underling assumptions fully enumerated?
- Is current thinking on these assumptions in-line with your current vision/strategy/tactics/etc.?
There are a lot of hard problems out there. You can steer yourself in the direction of hard problems that also line up with your desired career path.
I get asked a lot what keeps me motivated, especially from the perspective of a solo founder. I never really had a good answer until now.
This is not a fire engine siren, but just a general notification siren. It is very loud. It goes on for a long time and wakes me up sufficiently that I have trouble falling back to sleep.
This situation is a negative externality -- a situation where someone is negatively affected by something they aren't involved in. The canonical example is air pollution from manufacturing. The pollution causes health effects to people in surrounding areas who probably aren't involved in buying or selling the manufactured goods.
When I'm thinking about investing in a startup, I first tell my wife about it and give her my version of their pitch. If we do invest, I often find myself doing the same type of pitch to other angel investors.
My pitch often feels very different than the company's pitch. In a previous post I encouraged people to distill their pitch down to a compelling story and get rid of everything else. That's what I do.
After another year and half of angel investing, I have a bit more clarity on how I think you should structure your story. You want to address the following questions in this order.