November 2011 Archives

API Half-lives


At DuckDuckGo, we use a lot of external APIs and services. Sure, we use more than most, but the trend is clear: startups are building more and more services and other companies are relying on them more and more.

I wholeheartedly agree that it's annoying that these APIs aren't as stable as things that came before, but the bigger problem from my perspective is that their half-lives are tiny. Already we've done several integrations where subsequently the company has either gone out of business, "pivoted" and ditched or abandoned their API in the process, or got acquired and the new company shut down the API.

And its not just startups. I've lost count on how many services Google has sun-setted this year -- not just ones they acquired, but also their own.

Don't get me wrong, I don't fault the individual decision makers. I don't have full background information, and for all I know I'd make the same decisions if I did. But what I do know is that my process for looking at APIs and online services is changing.

At my first company I got asked this question a bunch: how do we know you're going to be around in five years? (We weren't.) 

Now five years seems laughable! Almost all entrepreneurs I meet don't think they're going to be doing their startup in five years. Side note: it's a good negative investment filter.

I don't really have good answers yet for what to do about it or how to better evaluate a particular case. I'm annoyed at myself for doing this, but I find myself gravitating to startups that have taken in a lot of funding. I love working with startups because they are hungrier and more flexible, and so this type of startup seems like a sweet spot. They have resources to spare, both to help you out and stay in business.

Some other things I've found myself thinking about in particular cases wrt to this question about API half-lives:
  • How active is their API discussion forum?
  • How responsive are they to API bugs/issues?
  • How core is the API to their business?
  • How long have they been around already?
  • What is their runway?
  • Do they seem like they're passionate about what they're doing?
  • Are they likely acqui-hire targets?
Another approach is to apply Chaos Monkey philosophy and expect anything to die at any time. We pretty much do that. However, we still need to place bets. With so many startups, there are often several choices in any given category. 

Update: good comments on HN, especially this one.

Fundable vision


When I get an angel pitch, here's my initial funnel:

  1. Is this person a crackpot?
  2. Is this person a wannabe?
  3. Is this vision fundable?
  4. Is this vision fundable by me?
  5. Is this vision plausible?
  6. Is this vision probable?
  7. Are these people capable of executing this vision?
I've been getting a lot of angel pitches lately that I've been quickly dismissing on #3: is this vision fundable? Frankly, the dismissals are pretty much from a lack of communicating any long-term vision. Here's my #3 sub-funnel:
  A.  Is this a whim project?
  B.  Is this a side project?
  C.  Is this (for lack of a better phrase) a lifestyle business?
  D.  How does this get to 1Min revenue?
  E.  How does this get to 10M in revenue?
  F.  Are they thinking big enough?

Product demos are key to a good pitch, but in and of themselves they are static, and really don't get anywhere in this sub-funnel. To do that, you need to tell a compelling story about how you're going to be part of a big market. 

Of course I may think you're wrong on market or a variety of other things, but communicating a long-term vision is a necessary condition to starting a real funding conversation.

I realize this is a very difficult request. It's easier to try to find a niche within a niche in the app world. And that may make a great business for you. But it isn't a fundable vision.

    Online services our startup subscribes to


    A few months ago I posted an entry about online services I subscribe to personally. Since then my startup has been funded and I'm even more so looking for ways to leverage online services for productivity gains.

    So some of these are repeats, but a bunch are new. I'm really curious about what other startups are using successfully, i.e. what I'm missing.



    • What: group chat.
    • Why: persistent rooms for congregation/communication.
    • Love: easy to use UI.
    • Hate: multiple devices cause sign in/out issues.


    • What: company activity stream.
    • Why: distributed team can keep tabs on company.
    • Love: creates a more social environment.
    • Hate: AIR client can't do multiple networks at once.


    • What: forum.
    • Why: enable a community among DuckDuckGo users.
    • Love: nice mix between q/a, idea voting and general forum.
    • Hate: too easy to post without signing in.


    • What: 3-way video calling.
    • Why: hate going to meetings in person.
    • Love: way more personal than phone and hands free.
    • Hate: often peoples' Internet connections aren't fast enough for good video.


    • What: online email.
    • Why: solved my Gmail issues (slowness, sending limits).
    • Love: 2-step authentication (though can get that on regular Gmail).
    • Hate: can't add free (lower) accounts once paid for higher ones; switching between accounts a pain.


    • What: online code repository.
    • Why: easy private collaboration; nice organization support.
    • Love: easy segmented collaboration.
    • Hate: nothing.

    Back office


    • What: online fax.
    • Why: my home fax sucks.
    • Love: easy.
    • Hate: feels expensive.


    • What: electronic signatures.
    • Why: scanning and signing stuff is a pain.
    • Love: nice email workflow.
    • Hate: can't control the signing date.

    • What: accounting.
    • Why: can access on multiple machines and easily share.
    • Love: wizards are pretty smart.
    • Hate: can't get access to help system.


    • What: customer service and support center.
    • Why: manages knowledge base and customer interaction.
    • Love: keyboard shortcuts.
    • Hate: can react a bit slowly; seems like it could get expensive.



    • What: virtual assistant.
    • Why: don't waste time on mundane tasks.
    • Love: can do everything over email.
    • Hate: they don't do credit card payments yet (on your behalf).

    LastPass Logo.png

    • What: store your passwords.
    • Why: I can easily log into services across devices.
    • Love: works.
    • Hate: glitches here and there on certain sites.


    • What: sync your bookmarks.
    • Why: have my quick launch bar/links be the same across browsers/computers.
    • Love: works.
    • Hate: chrome extension has to kick-off manually for some reason.


    • What: get emails out of your inbox and back when you need them.
    • Why: I like 0-inbox and it helps with reminders.
    • Love: works.
    • Hate: it disappears every now and then forcing me to refresh.


    Amazon Web Services.gif

    • What: cloud services.
    • Why: run as primary host.
    • Love: spin up new nodes in minutes across the world.
    • Hate: dealing with EBS issues; instances fail more than (I think) they should.


    • What: virtual (shared) servers.
    • Why: shared development resource for community platform.
    • Love: cheap, root access, no bs.
    • Hate: larger plans expensive.

    dns made easy.png

    • What: managed DNS.
    • Why: speed, uptime, built-in monitoring, failover and global traffic redirection.
    • Love: just works, cheap, great support.
    • Hate: nothing.


    • What: server monitoring.
    • Why: gives alerts when on-server things go awry.
    • Love: Android notifications; alert types (exact process, system resources); great support.
    • Hate: new alerts don't remember your default (usual) settings. 

    Update: Also check out a similar post from HelloFax.