The ABC of raising your seed round

After failing miserably to raise 18 months ago, digging deep and bootstrapping our way to profitability, we made another attempt earlier this year and got a huge break by getting into 500startups.

We are now in the middle of raising our seed round and are doing a much better job at it than previously. I wanted to share some of what we’ve learned that helped made the current attempt a successful one.
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The awkward relationship of tech bloggers and startups

Today Robert Scoble came to visit our batch at the 500startups offices. He did some 1-on-1 sessions and later gave a free-form talk, mostly about Google Glass (not surprisingly), but also about reaching out to tech media. Here are a few bullet points from the talk –

  • Know what every tech blogger likes to write about and approach them with stuff they care about and that’s why people who want to share go and get information online on how to start a blog and become bloggers. Robert for example is infatuated with Google Glass right now, so even if you have the shittiest Google Glass app (his own words) he would be interested, but if you have the most amazing WinXP app he will probably not.
  • Get tons of traction and people will write about you (a given). Get everyone in your batch to say you’re the “hot” company of the lot.
  • Get intros from insiders and trusted people in the blogger’s network. If Dave McClure gives a personal guarantee about your startup, Robert will likely write about it.
  • Build something in a hot market. Everybody loves mobile and mobile is the future. Nobody cares about desktop. So build mobile – you’ll get more love from bloggers.

This looks an awful lot like advice for fund raising. Robert has put himself and other prominent bloggers / tech blogs on the same level as investors as far as getting their attention is concerned. Is this a reasonable positioning for tech media?

IMHO, no.

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Twitter is the new RSS

I’ve been watching from afar the outcry over the shutting down of Google Reader. Previously a heavy gReader user, I’ve gradually moved away from the service, the move coinciding very much with the emergence of Twitter as an effective content curation platform. Nowadays, when I find an interesting post / blog, I usually try to find the author’s Twitter account and follow it. This way I not only get updates on new blog posts in realtime, I also get additional content via regular tweets that might be of interest.

The asymmetric Twitter following model really supports this behavior – for a long time I used Twitter almost exclusively as a content curation service. While my Google Reader account was getting out of hand with the guilt inducing +1000 unread items, with Twitter I never felt pressured to chase “Inbox zero” on my read count. I might miss some good content, but in most cases if it’s interesting enough it will float up again and I’ll catch it anyway.

With the deprecation announcement of Google Reader, many new RSS subscription services popped up / gained popularity, and I wonder whether they’re catering to an inferior content publication approach. If you look at the Google Trends chart Andrew Chen put in a recent post, the downwards trajectory correlates well to the launch of Twitter (Mar. 2006).

My 2 main sources now for new + interesting content are Twitter and HackerNews. HackerNews pushes to the top the really popular items (so it’s basically my actual “news” source), while with Twitter I can personalize my stream to suite my interests and preferences by managing the people I follow. I get introduced to new content via RTs and mentions, so my content stream is always expanding.

While I think RSS failed mostly on marketing and usage penetration for the average user, I also think it had problems scaling as your subscription inventory grew. I (and probably most people) don’t have time to read everything interesting that crosses our way, and in that sense Twitter has become the content subscription service I actually needed.

 

Recapping Week #1 at 500startups accelerator program

The first week of the 500startups accelerator program is in the books, and I definitely feel accelerated. Keeping with the current Star Trek theme at the 500s offices, I’d say we’re about Warp 7 right now after previously being at sublight speed for an extended duration. Lets go over what we managed in 1 week:
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There are no x10 developers, but there are certainly 1/10 ones

I keep seeing the term “x10 developer” pop up recently, and I think it’s misleading and leads to a rock-star / primadonna culture that benefits no one.

“x10 developers” are, in fact, proficient developers, who are experienced with their stack and problem domain. Once you get to this point, you can still find room to optimize – some people are inherently more focused or talented and you can always gain more experience, but the difference between developers who are proficient at what they do will never be a x10 multiplier – it will be closer to a variation of 30-40% in productivity. In some extreme cases (super experienced, focused, and naturally gifted), you might even reach x2 times productivity over a baseline proficient developer (I’ve seen it in action).

On the other hand, you have developers who are simply not proficient. They either have no aptitude for programming at all, or are so inexperienced that progress is very slow as they are learning everything as they go. Those are the “1/10 developers” and they make proficient developers (i.e, professionals) seem like x10 developers.
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