Zero-to-One

The Best and Worst Parts of Peter Thiel’s New Book: Zero to One

In spring of 2012, Peter Thiel, cofounder of Paypal and Palantir and early investor in Facebook, taught a course at Stanford in the Computer Science department called CS183: Startup. One of the students in the class, a law student named Blake Masters, took meticulous notes that were widely shared across the web (1M+ pg views).

The ideas were intriguing, and ran counter to much of the standard startup wisdom. I had read some of the notes when they came out but they’re pretty lengthy and I didn’t get through them all.

Luckily for all of us,  the two have collaborated to write a book based on the class called Zero to One, which comes out September 18th.

Having snagged an advance reader’s copy, the book has definitely cut the word length down while retaining the ideas and most of the nuance. Instead of summarizing the book, I thought I’d share my favorite and least favorite idea. Continue reading…

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12 Enterprise SaaS Startup Lessons Learned in 120 Days at Percolate

Four months ago, I joined the marketing team at Percolate, a marketing technology platform. We work with brands like GE, Mastercard, Unilever to help them plan, create, publish, and analyze their marketing content — with a big vision to transform marketing through technology.

It’s been a blast. I’m responsible for the company blog and lead many of our content marketing efforts (whitepapers, case studies, video, etc). I love my team (we’re hiring) and there’s a lot of great momentum at the company.

Having worked primarily in consumer or SMB software companies in sub-10 person teams in SF, I’ve already seen a lot of differences in how a successful post-Series B enterprise software company based in NYC operates. Just like I did when I moved from SF to DC, I’ve tried to capture some useful ideas here (some big, some small) that might be interesting to you as well.

1. Adopting / switching software is a major decision at bigger companies.

It can affect the workflow of dozens, hundreds, potentially thousands of people in various departments and even external organizations. There might even be changes in power dynamics (ex: maybe with the previous software, finance had total visibility but now they need to wait for a report to get exported by the head of marketing). Making the wrong choice could really screw things up and hurt your career — that’s why people often go with the “safer” big corporate option like Oracle or Adobe or Microsoft. Continue reading…

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Highlights from Startup School NYC 2014

I recently attended Y Combinator’s first Startup School in New York City. It was held at the Best Buy Theater near Times Square and was MC’ed by Alexis Ohanian (who told us there were in fact 28 YC co’s in NYC now!), featured talks by great founders and investors, live office hours with Sam Altman and Garry Tan, and a good turn out of several hundred tech-oriented people.

I remember sneaking into my first Startup School at Berkeley way back in 2009.

My friend (and later roommate-turned-cofounder) Kalvin couldn’t make it and I tried to claim I was him. I’m not sure the person at the door fully bought it, but she let me in anyway. It was an eye opening experience as I had just started working at my first startup gig at isocket. I don’t remember anything about the talks but I do remember feeling a general sense of inspiration and excitement about doing a startup.

Of course, I went on to do a Y Combinator startup and learned many of the lessons those founders shared first-hand. But I think if I was a newbie all over again, Startup School NYC would have delivered that same feeling.

I wrote about the most memorable parts of Startup School 2012 at Stanford and thought I’d again try to share the experience of this event.

I did a lot of live-tweeting so I’m going to try embedding them in the blog post. Let me know what y’all think. Continue reading…

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How Startup Ideas Can Be Modeled Like Chemical Reactions

I’m sometimes envious of people who studied subjects in college that correspond to their actual careers. Finance majors who become bankers. Computer Science majors who become software engineers. Must be nice to actually *use* the knowledge you spent four or more years studying. As a guy with two biology degrees, a career in marketing and (non biotech), startups is a fairly orthogonal direction.

However, I have discovered a few ideas from my academic studies that come in handy when thinking about startups. One of them is how a chemical reaction is a great model for a startup idea. But let’s first take a step back.

The Four Key Points Needed to Discuss a Startup Idea

I was recently in a conversation with a coworker about some of her startup ideas. She had one idea around revitalizing musicals that, while not her main startup idea, got me thinking about the best way intelligently discuss these types of ideas. [1] It boils down to four major questions / answers. Continue reading…

Minimum-Viable-Transaction

Test Your Startup Idea with a Minimum Viable Transaction

The entire startup world owes Eric Ries a huge high five for everything he’s contributed to our understanding of how startups are created and grown. One term that he coined back in 2009, minimum viable product, has stood for the difference between shipping “error-free” shrink-wrapped software, and releasing something barebones that you can test and learn from. And while Corporate America and the Federal Government are just starting to adopt the ideas of lean startups, the term is starting to show its age.

The world has changed a lot since 2009, and I think we need a concept that goes beyond MVP. Many of the fastest growing startups right now – Instacart, Homejoy, Airbnb – they facilitate real-world transactions of goods, services, and money. Sometimes this is called online-to-offline: technology facilitates the transaction, but it is just the beginning.

Transactions are the New Products

When I was in DC, I met a woman working on an interesting app idea: a marketplace bringing together piano players and piano owners who rarely use their expensive instruments. The idea was that pianos could be listed on the marketplace and players, who often couldn’t afford a piano of their own, could play their instrument. When I asked this woman what her current plans were for the project, she said she was trying to wireframe the marketplace for a web and mobile application, figure out payment processors, etc. Continue reading…