ETech: Lessons from Mark Fletcher, Creator of Bloglines
Mark Fletcher gave a short 20 minute talk on some lessons he learned while building and selling two million dollar startups: OneLists (to Yahoo!) and Bloglines (to Ask Jeeves).
You must have a passion for the idea. It will consume your life while you're creating it, so you must have fun with it and enjoy what you're doing.
Technology is cheap. It's a great time to be starting an internet service, hardware and bandwidth is getting cheaper and cheaper.
Keep both the product and the underlying technology simple.
Release early and often. He can't emphasize this enough; it builds good will with your users.
Involve your users. Users will have a lot better ideas about your service than you will. Many of the greatest features they've implemented have come from users.
Moonlighting limits risk. He worked nights and weekends with a day job on his projects. Not a fund way to live your life in the long-term, though. On OneLists, there were five people moonlighting in the first year before they got VC money.
Friends / family funds. Tap into your immediate social networks for cash. Nobody wants you to succeed like your friends and family.
Free services = less pressure. If you charge, you have to deal with much higher customer expectations about performance, uptime, quality, and customer support. Plus, if it's free, you don't have to write any commerce applications.
Web services APIs are a good thing.
Hire a lawyer. He incorporated OneLists himself, and Bloglines with a lawyer. He recommends the latter route.
Find good help, especially sys admin. Having good people will make your life easier, and having a good sys admin will make your life a LOT easier.
Outsource to eLance. Outsource anything you don't have staff competency in. Design, graphics, etc. Example: the first Bloglines notifier that ran on a Windows desktop cost $500, and was written by a couple of guys in Russia in 3 days.
In the Q&A, these tidbits came up.
He built Bloglines because he was reading upwards of 100 blogs a day, and there was nothing out there that he was happy with as a newsreader.
You must be adaptable to the changing landscape and requirements. The system that runs Bloglines today is completely different from the one that ran it 1-2 years ago.
There were under 10 people at the time Bloglines was acquired.
They didn't take any VC money for Bloglines, and were not looking to sell. They sold to Ask because "it was clear very quickly that Ask 'got it,'" and that Ask was looking at it more like an investment. For example, they are not folding the product into the Ask site.
It's always interesting to hear the stories of entrepreneurs who have made it big before, nevermind a guy who's done it twice. That being said, there were only two things that came as big surprises to me. First was the recommendation to go to family and friends for money, as mostly everything I've read suggests this can lead to pain and undue stress. And second, that finding a good sys admin alleviates a lot of pain. This makes sense, but it's not something I've had to think much about, yet.