It’s a strange experience for first-time dads to suddenly become the subject of Father’s Day. Your whole life you’ve had to remember this holiday (hopefully) weeks in advance to pick out a great gift or put a card in the mail. And when dads reach about 50, their tastes are essentially frozen and it’s nearly impossible to pick out something thoughtful, so I’ve historically just stuck with the card or phone call and felt a bit bad about not doing more. I’ll admit that as a son, I’ve often felt a fair amount of Father’s Day guilt.
But then your life partner gives birth.
You’ve reproduced. There’s a little version of you messing her or himself in the next room, and everything changes.
Suddenly. Today is your day.
It’s like you got a 2nd birthday all of the sudden where anything goes. People come from miles around to ask one question: “What’s Dad wanna do? What’s Dad wanna do?” And here’s the kicker: They’re talking about YOU! The world is your oyster. You could go anywhere, see anything, be whoever or whatever you want to be. And you don’t have to get no permission from no one because you’re a Dad on Father’s Day. So beat it, all you non-Dads! This is Dad territory!
And it gets better. You almost always get the gift at the top of your list. Because the one thing you truly want – the one thing at the top of your heart’s proverbial Amazon wishlist – is for your little Mini Me to look up at you and simply say the words “Happy Fawders Bay, Dada!” When you hear these words – those poetically eloquent words, your Father’s Day dreams are fulfilled, your heart fully explodes, and you sink into the couch to start the long road to recovery with only afternoon football to aid you.
This experience made me realize. Father’s Day gifts aren’t about the gift. They’re a physical object or gesture that reminds the dad in your life of the first time he heard “Happy Fawders Bay, Dada!”. If you can make him feel that feeling again, you’ve given him the best gift in the world.
Many designers want to launch a well designed product and have it spread by word of mouth. It feels like the best product should just win. But in situations where the product is facing an incumbent and there are complimentary network effects, it’s simply not enough to launch a well designed product.
This is the difference between designing a product and designing a business.
Jon Crawford is the CEO and founder of Storenvy.com, an online platform that enables people to create their own unique stores. After moving to San Francisco where he knew no one he cultivated his professional network which helped in raising $1.5 million for his company. Today he shares what networking means to him.
This subject has very much been on my mind lately as we gear up for our launch at Circa. I’d love to dive in further on the topic sometime, but right now I’d just like to just kick off a few thoughts on work/life balance.
I recently read something that said that the “best” folks in the industry are the ones without a work/life balance…
…Take evenings off, take weekends, holidays off – it’s vital recharge time. The work will still be there when you get back but if all you do is your work, you might not have a life to go back to if it doesn’t work out.
This is a topic I’ve been thinking about as well. In my experience building a company, it’s unfortunately not as simple as Matt puts in his post. Starting a company takes lot of extra work. Like way more than a normal job. Sometimes you need to stay up all night long to prep for a meeting, fix a major bug, or finally finish a set of features you’ve been working on. Sometimes you need to work 16 hour days for a month straight to catch up to your self-imposed deadline. I wish I could just decide to take off evenings and weekends, but it would actually be irresponsible for me to do so given the promises I’ve made to my users, my investors, and my team. That’s startup life. If you’ve found a way around all that, please drop me a note. I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re out.
Starting a company is the very act of creating something from nothing. You’re figuratively giving birth to something that didn’t exist before you created it. Giving birth is a process that entails intense pain and suffering. (My daughter Vivian turns 1 next month.) But when you’re done with all of the pain, you’re looking at something magical that you’ve created through your own hard work (and typically several others’). As a Father (and a business owner), I can tell you that it’s worth it. The hard work and pain are absolutely worth it.
I think the advise to take off evenings and weekends focuses too much on the execution rather than the strategy. I think the bigger piece of advice here is this: Your idea and company are probably going to fail. Don’t ruin your life, relationships, and health in the process because you’ll probably need all three when that happens. It’s up to the entrepreneur in all of us to discern when it’s time to hustle and when it’s time to pull over, recharge the batteries and take in the scenery. Entrepreneurship is a process.
That said, I’ve found that taking care of yourself is a major part of being a quality founder and team leader. The long hours, missed sleep, design debates, investor relations, and customer support issues can add up quick. It’s super important to keep your head in a good place so that you can lead your team with the right attitude and a clear vision. Spending time with family, friends, or even by myself refuels my mental resources and makes me a better CEO.
Building a long-lasting, strong company that makes a difference in people’s life is one of the things I want to do while I’m on this earth. So I’m willing to put in a lot of effort to pursue that life goal. I don’t have the work-life balance thing perfected, but I think the best founders don’t see a clear distinction between the two.
When we heard that Skillshare was setting out to help San Francisco crafters, creatives and makers through a semester of classes specifically aimed at helping first-timers to seasoned veterans we lept at the chance to help out!
One of the best things you can do in life is sieze opportunities when they arise. Yesterday, we did just that. Storenvy is located in the heart of San Francisco. One of our team members lives across the street from the famous Painted Ladies, which are featured in the intro to Full House. It just…
Have you followed us on Pinterest yet?! If you haven’t let’s change that immediately! On top of a daily helping of our favorite Storenvy products we have just teamed up for a contest with everyone’s favorite music streaming service, Grooveshark.
I recently stumbled upon this Tumblr draft post that I never published in April 2010 when the iPad was first released. It’s pretty interesting to compare my reaction then to the last 2 years of progress. Interesting detail: This post was written in a world where Steve Jobs was still in his prime as the CEO of Apple.
Original Post - April 5th, 2010
After two days with the iPad, I’ve got some feedback.
I wasn’t foaming at the mouth when the iPad was announced. It was interesting, but it didn’t feel like a “must have”. Then I began to think instances of digital, interactive paper that I’d seen on TV and as well as things like the displays in Minority Report and then I finally stopped and thought, “Wow, we’re, like, totally living in the future.”
I didn’t know if I was going to buy an iPad on the day it was released. The lines, the possible price drops (I got burned on the original iPhone pricedrop), but I succumbed. The Apple siren song is too much for this early adopter to resist. The following is my impression after 2 days.
It’s incredibly fun. I don’t think I spent this much time with my iPhone when I first got it. (Well, that’s not fair to say because the iPhone didn’t have apps for a full year. But just pretend.) I’ve had a blast exploring news in the NPR app is a great way to consume little tidbits of news with the audio clip playing as you look at pictures and read story. The Marvel Comics app makes me want to start reading comic books again. Tap Tap Radiation is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on an LCD screen. And Adobe Ideas makes expressing your idea to someone as easy as finger painting. I basically didn’t put the thing down for the first 24 hours.
I also have a few gripes. First, it’s heavier than I (and everyone else) thought it was going to be. Too heavy, in fact to really stand up and use. You’ll want to set it down most of the time before you start in. This then presents another problem. Where do you set it? If you’re going to be typing anything, you’ll need a surface that will prop it up without needing you to keep a hand on it. It works when you’ve got your legs crossed in an easy chair, but not so well laying straight down on the kitchen table. Typing while it’s laying flat on a table is awkward to say the least. I opted for the official iPad case by Apple which folds into a wedge to prop the unit up into two different positions. Highly recommended just for typing. Even then though, you’ll have height issues depending on what table you’re sitting at. If you’re thinking about using an iPad as a laptop replacement to type out anything substantial, get a Bluetooth keyboard and a dock or the combo iPad keyboard dock.
My next gripe is that it’s so different from normal computing that you have think quite a bit when you use it. It doesn’t work like your Mac. At all. It doesn’t even work like your iPhone. Not to say that I don’t absolutely love the way it works, but it’s different. No multitasking. One window at a time. You can’t, for instance, drag an email message that you’re composing out of the way in order to read another message. You’d have to save the message to drafts and close it to read another message. It’s actually much slower for any kind of productivity task. After 2 days of only using the iPad, my brain finally rewired itself and I was using it quickly and thoughtlessly. Then once I returned to my Macbook Pro, I was immediately struck by the fact that I was trying to use my Mac like an iPad now. I was double-tapping the track pad to enlarge text. I was scrolling the wrong direction. My email looks different. My RSS reader looks different. It took me few moments to get reoriented. This isn’t a failing of the iPad as much as it is a problem to be solved going forward — the platforms shouldn’t be so drastically different. Apple’s mobile and desktop operating systems need to come together into a single platform, which I’m sure we’ll see start to happen over time.
Every site gets an app?
On stage, Steve Jobs talked about how awesome the web is when you can interact with it with your hands. The strange part is that the best part of using the iPad is the native apps, not the web itself. As I mentioned, I really like the NPR app. The New York Times app is pretty smooth as well. But the truth is that the iPad’s native online content, in many cases, doesn’t look anything like the web as we know it. Content creators have taken this opportunity to create an experience that is catered directly to their content. We’ve seen this with the YouTube app on the iPhone — the app is formatted better for the iPhone’s tiny screen. Well, just imagine every website with their own app that works its own way. You’re guaranteed to get more engaged with the content, but you’re going to have to learn how to use every app. Not to mention that every site owner is going to have to create an app and then have to try to get people to download it (much like we’re already seeing with the iPhone).
This is the future
The striking part of the iPad’s release is that nobody understands it. Is it a computer? Is it a big iPod Touch? Nobody knows yet, but we know we want to get to know it. I’ve always dreamed of being able to look around and think to myself “Wow, this is the future now”. With the release of the iPad, I think we’re finally there.
I got a chance to chat with Matthew Wise from FounderLY about some of my experiences founding a company and the challenges founders face after they close a financing round. Hopefully some of the info is helpful.
How I Got Kicked Out of Y Combinator and Then Raised $6.5m for My Startup
In 2008, I founded Storenvy, a social e-commerce platform that gives people free and easy online stores that look great. The unique thing about it is that it’s all built around community, and we combine all the stuff from the stores into one big social shopping marketplace for everything. Think of it as “Tumblr for e-commerce”. (We’re hiring!)
In 2010, I got accepted and kicked out of Y Combinator, lost my cofounders, and raised $1.5M from A-list investors. This is my story. *Law & Order sound effect*
In the Spring of last year, I started to think seriously about raising money for my startup. I’m a Ruby on Rails hacker and product guy, and at the time, I didn’t know much about venture capital. Storenvy is my first startup, and I lived outside of Silicon Valley in Kansas City, MO. But since we had a good product, some great early traction, and a few connections, I headed out to the Valley to pitch some big fancy VCs that I met through AngelList.
The meetings went well — all positive feedback and “let’s talk again next week”, but no commitments. One of the few people I knew in the city at the time invited me to a breakfast while I was in town. It was with 4 other startup founders, a few of which were Y Combinator alums. I hadn’t really considered an incubator like YC because we already had a product, customers, revenue, and whatnot and I thought I really just needed cash to hire a bunch of people. But one of the guys at breakfast really liked what we were doing and wrote an intro email to Harj, one of the partners at YC. It was mid-May so the application deadline for the Summer 2010 session had already passed. But Harj and I had coffee the next day, and he liked what he saw so he invited me to come interview for late acceptance.
A week later, I flew back into SF for just enough time to drop down to Paul Graham’s house for an hour and drive right back to the airport. Hanging out with Paul and Harj in Paul’s garden backyard was an experience. Paul asked hard questions and interrupted almost every answer I attempted to give, but he was also supportive of the vision and trajectory of where we wanted to go. Since he was the creator of what became Yahoo! Stores (Viaweb), it seemed like a space he had a personal affinity toward. “It’s interesting, we’ve never funded a store builder before”, he said. I stayed and chatted for nearly an hour which I found out is pretty rare since most YC interviews are barely more than 15 minutes. Then, on the way back to the airport, I got a call from Paul. He said, “Sooo, we like you guys. We’d like to fund you.” I felt like a freaking gangster! I just got into Y Combinator — one of the most elite honors for early stage companies in the world. And I’d done it without even having to fill out that terrifying application! Achievement: Unlocked!
I sent out a few celebratory tweets but mainly kept the news to myself. I’d been given the advice that you may want to save the announcement for a press release on a big news site. Either way, I was stoked and could barely keep it in! I’d been a total Silicon Valley outsider and was just given a ticket to become a total insider. The only problem: The summer session started in 7 days. Out of nowhere, I had to move to the Bay Area in 7 days!
It’s important now for me to give you a little backstory. I started Storenvy with two other guys. The three of us built the site into its basic form while being a distributed team (Kansas City, San Diego, and Orlando). The other two guys were both smart, creative, and hardworking, but they weren’t interested in the startup scene — they hadn’t even heard of Y Combinator until we were already accepted. They both had families, so I knew that moving to the Bay Area would be hard for them, although they were totally willing to do it. But that week, we had several long discussions, and two days before YC started, we determined that moving to SF and living the startup life wasn’t their dream. Instead, they wanted to hang back and run just the t-shirt printing service that we’d started as a revenue source for Storenvy as its own company. See my interview on Mixergy about the t-shirt business. I spent the next 36 hours packing and figuring out how it would work to separate out the printing service from the online stores.
So the day before YC started, I sent Paul and the gang an email letting them know that my team was changing. I didn’t think it would be a huge problem. I (naively) thought that they’d just give me advice on how to navigate the new situation. But alas, Paul was not happy with the changes and told me it might put us in jeopardy of getting funded by them. My stomach sank! This seriously can’t be happening! I was only doing what I thought was right for my startup! Still, a couple hours later, I boarded a plane with my wife, dog, and all the necessities for the summer stuffed into a suitcase and flew to SFO and hoped for the best. Seven days isn’t nearly enough time to find a proper housing setup in SF, so we checked into an extended stay hotel where we would end up living for an entire month.
The next morning, Paul emailed and arranged a meeting with the entire YC team for us to discuss the future of Storenvy in YC. Since we didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have enough time to figure out something better, Janette and I took a $100 cab ride down to Mountain View. Walking into the YC office felt amazing. It felt a little bit like college for startups. I could just feel the energy and smarts oozing out of the place. Janette and I sat patiently waiting for Paul, Harj, Jessica, and the rest to finish their lunch before going in. I tried to fiddle with my phone, but really couldn’t focus on anything. What were they going to say?? My nerves were through the roof.
I don’t remember too many specifics of the meeting. I remember forcing myself to stay calm and trying to take the bad news with poise and maturity, but I felt like someone had died and I was trying to bring them back to life. I tried to convince Paul that I could rebuild the team and that the company still had all the same potential. His main objection was that it was just too much change and that they don’t like single-founder startups. Jessica just kept sympathetically saying “The timing is just really bad.” They were right, the timing was terrible, but it’s what I had to work with. So I kept selling them on myself. I think at one point I even confidently proclaimed “I am Y Combinator. This company was created for guys like me.” (Impressive, huh?) And for a minute there, it looked like they may change their minds. They asked us to step out of the room while they discussed. A couple minutes later, they called us back in and said they weren’t going to fund us but invited us to re-apply in the Winter. It felt like I’d just lost a patient on the operating table. I’m sure all the color had gone from my face. How do you get accepted to YC only to get kicked out on the day it starts?? I understood their decision, but I was devastated and completely freaked out.
I slumped back to the extended stay hotel that would be our home for a month and started firing off emails. I was hoping, PRAYING that someone in my network could tell me something to do to hopefully change Paul’s mind. But one day turned into five and the situation didn’t change. It was over.
Here I was in a city I didn’t know — no team, no funding, living out of a hotel room with no clear trajectory for my life and my startup. To go from King of the World to this in a week. Well, it sucked. Hard.
This is where a lot of people would have given up. But I’m extremely stubborn. When I really want something, I don’t know how to give up. Now, I definitely took a breather for a few days. I even had thoughts like “Hmm… maybe I should go visit my mom for a few weeks.” (Hi, mom! Sorry I didn’t visit!) But that quickly wore off. I had a few months worth of cash, and I decided I wasn’t going to give up until I absolutely had to.
I knew that if I still stood any chance of taking this company to the level that I knew it could go, I needed to stay in the Bay Area, so we started looking for a place in the city. We moved into a temporary furnished apartment in July and I started networking like crazy. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, constantly hanging out with cool San Francisco peeps to begin creating a network for myself out here. I’ve always been a pretty outgoing guy with a great network online, but now the network was starting to shape up in person too, hitting events, conferences, happy hours, parties, etc. My wife really stepped up her game and started functioning as a cofounder (she’s awesome, you should follow her: @janette). We got more serious than ever about our online community and spent a lot more time investing in Facebook and Twitter marketing, blogging, and viral giveaways. But we did it in a much more personal way than a lot of companies go about it. Since there were only a couple of us, it only made sense. We put our actual faces out there and let our community get to know us. We’d do weekly giveaways and make a funny video to announce the winner. People loved that. Here’s a thread where I linked up a crazy animated GIF of myself doing ninja moves in an alley. Our people really connect with us just being ourselves. And when you’re that transparent and real with your users, it’s just way more fun.
So after a few months, YC Demo Day had come and gone, and we were still moving right along. I could see that the website was showing month-over-month growth, so I could tell it was a good time to get back out there for Fund Raising Round 2. I could write several blog posts on the tips and tricks I used when raising the round, but suffice to say, it came together relatively seamlessly. Read the TechCrunch article. I had the entire round committed in about 4 weeks and decided to more than double the size of the round so more people could participate! In total, I raised more than $1.5M from A-list investors like Spark Capital (Tumblr, Twitter), First Round Capital (Path, Get Satisfaction, Mint), KP (Twitter, Groupon, Google - met through AngelList), and CRV (Twitter, Blippy - met through AngelList) and a list of outstanding angel investors. I’m thrilled to be surrounded by such a great group.
People have asked me how I did it. I had studied the process for almost a year, and I’d learned everything about “what not to do” through my first set of pitches and the YC meltdown. I used all the friendships I’d developed over the past 6 months to get fantastic introductions to investors. But I honestly believe the factor that got me where I am is the fact I had already failed and wasn’t afraid to fail again. Resilience is a quality investors love. You might even say that getting kicked out of Y Combinator actually helped me close my round. It seemed like a huge selling point for many of the investors that I’d already survived the emotional lows of “The Trough of Sorrow” while still managing to grow the Storenvy user base.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I have the utmost respect for Paul, Harj, Jessica and everyone affiliated with Y Combinator. It’s an amazing program that produces amazing companies. Paul made the right decision to not fund Storenvy, given the circumstances. I wish it had worked out, and I recommend that every single startup apply. But I hope people reading this realize that there can be life after a YC rejection.
It’s been an amazing year full of experiences I never knew to expect. A year ago, I had no idea I would ever live in San Francisco and now it feels like second nature. Over the holidays we moved all of our stuff out here, got a long-term lease right across from the Full House House (Alamo Square), and I ride my bike to our office in SOMA. It’s full-on Silicon Valley startup life. I’m living the dream and loving it!
The funny part is that I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily achieved much yet. I just feel like I’ve finally got the resources I need to get there. Now let’s get to work!
My friend @micah says that “a company is built on three things: Vision, Team, and Traction”. We have Vision and Traction and now I’m looking to build a great Team. If you feel like e-commerce is best built around community, if you think selling online is traditionally boring, stuffy, and too expensive, then I’d love to meet you – especially if you’re a UI designer or a Ruby hacker. You can read about the jobs on the Storenvy Jobs page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Here’s a quick tip. If your team sends out HTML emails, you probably know that it’s important to include an plain text version of the email as well for email clients and phones that don’t support HTML. But when testing emails before they go out, how do you preview the plaintext version of the email?
It’s easy on a Mac using Mail.app. Just hit ⌘-Option-[ and ⌘-Option-] to toggle between the HTML and text-only versions of your email. This is also fun for spying on how other HTML newsletters are converting their content to plaintext.
I’ve been accused of finding humor in places that others don’t. Laughing at things that don’t immediately seem laughable. In light of that, I LOVed this short essay. It has a sort of John Hodgman on This American Life quality. Definitely worth a read.
There is a horse in the Apple Store and no one sees it but me.
I think, “Why?” What is the villain here that blinds all of these people to this situation? Am I nuts for thinking this is exceptional? Does anyone else see this? Did I accidentally drop acid and not realize? I must take a photo….
I’ve submitted a panel idea for voting on the topic I know best — the future of e-commerce. I’ve attended SXSW 4 times, but this would be my first time speaking. Please take a second to log in and vote for my panel on the official South By Southwest Panel Picker here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/7998
Click here to vote now!
The Future of E-Commerce (Spoiler Alert: It’s Social)
Traditional e-commerce is so Web 1.0. Social shopping, group buying, mobile payments, and more are changing how we shop and sell online. Listen to innovators in the social e-commerce space discuss how they are utilizing the power of the social web to cultivate buying communities around the world.
What is social shopping and why is it important?
What role does the social graph play in our buying decisions?
Which e-commerce platforms are innovating in the social shopping space, and how?
How can shopping online be more like shopping in real life?
How will people be shopping and selling online in 2015?
Shannon Schlappi also asked me to participate in his panel at SXSW Music which would be AWESOME. I’ve always been meaning to hit up the Music side of the festival, but haven’t had the chance. Vote for “Socially Awkward: The Art of Social Media Transparency” here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/8037
Have you ever wanted to log the email addresses of users who trigger exceptions in your application? You can add whatever information you like using Exceptional.context - for example, you could include the following in a rails before_filter.
I’d been asking for this feature from my friends over at Contrast for a while, and they finally delivered. I’d like to get even more creative with this than the example. I want to save lots of stuff happening in the environment when the exception occurs such as PayPal API calls and responses. If I come up with anything interesting, I’ll post it.