If you read this blog, or subscribe to it by RSS, you should know that I am now moving my blog to Medium.
I like Medium a lot, and even though it’s quite limited in features right now, I really love how their team is approaching stuff, how they are taking feedback, and what they are planning to build.
So from now on, if you subscribe to this through RSS, or if you end up here for any reason, you can find my thoughts at https://medium.com/octavians-thoughts.
A lot of people were excited at some point about the idea of twitter becoming a platform, a sort of short messaging infrastructure of the digital world, in which we’re all connected and we use it’s simplicity to build magical products that slice, dice, and wrap it’s content in many different ways.
I wonder if the reason why this vision failed is because of twitter’s duality as both a platform and a product. For it to be used as a platform for this other differently wrapped content the main product would have to change fundamentally too, otherwise the noise of tweets that would be intended for other products would not fit into a plain twitter client.
And with twitter focusing more and more on the product, it’s days as a platform for other ‘stuff’ are definitely gone.
Which raises the question: does this leave room for somebody else to replace the twitter-as-a-platform dream? Do we need some common, open, public, simple, short messaging infrastructure for the web?
Because lately I have been thinking about Branch quite a lot, I found Ev’s perspective on publishing platforms quite interesting.
His view was that publishing platforms are actually marketplaces that bring together both producers and consumers. For example Blogger is a great tool for producers, but not for people consuming the content – content that is consumed somewhere else.
As opposed to Blogger, platforms like twitter, facebook, tumblr, have a consumption experience built in mainly through the act of following which gives an explicit potential audience. That’s the reason why they became more successful than Blogger, because people not only published content, but it was easier for them to find and understand an audience that was now explicit, it was a better more tight marketplace.
Because of that, he also looks at Medium as a marketplace, responsible not only to build the publisher side (how he did with Blogger), but also figuring out a consumption experience.
How is it different than all the others? Because Medium is trying to skew the content towards quality, away from the noisy real time aspect that characterizes twitter, and towards a consumption experience focused on discovery of high quality and mostly timeless content.
One of the lessons I think I finally learned lately is that a startup is much more than just a product.
I think I finally understand that a business seems to be a puzzle in which the product itself is only one component.
Probably equally important to the success of your business seem to be
- the network you build, which allows you to meet people that might prove really important to your success. I can see this first hand while meeting with people, which in turn introduce me to other cool people, which eventually end up serendipitously making a huge difference in how I build my business.
- the pitch and your story because that’s the way you communicate to your users, investors and potential hires. If you’ve ever tried to convince somebody of an idea you’ll understand this. The difference between a bad pitch and a good pitch is amazing, and it’s so clear if you’ve communicated it right in how the other person responds.
- your marketing and user acquisition strategy, because without it nobody will learn about your awesome product. I guess just like your pitch is your investor and support acquisition strategy, not being able to have the right story and pitch for your users will mean you will not convince anybody to use what you’re building.
I know I’m not saying anything new. The internet is full of such advice from people way smarter than I am.
It’s just that, as an engineer, these lessons are hard to learn, and I’m happy I finally learned them.
I am always amazed by how, with every new Apple product, my first thought is “wow, this is the sexiest notebook/phone/mp3player ever”. And then, with their next product, they make something even sexier!
I’ve had this thought when I looked at the most recent MacBook Pro. I have just the previous generation and after seeing the new one being thinner, with retina display, and simply slicker, I now look at mine and think “damn, this laptop is not all that sexy after all”.
It blows my mind that they manage to do this with almost each and every product launch.
I’m not easily impressed, and I must say that being in TechStars for the past two and a half months has been amazing.
As I came in, my expectations were that I would build up a network. I thought that I will have a chance to meet some of the amazing mentors that come to the NYC office and start building a relationship with them.
I was wrong and my expectations were entirely unrealistic, but what I got out of it was so much more than I was expecting.
I spent three months in the same room with some amazing people
The companies that are part of the class were carefully selected from 1400 applications. The people that formed these companies are all top notch in their own ways, so being able to get their feedback, see how they look at the world, iterate with them on my own product ideas and my own thoughts has been an unrepeatable experience.
There is no way outside of this setup to be around so many good people for so long, all startup focused and knee deep in the every day reality of building a company.
Helping out companies means stronger relationships
It’s one thing to build a relationship with somebody through casual encounters, and another thing to spend a few weeks side by side helping them out, actually delivering work, making useful contributions, letting them get to know you.
The quality of the relationships that I’ve built out of these three months exceeds the quality of any other business relationships I’ve had, and I think I’ve even gotten a few friends out of this too.
Being able to intercept David and Adam whenever I could: priceless
Priceless doesn’t make this perk justice. You try to get office hours with these two and then we’ll talk. To be able to stalk them around the office and ask them for opinions is a perk that makes me want to be a hackstar in the next TechStars class too. And the one after that.
Optimized for serendipity
Lots of people come by the TechStars office. LOTS. And that means that you’re really exposing yourself to a lot of serendipity. That’s how I found one investor that I really connected to, and that’s how I built a relationship with one of the mentors of one of my favorite companies.
Being around, hanging out, paying attention and making yourself available can end up with some pretty cool connections.
I would do this all over again with no hesitation whatsoever.
I guess it really depends on what you’re looking for, but for me, a startup founder in the very very early stage, looking to iterate on his ideas and create some relationships, it’s been the best thing that I could have done.
This weekend I participated at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon and I had a really good time.
With two friends I’ve built a second-screen iPad app for watching Game Of Thrones.
The app shows a live stream of tweets connected to the show, and as you pick any of the tweets that catch your attention it shows you context around the subjects in that tweet. The context is built entirely from twitter content, through semantic analysis, trying to understand what the tweets are about and show you what’s interesting, not top stuff.
I’m very happy with what we’ve built, but I’m only somewhat happy with how we presented it. We didn’t win anything.
So what have I learned from this?
- That the organization was flawless. Starting at noon is an amazing idea for a hackathon, having snacks and sodas also good idea, endless coffee very useful.
- That when I present stuff, I need to make it more remarkable. I should have concentrated on one message that I wanted to send and really nailed that one in a tweetable line.
- I should have had contact information large on the screen. I’ve shown a demo, I’ve said who I was, but I realize that if anybody in the crowd is interested in finding more, I didn’t help them at all.
- That I need to be bolder. Doing well is not good enough. You have to either be amazing, or be amazingly bold so that you are remarkable. Being remarkable in a stream of 90 other demos is important. Being silly remarkable is better than been good and average.
- That I should introduce myself as “Octavian” more often. It seems to get me coverage like this:
“The royally-named Octavian (or Vivi, as he’s also known) and his teammates are working on a second-screen app that provides users with additional context as they watch Game of Thrones, which is probably one of the geekier endeavors we’ve spotted today. Need to figure out why that guy just got stabbed? Or some lesser-known facet of some clan’s convoluted family tree? Keep your eyes peeled on this guy. Incidentally, he is totally in love with the Khalisi (because of the dragons, not the other thing) and his Twitter is Okvivi.”
It was really good to be up on a stage in front of a few hundred people presenting something in 60 seconds. It didn’t do a great job at it, but I didn’t totally suck either.
Next time will be better, now that I’ve learned a few lessons.
This is a short draft post, I want to just throw an idea out there.
The internet went so far through a few phases: an academic one. Then a big push for raw creation of content, mostly transcribed from the real world. We went through the age of the portal, the age of the search engine. Went through a bubble in 2001, then the internet went through an e-commerce phase.
All of these are now part of what the internet is, and each new age in a way is a layer on top of the previous ones, some layers happen in parallel and overlap, they are not mutually exclusive.
I feel that nowadays we are in the age of curation, where more and more users are participating into this giant experiment, like never before, discovering that they can express themselves and whom their are through curating the internet for others.
The other big layer, happening at the same time, is probably social where we are learning that we can also express our lives online for others to see, at their convenience.
I wonder what age will be coming next, what will be the next layer that will build on top of all the ones before it? I have opinions, of course. But I have to let my thoughts sit on it for a bit more.
I spend a lot of time talking to Google Engineers and I don’t have to tell you, they are a skeptical bunch of people.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain why would somebody use Facebook and Twitter fundamentally?
Why do they matter and what is their value to me, as a person?
I feel that social networks allow me, the individual, to grab a tiny piece of mind share in the eyes of people that follow me, friend me, circle me or whatever.
I get to talk at them for a few seconds every other day, and that’s really hard to do otherwise.
And not only do I have their attention, but I also have control over the image that I shape in these few seconds. I can be a cool person that travels, a party animal, a whimsical witty dude, somebody passionate about work… I have absolute control over who I am projecting in your mind.
As a bonus I get likes, retweets, comments, and they are all there to tell me whether I succeeded or not. They are there to allow me to optimize my message, to evolve it.
Yes, there are people that abuse this and write about what they had for breakfast. You know, just like in real life, when you have that annoying friend that won’t shut up. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use these tools in a way that’s useful to you.