Startup School 2008 – Saturday & Sunday

I woke up at 6 AM to get ready and head over to Startup School. It was further away than I thought, and the Google map just showed the driving route, and without knowing where fences/etc… were on campus, I chickened out and took a cab to the building that Startup School was in. I ended up there a little early, around 7:40, but met up with some Seattle folks who were also there. Notably, Mr. Tom Music, the creator of Haikoo.org, a collaborative haiku site. Tom is a great guy, and while I totally envy his name, it’s impossible to hate him:) We talked and milled around with some other folks until they finally let us into the auditorium around 8:45.

I sat down and pulled out my laptop. Sometime between when I packed it up that morning after checking my e-mail and looking at Google Maps, the screen had decided to die. I strongly suspect it is a bad logic board, as Russell had the same issue. Worst. Possible. Timing. There I was, at this big tech conference, with a useless laptop. Of course I hadn’t brought any paper to take notes on, so I was out of luck.

The talks themselves were great! Really amazing. People covered many facets of the tech startup world from law, to investment/VCs, to raw tech, to business plans, etc…

You can watch the talks here:

http://www.omnisio.com/startupschool08

And I strongly recommend spending the time. There are great chunks of information in there, and they’re all pretty good speakers.

My personal favorite talks were Paul Graham, Jack Sheridan, and DHH. While I don’t use Rails, and am pretty far from a DHH worshipper, I have to say that I LOVED his talk. It stood in stark contrast to the rest of the talks which were often focused on the increasing common approach of building a company/site with the sole goal of being acquired. Sure, an M&A event is great, but it’s also really unlikely. The road there, if you take outside investment, can be stressful and partially out of your control (for better or worse). And if you miss, you have nothing. Personally I really prefer the approach of having a viable business plan and revenue model for your business. If you do get acquired down the road, great, but if not, you’re still making money. Maybe it stays your passion, or maybe it becomes a solid revenue stream freeing you to explore what you really want (as Tim Ferriss discusses), or maybe it dies, but regardless, you’ll come out in the black and having learned a lot.

There’s lots more I could say about the talks, but it’s probably best if you just watch them for yourself. I’ll probably bring up my thoughts and reactions to them in later postings here.

After the talks were over, Tom Music, Alex Barbara, and I walked back to the Westin. I rested for about 30 minutes, and then the three of us walked to the Super Happy Dev House event that night. I really mourned my useless laptop at this point. It was rough not being able to use it for notes and the like during the talks, but to be in a building filled with people hacking away on their projects and having no computer was rough.

I did talk with some new folks, which was great, and I saw the OLPC XO laptop in person for the first time which was pretty cool. Eventually nine of us walked up the street and got some great Thai food. Afterward some headed to a RoR meetup, others went back to the SHDH, and I headed back to the hotel. I crashed around 11 PM.

— Sunday —-

I woke up at 6 AM, again, packed, checked out, and was driven back up to SFO. Virgin America was great again on the way home. I was driven home, unpacked, drove over to Russell’s to borrow his extra laptop to use for work, and spent the rest of the day doing post-trip stuff (laundry, moving stuff over to the loaner laptop, etc…).

All in all it was great trip, and even with the laptop issues it was really valuable and I learned a ton. I also met a lot of new people who are all smart, motivated, tech focused, and good people.

Startup School 2008 – Friday

I’m splitting my post about my trip to Startup School this past weekend into two posts, as there is too much to put in one post.

On Friday afternoon, my wife drove me to the airport, where I barely caught my Virgin America flight to San Francisco. This was my first flight on Virgin America, although I had flown Virgin to London a couple of times before. I had booked first class seats for the trip, as they were barely more expensive than coach. The Virgin America First Class is AMAZING. It’s the nicest First Class I’ve been in, with the possible exception of when I flew to Australia on Quantas. The seats were huge, comfortable, and I could stick my legs out straight in front of me, and there was still 8-12 inches between my pointed toes and the seat in front of me. The chair itself is power adjusted, like my car, which is nice, and has a built-in massager. There is an overhead reading light, and a bendable LED snake-light that comes from behind the seat for more focused light.

The Virgin RED entertainment system is very impressive. There are large touch screens which fold out of the arm rest and allow you to browse an extensive list of live TV channels, on demand TV shows, on demand Movies, a large MP3 library (including some great electronic music I wasn’t expecting to find there), games, and more. On the way down I listened to some of the music, and on the way back I watched an anime movie.

The food was excellent. They offer a collection of tapas-like appetizers which were very good. For my dinner I choose a grilled vegetable ravioli with pesto sauce which was absolutely restaurant quality. Service overall was great.

I arrived into SFO on-time and was met in the terminal by my driver, who whisked me down to Palo Alto to the Westin I was staying at. The hotel was nice, and my room was great. However, they didn’t offer shirt pressing or emergency laundry services. Also, no ATM in the hotel, and if you want a cab you have to walk over to the next hotel, their sister hotel the Sheraton, and try to snag one there instead. I unpacked, and then grabbed a cab to head to the pre-StartupSchool meet-and-greet at Y Combinator that evening. I arrived around 8:30, and the place was PACKED. There were hundreds of people there, all talking to each other, which filled the main room with a surreal buzz.

I grabbed a bottle of water, and made myself a name-tag. I didn’t know a soul there, and I’m naturally somewhat introverted at large noisy gatherings like this, so I was a little worried. However, the great thing about this event was that virtually everyone else there A) was in tech, and B) didn’t know many if any other people there. When everyone has a common ground (tech), it’s easy to meet new people and join conversations. “Oh these people are talking about relative strengths and weaknesses of common databases? I can totally contribute to that conversation!”

I talked with a ton of people and must have given out about 40 business cards. I eventually ran into Paul Tyma, the owner of Mailinator, another temporary e-mail service, similar to 10MinuteMail. Mailinator was around first, so I’m the knock-off:) I actually never even looked to see if any sites like that existed before I built 10MinuteMail. We considered having a knife fight to settle which site was better, but opted instead to hang out and chat for a while.

Some other people/sites I met that night include David Parkinson and his EmptySpaceAds, Tim Robertson, Travis Cross and his OfficeTone, and many many more. Everyone I met was great.

As the last CalTrain left, and the crowd had thinned out considerably, I ended up heading over to Google with Paul, who took me on a late-night tour of the Google HQ.

Google is amazing. Very cool visualization tools, great digs, kitchens and food everywhere, laundry, mailing, etc… Every aspect of the building just screamed “We take care of our employees”. I know there’s lots of cynicism about many of those perks being there to “keep people working longer”, but frankly the whole feel is about making the employee’s life easier and less stressful, not trying to grind them up. All the free stuff is great, and of course every company needs a ball pit. This tour was definitely a highlight of my trip.

I finally made it back to my hotel, and fell asleep around 1 AM.

Y Combinator Startup School

I have been accepted to the 2008 Y Combinator Startup School. This is a one day event at Stanford University for tech startup focused individuals. There are a number of speakers including Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and DHH (Ruby on Rails), and many others.

While the listening to what the speakers have to say should be great, I am really looking forward to meeting a group of like-minded tech focused, motivated, entrepreneurs. Spending time with hard-working motivated people tends to make me feel more motivated and energized. Talking to tech folks about their ideas, and your ideas, helps everyone come up with new ideas, new solutions, and new approaches. That’s one limitation of working at home, is it is harder to bounce ideas off of other tech folks. IM helps, but often what you need is easy conversation, whiteboards, etc…

If you’ll be attending, shoot me an e-mail and we can meet up.