Archive for July, 2006

Xobni presents at MIT Enterprise Forum

Matt and I recently presented at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge.

This was a great event organized by Alan Gordon of Harvard’s Office of Technology Development.  If you get a chance to present, we highly recommend it.  We received good feedback on our presentation and business plan from local venture firm partners, entrepreneurs, business owners, and lawyers.

We discovered that there’s a high variance in what an audience wants to see in a presentation.  The rule goes something like: the variance is proportional to the age difference between us and the median audience member, squared.

Most of our previous experience was presenting to like minded tech guys.  Surprise, surprise – a CPA is interested in much different things.  What we thought was a business heavy presentation didn’t begin to touch on financial projections, expected gross margins, or sales cycle forecasts.  The truth is we believe in focusing on killer technology, and following along with solid financials.  It appears it is time to follow along.

Release Early or Release Big?

There is a debate in the start-up world regarding two theories of releasing software: release early or release big. Aaron Swartz wrote an insightful blog post on this topic relating to his experience with Infogami. Paul Graham also has thoughts on this topic.

The value of releasing early is in the user feedback you receive. Users will tell you what is wrong, what is right, and what new directions you should move in. This feedback is a great way to make sure you are obeying the first law of business: making something people want.

The other school of thought asserts that a product must be mature before launching. They must enamor the users of techcruch, reddit, digg, and all other early adopters. If your first release isn’t compelling, these early adopters will not stick around, and you will have lost your chance at catching the updraft of the viral internet community.

We are exploring this issue because it has recently been debated among our peers, in response to the launch of Pollground. In a recent blog post we promised that as each YCombinator funded company launches we will dedicate a blog post to their idea and experience. Here are our thoughts on Pollground.

pollground site Pollground is an online survey site where you can post questions anonymously and get feedback and suggestions from their visitors. The site was started by two young entrepreneurs. One is an upcoming sophomore, the other an upcoming junior.

The idea of Pollground: the wisdom of a crowd is wiser than the wisdom of one.

There is nothing to protect in terms of IP with their offering. At least not yet. Their lockout to competitors will be their user base. They need to develop a large following, quickly, so that Pollground becomes the defacto site for getting your personal questions answered by a crowd. The business plan has not been divulged but I would venture a guess at two possible models.

  1. They could license the software/data to market researchers
  2. They could run advertising. It is often said that it is easy to find a business model when you have 100,000 users. The hard part is getting 100,000 users.

They were the first YCombinator funded company to release their product publicly. They received some derision for the underdeveloped functionality of their site. Many critics neglected to consider that this site was put together is less than one month! The question remains – Should they have launched or should they have waited?

After reading their blog I’m convinced it was good for them to launch. They have received a lot of feedback and are quickly adapting the site to their users’ desires. They might have sacrificed a larger sustained user base for these early suggestions, but now they are doing the most important thing in business: making something people want.

Here at Xobni, we have grappled with this same debate. Release early with limited functionality, or release later with advanced functionality and limited response to user feedback. Our product does not rely on having a critical mass, unlike many web-based companies, so we have chosen a third option. We have decided to release early to a few friends, advisors, and potential customers.

This limited release has allowed us to fix bugs, learn how people are using our product, and incorporate suggestions into our public release. Now we know we are making something people want, the only question that remains – will we reach escape velocity? We hope so.

Xobni in Mass High Tech

We were interviewed by Chris Calnan from Mass High Tech business journal.  Check out the article

Two corrections of note:

  1. Adam is from Texas, not California and I am from Pennsylvania, not Maryland
  2. Guardian and Sherpa Software do operate in the email space but they are addressing different problems with email.

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About Xobni

Xobni’s contact management products offer lightning fast email search and organization of your inbox, as well as an innovative and comprehensive address book for the mobile device.


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