Archive for August, 2006

Xobni is Looking For Hackers!

Xobni is hiring.

Who are we looking for?

We are looking for a top-quality hacker. For example:

  • You can write a simple HTTP server in your sleep.
  • You can explain how a Public Key Infrastructure system works, including pieces like a Certificate Authority and Certificate Revocation List.
  • You know offhand how long a disk seek takes.
  • You can implement a rudimentary but robust file system in a week.
  • You have written multithreaded programs.

All of these examples are real; we have used all of these skills thus far.

The following are pluses:

  • Proficiency in C# or Java
  • Familiarity with the Windows API
  • Experience building something people use
  • Experience with product development workflow (testing with VMware, build scripts, source control, and so on)

We are looking for someone with the kind of energy you would expect in a founder.

We prefer full time recruits, but will consider exceptional students who want to take a year off from school. We are also willing to bring on the right students in part time roles.

Reward

The economic compensation includes a small salary and a large equity stake.

Aside from the possibility of becoming independently wealthy, we are offering a tremendous learning experience. We are building a software business; the person we hire will get exposure to the entire software process and the entire business process.

On the business side we are currently struggling with many questions. How much money should we raise, and when? What products should we develop? Which customers should we go after?

The software side is equally broad. We maintain a nightly build system, a couple of servers, and a whiteboard full of ideas.

Early hires will get exposure to all of these things.

We also provide a Yahoo! Music Unlimited subscription to all employees.

Where Xobni Stands

Xobni is a four month old software company.

Our software has grown quickly; several private beta testers are using it. We have gone from

static void Main(String[] args) { }

to a software product that people are excited about. Here are some quotes from beta users.

“Great work so far”
“[Xobni Analytics] is really cool.”
“I’ve discovered things I never knew about my email.”

Exciting things are also going on under the hood. We build software that works with Microsoft Outlook, but we have invested into building our own abstractions on top of Outlook. I haven’t touched an Outlook API in the past week. This means that we can work from a higher level, so we can write software faster. Our system also allows us to access data over 100x faster than directly from Outlook.

Although our efforts are focused on helping people understand how they use email, only one third of our code is related to that product. The other two thirds of the code is our framework that we will leverage in all of our products.

So we have made significant investments into our code. We could probably license our framework on top of Outlook for a couple thousand dollars per developer seat. Instead, we are reserving it as a tremendous competitive advantage.

On the business side of the house, we have been busy talking with people and winning mindshare in the community. Aside from our initial funding from Y Combinator, we are in the middle of our next round. It is going well so far. We can give more details when talking to serious candidates.

We have also been talking to prospective customers about our enterprise offering. We have relationships with companies who are ready to try out our software when it becomes available.

Environment

Our goal is to find someone that we wouldn’t mind spending a couple thousand hours with.

Matt and I love what we are doing. We are doing something big, and having fun doing it.

But startup life can be stressful. Deals fall through, you miss release dates, and your ice cream supply runs out approaches zero.

The bumps on the road are significant, but so are our good natures. Matt and I maintain high morale in many ways. We eat good food, have good conversations, and enjoy the occasional break to do things like going to a friend’s lake house in New Hampshire.

Interested?

Are you interested? If so, the next step is to send us your resume and a description of something you’ve built.

Do you know of anyone who might be interested? Please put us in touch or send them a link to this posting.

The Power of Blogs: Likebetter.com

We promised a few weeks ago to dedicate a blog post to the launch of other YCombinator funded companies. Last week Likebetter.com launched. The makers are good friends of Xobni. Their CEO, Bryan Kennedy, was our roommate for the month of May.

It is important to learn from the experiences of other companies. What did we learn from Likebetter? The marketing power of blogs, Digg, Reddit, and Stumbledupon is astounding. But that attention can bring traffic levels that few sites are prepared for.

Likebetter.com is a simple idea with powerful implications. They show two pictures side by side, and you click the one you “like better.” Viewing pictures this way is addicting. Five percent of their visitors remained on the site for one hour or more.

The web site uses your image choices to make predictions about you: guy or girl, age, neat or messy, and over 25 other characteristics. Brian Hawthorne their CTO has implemented a machine learning algorithm that makes these predictions.

These predictions are more than just cool computer intelligence; they are market research! Likebetter has found a really smart way to identify the demographics of their audience. Marketers and advertisers love this stuff!

Why is their method so unique and successful? Often web sites try to determine a user’s demographic by asking a series of questions. How boring. Often people don’t even enter accurate info. Contrast that with what the brain on likebetter does.

Even if the brain guesses wrong, you are compelled to correct it. This is a brilliant way to elicit demographic data from your users without burdening them with a survey.

Likebetter’s overwhelming popularity on Digg drove significant traffic to the site; to the tune of 10,000 visitors an hour. This traffic overloaded their web site. They shared some valuable discoveries with us.

1. Google Analytics is Slow – The urchin javascript is slow. Use server logs for traffic details when you get a big spike in visitors.

2. Ruby on Rails is Slow – Their old site used PHP, time tested and fast. The same couldn’t be said for Ruby. They had to kill some of their features to simply load images.

3. Use caches instead of always hitting the database – When your site is serving a few thousand images a day requesting images from a database is acceptable. When you serve 100,000 images in a day, other techniques need to be applied.

4. Bloggers are your friends – We had a pretty good idea about this one. The marketing world has changed. Bloggers WILL drive more traffic to your site than a mention in Time Magazine.

One of the best things to be said about being involved with YCombinator is the support of a community. I can’t stress enough how cool it is to make friends with 25 people with a similar love of technology and business. We share our successes, our failures, and help each other whenever we can. Getting involved with YC was one of the best decisions Xobni made.

Paul Graham Units: How to treat investment capital

Take a moment to step into the shoes of an early stage startup founder. Adam is wearing a pair of two year old New Balance sneakers and I’m wearing a pair of J-Crew sandals which are older than Google Corporation. matt sandals

Humble visualizations aside, assume that someone invests $10,000 in your company at a $500,000 valuation*. At this valuation, every small expenditure of capital can be viewed as a significant depletion of your equity position in the company. I am still wearing these old sandals not only for the nostalgic value of having walked on 4 continents in them, but a new $40 pair is equivalent to 0.04% of our fictitious valuation. If you choose to live the startup life you will start to see the world the way we do.

A $20 meal is 0.02% of your company. Flowers for your now neglected girlfriend/soon-to-be ex-girlfriend: 0.01% of your company. When your investor is Paul Graham, you begin to evaluate every purchase in Paul Graham Units (PGUs).

In the land of Xobni the currency of choice is the PGU. The exchange rate: 1 PGU = 0.01% of the company.

In the early stages of a company, money is expensive. So expensive that you are spending 100 PGUs on your rent! For comparison, 0.1% of Microsoft (100 BGUs) will buy a small county in Washington and an air force to defend it.

allen's plane
The lesson to early stage entrepreneurs: live cheaply!

Seed investment is intended to allow your idea to break the surface of the topsoil. At some point you must move from Paul Graham Units to the more heavenly kind.

Angel money is expensive too, but it gets cheaper with time. It is like a dozen bagels at the corner bakery. Early in the day they are expensive. As the day progresses the relative value of bagels and money shifts. At the end of the day you can negotiate a much better deal. At 4 pm the other day I bought a dozen bagels for the price of six.

Raising money takes a lot of time and effort. Conventional wisdom says to raise enough money to allow your company to operate for 12-18 months. This adds another moving piece to the myriad of concerns on the mind of an entrepreneur. The other concerns being: customers, product development, hiring, cash flow projections, and so on.

How do you choose what to focus on? We say that for each minute we spend thinking about investors, presentations, or food we should spend an hour thinking about customers.

At this stage of the company we are talking to potential customers about Xobni Analytics nearly every day. Nothing makes an investor sit up and listen like the talk of paying customers. We think that actively addressing customers’ needs will be our secret to facing any other challenges we may encounter.

 

*All numbers in this article are hypothetical except the purchase price of my sandals which cost $40 and Paul Allen’s air force which costs $40,000,000.


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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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