Archive for March, 2007

Founders At Work

It is about time that we write a blog article about the best startup book written this year – Founders at Work.  (Disclaimer: the author, Jessica Livingston, is a friend of ours and a general partner at one of our investors, Y Combinator).

This book peers into the back stories behind many of the greatest startups of the last 30 years including Apple, PayPal, Excite, Yahoo! and more.  The book is a collection of interviews with the founders of these companies.  These interviews are particularly valuable to founders of new startups.  They were to us.  The interviews discuss situations we have already seen, circumstances we currently find ourselves in, and challenges we will face in the future.

One challenge Adam and I are currently working through is the process of hiring top notch developers.  When you are trying to attract top talent, hiring isn’t an appropriate word; it is recruiting.  A good lesson about recruiting or any negotiation is taken from Jessica’s interview with Joe Kraus.

I see way too many people give up in the startup world.  They just give up too easily. Recruiting is a classic example.  I don’t ever hear the first “no” that somebody says.  When they say, “No, I’m not interested,” I think, “Now it’s a real challenge.  Now’s when the tough part begins.” It’s hard to identify talent, but great people don’t look for jobs, great people are sold on jobs.  And if they’re sold they’re going to say no at first.  You have to win them over.

Founders at Work also has an interview with James Hong, the founder of  I hung out with Hong at a SFBeta, a local web meetup, last week.  I told him that I thought his interview was the most raw.  Initially he wasn’t sure if I had complemented or criticized him, but after a bit of explanation he said “thanks.”  I told him that I loved the story of how they solved their hosting problems by swinging a deal with Rackspace.  He simply cold called the head of business development and said, “I know you guys want to go public and it’s great to get your name out.  Your whole value proposition is that you can help companies scale fast by outsourcing.  If you can help us, I have all these upcoming interviews, and we can be a poster child for you.”  He got all the scalability he needed out of that deal.

Our friends at are having bandwidth problems on the mobile phone EVDO data network.  They are spending tons of money streaming video over multiple EVDO cards.  I told them the story of James’s deal with Rackspace and how I think that they should be the poster child for one of the large wireless carriers  in exchange for some free bandwidth.  Founders at Work is full of useful parables for the startup entrepreneur.

Silicon Valley is a tightly knit community.  Of the thirty founders interviewed for this book, we have been lucky enough to have already met nine of them.  We are lucky to have relationships with mentors who keep us headed in the right direction.

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