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The only kind of software you can build without studying users is the sort for which you are the typical user. For us the test of whether a startup understood this was whether they had Aeron chairs. We could bear any amount of nerdiness if someone was truly smart. Get funded by Y Combinator.
What it amounts to, economically, is compressing your working life into the smallest possible space. This was slightly embarrassing at the time, but in retrospect the grad-studenty atmosphere of our office was another of those things we did right without knowing it. Google understands a few other things most Web companies still don't.
Like most startups, ours began with a group of friends, and it was through personal contacts that we got most of the people we hired. By the end of it, we were so far ahead of our competitors that they never had a hope of catching up. But in fact that place was the perfect space for a startup.
In theory, that could have meant someone else owned big chunks of our software. So the acquisition came to a screeching halt while we tried to sort this out. Another way to say that is, if you try to start the kind of startup that has to be a big consumer brand, the odds against succeeding are steeper.
And when business people try to hire hackers, they can't tell which ones are good. So mainly what a startup buys you is time. Whereas when you're starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.
One of the best places to do this was at trade shows. It's more straightforward just to make the food good.
But if you have a number of people who are expected to contribute in varying degrees, arranging the proportions of stock can be hard. To be self-funding, you have to start as a consulting company, and it's hard to switch from that to a product company. But I decided not to, because that's implicit in making something customers want.
The other reason to spend money slowly is to encourage a culture of cheapness. An idea for a startup, however, is only a beginning. Both statements were true, but that's not the way to convince people.
It was also the value of our ideas, which turned out to be right, and of all the future work we'd do, which turned out to be a lot. But that approach is very risky. If there are seven or eight, disagreements can linger and harden into factions.
It's true that a restaurant with mediocre food can sometimes attract customers through gimmicks. All I can say is, try hard to do it right.
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