My first company, Feld Technologies, didn’t have contracts. Instead, we had a one page PSA (professional services agreement) that spelled out in English that we charged $X per hour, would do our best, and our invoices were due upon receipt. We never had a single legal issue with a client, although we had a number of tense moments which we almost always solved successful by “doing our best.” There were a few cases where this wasn’t enough and our clients effectively fired us, but we always made it easy for them to walk away if they weren’t happy.
Since I started investing in 1994, I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of an endless number of contracts which often include SLA’s. I’ve seen every type of agreement you could imagine and at this point have become completely numb to the dance of a buyer and a seller of any type of product or service trying to get to a legal contract. As I’m sure many of you have experienced, the business terms are simple to work out, especially between rational people that want to work together. But once things get into “legal” or “procurement”, it’s a whole different issue.
The other day, I was on an email thread between Gnip and a new customer. Gnip recently launched v2.0 of their service and it rocks. They’ve held off on adding new customers for the past few months as they relaunched their service and are now starting to add new customers at a steady clip. In the email thread, they quickly agreed on pricing with the customer who then asked “what’s your SLA.” Eric Marcoullier, Gnip’s CEO, responded with the following:
Our SLA is fairly simple (and I’m happy to write it up for you in more official language):
- We can’t control data publishers’ availability, but if they’re up, we’ll get the data.
- Machines and clouds fail, even on EC2. If Amazon is up, we’ll get the data.
- The best way to guard against machine failure is duplicate hardware. We offer highly discounted backup boxes.
- You’ll always have my cell phone number — if our software breaks, you can call me 24/7 and I’ll get my team on it.
- If we aren’t living up to our end of the relationship, you can cancel the contract with no penalty.
The customer’s response was “You are class act! I wish all legal issues can be handled like this.”
Now, Gnip is young so Eric is in a position where he can still talk to any customer that wants to talk directly to him. However, as they grow, I expect this tone will exist throughout the business since it’s Eric’s style. Basically, keep it simple, be clear about what you will do, be available, and take responsibility for your service. I’m sure more formal contracts will find their way into the business but wouldn’t the world be a better place if more business was conducted this way?
A few days ago I wrote about the launch of the MIT Entrepreneurship Review. I neglected however to mention their actual launch party, which is happening on April 7th from 7pm – 10pm at the MIT Media Lab. The MITER (er- MIT Entrepreneurship Review) party will gather together a bunch of folks in the MIT and Boston entrepreneurial ecosystems. It looks like it should be a fun event – email Jen Novak if you want an invitation.
While everyone is talking about health care, let’s not forget our friend the Startup Visa. Two good articles appeared this morning.
Also, if you missed Thomas Friedman’s awesome OpEd this weekend titled America’s Real Dream Team – I encourage you to go take a look.
The Boulder Fiber Forever project to bring Google’s 1 Gbps fiber network to Boulder is having a flash mob at the Walnut Brewery (1123 Walnut Street) today (Sunday) from 3pm – 6pm. Come join us, but first go to Boulderfiber.com and add your support for the effort. Then, head over the the Walnut Brewery between 3pm and 6pm, mention Boulderfiber, and get pints of some of the best beer in Boulder for $2.25.
I’m running to town from Eldo today and should be there around 5pm. I’ll see you there.
I just read Rework, the new book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals. It’s fantastic. If you are starting a business, or thinking about starting a business, or running a business, or breathing air, this is a book you should read.
There are an endless array of “startup books” to choose from. Most suck. Many are ego trips for successful entrepreneurs. Others are self-help books from entrepreneurs that haven’t been successful, but are trying to be successful as entrepreneurial self-help book writers. Very few are useful, authentic, or powerful.
Rework nails it on every dimension. I was annoyed during the first chapter since the book started out with the typical “bootstrap your business rather than raise money from clueless investors” screed that Fried is famous for. While I strongly agree that is one way (my first company was started with $10 and that was all the money we ever raised), it’s not the only way and I get tired of hearing polarizing rhetoric around this.
It turns out that was Fried and Heinemeier’s way of getting my attention. Rather than passively rolling into chapter two, I was fired up. And then, in the style of Gary Vaynerchuk, they Crushed It (another awesome book, BTW). I was glued to my couch for the next hour as I pounded my way through the book. It’s a collection of short essays and cool drawings built around one liners that everyone running a business should ponder. As a bonus, they have a great essay on four letter words and why “fuck” and “shit” are not ones you should be concerned with. And, in a demonstration of their mad skills, they have an awesome attack ad for the book.
I spent most of today grinding through another draft of “The Tao of TechStars”, a book that David Cohen and I are writing based on lessons we’ve learned from TechStars. After reading Rework, I’m hopeful that we’ve written something as good, and as important, as what Fried and Heinemeier have written. Time will tell.
On a daily basis, I get an email from someone at a seed-stage startup where their email address does not include their website URL. For example, I just got an email from firstname.lastname@example.org for his company CoolThing.
I wouldn’t have thought of this except for I’m deep in the proofreading of a book that David Cohen and I are editing called “The Tao of TechStars.” One of the essays in the “Working Efficiently” section is written by David, titled “Don’t Suck at Email”, and talks about this.
Specifically, David says:
“Another way that founders suck at email is by sending email from a Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or other generic account. Every time you send an email like this you’re missing a branding opportunity for your company. Send and receive email from your company domain so you don’t suck at email.”
Joe’s email to me should have been from email@example.com. There are so many reasons this is better than firstname.lastname@example.org, including the simple reason that the chance of me associating “Joe” with “CoolThing” in two weeks is much greater than the chance of me associating “Joe” with “Smith” and then with “Coolthing.”
Now, I know some of you out there will say, “but Feld, you use email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org for your email – what gives?” Ah, the irony of some things in life (although email@example.com works just fine.)
If you are familiar with Defrag and Glue, you know they are built around two of Foundry Group’s themes (Protocol and Glue respectively). Blur is being built around our Human Computer Interaction theme, but with a twist. Instead of simply being able to “see cool stuff up close”, our goal with Blur will be to create an environment where you can actually use and work with this stuff. We’ll have user-oriented demos, hackathons, and tons of crazy shit no one has ever seen before.
Plus, we’ll give away a lot of cool toys, have a ton of smart people who are working on the next generation of HCI in one place, and have some fun surprises. And we are doing it in an environment that is especially tuned for a conference like Blur.
I’m incredibly excited about what Eric has put together for this year’s Glue Conference (as I wrote about the other day). He’s setting a high bar for Blur, where the goal will now be to have a few brains explode! Get ready – it’s never dull around here.
The MIT Entrepreneurship Review is a new online publication about entrepreneurship that is produced and written by MIT students dedicated to analyzing trends in entrepreneurship at MIT and beyond. I’ve been involved with some of the folks behind this and I think they are doing an outstanding job. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, I’d add this to your must read list.
There are a lot of fun connections here for me. For starters, as many of you know, I’m an investor in Gist. If you haven’t tried it – or haven’t played with it for a while – give it a shot. The evolution of the product over the last six months has been remarkable as it gets better every two weeks (the Gist teams’ release cycle).
The iPhone app has been out for a while and is a killer. I’ve seen the Android app – it’s equally cool and useful. Each of them connect up to the Gist service that lives in the cloud and connects together all of your contact information, builds an implicit social network based on your email traffic and friends lists, and surfaces a variety of content (including news as well as real-time stuff) for your contacts.
Learn that Name was a Startup Weekend Seattle project from a few months ago. Andrew Hyde, who is the community manager for TechStars, created Startup Weekend and I attended the first one in Boulder. It has become an amazing worldwide phenomenon that is now run by Clint Nelsen and Marc Nager. So – that’s linkage two for me.
The idea for Learn that Name came from Eric Koester, a lawyer in Cooley’s Seattle office. Eric has been super helpful on the Startup Visa initiative as well, working on an ABA brief for us that will hopefully be officially approved soon. Who said that lawyers weren’t a force for good in the world? So – that’s linkage number three.
TechCrunch’s article gives a little more history on the deal and how the proceeds (yes – there are proceeds) are being split up among the team members that participated in the Startup Weekend project. I know that at the very first Startup Weekend that I attended in Boulder there was a hope that some of these projects would spin out and either get commercialized or acquired. I’m proud to be involved in one of the first ones to have this happen. Oh – and Learn that Name when played within Gist’s iPhone app is a lot of fun.
I love the conferences we help sponsor (Glue and Defrag). Eric Norlin is a genius at putting together a specialty technology conference. He gets amazing people to attend, curates the content meticulously, isn’t afraid to try new things every year (and have some not work), and just keeps at it with single minded commitment. He also totally gets why to do these things outside of the bay area – there’s a completely different tempo (and magic can happen) when people really commit two days of their life to a conference.
The 2010 Glue Conference is a few months away (5/26/10 and 5/27/10). Instead of happening in Denver, Eric is doing Glue at the Omni Interlocken Resort on the outskirts of Boulder. For a taste, here are some of the speakers:
Some of the sessions that are finalized include:
Take a look at the fuller speaker list and agenda if you want, but beware that it moves around a lot. If you register for Glue now you can get an additional 10% off the early bird price of $525 if you register by 4/2/10 and use the discount code “twit1” (full price at the door is $695). As a special bonus, CloudCamp at Denver is happening the day before Glue (5/25/10). CloudCamp is free, but only 98 tickets are left.
Sign up for both of them now. I’ll be there for the whole shebang, along with my partners at Foundry Group. Plus, May in Boulder is just awesome. And be on the lookout for an announcement soon about a third conference that you’ll have to really focus on (yeah – inside joke – but you’ll appreciate it.)