Xobni: Our Path from ‘Wrong Product’ to Killer App

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a three-part series authored by Xobni’s VP of engineering, Gabor Cselle. Read a longer version (co-written with Marie C. Baca ) on Cselle’s blog starting Monday.

I run product development at Xobni, maker of an email application that helps you organize your Outlook inbox. My co-founders and I were fortunate to get seed funding from Y Combinator in the summer of 2006, and I now often speak with entrepreneurs that are applying to the incubator. And when I do, I give them this advice: The most important decisions are the ones you make in the beginning of the process, such as what product to build, and what market to serve. These will determine whether you’re headed for failure or a multimillion-dollar exit.

Xobni was extremely lucky in that even though we initially built the wrong product, we were always focused on our product-market fit. This helped us quickly correct our course, and eventually produce a product that is making Microsoft drool. I’ll explain how we turned it around. Read More about Xobni: Our Path from ‘Wrong Product’ to Killer App

The F|R Interview: Y Combinator’s Paul Graham

Editor’s note: For the sake of accuracy, we have replaced the edited questions and answers with their unedited version (save for some minor stylistic changes). We sincerely apologize for any confusion.

This week Found|READ interviews software entrepreneur Paul Graham, co-founder of the influential startup incubator, Y Combinator.

Since 2005, Y Combinator has seed-funded 250 founders and over 45 startups including Justin.TV, RescueTime, Weebly and Zecter. Many other “YC shops” have quickly achieved liquidity events, among them Reddit (Condé Nast) and Auctomatic (Live Current Media). Fresh from Y Combinator’s fourth annual Startup School ‘08, Graham talks about the competition, various success factors, and how Y Combinator picks its winners. Read More about The F|R Interview: Y Combinator’s Paul Graham

Question of the Day: What R Your Pre-Launch Priorities?

I spent yesterday afternoon in an hours-long strategy session with some former Y Combinator grads. The team is in the final week of preparing their startup for its Beta launch, and they were having difficulty yesterday deciding what the ultimate hierarchy of the pre-launch tasks should be. I’m sure all founders struggle with this, so it forms our Question of the Day, below.

Their service is cool, and promises to make a very painful business task — document sharing between parties — much easer. (Google Docs is fine, but these guys can make it slick to share documents even across multiple software platforms. I’ll tell you more about it when they come out of stealth.)

Sexy Features

The founders were eager to add one last feature to their product — so they could promote it at launch for its compatibility to some existing big names in the market (like Google Docs). Great marketing value in that for sure, and it shows the founders recognize they’ll need traction immediately to survive in a crowded space. A headline-grabbing feature would help.

But one of their investors grew concerned that this risked jamming to much stuff into the launch. Read More about Question of the Day: What R Your Pre-Launch Priorities?

Web 2.0 Celebrity Missteps: How not to work the room

This is the age of Celebrity 2.0. If you have more that 200 Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, Yelp friends, you’re a celeb, too! After watching too many big shots ‘step in it’ again and again this week (first at Y Combinator’s Startup School, and I’m sure Web2.0 Expo is do different), I decided to prepare for the rest of you my list of what not to do, when ‘working the room.’ . Here goes:

Top 15 Web Celeb Mistakes & Missteps:

1. Not having party humor ready. A Web 2.0 celeb-on-the-ebb is someone who has zero self-deprecating jokes in the chamber. A tier-1 star-on-the-rise says stuff like, “Hey I’m just trying to enjoy my 15 minutes here. Let me enjoy this moment.” Or, my favorite: “You know me?! Goodness, I just might be something yet!”

2. Photo pose without eye contact. If someone wants their picture with you, take two seconds and focus without eye scanning the room. Rising star will pull out their camera and say, “Ooo! Take one with mine too”. Clooney works the room like an extra on Roseanne vs. The Oscar winner he is.

3. Premature interaction withdrawal . Yeah the person just talking to you just turned and walked away. A Web 2.0 celeb who is dropping like a rock is a blatant and rude social climber in that they’ll leave a conversation mid-stream for something better. Yikes! You may be a killer coder, and you can leave an IM conversation abruptly — but in a real room, you can’t.

4. Don’t eye-scan the room. The Weakest new Web celebs are always eyeballing for the hitters they think they need to talk to, so they “shoulder surf” while talking to new people. Stop eye-scanning and be in the moment with your new admirers.

5. Love the ones who love you. Weak celebs snub fans all the time because they’re embarassed as to who loves them. Ugly fans can buzz, click, talk, email, IM and sms, too. And if you offend, they’re more likely to do so than your more “adorable” fans.

6. Not showing up in spirit for the event. If you’re not feeling it, maybe you should get some rest and rally yourself. And even if you just “stop by” an event, thank your host before you jet out the foodservice entrance.

7. Always be rising. It’s dangerous to not know if you are still peaking, or if you’ve peaked. But here is one good way to tell: As a Web 2.0 celeb, if you’re not actively promoting, you can be sure your star is falling. Every event is a chance to pump up your stock and standing.

8. Big pitfall is speaking to your trolls (i.e critics). Your fans ignore the trolls so you should too when you’re addressing the audience.

9. Don’t Assume the Room Knows You. It doesn’t matter if you’ve marquee billing, just got done with a keynote or even if your face is on the movie poster. Don’t assume

everyone at the party in your honor knows you. Assuming makes and a you-know-what outta you, and you.

10. If you’re not magnetizing, you’re repelling. You are competing for people’s attention. Charm them, someone else will. If you’re not charming them, you might as well be outright rejecting their core being. Bring them closer to you, or push them closer to others. One raises your celebrity, the other drops your star-rating.

10. Don’t be a Jerk. What we have here is a failure to reciprocate. Here is My Reciprocity Algorithm: ask at least 2 questions of people that come up to you to say hello.

11. Don’t fail to build a constituency in the room. Rooms have tipping points. Once a group of people thinks you’re an ass, you’re done. Conversely, you could be the stale breeze that blew in from Champaign, Illinois, but if people love you, they’ll promote you.

13. Inability to turn a couple of Frenemies a year into a friend.

Work a room with the idea that maybe someone who currently dislikes you will like you with a lil man-charm.

14. Don’t forget to engage your entourage Celebs who forget to introduce their entourage can’t switch outta guest mode or effen host. If you brought ’em, introduce ’em.

15. Let the Alpha be alpha. (Psst!: The host is always alpha.) If there’s an alpha celeb, “confront and kiss the ring” vs “dodge and bad mouth.” You are only allowed to badmouth when you’re 80+ yards away from the party venue. (Hey celeb 2.0 you’re the beta at funerals and weddings, too, because, you can’t be the corpse or the bride.)

CONTEST: Add your #1 Web 2.0 Celeb Misstep. Best submission gets first crack at my Web 2.0 Expo schwag bag. Find me in the Blogtropolis room following up my Ad-tech conference leads http://blogtropolus.eventbrite.com at Moscone until the Coca Cola and granola treats run out.

Larry Chiang is the founder of duck9 and a frequent contributor to Found|READ. His most popular posts include: How to Work The Room; and 9 VCs You’re Gonna Want To Avoid, and 9 Things Stanford B-School Won’t Teach You which he is turning into a book. Most recently, Larry wrote: 9 People You Meet at Y Combinator (and what you can learn from them).

Yes, Dilbert, you can keep your day job!


There is a well-established rule in our business that you can’t really found a company part-time. Moonlighting sounds great, but it’s a bit like being half pregnant. At least, this is the conventional wisdom, some of it very well-informed. (Paul Graham: “The number one thing not to do is other things.”)

But I ran across a great post this morning, courtesy of VentureHacks, by repeat founder Tony Wright, who suggests it is possible to launch your founder’s ship with one foot still on the dock — with one caveat: your goal must be to “prove whatever you need to prove as quickly as possible, so you can dive in full-time.”

In Half-Assed Startup: How do I start my company and keep my day job?, Tony offers 7 Tips for how to do this. Tony’s current company, RescueTime, is a Y Combinator shop — which means Graham must agree with some of what Tony has to say! We list Tony’s abbreviated tips below… Read More about Yes, Dilbert, you can keep your day job!

Founding: A Neverending Freight Train

tandemtrain.gif

I had breakfast last week with Doug Renert, cofounder of Tandem Entrepreneurs, which represents a great new model for a startup service-provider. When Doug pointed me to this cartoon on their site, I laughed. It illustrates a very genuine founders’ state of mind :

You’re so focused trying to get past the current crisis (like fundraising!) that you don’t see the next challenge coming down the rails (hiring–with all that money you’ve just raised!).

This is the sort of founders’ pitfall that Tandem wants to help you with: load-balancing so you’re less like to drop one of your spinning plates. Read More about Founding: A Neverending Freight Train