daily articles for founders

Here are 10 quality posts from the Founder's Library:

Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript  

You can write iPhone apps with HTML/CSS/JS, and this book teaches how.

There are a lot of downsides to skipping the AppStore, from performance issues (Javascript is a hell of a lot slower than ObjC) to monetisation issues (people are unlikely to enter their credit card numbers into an iPhone web app, because they're not used to it). Still, it can certainly be used for prototyping and/or trying some app ideas out more quickly than the App Store would allow.

The terrible costs of patents  

I've argued before that patents aren't much good for entrepreneurs.

Here's Erick Schonfeld's view on whether they're good for large corporations:

Google is paying $12.5 billion for Motorola largely for its huge mobile patent portfolio. In July, an anti-Google consortium ponied up $4.5 billion Nortel's patents (and they overpayed). Interdigital, Kodak, and others are looking to sell their patent portfolios. We are in the middle of a patent bubble.

If you think about the cost of these patents, technology companies are spending billions of dollars on assets which they need primarily to defend themselves against the rising tide of patent litigation. Those are billions of dollars that Google, Apple, Microsoft and others won't invest in new products, new jobs, new facilities or other economically productive activities. And by and large, they will not use these patents to create new products. Google is doing it just to protect Android from rival patent claims.

It's hard to get a lawyer to agree that the patent system is screwed up. After all, patents generate vast amounts of work for lawyers - it must be working great, then!

It's much rarer to find a technologist that supports the patent system.

So, in short, the patent system, as it stands today, is great for lawyers who invent nothing, and terrible for people who actually invent stuff. And, of course, that makes it a bad deal for the public.

The law of averages  

Joel Gascoigne:

As soon as I accepted that the whole world works in ratios, that's when it became easier. Knowing that success happens in ratios allowed me to go ahead and send that email, without worrying about not getting a response, about ‘failing'.

In sales, this is usually phrased "every no gets you closer to a yes". Joel gives some examples of this fundamentally important rule, but the key is, simply, that everything you do will have a certain success rate, and part of your job as a founder is to figure out that success rate, and then figure out if it's high enough to enable you to run the business successfully.

That you will encounter failures is a certainty. In some parts of the business, the failure rate will hopefully be very low (e.g. keeping existing clients happy). In other parts, it will probably be very high (e.g. sales). That's part of the job.

Sleeping hard and working under your desk  

Jamie Zawinsky, netscape founder, referring to this Michael Arrington article which urges startup founders to stop complaining and get back to working long hours and sleeping under their desks:

Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.


So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.

Instead of that, I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic.

A healthy attitude. Startups are about working smarter than the competition, not about working longer hours. One good idea emerging out of a good night of sleep can save you a week of work. Don't skimp on sleep.

Reckless risk-taking  

Philip Kaplan proposes that instead of worrying about low-probability risks, an entrepreneur should just power on ahead and sign whatever the client asks:

This lesson in total disregard for risk served me well. They say entrepreneurs are risk takers. I think of myself as too lazy and irresponsible to fully understand the risk.

It works for me.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here.

I think this falls squarely in the "very dangerous, easily misunderstood lesson" category.

If you met someone who crossed the road with his eyes closed his whole life, and said "no need to worry about crossing the road, just close your eyes and go right ahead - it's worked for me so far" you wouldn't take that advice seriously.

Now, the reality of entrepreneurship is that standing on the side of the road worrying about the cars costs more than just crossing, and if a car does hit you it won't necessarily cost you your life. So, it makes sense to just decide and go with it rather than worry about things too long.

However, that doesn't mean that you should take risks on casually and naively. The best entrepreneurs are risk-takers in the sense that they will take measured, calculated, mitigated risks for the chance of good rewards. They are not risk-seekers, they will not seek out unnecessary risks, nor will they naively accept every risk that comes their way.

In the examples he cites, Philip had an experienced entrepreneur looking over his shoulder, and also used his own gut feeling to help him make the decisions. What's not mentioned in this anecdotal article is all the deals he rejected before they even got to the contract stage, because he had a bad feeling about them.

As a smart founder, you need a bias towards making decisions, and you need to be willing to take calculated risks (ideally risks with a small, limited downside and a large, unlimited upside). But you should still think through what risks you are taking on, and do whatever you reasonably can to minimise those risks.

In other words, don't wait until you have a live GPS map of all the traffic before crossing, but do open your eyes and look both ways.

Hair of the dog  

Lucas Rayala:

And I'm closing down my startup.

I need to go for a run. I need to clean up my desktop and emails. I need to hire a tax attorney to straighten the jumble of receipts and ticket sales, so the government understands that Altsie was definitely a net loss.

I need to send my last checks to my last distributors and thank them for their trust. I need to throw a party and tell my friends I appreciate their support. I need to find my friends again and thank them for sticking by me. I need to call my filmmakers and thank them for taking a chance with me. I need to take my wife to dinner and thank her for her love.

This is what you do when you close down your business on a Thursday night.

Speaking from personal experience, the end of a startup is tough. It's not just the mechanical act of winding a company down. Throwing away your dreams is painful. For some, if they really invested everything into that one venture, and have nothing left to take the next swing, then it can be the end of the road.

However, I really do believe that entrepreneurship is a career, not a one-shot thing. If you play your cards right and don't throw everything at your first idea (especially since it's very likely not to work out), you can just keep taking swings at it until you get it.

And, with businesses as with many other things in life, there's no better cure for a heart-broken ending than a fresh beginning.

The Noun Project: Large collection of free symbols  

Symbols are exceedingly useful when designing web applications and other things. Large collections of visually consistent symbols, like the Silk icon set or the Fugue icon set, are very rare.

From the Kickstarter page:

The Noun Project's mission is to share, celebrate, and enhance the world's visual language. Our goal is to collect and organize all the symbols that form our language into one easy-to-use online library that can be accessed by anyone. All the symbols on our site are completely free to download, and can be used for design projects, architecture presentations, art pieces - just about anything.

One can only hope that they will soon provide an easy way to "download all" and search, rather than having to scroll through the page endlessly to find what you want. According to the video on their Kickstarter page, they will add more such features soon.

How many VCs should you have?  

Mark Suster makes the point that the ideal number of VCs to have invested into your business is 2.

"Many" has benefits but it also has drawbacks. If you plan to do it I highly recommend that most of the VCs be smaller funds and ones who are generally not looking to invest much more after your first round of capital. There are firms with this stated objective - seek them out if you want to load the VC roster on your deal.


There is an obvious pitfall to working with just one VC - if you fall out of love you're screwed. There are reasons why VCs sometimes don't support deals once they've invested.


In my mind [two VCs is] the perfect scenario. You get all the benefits of the "many" deal without the drawbacks. If you can pull it off, I love the "two-handed" deal. If you're doing well but need a little more gas to prove yourself, it's so much easier for VCs to split an inside round. It's both a smaller check and it's external validation that somebody else was willing to fund.

Mark ends with some practical advice for managing herds of VCs, for those of us unlucky enough to have this problem:

  1. Always have a lead: no lead = no one on the hook for tough times.
  2. Make sure the lead VC is the right lead for your stage: generally, don't raise a $2m round from a $1b VC, or a $10m from a $100m VC.
  3. Make sure they have enough left in their funds, or are raising the next one soon, so they can fund follow-on rounds.
  4. Make sure they play nicely: if they don't play nice while they're still trying to charm you while you're raising the fund, they'll get worse later.
  5. Always pitch outsiders first for follow-ons: it keeps the insiders honest.
  6. Always make room for value-added angels.
Bait and switch acquisition offers  

Ouch. Here's an anonymous story from a founder who got screwed during an acquisition. Killer quote:

He tells me, "I'm sorry, but the CEO changed his mind. We're not moving forward with you guys." What? I was furious and trying not to panic. "Why not?" He gave me several reasons, including uncertainty about how our product would integrate into their suite of offerings (shouldn't that decision have been made back in October?) and disagreement on the roadmap we presented (remember that chaotic three hours on the second day of due diligence? Also, he's the CEO, if he wants it, he gets it, right?). The one that stuck with me the most was "Our engineers looked at what you showed us during due diligence and told our CEO ‘It doesn't look so hard, we can build it ourselves.'" Information that we had shared under NDA.

If you're getting serious about selling your company, read this first. It will save you from these kinds of mistakes - mistakes which are not only costly, but also infuriating.

Pick a fight with the incumbent  

WePay founder Rich Aberman, on picking a fight with a big and slow incumbent:

  1. It frames the debate. First, it puts the two companies on the same level: There's PayPal and then there's WePay, the anti-PayPal. It also limits the debate to two players: the incumbent and the alternative.
  2. It puts your product in context. If consumers compare WePay to PayPal, it means they at least get the basics: WePay is an online payments company. If they add a qualifier: WePay is a consumer-friendly PayPal, then we win.
  3. It helps you develop your own ethos and culture. I'm definitely not saying that a startup should copy (or even do the opposite) of the 800 pound gorilla, just that the 800 pound gorilla can anchor the culture context. Startups have the advantage of witnessing and learning from the incumbent's mistakes. By calling ourselves the anti-PayPal, for example, WePay is making a hefty promise - namely, that we'll put our customers first. We try extra hard to treat our customers well and promote projects that keep us focused on the right things.
  4. It makes you the good guy. Since the incumbent is ill-perceived by consumers, it's easy to put on some shining armor and ride in on your white horse. If the incumbent is not ill-perceived, picking a fight is not the right strategy.

Rich also argues that you shouldn't worry about "waking up a sleeping giant" - that just doesn't happen.