Simon Willison’s Weblog

Entries in 2013

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When applying to Y-Combinator, if your current product is just the first step on the way to a much larger product vision which will not be realized for many years, which product should an entrepreneur discuss in an application (the current one, or th...

The YC application form has fields that cover this. You should talk about your grand ambition in the “What is your company going to make?” answer, then describe your progress so far in the “How far along are you?” answer.

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What are the best ramen places in London?

The big four are Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu, Shoryu and Ittenbari, all in or around Soho. You can find them all on my foursquare list here: Ramen in London

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What are some good resources to learn how to cleanse data using Python?

http://gnosis.cx/TPiP/ “Text Processing in Python” is a free online book that covers a bunch of useful topics related to data cleanup. It’s over 10 years old now but is still mostly relevant—the chapter on regular expressions is particularly good.

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Are Django versions released too often?

The Django release process is well documented (see Django’s release process) and has been specifically designed to address the concerns of developers who don’t want to have to spend too much time keeping up to date with the latest version.

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What are some examples of startups funded simply for the strength and uniqueness of its founders rather than for any particular idea?

A good portion of YC companies fit this definition—it’s common for YC to fund the team and then work with them to help them either fix their initial idea or find a better one.

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Is there an application like Duolingo, but for math?

Khan Academy have a points, levels and achievements system for mathematics that is similar to the method used by duolingo.

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What is the Y Combinator cycle?

The winter program generally runs from January until March, with application deadlines the previous October (this year the deadline was was October 21st). Interview invites were sent out on November 4th, and interviews themselves in Mountain View were November 15th-19th. Teams get a yes or no answer the day of their interview.

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What is currently the best technology stack for web scraping?

PhantomJS combined with CasperJS is pretty fantastic—it runs a full, headless copy of a Webkit browser so it can operate against a real DOM, execute JavaScript properly, even grab full rendered screenshots of areas of the page but is still easy to automate.

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Is it fair for someone who calls themselves a “seed” investor to require traction?

It’s completely fair. If you’re building a web-based startup these days, you should be able to demonstrate initial traction on an idea with very little up-front investment—a couple of months of your time and a few hundred dollars in hosting costs, perhaps. Being able to do that is an excellent indicator that you’re a good bet for a seed investor. If you are unable to do that, you’re a much higher risk for investment.

[... 129 words]

Which Y Combinator companies focus on finance?

TrustEgg (YCW11) help people open trust funds for their kids: TrustEgg Allows Anyone To Set Up A Trust For Their Kids | TechCrunch

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What do Twitter and Gawker think of hash-bangs URLs?

As of December 2013 (and potentially much earlier, I don’t have the exact dates) both Twitter and a Gawker have moved away from hash bang URLs, so my guess is they turned out not to be a good idea.

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How did GitHub get its initial contributors?

The founders were active participants in the open source and Ruby on Rails communities. The first users were people they knew in those communities (GitHub accounts were invite only at first).

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Why does TED refer to its speeches as “talks”?

I think this reflects a more general trend in the tech conference world which TED emerged from.

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When did South Park characters stop calling things “gay” in the vernacular derogatory sense “not very good”?

There was actually an episode that touched on a similar issue back in 2009: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/T...—“the boys attempt to change the official definition of the word ”fag“ from an anti-homosexual slur to a term describing loud and obnoxious Harley bikers.”

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Would/Does Y Combinator accept Students (Freshmen/Sophomores Undergrads) if they’re planning on going back to college?

YC want founders who are going to dedicate themselves full time to their companies after the initial three month YC programme has ended. If you’re not willing to do that, why should YC give a place to you over someone else who IS willing to make that commitment?

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How do I network with speakers at events?

I’ve spoken at loads of conferences, and I can tell you that speakers WANT you to approach them. They’re definitely interested in talking to you—that’s one of the main reasons they speak.

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Would YCombinator have invested in Apple?

Yes. YC is about the team, and the fact that those two had built a prototype of a personal computer in their garage (in 1976!) would get them in to YC without any trouble, even considering the quality of applicants YC gets today.

[... 55 words]

How accurate is the GitHub status site?

Very accurate. Every time I’ve noticed a problem with GitHub the status site has either already published it, or publishes within a minute or so of me first noticing.

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What are good sources to learn about SEO?

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz (previously SEOMoz) is an excellent introduction to SEO fundamentals.

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What are the best set of marketing/payment tools for use in startup with a subscription webapp?

Stripe has excellent support for subscription payments, including helping manage recurring payments and pro-rataing for upgrades to plans half way through a billing cycle etc. I believe BrainTree offers similar tools.

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As a non-technical single founder for a web startup, is it better to hire a design firm to build the prototype, or find a technical co-founder?

Find a co-founder. The problem with using an outside agency to build your initial prototype is that you won’t really start learning about your product until after you have launched it. You need to have the talent available in-house to then make changes and improvements based on the feedback you get from real users.

[... 123 words]

Is there a substantial difference between using a Mac or a Windows machine for web development (particularly RoR)?

No matter if you are on Mac or Windows you should be using a Linux virtual machine for development, ideally running the same operating system as you deployment environment (I like Ubuntu for this). Vagrant is a popular tool for managing this kind of setup.

[... 151 words]

Is greater comfort with Windows a good enough reason to switch from PHP to ASP.NET?

Learning Linux really isn’t that hard, and it will dramatically increase your potential horizons as a programmer. Install Ubuntu on a virtual machine on your laptop and start running through some tutorials.

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Is there an open source (or freely accessible) database of geofence coordinates for common places, such as cities or national parks?

Take a look at Flickr’s openly licensed shapefiles:

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What should be considered when deciding to do a marathon?

Running a marathon is easier then you think.

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What’s the best use in the office for my old Macbook Pro?

Set it up to display metrics or KPIs—by running http://www.geckoboard.com/ on it for example.

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Which format for API documentation programmers prefer: PDF or Web?

HTML is a better format for documentation than PDF.

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Log Management: What is the complexity behind Loggly and similar services?

Pricing isn’t about how hard it is to build something (and building a reliable, highly-scalable centralized log search and archiving system isn’t trivial). It’s about how much value it provides to the customer.

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What is the ways to view the examples without download the example files in github?

If you can view the file on raw.github.com you can drop the first dot to view it on rawgithub.com—a free proxy service.

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How do I put my Twitter picture on my company’s about page so that it automatically updates?

This used to be pretty easy, but Twitter made it a lot harder with their APIv1. You need to do authenticated API calls to access their image API now, which means it’s best to set up a cron job and cache the correct URL.

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