Simon Willison’s Weblog


184 items tagged “startups”


If I told you "Get me a 20 minute meeting in front of xyz person and I’ll give you $20 whether or not they buy into what i have to offer, would you set up the meeting?

Absolutely not. My ability to make introductions relies on people trusting me to make good introductions. If I make a poor introduction to someone it damages or destroys my ability to make introductions to them in the future. If I get a reputation for selling introductions I’ll lose credibility with everyone in my network.

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What is a good onboarding process for a new employee at a startup?

Have them deploy the site on their first day. This ensures they know how to...

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How can I find short-term work experience at a startup in London?

Take a look at—lots of London startup intern opportunities listed there.

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What is the best resource for someone who is non-technical to learn about computer programming/creating software?

Learn to program. You don’t need to learn programming to the standard where you could work professionally as a software engineer, but having enough programming knowledge to write some simple programs and automate some simple tasks will make you enormously more capable when it comes to working with programmers—or in business life in general.

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How should I evaluate a potential technical co-founder? What qualities matter most to the business, to investors, to future employees?

Build a small weekend project with them. If they can’t build and (more importantly) ship something simple in a couple of days, with you collaborating with them effectively on what it is, how it should work and so on, they aren’t a good fit.

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Would you pay for a service that allowed you to shadow people in your profession of interest?

As a high school student I would not have paid for this. It’s a big gamble (what if I spend money only to find out that the career doesn’t interest me), it relies on me having a good idea about what I want to do first (which I didn’t), it’s something I can get for free elsewhere by taking to friends of family, and I didn’t have any money to spend anyway.

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Which companies in London are using Python?

We use Python/Django for—we’re based in London.

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What’s an idea worth?

I like Derek Siver’s model proposed here:

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I have an idea for a website, with an idea for eventually having cashflow out of it? However, my skills are insufficient to build it and I have no money at all to hire someone—what’s my best starting point?

You either need to learn some skills, or you need to earn some money. Sadly, having a good idea is not enough—you need to be able to execute it as well.

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How would you know if your start up is just ’reinventing the wheel"? Should you just stop or just keep going?

If you have enthusiastic users (or paying customers) then it doesn’t matter if you are “reinventing the wheel” or not.

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At seed funding stage, how can a Startup protect itself from losing the majority?

Firstly, don’t sell a majority stake in your company. Secondly, hire competent legal advice to make sure you fully understand the terms of your investment and don’t get caught out through misunderstanding board voting rights, preferred vs common stock, liquidation preferences etc.

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Are there any sites/services that you can subscribe to where you can watch a developer code “Live”?

The Ludum Dare game development contest sometimes has contestants that livestream—Notch (the creator of Minecraft) has done so in the past.

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For developers and Startup Founders, what software licenses would you prefer to use instead of open source options, if you had unlimited funding?

With unlimited funding... I’d still prefer to build my company on open source licensed components. It’s not about the price (heck, I’d use my unlimited funding to support the projects my company benefited from)—it’s about the freedom to understand exactly how everything works, fix stuff that doesn’t, and benefit from the community of others solving the same kinds of problems.

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How do you impress a venture capitalist so much that he invites you from another country for a meetup?

Don’t make a big deal about the fact that you are travelling from another country. Try to get a few of them interested enough to want a meeting, then make a bigger trip out of it.

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Is there software that can help me keep track of contacts and referrals while I am building my seed round?

We used Highrise from 37signals for this when we raised our seed round and it worked perfectly. You can forward or BCC it emails, use it for tasks and reminders, tag contacts in it and use the mobile app for when you are at fundraising networking events (we used that to great effect at Y Combinator demo day).

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What do business people look for in a good business card?

I like to encourage writing on business cards—which means that the card shouldn’t be glossy (to ensure pens work on it). Our business cards, designed by my partner Natalie Downe, actually have a labelled “notes” area on one side of them.

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Y Combinator Demo Day and Class of Summer 2013: Is it true that YC alumni are participating in the primary selection process during S13?

Yes—this has been happening for a few years now. Here’s Paul Graham’s announcement about it back in October 2009: Announcement: YC alumni will help us read applications

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What is the inital costs for a tech startup? Do you have any checklist or spreadsheet?

Initial costs can be incredibly low—a few bucks for a domain name, $40/month or so for VPS hosting. Things only start to get expensive when either you need to scale up to multiple servers (which means you’re doing well) or when you start to pay salaries.

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What books are there for living a life as an startup entrepreneur? Giving up a job and then find a mentor, Brainstorming ideas, locating seed money. Hire Programmers. Have I got this right?

Read The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses—see also

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What’s the best platform I can use for a food delivery startup? Shopify? Or should I instead learn to code?

Don’t build an e-commerce system as your first programming project—I know engineers with many years of experience who wouldn’t trust themselves to write code that handles money.

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Who was accepted into Y Combinator’s Summer 2013 batch?

You are unlikely to get any good answers to this question for a while, because YC startups are advised not to announce their participation straight away. Instead, they usually hold the announcement until they are ready to launch something—it’s a useful hook for getting extra coverage for the story.

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How do conferences make money?

Ticket sales and sponsorships.

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Where do I find out about interesting upcoming events in London?

I’m a big fan of Ian Visits: London Events Listings Guide for finding out about some of the more obscure events going on. Ian is an excellent curator with impecable taste in cultural events, and frequently lists guest lectures, guided walks, tours and other events that you may not hear about anywhere else.

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What is the best city to host a convention in US and why?

I can’t say I’ve tried every city, but my personal favourite US city to attend a conference in is Portland, OR. Amazing food, great public transport (the tram service is free within the city center, which includes the convention center) and plenty of interesting things to do and see outside of the conference.

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Can you advice me some newsletters where I can signup to receive on my email news about web/programming/startups conferences, talks, contests, events, classes?

Our site can help with this. You can sign in with Twitter or LinkedIn to see event recommendations based on who you are connected with. Then you can improve those recommendations by tracking topics in geographical areas (e.g. every Social Media event in the USA, or every Mobile event in San Francisco). If you give us your email address we’ll send you an automated weekly email letting you know about newly announced conferences or events that we think you’ll find interesting.

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Where can I find a calendar of tech events and conferences all over the world?

We have a comprehensive, crowdsourced calendar of conferences and professional events on our service, Lanyrd.

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Are there any sites like CodeAcademy for other fields, i.e. who specialize in math, languages, finance, etc. (no “generalists” like Khan)?

For language learning my wife has been having a really good time with Duolingo—she uses the iPhone app but they have a web version as well. It’s also free—I think their business model revolves around getting students to crowdsource translations as part of their learning exercises.

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What are good and easy practices for frequent web deployments?

At Lanyrd we use a combination of Fabric to drive our deploy scripts, git to get the code on to the servers, puppet for configuration management and Jenkins to run continuous integration tests and provide a “deploy the site” button.

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How do I jump start a submissions-based website?

Post a lot of stuff yourself. Get some friends to post stuff too.

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How great do you need to be in programming to be a technical (Co) founder?

You don’t need to be amazing, but you do need to know how to ship. You might be the best person at writing complex machine learning algorithms in the world, but if you can’t get running code deployed in a way that lets customers use it you won’t be able to get anywhere that matters.

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