My daily readings 07/16/2011

  • tags: startup yc

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    • What happened here—miscommunication, change of heart, misspeaking? It’s not clear. As Canada’s Financial Post noted today, Shaw’s president had said on multiple occasions that Internet access to Movie Club would not count against a data cap. 

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    • Original story: Canadian cable operator Shaw is one of the country’s largest Internet access providers—and it just wrapped up its participation in national hearings on the metered billing and data caps after an angry outcry from the public over the issue. Which made the news about its new CAN$12-per-month “Movie Club” service a bit surprising:


    • Twitter also saw more than 600,000 sign ups yesterday — for comparison it took the company more than 16 months to reach the first 600,000 Twitter accounts.


      While I’m refreshing my screen to see if there’s any more, here’s a blast from the past: Mike’s post on Twitter’s launch: “Odeo released Twitter.”

    • Today, exactly 5 years to the day since they launched, Twitter adds the context. Google+ may be serving up 1 billion items a day, but Twitter is doing 350 billion items a day.
    • Meanwhile, that other social network said a couple weeks ago that users were sharing 4 billion things a day. That just adds more confusion to the mix, as clearly Facebook, with 750 million users, should have the bigger number of all, right? As far as I can tell, that number is actually the number of items individual users are sharing on Facebook (not just the range of their delivery), but it includes hitting the Like button, etc. So it all depends on what your definition of “share” is.
    • Carpenter, a serious-faced 10-year-old wearing a gray T-shirt and an impressive black digital watch, pauses for a second, fidgets, then clicks on “0 degrees.” Presto: The computer tells him that he’s correct. The software then generates another problem, followed by another, and yet another, until he’s nailed 10 in a row in just a few minutes. All told, he’s done an insane 642 inverse trig problems. “It took a while for me to get it,” he admits sheepishly.
    • But last November, Thordarson began using Khan Academy in her class. Khan Academy is an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” Students, or anyone interested enough to surf by, can watch some 2,400 videos in which the site’s founder, Salman Khan, chattily discusses principles of math, science, and economics (with a smattering of social science topics thrown in). The videos are decidedly lo-fi, even crude: Generally seven to 14 minutes long,
    • The result is that Thordarson’s students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids like Carpenter rocket far ahead; once they’re answering questions without making mistakes, Khan’s site automatically recommends new topics to move on to. Over half the class is now tackling subjects like algebra and geometric formulas. And even the less precocious kids are improving: Only 3 percent of her students were classified as average or lower in end-of-year tests, down from 13 percent at midyear.
    • Given that all evidence indicates that I submitted the correct address and provider name, this makes it very likely that the FBI had no warrant for this search and seizure. The FBI raided a business that was leasing space for servers. There is no reason they could not have shown a warrant. Sadly, this is the exactly what I expected. A few other people have submitted FOIA’s under slightly different search terms, so perhaps something will turn up, but I’m betting that they just didn’t get a warrant. Pathetic.
      • Create a place where people can drop off and buy used packaging at a huge discount. I Hate the insane amount of packaging and waste after I receive something in the mail. I also hate spending so much money on packaging when I’m shipping something. Rather than throw it all away, I stuff it in a closet somewhere hoping to reuse it. only to throw it out 3 years later because I when I do ship something I never have the right size box. I wish there were a place where people could drop off and pick up used boxes and packaging.
      • Make instant/guest checkout the standard. Having to create an account to complete checkout just sucks. I don’t have to do it when I shop at Walmart and I refuse to do it online. There are plenty of websites and shopping cart systems all over the internet that still require you to register in order to checkout.
      • Streamline my experience on one page. Most of time I’m buying from online stores I’ve never used before. They do 2 illogical things that I hate.  They make me put in my full address and they separate the data entry process into multiple pages (one for address, one for credit card info, one for confirmation). Listen startups, all you need is my street and apartment number and my zip code. Using this information you can automatically fill in my City, State, and Country. Also, put everything on ->1<- page. I love to scroll, I hate to click and wait. Start with my address/shipping address, underneath that my payment info, underneath that any misc data entry required, and underneath it replicate all the data I just entered so I can confirm it quickly and hit the [complete purchase] button. 1 page. Simple. Thank you.
    • Instant gratification is missing in online shopping, so simulate it. You buy something and then you have to wait a week or two for it. Excite me when I complete a purchase. Maybe show a picture of a calendar with the estimated delivery days highlighted and right next to that a picture of my items in their packaging (product packaging, not delivery box). Putting more emphasis on what’s about to arrive in the mail, to me at least, is more exciting than a boring confirmation.
    • Don’t get me wrong – we were successful, had fun and did good work. At our peak we had over 200 clients and 15 full time staff, making us the largest such company in our city. We’ve worked on great projects for some big name clients and we even made some money too.


      Little by little however, the years ate away at my soul. This year we finally left it all behind and moved onto our own products, and I’ve never been happier.


      So this is why.



    • I fired a number of clients in our time, but you can’t fire everyone you disagree with. At times, to pay the bills, you’ll probably take on work you suspect you shouldn’t, and deal with people you wish you wouldn’t. Bit by bit, you sacrifice your ideals for expediency, because the alternative is worse.


      But eventually, your conscience grows thin.


      Not a great business


      It’s not easy to make a lot of money in web design. It’s decent sustenance, but a poor investment.

    • Web design companies tend to range from 1 to 10 people, with the vast majority having a couple of staff and a handful exceeding 100 or more. Like plumbers, they tend to focus on one geographic area: as far out as they can comfortably meet people face to face.


      The most successful companies tend to be in the biggest cities. If you’re a magnificent designer but you’re based in a remote mountain cabin, you’ll have a harder time than a mediocre designer in NYC.


      After about 7 years our location began to limit us – although we had customers from Cornwall to Cumbria, it became progressively harder to service them all. More distant customers are more expensive to tend to, so your returns diminish. You’re paying a premium to compete against the local companies who already work there.

    • The thing I love most about businesses is their ability to transform the world for the better. We live in a world where two guys can found Google in a garage, creating an incalculable benefit to the world, and profit for their efforts. That – to me – is one of the greatest wonders of civilisation.


      I’ve always wanted to make the biggest difference I can with my life, and I couldn’t see me achieving this with a web design company. For no matter how much great work you do, it’s not the work you choose to do. You’re always working for someone else.


      And if you feel like I do, that’s the kind of passion you can’t surrender quietly.

    • A year ago I set a 12 month deadline to get us out of web design; in the end it took us 9 months. It cost us a fair slice of income, but we gained a monstrous amount of our time. And finally our products – now SiteBeam and SiteRay – are starting to get the attention they deserve.


      It’s too early yet to know if this decision will pay off – right now, we feel like a startup all over again. But whatever happens, we only have ourselves to answer for. And that feels pretty damn great.


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