Founders: The only thing that really matters…

I have been telling the entrepreneurs that I meet daily through my work at BootstrapLabs and various panels and keynotes that I do, that I am looking for two things at the core of every founder that I work with:

  • Passion
  • Meaning

The first one might be easier to grasp; simply follow your passion, if you do not have passion for what you are trying to build you will not succeed, it is simply to hard (no matter where in the world you are) to build a company, that with-out the drive that comes out of passion you will simply not succeed.

Meaning on the other hand is very subjective and maybe harder to grasp, so I wanted to elaborate on this for a bit, as my approach to this grew out of many years of entrepreneurship and helping other entrepreneurs.

I think the first time somebody spelled this out was Guy Kawasaki at Garage Ventures, in his book “The Art of Start” (he talks about it in this video from 2006 @ TieCon).

Over the years and tapping into my own history of startup successes and failures, I have distilled “Making Meaning” to a compass and navigator, that helps me (and founders I work with) to keep focus on the things that will have an impact. Building a startup is about being disruptive and going against convention and breaking what everybody expects to be the truth, what is already there, and breaking all the rules (of engagement).

  • So how do you keep your priorities straight and focused?
  • How do you balance “follow the rules of engagement” with the million things you could do everyday in your startup, and pick the ones that are relevant?

You try to weigh everything you do to assess if it makes meaning, and I have divided this into 2 main things:

  • Make things that have meaning for yourself.
  • Make things that have meaning to our world (in other words have great impact, big strokes).

Making meaning for yourself, get’s you up in the morning, it creates motivation to spend all this time on building your company (sometimes taking time from your most loved ones). Making meaning to our world; is anybody else appreciating what you do? Will it make the world better? Make things more efficient? More accessible? Improving quality of life? Are you touching enough people? I can go on, but I think you get the picture. At the end if you have enough impact you are creating a lot of value.

If you follow these thoughts you will see that this resonates well with investors (here in Silicon Valley), being angels or VCs – investors invest in founders that won’t give up and truly believe in what they do and that do things that will have enough impact in our world to be really valuable.

Love to hear your thoughts on this?

Thanks, Amazon

The weather in Eastern US is a personal tragedy for some people, and is making many other daily lives troublesome.

For much of the Silicon Valley and Startup crowd, it has brought down some major web services, such as Netflix, Pintrest, Instagram, this website and a number of BootstrapLabs servers and services.

And we may all be upset about the down-time, and think that Amazon has not built it supposedly [almost] fail-safe infrastructure properly. My comments are;

  • Yes, you can in theory avoid these disasters; how-ever a startup could build their infrastructure using Amazon and other cloud/hosting solutions to actually be tolerant against failures like this (the last few bits of ensuring tolerance to that level is quite expensive though).
  • However, I have had some multi-site (multiple tier 3 , off-site hosted (clustered and replicated MySQL database) web based services that went down much harder in similar conditions. Cost of running these: 30 x what it would cost on Amazon.
  • Some of our MySQL  (Amazon RDS) instances where affected by the outage, and failed completely. It took down several of our services and web sites for BootstrapLabs. It took us less than 30 minutes to be back online, with no lost data (it took longer for us to start to address the problem, no staff on call for these things over week-ends at this time). This mostly due to the automated snapshot and backup functionality that Amazon provide, for us to get even close to the availability we have with Amazon today with our own servers (instead of their cloud infrastructure), we would need co-located servers in multiple datacenters, we would need redundancy in power, off-site backups, and a replicated SAN environment between the datacenters (which require some decent bandwidth). It would cost us again about 30 x what we pay today, and we would need more manual labour on-top of that. We have a higher availability for a foot-print that fits for our budget with Amazon.

So in essence I would not complain about Amazon’s issues here, and it is in-fact possible to design web based services on Amazon that would fail-over gracefully for [most] events like this, so if that is what you need, make sure you build your platform to the tune of that. Most likely Amazon might be a great fit while you still have not pinned down the exact scale and need, after you grow to fairly large and stable load on your servers, there might be more efficient providers and solutions.

So in essence, thanks for making a very powerful and efficient product available.

Just my 5 cents.

Happiness, outliers and Entrepreneurs

This is why Entrepreneurship is less prevalent in “average” societies or normalized societies. In societies that strive to create a norm, we eliminate the outliers, the entrepreneurs and the extraordinary talent. In societies that embrace individuality, the outliers typically flourish.

Watch this great TED video on research on happiness, that touch this in the beginning, and a good lesson on happiness:

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Dethroning Silicon Valley

In reply to “Silicon Valley is losing it’s X Factor” by Alex Barrera, today, Mattias thanks for the tweet!

Well written post, but I don’t really agree with (all of) his conclusions, and some facts are wrong, Songkick was not Sequoia’s first European investment, it was their first UK one. They invested in Klarna in 2010 already, and there are a few other European investments in the past.

My take is really this; everybody (even a lot of people in Silicon Valley) would love to dethrone Silicon Valley. But I think reality plays against this, Alex does mention that a prominent VC shares this view. In the past years that I have built BootstrapLabs in Silicon Valley, and the 10 years before that, spending time regularly in Silicon Valley, I have seen the innovation waves come and go, and the people in my network in Silicon Valley, which consists of serial entrepreneurs, lawyers, prominent VC’s that have been building startups in the Valley since the 90’s, this is the picture I see:

  • Yes, innovation comes in waves, and we might have peaked with-in certain areas. But rest assured a new waves are already looming.
  • The co-working space that BootstrapLabs works with in San Francisco, Rocket Space, now hosts 130 seed stage (or later) startups. Seed stage funded startups in the whole country where I was born (Sweden)  in Europe would total less. Looking around just the SOMA area of San Francisco, we have thousands of startups, across the Bay area countless more. If you look at copy-cats in % of total number of startups in Silicon Valley I would suspect the number does not stand out.
  • Copy-cat or not, the prevailing view in Silicon Valley is not to be scared of competition, and instead to out-execute your competition, the European approach has always been, isn’t that already done? Search was done when Google started, social network was done when Facebook started. Both innovated their way to the no 1 position in the market. Innovation is not just in the idea, the “Silicon Valley” mantra: “Ideas are useless, execution is priceless” frames it quite well.
  • Investors in Europe are increasingly short sighted, and in general would rather invest in copy-cats with an arbitrage (and proven business models) than something new. The investor and entrepreneurial mindset to push the envelope of what we can achieve as a society is still being done in Silicon Valley (Space X with Elon Musk, Founders Fund etc).
  • The VC’s that I talk regularly with, in the Valley, that have seen .COM booms come and go, are more optimistic than ever, same goes for a number investors (LP’s) in the VC funds.

All that said, I do agree with Alex on a number of things: Europe is getting better at building startups, and the quality of the startups that reach out to BootstrapLabs every week are becoming better and better, which is a trend I have seen for at least 2 years now. What I also see is some great European accelerator and incubator programs, Startup Sauna being among the top ones.

I have a very optimistic view for the future of startups in Europe, but Silicon Valley is not standing still, and I don’t believe Europe ever will have a Silicon Valley (and I am not sure Europe need to clone Silicon Valley), I am also certain that we will see more and more world-class products being created by European startups (even though many of them might become Silicon Valley companies along the way).

I also fully agree with the comment thread below Alex’s post; Silicon Valley startups need to go global quicker than before (which is true for European startups too), and Silicon Valley can’t stay as comfortable in the US as they used to, the world is getting increasingly more global which always benefited Silicon Valley startups, but that is a two-way street, on which Silicon Valley can not take it’s dominant position for granted.

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Newsweek, seriously?

Newsweek, seriously?

Yesterday Newsweek published a provocative article by Rob Cox, called “The Ruthless Overlords of Silicon Valley.” It is about the entrepreneurs that created companies, and did share the spoils generously with employees to create  more millionaires than anybody in history.

Behind the hoodies and flip-flops lurk businesspeople as rapacious as the black-suited and top-hatted industrialists of the late-19th century. Like their predecessors in railroads, steel, banking, and oil a century ago, Silicon Valley’s new entrepreneurs are harnessing technology to make the world more efficient. But along the way, that process is bringing great economic and labor dislocation, as well as an unequal share of the spoils.

Rob Cox builds his argument around the deconstruction of Silicon Valley’s moralism, as embodied by Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto, and compare them to the Tycoons of the late 19th century. He fails to recognize, that the Tycoons earned their spoils through opposition to workplace safety, poverty-level salaries and corruption. Larry page may be a demanding boss, but Google isn’t asking its employees to risk their lives and are Facebook employees living in rat-infested houses?

On the contrary the employees in these companies are the best paid workers in their field on the planet, and these companies share more ownership in their companies than anywhere else. Coming from (a slightly more socialistic) Europe, employee equity is close to non existent, and they way every company in Silicon Valley share equity with their employees is positively shocking to any left-wing european I talk to.

Cox, has no knowledge or distinction of apples and oranges, he compares (“old” hardware companies such as) Apple with the new bread of Internet companies, thus allowing him to introduce the various abuses perpetrated by Chinese manufacturer Foxconn. Apple may be as hip as today’s Internet startups, but they are not even in the same breed (no bashing please, I am a big fan of Apple’s products).

It’s an attempt of guilt by association, and an terribly bad one at that.

Read the article, be appaled and Tweet your appellation to the world!

Thanks Dan Primack, for pointing me to this!

Proposing a DNS record for Maven repositories

If you know all about Maven skip down to A DNS Record for Maven Repositories

Most people that do software development and/or deployment on environments that run on the JVM (Java Virtual Machine), have come across Apache Maven (or tools such as Apache Ivy that interface with Maven repositories), and know that it is a great tool for managing dependencies for applications. Most Open Source and commercial (or semi-commercial) software packages and modules offer public Maven repositories to get the components (and the right versions of them) automatically downloaded when you are building/assembling your application.

There is also challenges, such as Maven allows you to declare dependencies, and automatically resolve dependencies in third party modules, but what if that particular module is not available in the public Maven repository, where can you find it? You often end up googling for things like “+org.restlet +maven +repository” to find where that particular module is published and downloadable for Maven, and adding that repository either to the build files (for Maven, Ivy etc) or to your maven settings in your home directory.

I think this could be done much more automated, and thus I am proposing an introduction of a DNS record to expose Maven repositories and have Maven (and other tools that use Maven repositories) be able to resolve these repository end-points automatically.

A DNS Record for Maven Repositories

The standard I propose would make it easy for anybody, open source project or commercial software company, to publish a pointer to a Maven Repository (and it can even be fully or partially protected for commercial modules) through a simple DNS entry, and then have Maven automatically resolve that repository.

The whole idea is to allow the owners of an domain to declare a pointer in their DNS that tells Maven where to find the  Maven Repository associated with that domain.

This is an example DNS record of how to declare a Maven Repository (this would be part of the DNS zone file):

@ 3600 IN TXT "maven-repository=http://nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/"

Try this for my domain, in a Mac OS X, Linux or Windows terminal/command prompt enter:

nslookup -type=txt nicolaiwadstrom.com

This should give a response as follows:

Server: 172.16.1.1
Address: 172.16.1.1#53
Non-authoritative answer:
nicolaiwadstrom.com text = "maven-repository=http://nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/"

This would in the standard I propose here, tell Maven that for all packages with an Maven Group ID (or organization identifier) of “com.nicolaiwadstrom”, the primary repository is located at “http://nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/”.

Security

We always reverse the the Maven Group ID (or Organization in other words), we are always asking the authority (owner of that domain/DNS, such as nicolaiwadstrom.com) for the packages that are part of “com.nicolaiwadstrom”.

This do not mean that we fix any existing problems with man-in-the-middle DNS attacks, but we do not introduce additional security issues (as anybody in the middle can spoof any existing Maven repositories, such as the central Maven repository). Existing standards such as DNS Sec should be used to address those concerns.

Extensions

Multiple repositories with priorities. This standard would typically need to support multiple repositories to support fail-over etc. Proposed format for this would be to have multiple DNS entries, and prepend the priority such as:

@ 3600 IN TXT "maven-repository=10;http://maven1.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/"
@ 3600 IN TXT "maven-repository=20;http://maven2.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/"
@ 3600 IN TXT "maven-repository=30;http://maven3.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/"

This would be resolved as 3 different URL’s for this Maven repository, top priority is “http://maven1.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/”, if that can’t be reached (or does not contain the component, or version referenced), “http://maven2.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/” should be tried and finally “http://maven3.nicolaiwadstrom.com/maven2/”. This also allows open source projects that are available in the central Maven repository to point to that as a primary resource, and have lookups fail-over back to their own servers.

 

Startup Product Feedback: Unlimited Cloud Storage

I see a lot of different startup ideas, concepts and early-stage products every week. Here is one that emerged recently, that I would like to get some feedback on!
It is in the kind of crowded Cloud Storage spaces, but it seems that it is also an quickly and ever growing need combined with an area with room for innovation.
Please share your thoughts on if you would buy this product:
  • Unlimited storage Cloud Drive
  • 1GByte upload per month
  • All data stored on multiple secure datacenter locations.
  • First version support for local sync client that can be installed on multiple computers (Windows & OS X, and Linux at some point).
  • Roadmap has clients that will support selective synchronization.
  • Roadmap has support for client side encryption etc (maybe as an additional monthly fee in a premium version).
  • Price $5/month
 The idea is that we have nowhere to put our increasing digital library that has all of our stuff, from source codes, to video clips, photos, or just all of our files…
All and any thoughts and feedback is greatly appreciated. What is your killer needs for Cloud Storage that you would like to see solved?

Why Amazon EC2 CPU Steal Time does not work (well) for Web apps

Compute Virtualization (such as EC2)  works by dividing the physical machine (and thus the CPU) into many virtual machines, that each get served a slice of the physical machine (a high performance CPU with 4 cores might get divided into 8 virtual machines for example). To keep the total available compute power fair between the virtualized machines (while allowing virtualized machines make use of additional unused CPU cycles), something called CPU steal time was invented (by IBM I believe, that invited the whole concept of Virtual Machines).

Many web servers for many startups and companies in the world run on Amazon EC2. But during the past year (I believe, I have no clear evidence when they started this), Amazon EC2 started to change how they prioritize CPU cycles for the virtualized machine instances they offer as part of their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

Amazon started to use a more “batch workload” geared prioritization model for their CPU instances (mainly micro and small from what I have seen) instances. Batch type division of CPU resources are not suited for real-time tasks such as a Web server, why? Keep reading.

Batch workloads vs. Real-time workloads

The batch workload model looks at a task (or a multitude of tasks) to run until completion, and for a batch style job if it runs fairly fast for the first hour and at 50% (of the CPU capacity) the second hour is quite ok, vs running the jobs at 75% for 2 hours. It will not affect the overall performance or completion time for processing those batch jobs (as long as the total allotted CPU time is the same). For most batch model jobs it is even ok if they are able to burst CPU usage (over the allotted CPU time) for periods of heavy usage, and then penalized (run at perhaps 20% of the “normal” speed), again total amount of CPU available to process the jobs is what is important.

For real-time workloads it is quite different, take a web server if it runs at adequate speed for 3 hours, and then there is heavy usage (it can make use of a burst of additional CPU cycles), but if it happens at the cost of 25% of “adequate” performance level being available for 1 hour it will adversely effect how well your web server can server web pages For most situations that are real-time, or semi real-time like web servers, it is often better to have a constant available CPU performance (more or less, with very little penalization of steal time). And add more machines as needed.

Why does this matter? And how is the virtualized model different from physical ones? Because there is no “steal time” to make up for overage usage from your virtual machine.

What I have seen with EC2 lately is that they do these type of 1h long penalizations from overage usage or over allotment. And often to an extent where the web servers almost stop responding.

I wish Amazon either would step back to the old model of how they prioritize CPU usage (which still use the steal time model, but never got “Steal Times”  of 90% ore more for 2 hours+) or… Give me more control over how this is done.

Right now I am considering starting to move servers away from Amazon EC2 (in spite of all the benefits) just for this reason.

 

The Riskmaster, featuring Tim Draper

This is not new, but was looking for Songs related to Entrepreneurship, and remembered this with Tim Draper, still a lot of kudos Tim!