Notes from the Nerdist Podcast interview with Gabe Newell
In a recent Nerdist podcast, Gabe Newell was asked a lot about Valve as a company. Here are some notes that stood out:
- Be a fan. Be part of a community and contribute to that community
- The company is built by fans, for fans. The fans will drive what you should work on.
- Have skills that people are fans of. People here have a skill that a customer will look at and say holy crap that’s awesome.
- Blurring of lines between creators/consumers
- There’s a big gap between a good audience and a bad audience
- Work with people whose work excites you.
- Work on things that you think people are going to react to - and force yourself to make predictions about what you think will happen and judge your success to make better guesses going forward.
- The rate of change is so fast and getting faster. Can’t be chasing the last battle.
- People will self organize around a project of ever increasing complexity. Related, see tweets from @bestresultsIRP.
- How does the corporation provide value going forward? The Internet will do a better job of organizing people’s output than corporations did.
- It’s gonna be harder and harder to run fast follow businesses. Have to stay super responsive to customers and technologies.
- Middle managers can’t add value as gatekeepers
- Get close to your community and customers - stay close to what the customer directly experiences.
- Reduce the gap between what people want vs where your money comes from - knowing the thing that you’re doing is actually valuable is super useful.
- Personalized entertainment experiences will continue to get more popular - have to have the confidence to let customers decide.
- Fragmentation isn’t a concern because new larger niches are being discovered
- You bearing the cost of someone else’s bad decisions causes burnout.
Some feature requests for Vine
Since it launched, I’ve been a big fan of Vine. The product made capturing an experience far easier than ever before. What the app lacks in polish, it makes up for in pure magnetic pull to use the app again and again.
With regards to that lack of polish (which really is a bit unfair…the app has many nice touches) here are a few areas where I think Vine could improve in meaningful ways:
- Make it easier to capture video. Right now when trying to record a vine, it’s a bit clumsy to make multiple attempts because each time you “X” out, you’re kicked back to the main activity feed. A simple “Try Again” button would remove this choppiness and increase the odds of higher quality moments being captured and shared. Here’s a mock with that button added, along with two other small tweaks - 1) an indicator of when a vine is long enough to save and 2) how much of your vine you’ve filled up so far (ie: 47%).
- Remove anti-engagement features. This problem was mentioned in a Quora post and it relates to when you comment on a popular Vine, your activity feed instantly fills with noise, notifying you when other strangers also commented, discouraging further engagement. This discouragement from “liking” content can have compounding negatives effects - but could be minimized with other positive signals like recommendation #3:
- Show view counts. If Vine wants to keep the Like functionality as it currently stands, one metric that could encourage user engagement is a view count, similar to what exists in YouTube. This way, even if my Vines aren’t being liked I’ll at least know if they’re being seen - which is sometimes tricky to estimate given how Vine sometimes updates their feed functionality.
What do you think? Would you like to see these changes or are there others you’d want to see first?
The 90/9/1 Rule – Can It Be Broken?
This is such a great conversation…love what’s been shared so far.
I think another thing that impacts the ratio’s balance is how private or public the sharing of content feels. I wonder how much of Instagram’s participation success is due to it feeling slightly safer to share within Instagram’s community instead of the world at large (even though their community is huge now). I think for content that “could” be seen by everyone, there’s an added degree of pressure that makes some people more reluctant to share.
YouTube - Nyan Cat Progress Indicator on YouTube
The power of networking - Kevin Rose interviews Brian Wong
Really enjoyed the recent Foundation interview with Brian Wong. Here are some of the notes from it:
- Counter Strike was a big help for Brian’s design skills….eye hand mouse coordination helped with his speed of design.
- Brian seems like a master at the cold-call email. Just email and get to talk to people, for any amount of time, doesn’t even have to be about stuff related to your startup.
- When guessing email addresses, put your best guess in the to:, and all the other guesses in the bcc line.
- Don’t ask for what you want directly
- He wanted to see the Valley with his own eyes, to understand what made it special….and his take away is that people “don’t come to SF to build a tool, they come to start revolutions.”
- "Leveling up" is why people get sucked into games How can we augment the game achievement?
- People who succeeded broke rules by not knowing what they’re doing (ie: the shitty poker player). Most of the things he was able to accomplish was because he had no choice.
- For the 1st few months of the biz, just sit and listen with people who’ve done it before.
- Don’t hide your authentic excitement around a business. Be grateful. When people see your honesty, they want to help.
"Our vision was to be reality TV celebrities"
Here are some of my notes from Justin Kan’s talk about the making of SocialCam at tonight’s Lean Startup Circle. They don’t cover all the things Justin discussed, just stuff that caught my attention. Full video of the talk is available here.
- They started with a live broadcast app for justin.tv, but nobody on their mobile was watching the videos live. People’s time of posting and the audience’s watching would rarely ever naturally sync up.
- They noticed mobile users were only going live for a few mins at a time (vs. longer duration for desktop users)…and the type of content they were creating (with family/friends in them) wasn’t suitable to be shared to a global audience. Users weren’t comfortable sharing family/friend videos with youtube. This is interesting because some people are wondering which sharing dynamic will win out, 1:1 or 1:many - but I think it really depends on the type of content being created/shared that will determine which structure is best.
- The Justin.tv team was so quick to build stuff without any proven market or need that it took them a long time to actually discover a “real world” problem (ie: other people wanted to broadcast their life, not just watch Justin’s).
- When it came time to build Socialcam they applied their lessons learned from Justin.tv. First up, they didn’t start building stuff until they had specs. Another interesting point - you don’t often hear about spec / requirements as part of today’s startup development, but it’s still relevant and can help save time down the road.
- Justin himself was a self proclaimed shitty coder and decent web developer…and he didn’t know jack about mobile development.
- His lack of knowledge about mobile development turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced him to use his time thinking about what the app was going to be about…to define a mission statement for the app’s purpose. In general, they wanted to build a “social camera”, hence the name.
- Their team consisted of:
-2 iphone engineers
-1 android engineer
-1 product designer
-1 backend engineer
-1 project manager, aka cheerleader / editor (Justin)
-Other peeps on helped with marketing, server set up, etc…
-Total of 6 full-time people over 4 months
- Their one designer worked on both OS’s and the website, which in hindsight was probably asking for too much, spreading design work across three platforms.
- After defining the app’s purpose, they thought about what features they’d need to enable the app’s goals and deliver the type of engagement they wanted.
- Their specs covered:
-specific features and how’d they’d work
-user flow mockups
-a rough cut of screens
-then higher fidelity versions
-and then development came in at this point
- Spec/requirement writing took about the first quarter of total project time
- Some of their keys to getting the product out quickly:
-they invested heavily in writing out a spec
-they had everyone on the team use the product a lot. they did a weekly team meeting where everyone on the team had to contribute a video, and the whole team watched the best ones.
-they had their prod designer engaged early, providing lots of revisions/high fidelity mocks.
- When doing Justin.tv, they believed that PR didn’t matter. Early on, press was positive cause of their unique story. When attention wore off or turned negative, they didn’t really do much to address it.
- With Socialcam, they started to write blog posts about the product even before development was done…and submitted them to hackernews and techcrunch.
- They put together a calendar of 8 weeks before launch. each week had multiple promos going on. 50% got no attention at all. But overall they were successful at generating a lot of buzz before launch.
- They had expensive promos and cheap promos. Some of the expensive ones: planned to give out a trip to fiji for best video at SXSW, made expensive promo video (which he really thought was wasted money). They had a launch party, but in a twist, people at the party had to use the app while at the party.
- They have a running tally of how much money they’ve wasted over the years.
- One of their key product iterations was around tagging.
- In general, they wanted to have FB photos-esque tagging for videos, but at first it wasn’t a required step.
- Making tagging users in the video a required step had a huge impact on distribution. Users could discover the app by being notified that they were tagged in a video. That’s how they were able to build distribution into the app experience organically.
- With Justin.tv, they didn’t think too deeply about their overall vision. They weren’t trying to ride or create the “live video” wave. Instead, their “vision was to become reality TV celebrities.”
Android vs. iPhone development:
- 1 developer on android, 2 on iPhone (based on who was available at their company).
- Their iPhone design was better than Android’s cause that’s what their designer used as his primary phone.
- For android, it was easier to get stuff out. Easier to do beta releases and testing through android.
- But iPhone feature development has actually pulled ahead, despite Android’s easier test/release cycle.
- iPhone usage is still pretty dominant (60-75% of downloads)
Is Silicon Valley a meritocracy or rigged by insiders? Yes.
The other day something obvious (to some) and shocking (to others) happened. Mike Arrington “updated his investment philosophy"…which is to say that he decided his interests were no longer conflicted, and he was going to more openly invest in companies that he and his staff were covering on Techcrunch.
No surprise right? Arrington’s had a buddy-buddy relationship with lots of founders/companies that have received coverage on Techcrunch, so it makes sense that he’d invest in the people he knows best.
But other journalists are up in arms (or jealous?), calling it a “bombshell”. Traditional media people have known not to go near conflict of interest situations, for many good reasons, and they’re surprised/upset that Techcrunch seems to just walk right through the imaginary hurdles in place.
Alas, Techcrunch (and specifically Arrington) have never (admittedly) played by the traditional rules - which should have been obvious the first time TC reported on “off the record" incidents.
Here’s the thing about the Valley, it’s both a meritocracy and a good ole boys network. Unknown engineers can burst onto the scene becoming billionaires and insiders can abuse their personal relationships to make similarly-sized piles of money via early access to investment opportunities (only it’s not called insider trading because so few of today’s dot coms go public anymore).
It’s inspiring and depressing to be an outsider looking in.
To know that with the right breaks you can enter a world where everyone’s friends with people who are funded by famous VCs, who then help to get you funding, which leads to press, and then attention, and then popularity, which leads to more growth and more funding.
Or with the wrong ones seemingly identical ideas surpass your own, leaving you scratching your head wondering why some startups take off like a rocket while yours struggles to stay above water.
Nobody said life is fair, and the same goes for Silicon Valley. All people in the startup game ask for is an unfair advantage.
Want to build a site/app with mass market appeal?
Make something that captures a meaningful signal.
For inspiration, here are some existing popular and meaningful signals:
- The Query (what I want)
- The Social Graph (who I am and who I know)
- The Status Update (what I’m doing)
- The Check-in (where I am)
And some startups emerging with new valuable signals: Quora, Square, Instagram.
To quote John Battelle:
"I’m on the lookout for new Signals. I’m quite certain we’re not nearly finished creating them."
"Inactive" vs. "not yet active" users
There’s been some discussion lately around Twitter’s number of inactive users and what a bad sign it is for the site. Of their 175 million registered users, there over 50 million Twitter accounts following no other accounts, and almost double that for accounts with no followers (stats via lukew).
Despite their hundreds of millions of users (and continued growth), people think these inactive totals signal trouble in the Twitterverse. But unlike most other sites, an inactive user on Twitter isn’t quite the same lost cause.
For whatever reason, it takes some (most?) people a long time to get comfortable with Twitter - not only that, but that lack of comfort is sometimes labelled as annoyance.
"Twitter annoyed the hell out of me for the first year and a half."
-Mike Arrington at Startup School 2008
While people are in this annoyance phase, they naturally look for reasons that the service will die, so they don’t have to put up with it anymore. But a strange thing happens - people keep talking about the service (maybe because it’s so annoying). Other people continue to sign up, and before you know it - you start to engage with them or others.
Even though their growth has been nothing short of meteoric so far, I predict continued big things for Twitter in 2011. Those 50-100 million “not yet active” users will continue rediscovering the service and its increasing utility.
Criticism isn’t progress
But it is so damn easy to critize others’ ideas and worse, insulting others’ idea seems to be one of the main paths I take to prove that I’m smarter than them.
The goal going forward is to try and spend my energy more on highlighting what others are doing right vs. how other people and their ideas are wrong. Not expecting it to be easy because of this:
“Positivity is complex and draining yet fruitful. Negativity is simple and lazy yet worthless.”