I’ve never been good with timezones. I understand how they work and why they exist, but it’s a hindrance in my day-to-day calendar management because I generally need to schedule meetings on three different timezones (Bucharest, London, NY).
Today however, I discovered an amazing feature that will turn me into a calendar pro: the ability to add another timezone to your Google Calendar. Just go to Calendar -> Settings and in the “Your current time zone” section you now have the ability to add another time zone.
I love it how Google creates these tiny, little features with the sole purpose of delighting customers. More companies should do this.
Fred Wilson wrote a great post today about working too hard and not getting anywhere, something I’ve felt intensely over the past seven years since I started my first company.
But while working too hard and not getting anywhere can be solved by something as elegant as just changing the business model, there’s another scenario that’s not as easy to overcome: working too hard trying to solve the wrong problem.
A few years ago I founded a startup called BrainTV, aiming to build a new type of media company, targeting what we called “smart people”. The concept was to produce video content on certain topics (business, investment, art, theatre) that would be partly informative, partly entertaining (think of it like The Economist meets The New Yorker). I thought it was a good idea at the time but in hindsight - there were so many holes in the whole thing, I don’t even know where to start. We were trying to solve an innexistent problem. We were also perceived as arrogant and even worse, the content wasn’t that good. When I acknowledged that, I shut it down. It took 12 months.
I see a lot of this most recently through my involvement with the Digital Catalyst Fund and I’ve become quite upfront with founders whenever I see it. However, not once have I seen a founder accept that they may be working on the wrong thing, which I can understand as they’ve invested so much time and effort into their idea.
The solution to this is for investors, friends and families to stop being nice. It’s hard to tell the truth when you know it will hurt, but if an idea is shit you would be doing that founder a much bigger favour if you say it’s shit rather than letting them bang their head against the wall for 12 months.
Every quarter, Brainient organises a breakfast event called - evidently - Breakfast & Brains. It’s a forum for our clients and friends, where we discuss the newest happenings in the video advertising world and the next one (happening on May 1st) will be all about mobile: the technology, standards and tracking across the multitude of mobile devices out there.
We’ll have George Dixon (Manager - Mobile & Digital at MediaCom), Paul Lyonette (European Sales Director at YuMe), Simon Andrews (Founder of Addictive Mobile) and yours truly speaking about how to create, run and measure mobile video campaigns at scale.
You can find out more about the event and register here. Tickets are free but seriously limited so go get yours now.
One of my favourite books of all time is The Great Gatsby. I must have read it half a dozen times over the years, but while eagerly waiting for Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of the novel (coming out this May), I decided to read it again.
One of the reasons why I love Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is that each time I read it, a totally different scene sticks with me for weeks, sometimes months. This time, it’s when Nick Carraway says “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” I find it such a beautifully complete way to describe the dynamics between people or organisations.
Take the startup ecosystem for example: you have the pursued (Stripe, Evernote, Spotify, etc); you have the pursuing (investors, VCs, lawyers, etc) who are generally pursuing the prior category; you have the busy (startups with flat growth being busy to get out of flat growth) and the boring (hipsters in Starbucks). So how do you become a pursued startup, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald?
It’s not that hard to deconstruct, really: take Gatsby (pursued by Nick): he’s successful (read: has traction), throws great parties (read: has great network) and is mysterious (read: is intriguing, unattainable), or Daisy (pursued by Gatsby): she’s beautiful (read: has traction), she’s part of the upper class (read: has great network) and she’s married (read: intriguing, unattainable). I don’t know about you, but I see a pattern here.
If you break down any organisation to its indivisible unit, it always comes down to people. Regardless of whether it’s mining asteroids or building mobile apps, someone needs to create something in order to generate some form of utility or economic value. Obviously, some people create better stuff than others.
Now, I’ve always thought that when it comes to building companies it’s 50% about product, 40% about people and 10% about luck. Products are created by people, so abstractly speaking building companies is 90% about people. And the general definition of luck is that opportunity meets preparation, which also requires people, so in it’s most abstract form you could argue that companies are 100% about people. So if companies are all about people, it goes without saying that great companies are all about great people.
I’ve never met Nick D’Aloisio but he seems to be really good at building networks of people quickly (regardless of whether it’s investors, journalists or public company CEOs). I mean, the kid is 17, he’s raised money from some pretty high-profile investors and by the looks of it he’s also met all the right people along the way (including Marissa Mayer).
So here’s why the Yahoo - Summly deal kinda makes sense: in order for Y! to become a great company (again) they need great people and Nick will now attract a lot of smart, young people towards Yahoo! Is that worth $30M? I’m not sure. Is it worth trying, given Yahoo!’s size and ambitions? You bet.
There are very few places in the world where you could say that without it sounding like a total joke. Bucharest is one of those places, according to the many foreign friends who’ve visited my hometown. So 12 months ago, together with a few amazing people, I decided to take advantage of it and helped start the Digital Catalyst Fund, a seed fund that finances entrepreneurs and helps them build their technology in Romania.
Fast forward 12 months later and we’ve funded a handful of amazing ideas. We’ve also created a software company owned by the fund (employing about 30 developers), and hired a CEO to run it (this helps us source awesome talent for the awesome startups we invest in). And we’ve even gone so far as buying and decorating a 6,000 square building to host our entrepreneurs. Accelerator-style.
This year, we’re also announcing the Student Summer Boot Camp, an initiative that encourages students to create a startup. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be selecting a number of ambitious young individuals and cover all their expenses to fly, live, build a product (and party) in Bucharest for three months. We’ve even hired a chef who’ll cook for the winners (we don’t really like burgers in Romania).
So if you have an idea and need help building it, apply now. You’ll enjoy Bucharest, you’ll be amazed by our engineers and fall in love with our women.
Later edit: I’ve been told that this post has a misogynistic tint, so I’d like to let you know that we also have plenty of women engineers in Romania. I’m sure you’d fall in love with them as well.
When it comes to technology, size does matter - the smaller, the better.
I love the iPad. I think there’s no comparable device on the market yet, and doing what I do I’ve tried all of them. For the past few weeks, I’ve been using the iPad mini. It’s awesome, so much so that I’ve stopped using its older, heavier, larger predecessor - the iPad.
There seems to be a trend in technology: it’s becoming invisible. Google Project Glass, the Pebble watch, the artificial retina are great examples. I dream of a world where I can use, touch, speak to technology without actually seeing it. And I dream of a world where all this invisible technology is connected to the internet and interconnected with all my devices.
What’s even more exciting is that the hardware for turning all these products into reality is not tens of years away. It’s here. The software isn’t yet, but it will catch-up. We live in the future and I love that I get to be a part of it. Just wanted to put that out there.
It will come to no surprise for many of my friends that I’m a big fan of Elon Musk, which makes me somewhat biased writing this post. But I’m also a big fan of The New York Times and think that they’re good guys, most of the time. This week, however, they fucked up. Big time.
For those who haven’t followed the saga, the NYT wrote an article about Tesla’s Supercharger network in the US. No need for you to read it - the main takeaway is that if you buy a Tesla Model S you’re going to run out of juice in the middle of the street. Except you won’t, as the CEO of Tesla fired back in a post on the company’s blog, in response to the (unequivocally fake) NYT article.
Now, this is not the first time a big media company trashes a technology company for eyeballs, impressions, and making a point (albeit a wrong one - remember all the negative reviews of the iPhone, anyone?). Except this time, the NYT didn’t go against Elon Musk. They went against a robot. Because for all intents and purposes, the Tesla Model S is a robot. And one of the things robots do is collect data. Lots of it.
This is a very unfortunate event for Tesla, but it sets a great precedent: in the digital era, journalistic integrity can be confirmed or destroyed by using data. I have no shade of doubt that mr. John Broder, the author of the appallingly erroneous article, will find it troublesome to be taken seriously when reviewing cars in the future. As for Tesla, this little event has just made its many fans become even more devoted to the robot that many are calling the iPhone of cars: the Model S.
My take away from all this is to spend more time making sure we collect all the data we possibly can at Brainient. And so should you.
There are many reasons why I’m a big fan of distributed teams: cost savings (the cost for a developer in Romania is three times lower than one in Silicon Valley), 24 hour work-cycles (if you have developers in the Valley as well as Romania, you could basically build product non-stop because when one team finishes, the other starts), cultural impact (people from different sides of the world will look at the same problem differently) and many, many more.
However, there’s one thing that makes it difficult to manage distributed teams and that’s face time. Or lack thereof, actually. At Brainient, we do R&D in Bucharest, Management in London and have clients all around the world. And over the years we’ve built quite a strong process for keeping everyone connected and everything in check. I’d like to share some of our learnings for those looking to build a distributed team.
Weekly catch-ups for each department. Every Monday morning, I start my week with a management meeting, which includes sales, product and finance. We spend an hour going through the most important topics for that month and week. Each manager has similar meetings with their team. We do this over Skype or Google Hangouts, as three members of the management team are in Bucharest and two in London. This ensures that everyone is aligned to the same objectives for that week.
Company-wide catch-up at the end of each month. This is a 15-30 minutes presentation from myself or our COO on what we’ve achieved that month and what we’re planning to achieve in the month to follow. This keeps every member of the team informed about the big picture.
One-on-ones. We do a lot of 1:1 video calls at Brainient. Some of them are regular (each week at the same time), some of them are ad-hoc. Usually if there are more than five emails back-and-forth on a certain topic, a 1:1 is organised to clarify things.
Managers fly over every 6-8 weeks. Myself and our COO fly to Bucharest to spend time with the R&D team every 6-8 weeks. Members of our R&D team fly to London to spend time with the management & sales team just as often. This ensures that there’s enough in-person contact to maintain fluent communication. I’m not sure this is scalable or necessary as our team grows, but if works for now.
Company annual retreat, once a year. Every January, we fly all our teams to the Carpathian mountains in Romania. We spend four days planning, discussing, coming up with new ideas and having fun. It’s by far our most important company-wide activity. Each time we do it we come back buzzing and energised.
All in all, managing distributed teams is all about managing face time. It’s not as easy as having the entire team in one place, but the benefits of having a distributed team are immense and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.