Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

The story of FastCustomer

July 18, 2011

Inspired by Chris Yeh’s storytelling post here.  Here’s how I would tell our story, as it relates to raising funds.

Once upon a time…. the people waited on hold.
And every day…. they cursed their fate and gnashed their teeth, waiting a release from this needless burden.
Until one day…. a company was born. A shining star relegating needless hassles to the trash heap of history. And lo!  Their technology was Goode.
And because of that…. whenever the peoples needed help, they simply clicketh.  And it happeneth.
Until Finally…. The evil that is Holde was no more upon the land.
Ever since that day…. the people raised FastCustomer upon their shoulders and carried it all about the land, for they feared not the Holde. They praised the early investors for their courage and vision, and sang songs about them into the evenings.
And the moral is…. funding the dreamers who wield technology to remove burdens from the world is a most worthy endeavor.

How would you write up your story?


micro-lending: buying cows and changing lives

April 5, 2007

On the way to the coffee shop today, instead of listening to a podcast I turned on the radio and heard an interview with the founder of  They’re one of several micro-lending organizations making it easy to lend money to entrepreneurs in developing nations. 

Instead of being a gift, loans are paid back with 0% interest, and the money can then be withdrawn or given to someone else.  The premise being that helping people to become self-sufficient is better than simply giving charity.

It’s working.  The Grameen bank pioneered the model in 1976 and has loaned out over six billion dollars so far.  Interestingly, their loans go mostly to women, who proved much more likely to pay back the loan and to spend the new income on their families. brings the internet into the equation, allowing lenders (you! me!) to participate with amounts as small as $25.  Larger loan requests are spread across many people, minimizing everyone’s risk.  For example, while I’m happy to help Juma Rahimov towards the purchase of two cows, lending him the entire $800 he needs would require more serious research. 

I’d want to meet him, but he’s in Tajikistan.  I’d want to talk to him, but he probably doesn’t English…  Luckily for me, 96% of loans are repaid in full, and since I’m only lending $25 if Juma can’t pay me back I’ll be alright.

I found myself most interested in loans that might get people over a specific problem that’s holding back their business.  For example, Cecilia Tettey in Ghana buys corn from farmers and sells it to retailers in the city.  She needs better transportation, which could really big boost for her business if it meant more trips to the city or less time spent on the road.

It’s interesting to try thinking like an investor.  Along with the text, you find yourself studying the pictures for clues.  Would this person pay back the loan?  Do they look honest?  A hard worker?


Mehman Mirzayev

In the end we can’t help but be influenced by the images.  Somehow the man above reminds me of my father-in-law.  And my friend Ross who always stops to help people with car trouble.  Heck, even the fact that he’s working in the cold makes me want to help him.

Traditional economic theory is all about rational decisions.  Spreadsheets and calculators.  Lending like this is interesting because it  can’t be done rationally.  You just don’t get enough information.  A picture, a paragraph or two and your gut.  That’s it.

Somehow the lack of perfect information makes it fun.  With more information I might find myself trying to calculate return on investment.  Instead I find myself thinking “holy smokes lady! That corn looks heavy.  Maybe this loan will help you buy a truck.”

What do you think, is this the future of giving?  Would it change the equation if the rate of return wasn’t 0%?

on finding a designer

March 1, 2007

We recently posted a job looking for a designer for our startup.

We wanted a design geek who could banter usability theory on the phone, then hang up and make magic happen in the code.  Not an easy person to find, and ultimately we posted this job twice to find the right person.[1]

We received over 250 applications, and going through them was an adventure.  As they came in I checked their portfolios and sorted applications into “oooh”, “maybe” and “no”.  This worked well enough, and I could move applications from one category to another as the process went along.[2]

Along with all the generic “I want a job” applications destined for the trash, we heard from a diverse crowd.  One email might be from someone in New York requiring $120/hour, and the next from a small team in Poland competing on price at $7/hour.

We heard from print designers, web designers, illustrators, several programmers and a project manager at Microsoft.  Twelve people ended up with a the label “interesting”; not right for the job but I’d love to have a beer with them someday.

In the end, Roben Kleene impressed the heck out of us and is already doing great work.  Welcome aboard sir!

Hopefully this review will help other small startups when hiring a designer.  Happy to answer questions in the comments.


Results by site

Cost “Oooh” $/”Oooh” Notes Rating*
$185 1 $185 Not sure why we didn’t get more applications here.  I think they’re quite popular in the UK, perhaps time zones got in the way.
$200 1 $200 I had some initial trouble posting the job (my fault), but Michael Arrington took care of it right away.*

(Authentic Jobs)
$250 2 $125   Designer found here!
5 $110 Great quality, very targeted.

$100 2 $50 Posted in Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles ($25), San Francisco ($75), Boulder, Austin & Seattle.   Craigslist reaches a lot of people, but the average application isn’t very good.
$52 1 $52 Many applications, slightly more qualified than Craigslist.

(Joel on Software)
$350 The designer jobs section is tiny but I tried it anyway because of their guarantee.  Indeed the response was small, and I got a prompt refund with a smile.   Impressive.*
free Posting process was frustrating.

(Programmer meet Designer)
free Neat concept and targetted to designers. Medium volume.
Totals $1,312 12 $109.33

*Ratings are based on both the quantity and percentage of high-quality, targeted applications received.  Some of my favourite sites didn’t rate highly, simply because they’re not targeting the design crowd.  I expect the ratings would be quite different if we were posting a programming or marketing gig. 

[1]  In theory, if you can’t find the perfect person you should walk away.  Hire no-one.

In the real world that’s not how it works.  Even if there are no candidates that make your heart race, you will hire someone.  The solution is to manage the process with this reality in mind, and attract as many qualified applications as you can.

Volume is the answer.

[2]   Next time I’ll use a separate email account to receive applications.  That way they’re not mixed in with all my other email, and it enables sharing when appropriate with relevant team members.