For Love of Product

August 8th, 2006 by Team Member

People who build great companies start with a very different motivation. They want to make “meaning”, not just money. They want to improve the quality of life, right a wrong, or prevent the end of something good.

Hire “infected” people. Look for love of product or idea more than educational credentials. Hire people better than yourself.

From The Ten Commandments of Successful Entrepreneurs by Guy Kawasaki

In mid-March, Adam sent the following email out to the local Mac development list XCoders:

Howdy XCoders,

We are looking for a few great coders to join our team in Pioneer Square. We need your help creating two important things:

1. A company where we can’t wait for Monday to roll around each week because we love the work we are doing and enjoy working with one another.

2. A set of technologies that will change the way that people relate to paper documents.

The skills we are look for include:
- The ability to create killer-apps that change peoples lives
- Experienced with Mac, web and / or open source technologies
- Collaborative and engaging team players

Check out our web site (www.exbiblio.com) for more specific job descriptions and send me an e-mail if you’d be interested in joining our team.

Thanks!

Adam Behringer
Exbiblio

I had just joined another great company, so I wasn’t looking for yet another job, but the “Monday” bit sounded sincere, and the technology that the Exbiblio site talks about is fascinating and personally interesting to me (I had “invented” content-based addressing on the Web myself, but I hadn’t made the connection to paper), so I decided to meet these people, and it was love at first sight (sorry Good).

I especially like the bit in the statement of corporate values from the Web (posted on the front office door as well) that talks about technology:

  • “We will remember that technology can create value in society, but that technology by itself is valueless.”
  • “We will focus on creating value in the world, not capturing value from the world.”
  • “We will leave beauty in our wake.”
  • It reminds me of a big difference I see in companies today in their approach to product design.

    Some companies claim to have no personal stake in the products that they build, and strive to be perfect mirrors of their customers’ needs. They focus on their customers first, and the products follow. Other companies, often led by strong visionaries, portray a love of products, quality and excellence. They focus on the products first, and the customers follow, and usually end up loving them.

    There is a big difference between creating good enough products for money, and creating products because you want to see them come to life. There’s nothing wrong with solving real problems in as economically feasible a fashion as possible. In fact, it’s difficult and worthy of admiration. But, I do believe that it is often possible to do a lot better. Quentin Stafford-Fraser has an interesting quote on the subject.

    One way to look at the difference is to observe the long-term cycles in business. Clayton Christensen, for example, in Innovator’s Solution, talks about how new ideas disrupt existing products and business models, often using highly proprietary, custom solutions, and then gradually become commodities, and become built from commodity pieces, and then are disrupted by a new idea.

    People who love products (be they gadgets, services or outcomes) are the ones who will innovate in the large, but innovation is riskier than optimizing existing products and processes, and is not a consistently winning strategy if one’s focus is money as a means to other, unspecified goals. But it is a winning strategy if the products are the end, and the money the means.

    By Claes-Fredrik Mannby

    tech-success

    August 4th, 2006 by Hugh

    Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has returned from his trip around California. When he wasn’t hobnobbing with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he found time to lunch with a group of Silicon Valley leaders, including Steve Jobs of Apple and Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems. The latter gives and account of the lunch on his blog.

    Naturally Mr. Blair was interested in what makes Silicon Valley so successful. One of the answers he received was “education”. He was also told that wage costs do not matter so much, so long as the talent can turn projects around fast.

    Coincidently, The Economist Magazine has a different version of why America’s high tech firms succeed (Venturesome Consumption quoting a paper by Amar Bhide). According to this theory, investing in scientific education can be over-done. The “Venturesome Consumption” theory praises consumers, rather than inventors, of technology.

    “The most important part of innovation may be the willingness of consumers, whether individuals or firms, to try new products and services.”

    I have to say that on my first visit to Exbiblio, I was very struck how the office had adopted all the technological help it could get its hands on, from a wireless network, to AIM instant messaging, a wiki, and internal blogs. Using tools like these seems like second nature, at least in this American company. The same tools are freely available in the UK, but few companies are quite so quick to adopt them.

    So Mr. Blair take heed: it might be better to leave great inventions to others, and to let consumers get on with enjoying their gizmos.

    Mitch Kapor’s New Startup

    August 1st, 2006 by Hugh

    Mitch Kapor , who gave the world Lotus Notes, has announced on his blog that he is incubating a new startup. His description is suitably vague for an early stage project.

    We’re working on innovation at the intersection of search and social production. Think of new services which are a cross between Google and the Wikipedia. So far it’s just been myself and my co-founder, Todd Agulnick. We have built an incredibly nifty proof-of-concept system built around tens of millions of bookmarks.

    Search and social (or collaborative) production are of course the hottest areas on the Internet. It goes without saying that Google has shown that Search has enormous utility and the ability to drive contextual advertising. Social production is exemplified by services such as Flickr, Del.icio.us and Writely. The first two were bought by Yahoo, and the last one by Google. From what I’ve seen of Exbiblio, it too will be operating in these key areas.

    Update: Kapor’s project is called Foxmarks. It synchronises bookmarks across different computers and there’s a wiki about it here.

    The Ultimate Computer Satellite

    July 28th, 2006 by Hugh

    I stumbled across this interview with Apple Inventor, Steve Wozniak. He has a number of interesting things to say about inventions, but I think this thought bodes well for Exbiblio:

    Then there’s the iPod. Its success is due to the fact that it’s a satellite to a computer: The computer has become absolutely central to our lives

    Wozniak believes that many areas in technology are swamped and that perhaps there should only be a dozen companies making computers. The industry is mature, and it’s hard to come by new inventions. But clearly he believes that an invention that is a satellite to the computer has lots of mileage in it.

    From what I’ve seen of Exbiblio’s technology, it is about making the good old-fashioned book orbit around the computer – in fact, if Exbiblio suceeds, the book will be the ultimate computer satellite, perhaps even cooler than the iPod.

    Travelling with ideas

    July 27th, 2006 by Hugh

    “Just remember that your ideas last longer than people or things. Your ideas will go further if you don’t insist on going with them.” From Start Up, A Silicon Valley Adventure, by Jerry Kaplan.

    My first thought when reading this sentence is that most historic ideas are associated strongly with names: Plato… Newton… Marks …Darwin.. Freud… Einstein… Keynes, and that this linkage has never stopped those thinkers having followers and disciples who develop the idea further. But of course, the famous thinkers in this list were academic types who worked alone for the most part.

    I can see that within a company there can be a desire for an idea to not belong to one person, but to take on a life of its own, and to grow and develop among those that work there, and be transformed, perhaps, into something rather different. I know that Exbiblio is in this latter camp.

    Jerry Kaplan’s idea, by the way, was for a hand-held computer with a pen instead of a keyboard. He came up with the idea when he watched Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus, get frustrated while his laptop powered up so he could take notes and organise his thoughts. But Kaplan’s invention was before its time, and his company ended up being liquidated in 1994, chair by chair, at an auction.