Goodbye Exbiblio

November 27th, 2006 by Adam

It has been an whirlwind year and a half at Exbiblio. This will be my last week as an employee. Hugh did a good job of describing the current situation in his post, so I won’t rehash it here.

I’ve been able to have lots of different roles: Contract Programmer, CEO (in the early days), Mac Developer, Beta Manager, Blogger, Web App Developer, Product Designer, Operations, Branding, Mail Delivery, etc… I’ve had seven different offices if you count the first months when I worked from my Bee Documents office!

I recently came across the phrase “boiling the ocean” which is a good way of describing my frustration with Exbiblio. We have been trying to change the world, business, and technology all at once without a clear plan to do so. I think we could done a much better job at carefully choosing targets and knocking them down one at a time. Hopefully, the team that remains at Exbiblio will be able to find this kind of focus.

Certainly, there have been many great positives to working at Exbiblio as well. The biggest joy has been all is the people I’ve had a chance to work with, both past and present team members…

Martin has an idea a minute, challenges convention at every opportunity, and feels that a business is only worthwhile if it changes the world for the better. Hugh takes honesty and openness in corporate blogging to a new level. Lauren has the coolest music collection ever which got me re-interested in the Beatles and older Wilco stuff. Noah introduced me to sushi which I am now addicted to. Hap exhibits the kind of living that we all aspire to. Janinne is passionate about creating the kind of work environment and culture that everyone dreams about. Arial has “integrity” tattooed to her hand, literally. Claes-Fredrik can make a game out of any technological innovation. Ed M does the best job of herding cats that I have ever seen. Thanks to Ed T for the phrases “vaguely Asian” and “classy” which I have adapted and made part of the my vocabulary. Hillary has a passion for the environment, that if it could somehow be converted to electricity, would solve all the world’s energy problems. Richard is often a cool voice of reason which is at least as valuable as his brilliant technical ability. Quentin pointed the way towards bringing Martin’s crazy ideas to fruition. Ania asks really hard questions about beauty and truth in design meetings. Ian is the kind of person everyone wants to work with and be around. Damon is so smart it’s scary. Brendan is quiet until the topic of bicycles or politics come up. Jer’s blog posts about green design speak to his passion and he illustrates images of dog food surprising well. john makes sure that we are not just a pizza pocket and Coke type of operation (who knows why we aren’t allowed to capitalize his name?). Jesse makes everything work that way it should, and has a good answer for every question.

There are many others who have been apart of the Exbiblio team. Sorry I can’t list all of you. Thanks for the memories and the knowledge you have given me.

The other great aspect of working with Exbiblio is that big dreams are the fuel that this company runs on. The dreams of the founders and employees are a very explicit part of daily operation, which is a rare and valuable environment to work in. I hope that many of the dream come true.

Thanks for the great ride, I will always be a friend and fan of Exbiblio.

A Business And the Environment

October 20th, 2006 by Hugh

Hilary Franz is an environmental lawyer who represents non-profit environmental organizations. She divides her life between her environmental legal work, small scale farming, home-schooling three boys, and working at Exbiblio. On her desk at Exbiblio there is a book called “Collapse” by Jared Diamond – her reading matter is an indication of her serious concerns about the environment, and the direction of our society.

She admits to being “challenged” by the whole notion of technology. She points to her computer and says that it has a “real world environmental impact”, and in fact, she would throw it out of the window right now, if it were not for the fact that she couldn’t do her legal work without it. She recognises that a computer has benefits as well as minuses for the world:

“It also provides an opportunity for connecting people to education and information that is going to create power for change in the world, and help create a sustainable environment,” she says.

This is why she insists that we should “do honour to Exbiblio”, because Exbiblio states in its values that technology in itself is valueless. It must be a force for good through information, connections, knowledge and the power that comes from each of these to change and improve the world.

Hilary is starting to investigate the best model for Compendia, the non-for-profit organisation set up by Exbiblio to work on the environment. She believes that Compendia goes right to the heart of what makes Exbiblio “so different.”

“People should be inspired to work here every day,” she says. “Wealth will be generated by this product that will then go to fund real life world-changing work; preservation of rain forests, environmental education, tackling climate change. It’s not just about what Exbiblio produces. We are creating a model. The hope is that we will go out and spread this model, speaking about it, talking about it, sharing it with others to transform the way corporations operate.”

“This is a corporate redesign. We are establishing a new set of norms where we direct the creativity and resources of business towards the great challenges of creating a sustainable future, and where the power of real change can be an engine for creativity within the company.”

She says that other companies create wealth, and only then think about whether they might donate some of it to good causes. Exbiblio is about fully integrating its values with the work that it does on a daily basis.

As for Exbiblio, she says, “Here’s a company that’s doing work that needs to be honoured! They are dealing and grappling with the issue. Many companies historically have not always looked at the environmental impacts of doing business. Exbiblio is wanting to make sure that they are not just designing a product to make profit and that will cause harm, but instead they are planning to make profit, while minimizing the harmful impacts, and maximizing value for the environment.”

She concludes,”We can’t say ‘if” this is going to happen. This needs to happen. It has to happen.”

Tegic and startup funding

October 19th, 2006 by Hugh

Exbiblio’s friend Bill Valenti joined the team for the regular Wednesday lunch. Bill and Martin King were both founders of Tegic which created T9 text-inputting for mobiles, and eventually sold to AOL. Bill’s current venture is Melodeo which puts music and podcasts on mobile phones. Martin asked Bill to reminisce a little about Tegic days, and the experience of raising funding.

Bill recalled that in 1996 the company was running perilously low on funds. They had turned down some offers to licence their technology to mobile phone makers on an exclusive basis, as they saw that as limiting its potential. But an opportunity to discuss putting T9 on mobiles in the Korean market with Samsung. Tegic saw that an exclusive deal in the Korean language contained the downside quite nicely. This first Tegic agreement also included a license for the US market, but was not exclusive and was for a limited term.

Bill and Martin flew out to Seoul for a few “extremely intense” days of negotiations. They were two entrepreneurs from a Seattle startup dealing with a global corporation. Fortunately Bill had been a banker in Seoul in the 1970s and had lent money to Samsung in that capacity. He brought out the business cards of the first chairman of Samsung and the people he had helped 20 years back. He also speaks enough Korean for social chit-chat and singing (karaoke). All in all, they got on well and came back with a deal worth 1.6 million which was paid up-front without any loss of equity in the company.

The first revenues in-the-bank led directly to Tegic’s very-well received first round of external funding, completed only a few months later. Bill thinks it preserved 25% of the equity in the company for the existing investors, management and employees. And Martin believes that this transaction and relationship with Samsung was the making of the Company.

“Timing is everything” concludes Bill, and he endorses Exbiblio’s approach of waiting until it has a product in hand before it goes to investors. It’s entirely logical to want to negotiate from a position of strength, and there’s nothing like revenues for breathing life into a startup.

More startup killers

October 17th, 2006 by Hugh

Here’s another list of start-up mistakes that bloggers are pointing towards. I’m not saying that these are directly applicable to Exbiblio, but some of them just make good food for thought.

Don’t get too attached to your original plan, because it’s probably wrong.

Exbiblio is aware of the sin of obstinacy, and has left quite a few key decisions until very late in the day, to allow for discovery of what users really want.

Having no specific user in mind is listed as another start-up slayer:

A surprising number of founders seem willing to assume that someone, they’re not sure exactly who, will want what they’re building.

And here is some advice which I think Exbiblio should take pretty seriously, given that it doesn’t have much of a marketing budget:

If you’re going to attract users, you’ll probably have to get up from your computer and go find some.

Perhaps one day somebody will write up the ten things that start-ups get right.

More or less?

October 16th, 2006 by Hugh

A meeting that I’ve just attended (with a presentation by Adam) really boiled down to this question: should Exbiblio start by doing a small number of things incredibly well, and to clearly communicate those things to a well-defined first-user group? Or should it be more feature-rich, and even have an open platform to develop third party applications?

It boils down partly to practicality – what can be achieved given time and money – and partly to the best way to market it. Exbiblio, and in particular Martin, keeps coming back to the notion that you have to put the product in users hands, and see what they do with it, and only then can you reach a decision. It means that the feature list will be finally decided on rather late in the day.

If you build, customers will come….

October 13th, 2006 by Hugh

Let me remind you of one of the supposed “Geek Business Myths” that I referred to recently.

If you build, they will come (i.e. customers).

This is Exbiblio’s position.

If you build a product that creates real value in the world, then you can’t go far wrong.

But still, I wonder, how is Exbiblio going to sell that product? Here are the main points of the marketing “plan” that I know about.

  • The first “target market” will almost certainly be students.
  • The primary method for spreading the word will be “viral” – i.e. those who try it will love it and tell their friends.
  • Beta testing the product among 1000 people early next year will create buzz.
  • The main selling point will be the Exbiblio website.
  • Independent bookshops fit in well with Exbiblio’s values, and could help sell its oPen.
  • Online bookshops are also potential partners for selling the oPen. They will see the value in linking the paper world to the online world, and so stimulating online book sales.
  • There are some publishers who have online versions of their books, and similarly, they will see the value in linking paper with digital, and help sell the oPen.

In the initial months, following the launch of the oPen next Spring, the goals for sales will be fairly modest. All Exbiblio wants to do is prove that there is demand in the market. But are these plans concrete enough for this stage?

Top Ten Geek Business Myths

October 3rd, 2006 by Hugh

Ron Garret, a Venture Capitalist, has written up his Top Ten Geek Business Myths. He says the following are classic mistakes. Which ones are Exbiblio making?

  1. A brilliant idea will make you rich.
  2. If you build it they will come. (i.e. customers).
  3. Someone will steal your idea if you don’t protect it.
  4. What you think matters.
  5. Financial models are bogus.
  6. What you know matters more than who you know.
  7. A Ph.D. means something.
  8. I need $5 million to start my business.
  9. The idea is the most important part of my business plan.
  10. Having no competition is a good thing.

Special bonus myth (free with your paid subscription): After the IPO I’ll be happy.

I don’t think Exbiblio is guilty of the last two ‘mistakes’, including the special bonus. As for 1-8, well I’m not quite so sure…

Democracy and Leadership in Business

October 3rd, 2006 by Hugh

Kibble DemoOnce upon a time (roughly last Spring) Exbiblio was a bright and bushy-tailed young software company. It was also a very democratic place, where decisions were made as the result of lengthy brain-storming sessions. Its ideal was a ‘flat management structure’ without any job titles. In fact, when I read the ‘people page’ on the website as it stands even now, it’s hard to tell what anybody does at Exbiblio. Most seem to grow organic vegetables and ride bicycles to work. You certainly get no idea of who the CEO is (apparently they are still looking for one).


iPod first reactions

September 27th, 2006 by Adam

Today I came across this archived thread from I remember that day back in 2001, I was lurking on this thread… All the Mac geeks (at least the vocal ones) were dissapointed in the iPod. Check it out, it is funny reading it knowing how the iPod actually performed in the market and shaped culture.

One of the things that is facinating about Apple is that they can ignore popular opinion, chart their own course, and end up shaping popular culture. Something to think about as we begin to share early versions of our own products with the public. When should Exbiblio listen to feedback, when should we ignore it, and how do we draw that line?

Exbiblio’s Finances

September 25th, 2006 by Hugh

On my visit to Exbiblio last week, I intended to ask some straight questions about the bottom line. Most of my questions were answered when the whole team was called together for what was billed as the first in a regular series of updates on Exbiblio’s progress. We met in the newly opened “wing” of the already quite extensive office. Martin King was in the chair, and his relaxed demeanour and quiet voice belied the starkness of the situation which he outlined.

Here’s my summary of what he said: Exbiblio has been spending money faster than originally planned. The money can be stretched out, just about, until next March when the product launch is due – the product being the oPen scanner. There will then be a pressing need to find outsider investors. If enough sales can be generated to show that there is demand for the oPen, then the founders or Exbiblio’s bankers might extend a loan for six months to allow it to raise capital. However you look at the situation, it’s going to be a close call.