How to Build HealthCare.Gov for Less than $600 Million

By all accounts has cost a considerable amount to build. Some estimates place the cost between $174 million to $300 million, others between $350 to $500 million, and still others as high as $600 million.

But how does that compare to the private sector? Have tech startups built websites and businesses for less, or is this a reasonable amount of money for a portal that coordinates a national healthcare exchange? Let’s take a look at a few companies to find out.

Facebook, which has over 1.15 billion monthly active users, started with a $500,000 investment from Peter Thiel. They then received a $12.7 million round of funding from Accel Partners for a valuation around $100 million. A year or so later Facebook received another round of funding for a total of $25 million. Finally, in 2007 Microsoft invested $240 million bringing the funding total to $278.2 million.

That amount lasted for 7 years and was used to build a site that eventually would serve 1.15 billion active monthly users without crashing and to fund operations, pay salaries, invest in technology infrastructure, etc. So the rough estimate for HealthCare.Gov would have sustained Facebook for 7 years, not just been enough to get a broken site up and partially working.

Are there any other examples? Yes, let’s turn our attention to Twitter.

Twitter was started with an initial $5 million Series A round of funding in July of 2007. They later received $150 million in funding from Series B through D rounds for a total of $155 million in the first three years of operation. Once again, that’s less than was needed for the current Healthcare Exchange website and was spread out over a period of three years, not spent before the site was even launched.

A few other examples are Instagram which was built for $57.5 million, LinkedIn which was built for $200 million, and Spotify which was built for $288 million.

All five of these are examples of large, complex private companies that were launched and maintained for less than has cost just to build. You may be thinking that none of these are as complicated as, but an argument can be made that they’re equally complicated. And at the very least, the difference in complexity isn’t enough to justify $300 to $600 million just to get a website off the ground because that amount doesn’t included fixes (something the government is ponying up to pay for right now), ,maintenance, and inevitable upgrades.

Another comparison can be made with the Apple iPhone. The original iPhone reportedly cost $150 million to make, which is less than one half the conservative estimate for how much the healthcare exchange website has cost so. One is a completely new handheld device that requires a brand new operating system and the other is a website that communicates with other companies and government agencies. It doesn’t seem like a single website should cost twice as much as a brand new device the world has never seen before.

At this point you may be thinking, “Those are good comparisons, but none of them are as critical as a Healthcare Exchange. If one of those sites go down, people can no longer send tweets. It doesn’t mean that American citizens will lose healthcare coverage for periods of time.” Ok, that’s fair, but there are other examples.

ZenPayroll for one built a complex system that deals with taxes and can’t tolerate bugs because it’s connected to people’s paychecks. They launched with $6.1 million in funding, a.k.a. 1% of the upper estimate for the Healthcare website, and they’re doing quite well. Companies like this prove that complex problems can be solved with error-free technology in spaces where there’s zero margin for error.

A few other examples, this time from the healthcare space, are SimplyInsured, CakeHealth, and Eligible API. All three are creating exciting technology related to healthcare and are operating off of a first round of seed funding. The technology they’re building has to do with health insurance and healthcare and also has no margin for error.

All in all, Healthcare.Gov has been an expensive project that so far hasn’t worked as well as was planned. Even though most of us probably expect nothing less from the Federal Government, my point isn’t to rail on President Obama or the Federal Government. My real goal is to point that there are better and less expensive ways to build a website that’s so important to the American public and will be spending taxpayers’ dollars. Here’s my solution…

How to Build for Less Than $600 Million

How would I have managed the project? First, I would have created a startup competition similar to NYC Big Apps, or any of the other startup competitions like the X Prize. This would draw out the best and brightest companies and individuals in the country to compete for the contract. The first round would take place in year one, and three winners would be selected to receive $15 million in funding (for a total around 10% of what people are estimating the current site has cost).

After the first year, and with only $45 million invested, there would be three companies solving the problem amazingly well, and there would be competition to spur each of them on. The winners would go from $0 to $15 million in funding and would continue to compete for government contracts to run the exchanges. Near the end of the second year, each state could pick which company to work with based on which solution they thought was the best. All three would likely be performing at a high level, but if not, states could choose the website that met their need the best.

The end result would be a product that works incredibly well and costs significantly less than the current exchange. New startups would be born in the process, US jobs would be created (as opposed to handing a multi-hundred million dollar contract over to a Canadian company), and the American economy would be stimulated. It would also deal with the problem of government contracts that get awarded based on legacy work and instead would reward the solution that performed the best.

I’m not saying you should vote me for President because I would run projects like this perfectly, but I am saying there are better ways to build a website and more efficient ways to spend taxpayers money. There’s no excuse to pay $350 to $500 for a single website that’s going to require additional maintenance and upgrade costs to continue running. That amount of money has been used to sustain amazingly complex tech companies for four to seven years or more. If those companies can launch with significantly less money, there’s absolutely no reason couldn’t do the same.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like the project could have been managed better? Do you have any suggestions on how that could have been done or additional comments about my solution? Leave a comment so we can discuss.


The Startup Side Project Bubble

I hate to break it to you, but there’s currently a startup side project bubble. Yes, it’s true.

Everyone from designers to developers to UI/UX to biz dev thinks they’re an entrepreneur and has a side project going on. Why is this happening, you ask? It’s because everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but they’re not quite yet ready to commit.

This creates a big problem.

It’s a problem because side projects create a talent bubble of people who aren’t fully engaged and are just doing enough at their “real” or full-time job to get by until their startup is up and running. This means their productivity suffers at their full-time job, an expense the employer ends up paying. The side project owners justify it by assuming it will only be for a short period of time.

But when it comes down to what actually happens, startups often take longer than expected to get up and running all while the job and the startup limp on. The employee doesn’t excel at his job nor does the startup take off.

And actually, we need to be honest. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Part of being one is accepting the risk of starting your own company and taking the leap to be committed full time. It’s not good for startups or for companies to have employees that are partially engaged in both and committed to neither.

Thom Ruhe, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, had this to say about the criteria needed to be a successful entrepreneur as quoted in the Editor’s letter of the April 2013 edition of Inc. magazine:

“‘Unless there are real consequences for failureuntil you’ve personally guaranteed a line of credit and tried to sell your product to an actual human being,’ says Ruhe, you won’t have the motivation needed to build a business that matters.”

The worst part is that a lot of the side projects end up being another attempt at the next social network or a new project management app. Here’s a quick tip: there are plenty of those already. If you do want to start a company, work on building a real business, not a side idea that’s hoping to be the next Twitter/Facebook/Instagram combination or a better version of Basecamp.

On top of all of this, lean startup principles create a problem as well. Lean principles are great, but they’ve created a group of people who take them as a license to create cheap or low-risk projects on the side. Yes, you can use lean startup principles to lower risk and find a minimally viable product faster, but you still need to commit to your business and give lean principles the effort they need to power your company to success. And always remember: lean doesn’t mean you get to create a crappy product; it means you iterate and experiment quickly in order to find a product that resonates with your customers faster.

The biggest problem with side projects is that the lack of commitment dilutes the startup talent pool, hurts the side project or startup, and in turn kills great startups from succeeding. If you’re looking to start a business, take some time to consider whether or not you’re ready to be all in.

Yes, you can save some money to prepare yourself for the eventual leap. And yes, you should consider carefully whether or not you’re ready to start a business. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot by stringing your employer along and delaying the leap to becoming a full-time entrepreneur. The choice is yours, but too many people are making the wrong one. I hope you have what it takes to commit and become a real entrepreneur.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment to discuss.

What’s Wrong with a No-Remote-Work Policy at Yahoo?

Like many others who pay attention to Hacker News, on Monday I read the 37Signals entry titled “No more remote work at Yahoo where David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails and partner at 37Signals, rants about his disapproval of a recent Yahoo policy that asks all employees who work from home to start working in the Yahoo offices beginning in June. Here’s what the new policy says (as quoted in the 37Signals post):

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

This ended up being newsworthy because so many companies are going in the other direction when it comes to remote workers. Small startups are getting founded with remote teams that work across countries and time zones and larger companies are experimenting with work-from-home arrangements to save time and money for the company and employees.

In many cases, remote-worker policies work out well, but for a company that has been struggling like Yahoo, is it really such a bad idea to bring all of the troops back to the office to strengthen the Yahoo culture and foster innovation and collaboration? I for one don’t think it’s a bad idea. Here’s why…

Reason #1: Yahoo is failing

Currently, Yahoo is failing and is in need of radical change. It needs people to leave, and it needs to have a fresh outlook. To do this, it needs to do some things that are controversial. Sure, this policy may not be popular with everyone at Yahoo, but it’s worth it if it gets the company back onto the right track.

Reason #2: Company culture is important

Having a strong company culture is important for having a successful company, and the best companies with core values that get celebrated are companies that have most if not all of their employees in their office. Zappos is a great example of this. They relocated from San Francisco, CA to Henderson, NV for cheaper office space and lower cost of living, and most of their employees came with them. How’s that for a crazy company policy that requires employees to work together in the same place? The result is one of the strongest company cultures in the world, if not the strongest. Companies with great culture and remote workers still at least have a core group in the office to maintain a strong company culture.

Reason #3: Remote work is hard to scale

It is very hard to scale a company that has a majority of remote workers. Anyone with a sizeable team of 5 to 10 people knows that you have to have in-person meetings which requires travel, hotels, etc. Yes, 37Signals pulls it off, but they’re also a small company. When you’re trying to scale remote workers and build a strong company culture at the same time, it’s hard to do. Large companies are very different than small companies, which is something that has to be taken into consideration when reviewing policies like this. Growing a startup like 37Signals that admittedly wants to stay small is very different than managing a large, struggling company because success at a growing startup hides all sorts of issues that aren’t hidden at a company the size of Yahoo.

Reason #4: Maybe remote work wasn’t working

It’s very possible (likely even based on the new policy) that the current culture of remote work wasn’t working at Yahoo. Maybe it wasn’t managed well in the past and currently isn’t productive, but it’s impossible to know without being on one of the teams within the Yahoo offices. So without further info on the productivity of Yahoo’s current remote employees, any comment on this is merely speculation.

Reason #5: The policy can change

Yahoo didn’t say they’ll never allow remote work in the future. They simply articulated that at this time there is a need for everyone to come into the offices to build a strong sense of what it means to be a “Yahoo” and to facilitate “interactions and experiences that are only possible in [their] offices.” Once the company gets back on track, it’s possible that this policy can be loosened. They’ll likely never be a majority-remote-employee company, but they may once again make allowances for remote workers and be more lenient for people who need to “stay home for the cable guy.”

Reason #6: Very few people can work remotely

Not everyone can work remotely. It takes discipline and a certain type of person with years of practice and experience. It’s possible that the wrong people were working remotely. However, once again, with that said, there’s no way to know for sure without having information that’s only available to Yahoo employees and managers.

Closing statement

What I’m really trying to get at is that if I was rebuilding something that had been limping along for years, I would want people in the office to experience the new culture and build the company we were going to be moving forward. Marissa Mayer seems to be doing a decent job with this so far, and we should all wait before passing judgement on this decision to curb remote-working at Yahoo.

The 37Signals post mentioned that Yahoo isn’t Google or Apple and therefore doesn’t have the clout to require workers to be in the office while still hiring the best talent. I would argue that, since they want to be a Google or an Apple, then they need to put policies like this in place first in order to build the strong company they desire to be. In the end, David Heinemeier Hansson is entitled to his opinion, as is everyone else, but really, only time will tell whether or not this was a good decision by Yahoo, so let’s wait and see.

The Internet Bubble Wasn’t All Bad Ideas

We all know the story well: at the end of the 1990’s and the beginning of the 2000’s investors threw caution to the wind and invested heavily in businesses based solely on the fact that they added “.com” to the end of their name. They overlooked standard investment metrics like earnings per share, and instead based their investments on the expectation that new internet customers would lead to earnings booms. Some companies even IPO’ed before making a “net” profit.

And then it happened.

The market corrected, stock prices dropped, and most of these companies went bankrupt. They no longer could get the funding they needed, and since they weren’t making any money, they went under. It became known as the dot-com era bubble.

So now everyone looks at the dot-com bubble and thinks of it as an era filled with bad ideas and poor investment principles. But that’s not actually the case (although the “poor investment principles” label still applies).

Instead of being an era full of bad ideas, most of the businesses were ahead of their time. They were viable ideas that were being pushed ahead of the technical capacity that would make them profitable. They also suffered from an attempt to get too big too quickly.

Example #1:

Let’s take as an example since they’re known as one of the biggest dot-com era busts. They started operating in August of 1998 and closed down in November of 2000. During that time they became nationally recognized through successful advertising and PR campaigns. This led to sales, but not enough to sustain profitability. By the time they shut down in 2000 they had lost $300 million in investment capital.

So what was the problem?

For starters, 1998 wasn’t the best time to start an online pet supply store. The internet was still in its infancy. People weren’t surfing the web all hours of the day on devices ranging from desktops at work to smart phones in bed. And they weren’t used to making purchases over the internet. The average consumer was more comfortable buying pet supplies from a local store than an online retailer. People weren’t yet ready to make the switch.

So was selling pet supplies online a terrible idea? No, actually it wasn’t. It suffered from bad timing and trying to grow too quickly, but the idea itself wasn’t bad. Pet food alone is a $52 billion per year business with $666 million being sold online in 2011. Today sites like,, and are making money by selling pet supplies online., a two-year-old company based out of New York, was expected to earn $30 million in sales in 2012 based on their subscription model that delivers pet food to customers’ doorsteps.

As you can see, there are now lots of companies that are making money by selling pet supplies online. Are they worthy of $300 million in investments and splashy initial public offerings that appoint them as the next big thing? Probably not. But they’re making money by doing the exact same thing did from 1998 to 2000. They’re just being a little smarter about it, and benefiting from the current internet shopping habits of American consumers.

Example #2:

Another big-time dot-com era bust is They attempted to provide same-day delivery of everyday goods like magazines, food, and Starbucks coffee. Kozmo’s numbers in 1999 looked something like this: $3.5 million in revenue and $26.3 million in losses. They also raised around $250 million in funding and offered services in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, San Fransisco, Seattle, Portland, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., San Diego, and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, they ended up shutting down in April of 2001 which led to the firing of 1,100 employees.

What happened? Was this simply a terrible idea?

No, but it was executed quite poorly. Here’s one description that Wikipedia provides:

Despite serious concern and many suggestions from its employees to require a minimum purchase and/or a delivery charge, Kozmo continued to use the same business model of free delivery no matter what the price, even if it were a $.50 pack of gum or candy bar.

As you can see, Kozmo made the poor decision to offer their service to everyone free of charge. This simply was not sustainable. There needed to be some type of service charge or minimum purchase requirement. It also seems like they grew too quickly by expanding to so many cities without proving their model in a handful of cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco. But the Kozmo business model wasn’t entirely a bad idea. Parts of the concept are still being used today. Chris Siragusa, the former CTO, went on to found Manhattan-based MaxDelivery which operates with a similar model to Kozmo and is still in business.

There are also many retailers who are considering how to use same-day delivery to boost their sales. Amazon currently offers it in select cities, and other companies like eBay and Wal-Mart are looking into how to offer similar services for their customers. Net-a-Porter, a designer apparel site, offers same day shipping in London and New York for a $25 charge. The U.S. Postal Service is even testing same day shipping in San Francisco.

Based on these examples, it seems like Kozmo was ahead of it’s time and attempted to grow too quickly more than it was a bad idea. There’s no way to know how this same-day-delivery market will evolve, but as these cases show, companies are still looking into how to make money from it, 11 years after Kozmo went out of business.

Example #3:

Similar to of the dot-com bubble era, started selling specific products to be shipped by mail, only they started in 2005. Their focus was on baby products which included diapers, wipes, formula, clothes, strollers, etc.

Unlike, they ended up being very successful. The company grew quickly, became rated as the #1 retail business by INC. magazine in 2009, and formed a sister company, to sell soap-related products, in 2010. Their expected revenue in 2010 was $300 million which was up 67% from the year before and which led to their being acquired by Amazon for a price of $545 million. is similar to in that it offered a niche group of products to specific customers that were sold via the internet and delivered by mail, but it was different in that, instead of losing $300 million of investment capital, it earned over $300 million in revenue and was acquired by the larget e-Retailer in the world for $545 million.

Since the ideas were so similar, what made the difference?

The answer is timing. Consumers weren’t as ready to purchase from e-retailers in 1999 as they were in 2005. Shopping habits have changed over time, and more consumers are both online and willing to purchase via the internet. This is proven by a company like selling $30 million worth of dog food over the internet, and it’s proven by becoming an acquisition target of

The question to ask

So the question to ask is this: Was the dot-com era filled with bad ideas, or were many businesses started with good ideas that were executed poorly and suffered from bad timing? I tend to think that in a surprising number of cases, the latter is true. Tech pioneer Marc Andreeseen has the same opinion. Here’s what he has to say about the subject:

“One of my working theories right now is basically every single idea from the dotcom era was correct.”

What do you think? Is Marc’s theory true? Was every single idea from the dot-com era correct but ahead of its time? Do you have any other examples of dot-com era busts that have now been proven to be successful? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

Dot-Com Bubble - Wikipedia - Wikipedia - Wikipedia - Wikipedia
Retailers battle for pet food market share -
Eight things Marc Andreessen said to Quartz that made us sit up and listen -

Why “The Men Who Built America” Is a Must Watch for Every Entrepreneur

The Men Who Built America.

It’s a History Channel series that explores the lives of five men who lived the American dream and became some of the wealthiest businessmen in U.S. history—Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford.

If you haven’t heard their stories before, you’ll learn how Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie went from rags to riches, starting with nothing and going on to become the richest men in America. You’ll also learn about the events and connections that led to their success, the rivalries they had among themselves, and some of their greatest failures.

For example, you’ll learn that Andrew Carnegie was an immigrant from Scotland who started working as a child laborer in a button factory. He benefitted from a free library made available by a local businessman, Tom Scott, who shared his books with the working boys of the town. Eventually, Scott took a liking to Carnegie and brought him on as his assistant.

Carnegie continued to be promoted until, at age 24, he was made manager of Scott’s company. In his new position, he was tasked with building a bridge across the Mississippi River—a feat that had never successfully been completed. It was during this project that he discovered steel was the only metal strong enough to withstand the current of the mighty Mississippi.

The project ultimately led Carnegie to envision the role steel would play in the industrialization of America, causing him to invest all of his money into steel production. The bet paid off, and due to the Bessemer steel-production technology he discovered that made steel production more efficient, he became the top supplier of steel for the railroads, bridges, and skyscrapers that were being built across America.

He also created a business model in which he owned the raw materials, the steel manufacturing, and the transportation infrastructure. This maximized profit and later became known as vertical integration.

By the start of the 20th century he was one of the wealthiest men in America. However, the wealth of the man who had forced Carnegie’s former mentor out of business still surpassed his. His grudge against this man—John D. Rockefeller—led to a financial rivalry that continued for many years.

Carnegie eventually sold his steel mills to J.P. Morgan, thereby surpassing Rockefeller and becoming the richest man in America. He then started giving away his money to charitable causes, becoming one of the greatest philanthropists America has ever known. He donated the  equivalent of $4.3 billion in today’s money.

By watching The Men Who Built America, you’ll learn in more detail about Andrew Carnegie’s journey from rags to riches and about the lives of these four other legendary entrepreneurs. You’ll learn that Cornelius Vanderbilt started out in the shipping industry before selling all of his ships to invest in railroads.

Why would he make such a drastic pivot? He did it because he saw the future role the railroad industry would play in building America. Much like the other entrepreneurs featured in the show, one of Vanderbilt’s greatest attributes was an ability to “see around the corners” and envision the future. This was a key characteristic that led to the success of all five of these men.

You’ll also learn that when Theodore Roosevelt became president, he began to enforce anti-trust laws against the monopolies controlled by these men. He was motivated by the harsh working conditions and poor wages that monopolies generated for the working class. This led to a new way of doing business, spearheaded by Henry Ford, who increased wages for workers and standardized the 40 hour workweek.

Through the anti-trust legislation, the implementation of the assembly line, and increased wages for working people, a new class emerged in the American economy—the middle class—which led to improved living conditions and more buying power for the average worker.

But none of this would have been possible without the staggering advancements brought in by the Vanderbilt railroads that carried goods rapidly across America, the Rockefeller kerosene that lit homes and businesses, the Carnegie steel that became the backbone of American buildings and infrastructure, the Morgan investments that brought electricity to every home, and the Ford Model T that made automobiles affordable to every family in the nation. It’s contributions from entrepreneurs like these five legendary men that have built America into the economic and political world power it is today.

So if you have any aspiration to become an entrepreneur who takes advantage of the technical advancements of your time, who shapes the future of our country, and who gives back for the improvement of society, I highly recommend watching this incredibly educational show produced by The History Channel. It’s inspiring, it’s informative, and it’s entertaining. What more could you ask for?

Full episodes are available by DVD as well as on Amazon and iTunes. Watch it today! (And no, I’m not getting paid for this endorsement. I just feel strongly enough about the show to promote it on my own.)

25 Entrepreneurs Tell What They Wish They’d Known before Founding Their First Startup

Hindsight is 20/20. When you look back on any project or endeavor, you get a better idea of what was important and what wasn’t.

The same is true with startups. After working on a business for a year or two or more, you have a better idea about what was worth worrying about and what wasn’t as big of a deal.

Since entrepreneurs are the most qualified to give other entrepreneurs advice about starting a business, I decided to ask 25 entrepreneurs about the number one thing they wish they’d known before founding their first startup. Below is a collection of this advice. It’s invaluable whether you’ve recently started a business or you’re looking to start one. Enjoy the post, and leave a comment if you have a question or a response.

The advice:

That you’re not supposed to know how to do anything right, and that’s o.k.

It wasn’t till I sold Spheric and started working on Flowtown that I realized that you didn’t need to know how to do anything in the beginning - you just needed to get good at finding the right answers quickly.  If you focused on learning, getting the right advice, in near real time - then you could take on any challenge.  It’s quite liberating once you realize that.


Dan Martell (@danmartell), Founder of Clarity

I wish I knew how to price test. When we first released the product we based pricing based off of what we wanted to charge, versus optimizing price to achieve maximum revenue and profitability.

At one point in time our customer base requested a lower pricing option. We did it because their was a high demand for it. Although it increased the total number of signups, it decreased our overall revenue. If we knew about price testing during that time, we wouldn’t have made this big mistake.”


Neil Patel (@neilpatel), Co-founder of Crazy Egg

I wish that I knew how difficult it is to acquire a customer, get them to pay for your product and believe it’s as magical as you think it is.

Most startup founders count on customer acquisition as a foregone conclusion, yet it’s the number one thing that keeps them up at night for the first 2-3 years if not longer. Every part of that process is deeply challenging for a company. It also doesn’t happen quickly.

A few tips on how to navigate early stage customer acquisition challenges:

1) Talk to every person in your target market that will speak to you. Know their needs better than they know them. Your most valuable insights will come from talking to customers daily.

2) Marketing to potential customers is a series of experiments. Before you start, define what success/failure looks like. When the experiment is over, rinse and repeat.

3) Surround yourself with team members and advisers that will hold you accountable to the business’ metrics and finances. The success/failure of the business depends on these people. You must trust them completely because you don’t have time to look over their shoulder.


Nick Francis (@nickfrancis), Co-founder and CEO of Help Scout

Wow, the number one thing…

My business partner, Steve Bristol, and I really used to put in major hours the first years of the company. We were working 80+ a week. After working ourselves to a point of being burned out we realized that if we put in 40 x 2 hours the company didn’t move forward 2x faster. In fact those extra 40 hour were less productive than the first 40 hours. The reality is you’ll never be “done” with your work, you’ll never finish all the tasks, build all the features and have the perfect design. At the end of the day, around 4 pm, we close our laptops and go home. Never forget work is here to enable your personal life fruitful.

Also I no longer care how famous I become, I don’t care about being filthy rich or being on the cover of magazines. I care more about making our customers and employees happy. The only people I care about being famous to are my children and wife. I do still, even at the age of 32, still strive to make my parents proud of me. I’ve let go of the burden of trying to focus the company to a $500 million company, I’m happy being the co-founder of an unknown software company.

Misc Tips

1) Only hire people you’d want to hang out with during personal time.

2) The first 10 hires set the tone for the whole company.

3) Don’t hire people that are getting a salary bump up by working with you.

4) Don’t wear white pants after labor day.


Allan Branch (@allanbranch), co-founder of LessAccounting

The number one thing I wish I knew is that the people around you affect your success more than you would ever imagine.

Focusing on who you spend time with on a day to day basis, working with doers instead of talkers can make or break the progress of your business and more importantly self-improvement. Be selective who you choose, Jim Rohn put it best:

"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." Jim Rohn



Leo Widrich (@leowid), Co-founder of Buffer

I wish I would have better known the value of my time. A ‘10 minute chat’, which always leads to a much longer chat, was so easy to say yes to. It took me years to finally start saying NO to things that would take me away from what really needed my attention. No to meetings. No to interviews, and no to extra projects (for extra money.) When I implemented my daily to-do lists my whole day/week/month changed. I would only accept opportunities if they could come after my to-do’s were completed.

Part of this realization came from a quote my grandfather once told me,”If you are not 10 minutes early, you are 10 minutes late.” He meant this for many reasons; Showing up to meetings, flights, phone calls, the gym and so much more.

So, that’s it; time is the most valuable thing you have. Make sure you invest it wisely.


Renee Warren (@renee_warren), Co-founder of Onboardly

I knew that it takes time to build a product, but I also wish I had known that it takes time for users to adopt a product. While there maybe early adopters who can get wedded to your product, mainstream adoption takes a lot of time, and effort. Mainstream adoption requires people who aren’t early adopters, those who are more reluctant to change, to discover your product, understand the value proposition, be willing to try it out, then actually use it and pay for it, and finally develop enough of a following to want to tell other people about it. This cycle takes a while because it requires a product to be solid, for a user to develop a relationship with your company and your product, and then finally develop enough attachment to want to talk about it with others.

While marketing efforts can plant the seed, a lot of time needs to pass where the product is out in the market, in order for mainstream adoption to take place. Giving things time is hard for a founder to process, because as a founder you want to think you are in control, and can make things happen, but sometimes you just have to be patient and wait!


Poornima Vijayashankar (@poornima), CEO and founder of BizeeBee

Build a public working prototype as quickly as possible and then iterate furiously.

Our plan at BetterDoctor was to build the first MVP product in two months and get it to release it publicly. We got this done, but it was so light on the viability side that we could only release it in closed beta. Closed beta meant very few users and little real world feedback.

In the end it took over six months before we finally launched the first beta product, which was still very much an MVP. Now after a year we have released BetterDoctor search service nationwide and have a stable platform to build upon. Today we can release new features in couple of days and test them with real users immediately.

Year is a long time, and if there is any way to get the product to consumer hands sooner you should try to do it.


Ari Tulla (@umbar), CEO and co-founder of BetterDoctor

I wish I knew how big the opportunity was so I could have better planned to take advantage of it. Now that my company is older and more structured it is great to be able to focus on strategy, rather then just reacting all the time. At the beginning if I had stepped back and developed and funded a better plan I could have saved myself making a tonne of mistakes. That being said these mistakes are what my education is built on and learning from them is why I think I will continue to be successful. (I would like to have made a few less mistakes though.)


Andrew Angus (@andrewangus), Founder and CEO of Switch Video

Don’t guess at price. So much is dictated by the way you price your product and many first-time Founders default to what they “think” customers are willing to pay for it (myself included). Focus on the value you are creating for your customers, not on what it costs you to deliver your product or service.

It also turns out that there are entire methodologies designed to help you extract the ideal pricing structure from your target market (Google “von westendorp”). Equally as important is finding out what product features your customers find most valuable.

By combining “willingness to pay” data with your customers’ most desired features, you’ll have a grounded approach for uncovering the pricing structure that attracts the right customers and drives the most profits for your business.


Mike Arsenault (@mikearsenault), Co-founder of Rejoiner

Never take advice from anyone who hasn’t done or isn’t doing what you want to accomplish.


Ethan Bloch (@ebloch), Co-founder of Flowtown

Ideas are great, but it is extremely important to think backwards from distribution. Ask yourself, who would use this, and how would they hear about it?

A lot of times, that will uncover the critical features you need to build into a product to make it useful enough for a user to tell their friends about it.


Kapil Kale (@kapilvkale), Co-founder of GiftRocket

Look backwards in time.

The things that first time entrepreneurs spend the first few days of their life as a founder worrying about usually don’t matter. When I talk to new founders today, I generally get questions about how to structure the company legally, whether they should leave work now or wait for a bonus to appear, et cetera. Experience shows that these things do not make or break companies.

Instead, I wish first time founders would spend the critical first few days of their life is a founder thinking about their customers. What those customers need, and understanding that intimately better than the next guy, will make or break your company. The best way to do this is to look backwards in time. Pretend it is four years from today and you have a successful company, and ask yourself: is the question I am agonizing over right now likely to be the thing I will agonize over four years from now? The answer is usually no.


Bo Lu (@futureadvisor), Co-founder and CEO of FutureAdvisor

It’s important to pick a big, growing market where you have some distinct advantage. And, to ensure that you control your own destiny and are not overly dependent on others.


Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh), Founder and CTO of HubSpot

Seek out the most critical opinions of your plan that you can find. The natural tendency for a first-time entrepreneur is to fall in love with an idea and then look for friends and colleagues to support it. After all, who wants to have a fledgling idea crushed by naysayers? But these are exactly the types of folks you should be looking for.

Have them shred your plan and designs from top to bottom. If you find yourself agreeing with them and having doubts, then your plan (and possibly you) may not have the mettle to make it. But if you are able to defend it with conviction, repeatedly, then you probably have both the moxie to last through the long, tough grind you’re facing, as well as a plan that just might work.


Blake Williams (@blakewilliams), Co-founder of Keepsy

It’s well known that “premature optimization is the root of all evil”, but somehow I failed to recognize that when we spent a lot of time playing with different databases before we even had any customers. In the beginning it’s ok to validate your assumptions with a half-baked product.


Otto Hilska (@mutru), Founder and CEO of Flowdock

The one thing I wish I knew before founding my first startup would have been how to set clear and measurable goals. The problem with any startup is that there are a million unknowns. As you go through the journey of creating your company, you try and answer as many of those questions as possible and once enough are answered, you know you have actually created something. Along the way, it is easy to get lost. To make sure you don’t, you need to be able to set clear goals and measure the success of your actions. If you see something isn’t working, it is imperative that you recognize it as soon as possible and fix the issue or change course quickly. Goals and metrics are the only way to do so.


Rami Essaid (@ramiessaid), Co-founder and CEO of Distil

I wish someone had taught me earlier that you should be optimizing for speed and not cost. Everything in startups is about speed and your ability to move quickly. We were bootstrapped for a long time before raising a round, so we didn’t have much of a choice but to be super frugal, but I do wish that I learned that lesson earlier since it makes all the difference. If it takes an hour of your time to hack something together to save $20/month, then it’s not worth it.


Alex Schiff (@alexschiff), Co-founder and CEO of Fetchnotes

Coming from MIT, I got lots of really good advice about starting a company - the importance of vesting, team chemistry, and building a good product. I wish that I had known more about the emotional roller coaster of startup life. Often when startups are portrayed in movies or TV shows, it’s a bunch of twentysomethings playing foosball all day and partying all night. What they rarely show are the lows that accompany those highs.

Never in my life have I been rejected as frequently or as vehemently as I have for Leaky. After all of the countless rejections, the scrapping to make payroll, and the cease-and-desist letters from insurance companies, what I learned was that you need fortitude to look past the temporary highs and lows to know that no gain or setback is ever permanent - otherwise, it would never be possible to get out of bed in the morning.


Jason Traff (@jasontraff), Founder of Leaky

There will be a lot of ups and downs. When you feel down, stay calm and know that things will get better. When you feel up, enjoy the moment but save some of that for a rainy day.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked at multiple startups to know roughly what to expect. Reading Hacker News regularly gave me a good head start. Most every top rated advice you read there will come into play.

Be prepared that founding your first startup is likely the hardest thing you have ever done in your life to date. It’s not at all glamorous. Seek full support from your spouse (if you have one), and seek out co-founder(s) that you can fully trust and work well with. Ultimately, I cannot imagine a better professional experience than founding your very own company!


Tri Tran (@tritran), CEO and co-founder of Munchery

Focus is more important than you can ever imagine.


Ash Rust (@ashrust), Co-founder of SendHub

Starting NatureBox has been an amazing experience for me and I will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to start this company. I think it’s important for founders to know that when starting a company, they are about to embark on an emotional roller coaster ride. Managing your emotional state will become so hard but so important. When you hit a low point, remind yourself that it is just a bump in the road.

You can loose so much time worrying about things that don’t even matter. You’ll get good and bad news all the time and you’ll feel like your life depends on the success of your company but keep your head down and execute.


Gautam Gupta (@gRamblings), Co-founder of NatureBox

I wish I’d known that running a startup team is a lot like parenting. You check up on them, you wonder what they’re doing and you worry about them Skype-ing while driving. Often, you have to yell “Everybody calm down!” On some days, you have to remind them to buckle down and get their work done before dinner. On other days, you have to entertain them, so you take them to see movies and drive them to a go-karting arenas.

As a startup founder, you want to help your team identify their strengths on the job and support them. You want them to make mistakes and learn from them, instead of shying away from them. You don’t dictate, you ask, “What do YOU think?” You’re sensitive to the ebb and flow in their moods, you know when they’re discouraged or frustrated. You get frustrated yourself, but you express it to them constructively. Above all, like any parent, you want them to be happy. Ok, AND successful. Because I’m an Asian parent.


Walter Chen (@smalter), CEO and co-founder of iDoneThis

I wish I knew how important accurate metrics would become and that we could more easily support our reporting needs by preparing on day one. Over the last two years I’ve heard time and time again “we can’t track that easily because our app [ insert issue here ]. Had we decided early on what key metrics we would need to track and built the app to support our needs, we would have likely saved ourselves a world of pain.


Rick Perreault (@rickperreault), Co-founder and CEO of Unbounce

The first company I started, a social shopping application, was a complete disaster. We built out what we thought was an awesome tool, but nobody wanted it. We wasted about $20k and about 1.5 years. From that experience, I realized that as much as there is a shortage of tech talent, the hard part isn’t the technology — it’s getting user demand.

If I were to have done things differently, I would’ve tested the market with little hacks before building out a product. I would’ve created landing pages to capture contact information of potential users and would’ve talked with them beforehand. I would’ve generated fake buttons that led nowhere or to a “coming soon” message to measure demand. In short, I wish I’d known to build as little as possible to test the market before building a product.


Elizabeth Yin (@launchbit), CEO and co-founder of LaunchBit

Are you a startup founder? Is there any advice you’d like to provide? If yes, leave a comment so we can discuss.

Why Stealth Startups Are Completely Overrated

There’s a phenomena in the startup world where startups think it’s in their best interest to operate in “stealth mode.” They believe that by doing so, they’ll get a leg up on the competition because people won’t be able to copy what they’re doing, but here’s what it really is — it’s a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Here’s the thing: if your idea is so easy to steal that you have to hide it, then it’s not that good of an idea to begin with. Stealth startups really don’t mean anything, and they don’t generate any hype. On the contrary, instead of gaining an advantage over the competition, it actually puts you behind because you don’t get feedback on your project. I’d much rather tell everyone what I’m doing so they can provide help and feedback, than I would to operate in stealth mode.

What follows are three common reasons people give for staying in stealth mode and an argument against each. Below that is an explanation of why Facebook is not a good example of a reason to stay in stealth mode.

Reason #1: People will steal your idea.

The thought that people will steal your idea and put you out of business if you talk about it is bogus. Why? Because there are likely multiple people who have or are working on your exact idea right now. You can keep it a secret, but if you’re idea is really that good, there’s a great chance that someone else is already working on it.

Not only so, but the people who are most likely to steal your idea are too busy working on their own projects anyway. In the end, the feedback you can get by talking about an idea is greater than the benefit of keeping it secret.

And besides, I’m pretty sure more ideas fail because they never see the light of day while being kept a secret than get stolen because people talk about them. Do you really think that not talking about your idea with friends, family, potential customers, and possible investors is going to guarantee your success, or is it more likely that keeping it a secret will guarantee that it never gets off the ground? My money is on the second option (but this doesn’t mean that you can’t be smart with how you talk about it by making sure you don’t ever share your secret sauce.)

Reason #2: The idea is what separates you from the competition.

Stop kidding yourself. If your idea is so awesome, people are going to copy it at some point if they aren’t already working on it now. Once you prove a product-market fit and show that there’s money to be made, there will be competition no matter how stealthy you are. If you’re worried about competition and you’re idea is the only thing separating you from them, then it’s not a good business idea in the first place. Great businesses run on more than just a good idea.

To prove the point, let’s talk about Facebook. They started first at Harvard, spread out campus to campus from there, and the first couple of years, users had to use .edu e-mail addresses to gain access. The competition had plenty of time to create a knockoff Facebook and compete. Why didn’t any big companies like Google or Microsoft create something for users to take advantage of that market? Why didn’t competitors spring up left and right?

The difference is execution. What set Facebook apart is not necessarily the idea or any kind of patentable intellectual property but how well they built the product and grew it. By starting small and growing larger, they gained traction with a limited user based and then expanded from there. In the end, the success was from the execution, not stealth. They out-executed the competition and grew so fast that people couldn’t catch up.

That’s one side. The other side is that someone did have a similar idea — the folks at LinkedIn. They created a “Facebook” for professionals, the complete opposite of a network for .edus. Oh no! Facebook has competition! Not at all. There’s always room for more than one company. If a market is big enough, there’s room for more than one business. For every McDonald’s, there’s a Wendy’s, and for every Facebook, there’s a LinkedIn. If the only thing that separates you from competition is a unique idea, then you have a long road ahead of you (or really short depending how you look at it).

Reason #3: You want to benefit from first-mover advantage.

Let me be as clear as I can: first-mover advantage is not that big of a deal. If there’s a market for your product or service, then it just means that you’re the first in a line of businesses that will compete in the space. If there’s not a big enough market for the product or service, then it means that you’ve created a business that can’t be sustained. Either way, first-mover advantage doesn’t guarantee your success.

Every great business that proves a market at one point or another will face competition. At that point, you’ll need to compete on something other than the idea, and your competition will benefit from the successes and failures you’ve learned along the way. So being the first to move isn’t always the advantage it seems cut out to be because you might be the first to move into a market that isn’t sustainable or you might just learn lessons that your competition benefits from later. Eventually, if there’s money to be made, competitors will sprout up.

And it’s ok if they do. Why? Because most markets can sustain more than one business. Kia, Hyundai, and Sketchers didn’t move first. Instead, they moved way late, but they were able to push themselves into the market through good marketing and smart product development and pricing. Being first to a market isn’t the only way to be successful.

Here’s an article from the Harvard Business Review that talks about this in more detail — The Half-Truth of First Mover Advantage — and a Wikipedia article that talks about the benefits of second-mover advantage.

Facebook Case Study: The Winklevoss Twins vs. Mark Zuckerberg

At this point, you probably have a question about Facebook. You want to know more about what happened to the Winklevoss twins. Didn’t they get their idea stolen? The answer is yes…and no…

Yes, they had their idea stolen by Mark Zuckerberg. They hired him to build a social network, and Mr. Zuckerberg turned it into Facebook and ran with it on his own. That much lives on as social-media-entrepreneurial lore.

But the Winklevoss twins did win a settlement worth at least $65 million by proving that they were at least partially responsible with coming up with the original idea. Yes, that’s paltry compared to the billions that Zuckerberg is worth, but it’s also enough to position them as angel investors and entrepreneurs.

And here’s the kicker: Facebook may have never gotten off of the ground if they hadn’t talked about it. Yes, the idea ultimately was hijacked and developed by someone else, but it’s entirely possible that if they hadn’t hired Mark that the idea wouldn’t have gone anywhere. What if they kept it to themselves because they didn’t want anyone to know about it? What if the site was never developed? Instead of ending up with a $65 settlement, they’d be left with nothing.

Ok, yes, this is speculation, but it’s also possible. Another point is that this story is more the exception than the rule. More companies don’t launch successfully because they stay in stealth mode and don’t get feedback to grow quickly than because the idea gets stolen. If you’re not willing to talk to people about what you’re doing and to get the word out, then you’re not going to get the feedback you need when you need it. The result will be a startup that looks great on paper but never gets the wings it needs to take off.

All I can say is that more often than not, the majority of startups operating in stealth mode waste everyone’s time in an attempt to generate hype. Instead of creating an awesome product that solves a real problem, they run around hiding behind a stealth-mode cloak that really means they don’t have a legitimate business or business model to begin with. They’re busy creating the next big Facebook-sharing-social-media-thingy behind closed doors, when really, they don’t have a realistic business worth talking about at all.

So the choice is yours. You can stay in “stealth mode” and not tell anyone about your idea for fear that it will get stolen. That’s fine. But don’t be surprised when six months to a year from now your business hasn’t grown as fast as it could have if you went out and told more people about it. Remember this: the feedback you can get from talking about your idea and iterating your product in order to grow quickly has a far greater value than staying in stealth mode and releasing the “perfect” product two years down the road. That’s what I think anyway.

How about you? What do you think? Leave a comment and let’s talk.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Co-Founders

One of the top questions entrepreneurs ask is about how to find right co-founder. Business people are looking for technical partners, and programmers are looking for business people.

So how do you go about this process, and how do you know who to pick? The following guide will walk you through why finding the right co-founder makes a big difference and what you need to do to find the right one(s).

Why it matters
The first thing you have to realize is that your founding team matters. A lot. The right co-founders at the right time can be the difference between success and failure. This post on VentureHacks outlines why it’s important to pick the right co-founders and some strategies for doing so such as waiting to name a co-founder until the last possible responsible moment and bringing people on board first and then upgrading to co-founder status when they prove themselves.
The Post: When to Fire Your Co-Founders
Site: VentureHacks

Finding the perfect match
In this article, Christiana Wallace describes her experience of finding a co-founder for her startup Quincy, which offers a new approach to work apparel for ambitious women. She compares choosing a co-founder to finding a spouse and explains why it’s important to get to know potential co-founders first and even to test out the relationship.
The Post: The Perfect Match: Finding the Right Co-Founder
Site: Forbes

How to go about it
This VentureHacks post explains why it’s so important to choose the right co-founder and then gets into the details about how to do so. It begins by saying: “Picking a co-founder is your most important decision. It’s more important than your product, market, and investors.” That says a lot about how invaluable this step is in the startup process, and the remainder of the post explains the best way to go about finding a co-founder, including arguments for two being the ideal number and going into business with someone you already know.
The Post: How to Pick a Co-Founder
Site: Venture Hacks

Considering the details
In this article for the Harvard Business Review, Michael Fertik talks about the many details to consider when searching for a co-founder. He discusses everything from complimentary personalities and differing skills to a history of working together and having the same overall vision. This is an in-depth guide that provides several key points to consider when searching for a co-founder.
The Post: How to Pick a Co-Founder
Site: Harvard Business Review Blog Network

5 simple yet valuable tips
Interested in some simple yet extremely valuable advice on finding a co-founder? Look no further. In this post for VentureBeat, Mike McDermott, CEO and co-founder of Freshbooks, provides five simple but important tips for selecting the right co-founder: passion, trust, more than money, complementary skills, and giving equity. It’s a short post, but it’s invaluable coming from someone who’s started a very successful tech startup.
The Post: 5 Tips for Choosing a Co-Founder
Site: VentureBeat

The complete beginner’s guide
Neil Patel provides in this post the complete beginner’s guide for finding a co-founder. He begins by discussing the reasons to find a co-founder: extra manpower, dividing up responsibilities, increased motivation, more ideas, and extended networking; and then presents that two founders is the ideal number since three or four puts too many cooks in the kitchen and slows decision making. He also talks about getting to know a potential partner first without committing and recommends waiting at least six months before partnering with someone. You need to read the post to find out what else is discussed.
The Post:
Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Business Partner
Quick Sprout

The importance of diverse backgrounds
This post on TechCrunch is by Seth Sternberg, CEO of Meebo. It begins by talking about how important it is for co-founders to come from different backgrounds, outlining that most people hang out with like-minded people of similar backgrounds which doesn’t help with finding co-founders possessing diverse experiences and skills. He goes on to talk about how to accomplish this with tips for people who are in school and out of school. The post is full of practical advice about how to actually meet other people with complementary skill sets who are potential co-founder candidates.
The Post:
Finding Your Co-Founders
Tech Crunch

How to find a technical co-founder
Now that you know it’s critical for co-founders to come from diverse backgrounds, here’s an article about how to find a technical co-founder. It’s told from the perspective of an engineer about why he bought into the pre-launch product of his eventual business partner and CEO. You’ll learn a lot in this post about the mindset of technical co-founders and what they’re looking for on the business side. It also provides a list of the following resources on the topic: Why You Can(‘t) Recruit a Technical Co-Founder; Quora: Where Is the Best Place to Find a Rockstar Developer; Some Thoughts on Hiring Technical Co-Founders; and Please, Please, Please Stop Asking How to Find a Technical Co-Founder.
The Post:
How to Hire a Technical Co-Founder

Finding a business co-founder
For those who are on the other side of the table and are looking for a business co-founder, this article discusses what to look for. It recommends starting with someone who has a good level of technical understanding but can also communicate well and has a good grasp of other non-technical areas like PR, operational details, talking with investors, a clear understanding of user feedback, a good eye for talent, and more. This is a must read if you’re in the position of looking for a non-technical, business co-founder.
The Post:
What to Look for in a Business Co-Founder

More advice for finding a business co-founder
This post points out that, even though technical co-founders are in high demand from non-technical founders, there still are programmers who are struggling to find the right business co-founder. This post provides tips to help programmers evaluate potential business partners with more criteria than an MBA alone.
The Post:
How to Find a Business Co-Founder That Doesn’t Suck

What makes the perfect pair
Micah Baldwin, CEO of, makes an argument in this post about what makes the perfect pair of co-founders: the Hacker and the Hustler. He goes on to explain that a hacker is more than a developer. It’s someone who solves problems in unique and special ways, but isn’t necessarily the best coder. The hustler, on the other hand, is someone who builds relationships and is more than a salesperson. He describes a hustler as “patient zero in a viral marketing campaign.” Read this article to learn more about Micah’s view on the perfect pair of co-founders.
The post:
Hackers and Hustlers
Learn to Duck

Where to find a co-founder
Finding a co-founder, whether technical or not, starts with looking in the right places. This article lists 16 different online and offline resources that can be used to find prospective co-founders. The list is comprehensive and useful.
The Post:
Where to Find a Co-Founder
Find the Tech Guy

Why founder vesting is a really good idea
Most entrepreneurs when they start out probably don’t give this much thought. They bring a handful of co-founders on board because they need some extra hands on deck, but they don’t know anything about vesting. Later on they hire employees and include 4 year vesting. The problem? Sometimes, early co-founders who barely worked at the startup end up owning a significant part of the company. You can avoid this by practicing founder vesting which is the same as requiring vesting for employee hires. This is a must read if founder vesting is new to you.
The post:
Founder Vesting
Chris Dixon

The argument for a single founder
What’s an ultimate guide to finding co-founders without an argument or two for a single-founder model? Yes, a lot of people believe in the merits of founding teams with complementary skills, but there are some benefits to starting a business solo. Actually, the highest number of businesses in the US are single-founder businesses totalling 20 million. This article discusses why. It also references this article for further reading: The Royal We: Single Founder Startups.
The post:
Going Alone: Thoughts on the Single Person Startup

Another argument for a single founder
Mark Suster continues the discussion about single founders in this post on the co-founder mythology. He says that 50/50 partnerships are unstable, people change, and partnerships often end badly. His advice is to take the leap solo and then to bring talented team members on at less than 50% equity. If you consider starting alone as borderline heretical, you’ve got to read this post. It presents an excellent argument for considering a single-founder startup.
The Post:
The Co-Founder Mythology
Both Sides of the Table

Now that you’ve read this post, what would you add to the list? Leave a comment to share more resources and links.

Unique Ways to Stand Out When Applying to Startups

As a founder of five startups, I’ve seen thousands of resumes and interviewed hundreds of applicants in search of talented employees. It’s caused me to realize that it’s not always easy for businesses to find the employees they’re looking to hire or for job seekers to stand out in the application process.

Some jobs receive thousands of applications, especially with the economy the way it is. How are job seekers supposed to stand out in a crowded field like that? It’s hard, but it can be done.

And that’s what interests me about unique job applications and resumes. Below is a list of unique ways applicants have used more than a standard resume to stand out and get hired, including some for companies I’ve founded. An important point to keep in mind is that the best creative applications are ones that demonstrate useful skills for the job being advertised. You also don’t want to go overboard and end up looking silly. Keep reading and I think you’ll understand.

#1: Create a Video Resume
At Grasshopper, we’ve had applicants submit video cover letters when everyone else submitted print versions. These videos didn’t guarantee the applicant would get hired, but they did guarantee they stood out.

Even if you don’t go crazy creative with the video, your cover letter will be more memorable than a standard print version. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with creativity (or a lack of good judgement) and stand out for the wrong reasons.

Here’s an example of an excellent digital resume where the applicant demonstrates his qualifications for a PR position through a catchy but professional video resume:

Just remember to make sure your video doesn’t end up coming off like this:

#2: Do Something Unique with the Company’s Product or Service
One way to stand out is to do something unique that integrates with the hiring company’s product or service.

When applying to Shopify, a guy named Mike Freeman decided to open up a Shopify store about himself to demonstrate his skills and experience. The hiring managers liked it so much that he ended up getting the job. Here’s what the marketing manager had to say about the application:

“He built an online store using Shopify where you can read about his background, experience, etc. and the ecommerce part is you can ‘buy’ an interview with him for ‘$0.00,’ ” said Mark Hayes, Shopify’s manager of marketing and media. “We get an infinite amount of resumes here. Yes, he got the job.”

#3: Demonstrate Your Skills
Another way to stand out is to demonstrate skills for the job being applied for.

At Grasshopper, we’ve had a developer who created a website with the company name and why he was perfect for our company. He made the site dynamic to show off his coding skills. The site also demonstrated how interested he was in the position which is always important to us and other hiring managers.

Another way is to create a plugin or integration with a product from the company or contribute to an open source project. Both of these demonstrate skills and get your name in front of the company’s managers.

#4: Suggest an Improvement
Another way is to suggest an improvement for a product or service.

Instead of just showing up for an interview with the same information everyone else has, you could come armed with a suggestion about how you would improve something the company is currently doing. For a marketing position, this could be an SEO tweak to increase search engine traffic. An applicant could also write a blog post that would demonstrate writing skills that will generate traffic and social sharing.

Providing a suggestion shows you’re ready to contribute to the company from day one and not an inexperienced candidate that will need a lot of training.

#5: Conduct a Reverse Job Application
This may sound crazy, but it’s something that worked for a guy named Andrew Horner.

Two years after being out of college, he was still jobless and searching for employment. Frustrated with his lack of success even though he sent out hundreds of resumes and personalized cover letters, he decided to turn the tables. Instead of applying for jobs, he would have companies apply for his skills, and he set up this site:

Some people thought he was crazy, others thought he was arrogant, but in the end, he received and accepted a job offer from a startup after two weeks of interviews. That’s two years compared to two weeks. It’s bold, but it worked.

Not that this would work for everyone, but the site demonstrated Andrew’s creativity and also encouraged companies to reach out to him. In addition, it showed his personality, his writing skills, and his resourcefulness which ultimately led to a company that thought he was a good fit for their organization.

Here’s a snapshot of his site:

#6: Design an Infographic Resume
Last but not least, you can design a personal infographic resume that shows off your qualifications and stands out more than a common bullet-pointed resume.

A designer named Hagan Blount has generated publicity for her infographic-style resume as well as the ones she’s designed for other people. They’re bold, attention-grabbing, and eye-pleasing. One thing’s for sure: it’s guaranteed that resumes like this won’t be lost in the shuffle of homogeneous black and white resumes that look exactly the same.

As you can see, a little creativity and ingenuity can go a long way in standing out in the job market and landing a position at the startup of your dreams.


How to build a Tivo alternative for under $700

Anyone that knows me will tell you I like messing around with AV equipment but I don’t really know what I am doing. I have setup and used many different systems including a whole home system from Russound with intercoms, Sonos, HDMI over Ethernet, iRule for making iPhones into universal remotes and much more. For the past 3 years I have stayed away from using cable company provided hardware by utilizing a CableCard and Moxi boxes and while not perfect it was a great option out of the box and something I recommended to many. Moxi worked a lot like Tivo but had no subscription fees and could play media from my media server where all movies are in MKV format.

Last week I went to purchase another Moxi and Moxi mate and found out they are not longer selling the device and might even stop supporting TV lineup data in the near future. This was disappointing and even more so when I found there are no good alternatives. After much research the only out of the box solution I found is Tivo and of course requires you to pay a monthly subscription or one-time fee for a lifetime access for that purchase. I was about 15 minutes away from purchasing a Tivo when I thought, let’s see if I can build this.

Here is how I built a system for under $700 that replaces a Tivo Premiere Elite ($499) and monthly service of $19.99 or $499 for lifetime. There are a few missing features and I have not run this long so I can say how perfect it is but it works and I can control it. Disclaimer, this is not a great option for anyone not familiar with computers and networking as there will be problems you have to fix.

Starting with a very small computer to power the HDMI signal and Microsoft Windows Media Center I purchased an EeeBox PC EB1501P from Amazon for $431.99 including shipping cause I have Amazon Prime. I looked at a number of small form factor PCs and really like this as it included the Windows 7 license I needed, had a DVD drive and good graphics to power HDMI signal to a Samsung 55 inch TV. Setup was very easy, ran all the system updates, removed all other installed software that was not needed and configured Windows Media Center. As a Mac user I tried very hard to see how this could be done on Mac and it could if you ran Windows but it would double the price if not more.
Time: 2 hours / Cost: $432

Next I needed something to handle the CableCard as I wanted more than standard digital cable. I found tons of options that could take digital cable and make it a stream for Windows Media Center but not many options for CableCard access. Came down to InfiniTV 4 USB from Ceton and HDHomeRun Prime. I decided on the HDHomeRun Prime for $209.99 from Amazon, as it was an external device that would offload the processing of the media compared with a USB device that used the same PC as the media center. The downside of this is the media has to stream over the network and wireless is not an option for HD. Maybe I will test the Ceton device later.
Time: 1 hour / Cost: $210

The final part was a controller and I did not find many options that were made for Windows Media Center and also did IR. I also found that there was a remote that came with the EeeBox PC but does not seem to work well when the PC is in a cabinet. I went with what was available on Amazon for $28.89. It would be nice to add some Media Extenders to this setup in the near future but it seems that all but the Xbox 360 have been discontinued by manufacturers.

So far things are working well, Windows Media Center has lost the connection with HDHomeRun Prime a few times but I am not sure if that is a network issue or an issue with the device. Maybe this would be corrected with using the Ceton device. I am very impressed with Windows Media Center and all the functions it has as well as how the interface looks. Would not expect this from Microsoft, maybe they should focus on this more and less on things they are not good at.

Here is my final setup with the EeeBox, HDHomeRun Prime and Motorola cable modem that also does Wi-Fi, again no reason to rent a modem from the cable provider.

Total Time: 3 hours and Cost: $671