The Birth Of Blackbox & The Startup Genome: Lessons Learned From A 2011 Entrepreneurial Journey

Who Wants to Live Forever

Blackbox began the October before last (2010), when five friends decided to commit to searching for a scalable way to increase the success rate of startups and accelerate the pace of innovation around the world. Over the last year and half, many different approaches to accomplish this goal were tested and many people played significant roles in making these ideas happen. Since everyone involved is now working on new projects, though in many cases with similar values, we thought it was time to publicly say goodbye to blackbox. Its spirit lives on in the projects of all people involved and in the people blackbox inspired. Projects and companies that were inspired by Blackbox include The Startup Genome, The Glint, Demand Analytics, Window to Silicon Valley, Blackbox Mansion and Blackbox Connect.

As we close this chapter, we’d like to share more of the history behind blackbox, the beginning of the Startup Genome and some of the lessons learned.

Blackbox came together in large part because a number of friends realized they were working on very complimentary projects that had the potential to be weaved together into a larger, more powerful whole. These projects included Emergent Transformation, Founders First, Startup School, Palomar5, Startup Russia, the Cofounder Network and TechVenture.

Project Histories – Prepare for Battle

Startup School was an online school for 2500 entrepreneurs from around the world with more than 200 hours in live content and contributors such as Mike Maples, Brad Feld, Jason Fried, Steve Jurventson, Marc Benioff, etc. Bjoern started Startup School in the summer of 2009 as a side project of his startup at the time, Supercool School. Supercool School was a platform where anyone could create their own self-contained online school. Through running Startup School Bjoern became a conduit for entrepreneurs abroad who wanted to learn more about Silicon Valley and the emerging science of startups that was sweeping the valley under the guise of Customer Development and the Lean Startup.

Palomar5 was a 6 week “innovation camp” in Berlin for 30 people under 30 on the future of work that took place in fall 2009. Mathias Holzmann was one of the founders and I was one of the participants. It was a very intense, creative experience that placed heavy emphasis on finding new ways of collaborating in physical spaces. A fellow participant and I noticed that nearly all the projects created incorporated one or more of these 3 themes: Data, Entrepreneurship and Social Consciousness. These themes continued to be carried forward in future projects. At Palomar5 I spent a lot of time thinking about macro trends especially around innovation. It was there I realized I wanted to commit fully to the problem of finding a scalable way to increase the success rate of startups.

Founders First was a “post seed accelerator” for startups that recently graduated from top tier accelerators like Ycombinator, Techstars and Seedcamp. I started this project as soon as I got back from Palomar5 as a way to “get my hands dirty” working with startups, so that I could start figuring out how I was going to find a scalable way to increase the success rate of startups. The initial program used Bjoern’s Supercool School platform and Bjoern spent a lot of energy helping me get the project started. I experimented with a few different scalable approaches before deciding that developing a more defined science of entrepreneurship held the most long term potential. I ended up working closely with Steve Blank at Stanford, and this work eventually formed the foundation of the Startup Genome.

Emergent Transformation was a group blog that Bjoern, Mathias and I started in the summer of 2010. We wanted to start a dialogue to explore major socioeconomic shifts and trends we were all just awakening to. We felt that there were a new class of startups emerging that Technology Entrepreneurship and Social Entrepreneurship failed to describe. Today, the Startup Genome continues to explore these ideas under the names of the Entrepreneurial Enlightenment and Transformational Entrepreneurship.

Startup Russia was an information resource and discussion platform for Russian innovation and the lessons learned from the Silicon Valley.  After spending a year in the Valley, Sasha was inspired to share the knowledge and wisdom of the Valley with Russia where entrepreneurial activity was starting to boom. Together with her friends Max Skibinskiy and Naida Volkova they wrote a couple of essays on the blog Startup Russia. Sasha and Max also played with an idea of a double-incubator in Moscow and Silicon Valley.

Techventure was a recruiting firm Fadi had been running for the last 15 years. He has been helping mostly startups to recruit engineers. Some of the startups he recruited for include SixApart, Bebo, VideoEgg, Blurb and Splunk.

The Cofounder Network was an initiative Bjoern, Mathias and Fadi started in summer of 2010 to build exclusive global network of vetted high potential cofounders.

Let’s Get it Started

At a certain point we realized the convergence amongst all of our thinking. There was a conversation in the parking lot of Singularity University after an Emergent Transformation brainstorming meeting in the summer, where Bjoern told me his vision for where he and Mathias wanted to take their projects, and I was surprised to hear it was so similar to my own vision for Founders First. Later in the summer we started discussing the idea of an operational fund that could unite an ecosystem of resources for startups by facilitating micro equity transactions. This could unlock new potential for cash poor startups and align long term interest within a big network of resources. By October, Blackbox had a team of 5 (Myself, Bjoern Herrmann, Alexandros Pagidas, Sasha Markova and Fadi Bishara) and was ready to beginning working on creating a scalable seed accelerator, or a “Mckinsey for Startups” as we called it. We had also secured a large house in Atherton that we called Blackbox Mansion, where we would all live and that would serve as a central gravitation point for the community we would foster.

I decided to take a leave of absence from Stanford was going to work on growing the science of entrepreneurship, and building the model that would would coordinate the ecosystem of resources for startups. Alexandros was going to lead Blackbox Mansion and infuse the community with philosophical purpose. Fadi was going to focus on finding startups and do recruiting for them. Sasha was going to organize an event series and do business development. And Bjoern was going to lead the team and do a bit of everything.

The Sky Might Fall

Then the project got a bit shaky in November. Bjoern had to return to Germany to get his Visa renewed, Alexandros dropped out because he had too much on his plate and after a few meetings with lawyers we learned that while the operational fund was feasible, creating a model that was consistent with SEC and tax laws would be a formidable challenge that could cost more than $100,000 in legal fees just to get started. And we didn’t have the money.

When Bjoern returned on December 1st, Bjoern, Sasha and I moved into Blackbox Mansion and got to work full time. The first objective was to quickly boot up Blackbox Mansion as a community hot spot. We hosted 5-6 events at Blackbox Mansion in December and had hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors coming through. Word spread quickly, and we were on the map. Meanwhile we were trying to figure out a new sustainable business model that could get us to “break even”. We wanted to run a co-working space out of Blackbox Mansion and thought we could host a regular speakers series and charge people a monthly subscription for being part of the “clubhouse”. It turned out the co-working market was pretty saturated and convenience was essential. People wanted spaces that were walking distance off a central street. A residential house in Atherton that was a 20 minute walk from caltrain was not anyone’s idea of convenient.

The other key priority for December was to close 5 startups on 1% to 5% equity in exchange for all the operational support our team would provide them: recruiting, marketing, product feedback, startup science, our network of mentors etc. While we wanted to raise a fund and invest in these startups, we didn’t have enough money to invest now and we knew fundraising would take some time. We learned from talking with many entrepreneurs who went through seed accelerators that they considered the soft value add of the accelerators: mentoring, community, connections to capital etc. much more valuable than the $15,000 to $20,000 they received. We thought we could subtract the money from both sides of the equation and still provide entrepreneurs with a lot of value in exchange for a small amount of equity, to gather momentum until we raised our fund. It turned out that selling all the “soft value adds” was really challenging if you didn’t have money because it was very difficult to put a price on. It’s much easier for people to give you equity in exchange for cash and to use the soft value adds to command a larger premium.

Dust Yourself Off and Try Again

“No Matter How Far You Have Gone Down The Wrong Road, Turn Back”

As so many avenues from our original plan started to close, Bjoern and I started to feel uneasy with the direction the business was evolving in. At the time we were dropping in on Steve Blank’s new Lean Launchpad class at Stanford. In one lecture Steve said, “there are many company ideas, but most of them aren’t scalable.” It hit Bjoern like a ton of bricks. “Crap, how are we scalable now?” With the operational fund and the financial fund off the table for the near future our chances for scalability seemed slim and neither one of us wanted to get stuck being consultants. We were on a mission to have a big impact quickly.

A week later, Michael Baum, a successful serial entrepreneur, came over for lunch. Bjoern showed him some of the mockups of the model I was building that synthesized ideas from Customer Development, Lean Startup and the Business Model Canvas, and Michael Baum immediately saw the opportunity to build a “Salesforce for Startups”. Bjoern’s eyes lit up. I was out of town visiting my grandma in Arizona so I missed the meeting. When it ended, Bjoern called me up on Skype and suggested we pivot towards software…now. After some initial hesitation I agreed, and we spent the next 10 hours on the phone sorting out the implications.

As a result Bjoern and I decided to start the Startup Genome – a business analytics firm. The name came from a discussion with one of our advisors Saad Khan. Fadi and Sasha didn’t want to build a software company and would continue to focus working on hands on with startups, provide education, organize events and eventually try to raise a fund. Bjoern and I would focus on building a software company. With Bjoern and I planning on stepping out, we tried to bring on two friends, Tracy Barba and Travis Wallis, who were interested in filling the roles we were vacating. Though after a trial period, they both ended up working somewhere else. In the process Bjoern and I created a plan for what Fadi and Sasha would work on and named the project Blackbox Labs.

We intended to make both projects independently self-sufficient while attempting to collaborate, as we both worked in complimentary ways towards the same vision of accelerating entrepreneurs around the world. But this proved much harder than expected. Much to my dismay, for the next 3 months Bjoern split his time almost 50/50 in order to get Blackbox Labs to self-sufficiency.

A Life Well Lived Is Worth Recording

It was a bit disconcerting how fast the pivots came. I wanted to know exactly which hypotheses of ours turned out to be wrong, so we cataloged our pivots to see where we came from and what we learned.

Emergent Transformation -> Fund -> Operational Fund and Monetary fund -> Operational and Monetary Fund + Ecosystem of Resources = Mckinsey for Startups -> Accelerator Program -> Club Membership -> Two Projects: Blackbox Labs & Startup Genome.

We then needed to figure out exactly what our software product was going to be. We wanted to build something around the model of startup evolution I had been building, but we needed more validation that it actually worked. In Mid-February we launched the Startup Genome Project as our first minimum viable product. We got coverage in Fast Company and ReadWriteWeb, pushed it out hard through our social network and got 650 startups to give us the data we needed to test the model. To the outside world we still painted Blackbox as one project. We believed creating a mother brand could eventually shepherd a whole ecosystem of value aligned projects.

At the same time the frequent changes in plans were causing a bit of a cash crunch. We were renting Blackbox Mansion from a VC in China who liked the idea of running an incubator out of his house so much that he was willing to take half the rent in exchange for a small amount of equity we received from the startups in our program. When we decide to pivot, the rent reduction went off the table and we were in a hole.

The Scenius of Blackbox Mansion

We brainstormed many different solutions that could get us to cash flow positive and the most authentic solution we came up with was to pile more entrepreneurs into the house. I got a roommate, we made the nook another bedroom and we built 3 bunkbeds (6 beds) in the pool house and turned it into an Entrepreneur’s Hostel. Blackbox Mansion became a big attraction on AirBnB. Bjoern and Sasha took lead to manage this transition. In the ensuing months the number of people in the house doubled from 8 to 16 people, once reaching as much as 20 people. When Bjoern’s family came to visit, the house was so full that his sister put an air mattress in the closet and his father slept in a tent in the backyard! The Blackbox Mansion Community was vibrant and our burnrate problems were solved.

By the end of year we’d hosted more than 60 events with more than 1,000 different individuals passing through the Mansion, including members of the European Union, European Parliament, entrepreneurs and investors like Steve Blank, Jeff Clavier, David Lee, Marten Mickos, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jurvetson, more than 20 top executives from the Fortune 100 and our favorite event, the monthly Sandbox barbeque. I’d like to give a shoutout to all the permanent blackbox residents who made the community what it was. The mammoth grocery runs, the communal feasts, the late night hot tub sessions, the impromptu dance parties, the relaxing back massages, the philosophical excursions into the nature of reality deep into the night, the startup advice when the road got bumpy, and the solace of living with other entrepreneurs risking everything to make their vision a reality …all of it was very special.

There is no doubt the experience accelerated all of our personal and professional growth. The trend the last few decades has been for twenty-somethings to retreat to their solitary studio apartments but I believe communal living, especially amongst “creatives” is poised to make a comeback. Especially those that strive for “Scenius”. A beautiful term coined by Brian Eno, describing how genius emerges when the communal scene is done right. Thank you Tom Currier, Alana Yoel, Alison Lewis, Phillip Berner, Alex Kiselev, Damian Madray, Bjoern, Sasha, Fadi and Alexandros for making the Scenius of Blackbox Mansion possible.

Steve BlankJeff Clavier, Softtech VC

David Lee, SV AngelMarten Mickos, MysqlGuy KawasakiSteve Jurvetson, DFJ

The Startup Genome Learns To Fly

In the Spring, Bjoern and I started working with two new people, Ron Berman and Carlos Mondragon. After we announced the Startup Genome Project in February a number of people introduced us to Ron, a 3rd year PhD at UC Berkeley doing quantitative marketing research on startups. Our interests aligned, and pretty quickly we were deep into crunching the data we gathered from the launch.

Meanwhile Carlos started working with us to code the first Startup Genome Applicatioin. Carlos was a Sandboxer from Mexico staying at our place for a few months to work on raising money for his Social Gaming company. Six months ago he’d turned down an acquisition offer from Zynga and afterwards he’d given much of the day to day controls to his 4 other cofounders. The fundraising process stated out slow and Carlos offered to help us with the initial phase of the product development process.

Together, we went through an intensive search process to figure out what our first product should be. We conducted dozens of interviews, distributed many surveys and spent many long nights at the whiteboard. We explored creating a board meeting tool with Steve Blank and a “Pivotal Tracker for Customer Development” before deciding to move towards an analytics tool powered by the Startup Genome. Through Carlos we learned about the enormously powerful predictive analytics stack Zynga had built to be able to out iterate any small social gaming company. Long term we envisioned using the predictive power of the Startup Genome Model to give the same analytic capacity to startups.

As Carlos met more people in the valley he started to have doubts about whether he wanted to continue his social gaming company, and as he worked more with us, he got increasingly attached. We saw the opportunity and popped the question. “Do you want to join us full time as a technical cofounder, split 33/33/33?” He said yes. A part of me couldn’t believe we just had that elusive third founder fall into our lap. It turned out we moved too fast. A few weeks later Carlos’ cofounders flew out to the bay area for a consulting project they had planned. When they arrived, the light in Carlos eye’s changed and his feet started getting cold. He realized his cofounders needed him too much, and he wasn’t ready to give up on the company yet. The writing was on the wall and there didn’t seem to be much Bjoern and I could do to save the situation. We just had to let Carlos go.

We buckled down on the work with Ron and wrote the 67 page Startup Genome Report. We planned to use the exposure from the report to gather more data and test crucial hypotheses about whether the Startup Genome could provide useful automatic recommendations. Making due without a technical cofounder, we hacked the wufoo survey application and based on a users input we redirected them to a comprehensive report on their “Startup Personality Type”.

We released the report in May and it spread like wildfire throughout the startup ecosystem.  After more than 50,000 site views, 100+ publications in more than 15 languages (incl. Huffington Post, CNet, GigaOm CNN Money), more than 10,000 downloads of the report, 2,500 new survey responses and hundreds of emails from entrepreneurs all around the world thanking for us our work.

For more than a year the intensity of my focus had been increasing with each passing day that my ideas about how increase the success rate of startups failed to gain traction. I was confident I was on to something but fearful that if validation didn’t come soon enough circumstances could pull me away from working on what I think is the most important thing I could be doing. I could finally breath a sigh of relief. A major checkpoint was reached and freedom washed over me.

I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found

Meanwhile Blackbox Labs was struggling to find its identity. Sasha was organizing regular workshops for startups and Fadi was organizing regular cofounder dinners, but neither projects seemed to have high potential long term. By the summer they finally found their sweet spot connecting international entrepreneurs to the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. They facilitated programs like Deep Dive Russia, a 10 day Silicon Valley immersion program, Window to Silicon Valley, a live video conference series with speakers like Guy Kawasaki, and a European Demo Day for 12 Series-A ready companies from Europe came to pitch Silicon Valley Investors — of which half have now closed A rounds. Fadi later went on a startup speaking tour thoughout Europe. When he came back, Sasha and Fadi were ready to start  their own Silicon Valley Immersion program: Blackbox Connect. It ran successfully in the beginning of November and that takes the story of Blackbox Labs up to today.

The Mojo Interlude – The House Dog

Oh, I Get Launched…With A Little Help From My Friends

In the summer Bjoern and I were ready to take the Startup Genome to the next level. The Startup Genome Report generated a lot of attention and acclaim, and got us a lot more data, but we needed to take the big step of building our first software product. The only challenge was we still hadn’t found someone we wanted to join us as a technical founder. We met with a few dozen potential candidates, many of whom were our friends, but circumstances or interest level never aligned. In the midst of the search, Bjoern and I continued to make progress. I continued to refine the Startup Genome as a predictive model, Bjoern worked on the front end design for the application and we both did a lot of customer development.

Then we caught two amazing breaks. Radu Spineanu, a friend of Bjoern’s from Romania was coming to stay in the pool house for a few months to start a new company. He really liked the Startup Genome Project and happened to have two weeks free while he was waiting for his new cofounder to arrive from New York City. He very generously offered to help us build a basic Ruby on Rails architecture for our prototype in his spare time. Radu was fast and finished a first version in just 4 days of work. The other big break started to unfold a week before Radu arrived. Ertan Dogrultan, a recent MS in CS from UCLA had just moved out to the Bay Area to take a job at Arista Networks. Before he graduated he had done a data mining project that used Crunchbase data to try to predict startup success. His professor saw the Startup Genome Report when we launched it in May and he encouraged Ertan to reach out to us. The three of us meet, liked each other right away, and Ertan started working with us part time during the summer, helping us to translate the whole Startup Genome data model from linear excel formulas to much more robust bayesian classifiers. The additional complexity necessitated more help from Radu, and he again generously went far beyond his initial commitment to help us get a version done by the end of the summer. Damian Madray, a designer staying at blackbox mansion also helped us give the data visualization a beautiful face lift.

We launched the Startup Genome Compass on August 29th and it was another homerun, with more than 12,000 additional companies using the product over the next few months.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

 

The Fall was filled with all sorts of post launch work, customer development, product development, team expansion, partnership talks, speaking gigs, fundraising preparation and a falling out between me and Bjoern, and Fadi. Then as the trees started to lose their leaves we were hit with another big surprise. Alexandros, who had been a resident at Blackbox since March, had lit a fire beneath a new project unbeknownst to us and it was picking up steam fast. Alexandros is a philosopher both by training and by nature, and was inspired by the power of entrepreneurship to turn ideals into reality. He felt that the community developed at Blackbox was uniquely valuable, but it didn’t do enough to challenge the philosophical frivolity of much of what people in Silicon Valley were working on. In his words, “they had no soul.” He thought entrepreneurship needed a heavy dose of art, culture and philosophy.

In early November, he was fantasizing about creating his ideal community with a fellow Blackbox Mansion resident, Damian Madray. Something compelled them to search Craigslist and they stumbled on the perfect place to make their dream a reality. A four story, seven bedroom house near Twin Peaks, San Francisco with a majestic panoramic view of the entire city skyline had just been put on the market. It had the perfect vibe and location for the community Alexandros and Damian wanted to create.

Somehow on two weeks notice Alexandros and Damian managed to do everything that needed to be done to get the place by December 1st, and TheGlint was born. Bjoern and I were both itching to move back to San Francisco, relieve tension with Fadi and reclaim the city lifestyle, so we were in almost immediately. Ertan had also recently left his job and committed to become the full time co-founder and CTO of the Startup Genome and wanted to move in with us. Once news of the impending move spread amongst the house, many followed suit. 8 of the 10 permanent residents now at The Glint were former Blackbox Mansion residents. The vision behind The Glint is to develop a live-work community that accelerates the creation and creators of value through design, philosophy, art science, technology and entrepreneurship. It aspires to shift the conception of heroism from historical warrior ideals to a new paradigm of creativity, collaboration and innovation.

Wise Up

Every experience holds both positive and negative. The last year had many successes but also many tough times. At some point over the last year, around May or June, I reached a point of stability and confidence in my own ability and identity that even the negatives times started to be seen as opportunities for growth, rather than maladies to be avoided. Setbacks were simply feedback on my performance, fodder to improve next time, not an indicator of self-efficacy or self-worth. But even when I learned my lessons, the new performances were always less then perfect. This fallibility needs to be accepted.The cycle never stops. There is always more to learn.

Before I close, I wanted to share a few more lessons learned from the experiences of the past year.

Lesson 1: What are you going to be when you grow up?

We experimented with so many different ideas and approaches over the last year. I feel like I learned the discovery process inside out. It’s a very important and valuable process, but I think the possibility space is a lot more constrained than people’s intuition lead them to believe. When starting something new the possibilities for what the project could become seem infinite, but ultimately there are a limited number of models that can scale into something with high impact. However, if you’re willing to entertain building something niche, there is access to the much wider possibility space along the long tail. Given our mission of finding a scalable way to increase the success rate of startups, there were really only 4 viable, scalable ideas that we uncovered: A Software Company, an Investment Fund, an Educational Media Company and a Research Institute. Bjoern and I decided to the Software Company.

When I see nascent ideas now I almost always ask myself, “from the viable models I’m aware of, which one could this project be when it grows up?

Lesson 2: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

It’s important to have a big vision, but it’s equally important to get started right away. Creating something from nothing is really, really hard. When you have as little resources and as limited time has startups do, it  requires extreme focus. All of the big things you want to do can be done eventually as you get more momentum and resources. But that will only happen if you focus successfully first.  If you do it right eventually, your baby will eventually grow into the world as an organism with a life of its own, with the power and energy to pursue crazy ideas like Space Elevators and Autonomous Driving Cars. But that takes time.

“A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else”

Lesson 3: Entrepreneurship as a means of Self Expression

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It is a life encompassing sport full of trials and tribulations. But if you dare to embark on the perilous journey you will find an opportunity like little else for authentic self expression, self discovery, and world altering impact. Commit to preparation, commit to learning, and when the time is right, don’t forget to leap.

Lesson 4: The Power of Ideals and Vision

Blackbox as an idea and ideal was something that was very powerful and resonated with a lot of people. Its descendant projects  possess a common thread of a passion for empowering entrepreneurs, belief in the power of data to improve decision making, and a desire to maximize human potential.

Lesson 5: Startups Are Not Efficient

Startups do not run like a well oiled machine. They stop. They start. They break. You have to find new parts. Those parts end up being out of stock and you have to make them yourself.

This requires a lot of patience, perseverance and expectation management. If you expect to hit cruising altitude right away you will just become frustrated and demoralized.  It’s rare a founding team has everything they need to start firing on all cylinders right away. The process is much more like jumping off a cliff and assembling your parachute on the way down. Despite all this inefficiency startups can be very effective, because they have something other organizations don’t: Freedom. Freedom from conventional thought. Freedom from bureaucracy. Freedom to explore and create their iconoclastic vision of the world. And the vision doesn’t need to be perfectly realized right away, just getting something working is often enough to begin drumming up support, momentum and resources to grow scalably into maturity.

Lesson 6: Don’t Project Your Ambitions on to other People

Founders have to be irrationally optimistic and their enthusiasm often inspires other people to want to join them, and for them to want to include many people in their vision. They need to be careful not to project idyllic views on other people, and expect them to live up to unrealistic expectations. There will just be hurt and disappointment on both sides.

Lesson 7: Select The People You Want To Work With Carefully

Only select people who you believe are great now and have potential to be even better in the future. Don’t hope that a B or C player will grow into an A player. You only want A players who can become A+ player.

Lesson 8: If Your Startup Is Done Right Your Cofounders Will Become Your Best Friends

You don’t have to start out as best friends but it should emerge over the first year of working full time. If you’re doing your startup right you will inevitably create a stronger bond with your cofounders than any of your friends. You have to put everything on the line to succeed. Not only do you burn all your boats at the shore, but you are dependent on high performance from your cofounders to survive. This requires an enormous amount of trust to be able to march ahead confidently. Over the last year Bjoern and I lived in the same house and spent almost every waking hour together and discussed nearly everything on our minds, from personal to professional, and I wouldn’t recommend it any other way.

Lesson 9: Don’t Work with People Who Can’t Evaluate Their Own Value

If they can’t evaluate their own value they won’t be able to evaluate your value or anyone elses and whenever pies are split or credit is taken, there will inevitably be conflict.

Lesson 10: The Learning Curve For New People is Longer than You Expect

Expanding the team can accelerate growth, but there are very high initial costs. When you add someone you will probably move slower for the first weeks, maybe even first few months. It takes time for them to get acclimated with the project and your working style. Take on your first few people slowly, and know you will lose more than you gain if they don’t stay long term.

Lesson 11: Success Carries a Burden of Responsibility

The more momentum you gather and the more success you have, the more responsibility you carry for others. People put their faith in you, users rely on you, and employees depend on you. This burden of responsibility should not be underestimated. Living with integrity is all the important

Lesson 12: Having the Flexibility to Let Go

In the course of starting a company many projects and directions are explored. It is as important to have the ability to let go as it is to persevere.

In Finale… I Would Stand In Line For This

I write this from The Glint looking out over the expansive San Francisco skyline and can’t help but get excited about what 2012 has in store for us all. It’s going to be a big year. Happy New Year my friends, stay hungry and make the most of it. This is just the beginning.

8 Comments
  • Logan Kugler
    January 11, 2012

    Jesus, that was long. Great though, and interesting. Keep up the adventure of life, Max.

  • Alena Matsiukhina
    January 11, 2012

    Really long! but very well written and great lessons. on patience also “patience is not about how long one waits; patience is about how well one behaves while they wait”

  • Michael Frank
    January 11, 2012

    Terrific post Max – great story – looking forward to seeing where it goes next!

  • Sheetal Dube
    January 11, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your post and wish all of you the very best in 2012. It is just the beginning.

  • Gioia
    January 11, 2012

    Insightful, provoking and inspiring post. Thanks for sharing lessons learned – they will hopefully help one or the other pioneer taking on the “perilous” and arduous journey of creating a startup jump the learning curve.

  • Anonymous
    January 11, 2012

    Max, thank you so much for sharing this story. As a participant of some initiatives you guys have put together, I share a great deal of respect for you, Sasha, Bjoern, Fadi, and other team members who were involved in making this story happen.

    I’m only one of many. We are your asset. You earned it. Be sure to take advantage of it and best of luck with Startup Genome Software Company.

    Go, Startup Genome, go!!!

  • clau
    January 12, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your story and learning experience. I really appreciate this! Sending Energy and Success for your going-on!

  • Phil Snyder
    March 3, 2012

    Really insightful into the ups and downs of running a startup. I especially enjoyed the pictures that complemented the story 🙂