Though not as well known as other founders, Dalton built a great product in picplz. Unfortunately for his team they were just unable to match Instagram’s growth. Dalton’s response to criticism here reads like an entrepreneurial manifesto. These thoughts can be viewed in a grandiose light and are thus easy to ascribe to. But only when you walk the path do you realize the truths here and the emotional investment that prompted these words.
Anyone reading this article needs to remember to never be afraid of putting yourself out there because you are afraid of failure.
I saw the market first, I created picplz, and I went for it. I was a huge believe in the mobile photo sharing opportunity, and I went for it with all of my heart. Clearly, picplz didn’t win, but I have ZERO shame or regret for doing my best.
When I read articles like these, which are about myself, my company and people that I know well, I can’t help but feel vitriol aimed at me for DARING to create, launch and raise funding for picplz. I am not clear on what exactly people want, an apology for trying?
The fact is, I saw the writing on the wall that we wouldn’t win early and pivoted out of photo sharing which I had ~90% of my series A cash still in the bank. It certainly seems like that was the right move, but all of this press makes it look like pivoting was the wrong call(?) The press I read is written in such a way that it assumed that the A16Z investment is dead and my entire company should just be written off to zero today. That is bullshit. If I started to take press like this too seriously I might as well just dissolve my company and stop coming into work.
I say this to the hn comminity: never be afraid of failure. No one knows what will happen. All of this arm-chair quarterbacking is a waste of time. Stop reading this kind of crap and instead put your energy into doing your best work. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but if you give yourself the opportunity to win enough times, you WILL be successful.
Dalton Caldwell, Founder of picplz
There is so much good advice packed into these few paragraphs. Often the smallest ideas grow and grow into a larger vision, and big vision companies with vaults of cash crash and burn. He’s right — no one knows what will happen. But this fact should never stop you from trying. The unknown outcome is what makes this adventure so exciting.
I love this excerpt from the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs truly delivered products that seemed like they had been beamed in from the future. I believe that while a lot of decisions at Apple are based on cold, hard data and facts, the overall vision and user experience that Steve imagined was one drawn from an intuition, innate and plugged in to help push humanity in to the future.
Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.
Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.
Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought. If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it , it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.
Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since. At one point I was thinking about going to Japan and trying to get into the Eihei-ji monastery, but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here. He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct. I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.
I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.
Engineers are used to solving problems using a certain approach. Generally it can be defined in the following way: 1. Precisely define input and output requirements (let’s set aside performance, non-functional, etc requirements aside for the purposes of this post) and 2. Iterate in a deterministic way until your approach (algorithm) achieves Step 1.
The key here is that this approach is largely deterministic. Software is driven by cause and effect. Engineer says, machine does. (As we all know, almost to a fault. If only the machine could tell us how to do what we are really trying to get it to do!). We know that if we tell the machine to do something it will do exactly that. Furthermore, if some piece of code fails once we can be fairly certain the code will fail again in the exact same way, regardless of the machine on which we execute this piece of code.
In this way, humans are very different. And this is part of what makes marketing and growing the user base of a product so challenging. While overarching patterns in human behavior may be identified, on a day to day basis we have no idea who will respond to a certain product or promotion positively. We can’t even say for certain if the same person will respond the same way to the same product next Tuesday.
To have your product capture the attention of as many people as possible, and as many types of people as possible, and to grow your number of active users, you need a multi-channel approach. Some efforts will fail miserably, while some will succeed for no obvious reason, while others will succeed after a quirky fix to a campaign. The human mind is not so deterministic. You need to take the time to understand your users.
I came across this slideshare that highlights some of the wide-ranging, far-reaching efforts necessary to grow your user base. Unlike in engineering, the relationship between cause and effect is not so clear when managing users and user growth. Like our ancestors, your strategy for driving user adoption will have to evolve and adapt.
Building a relationship with a VC or angel is just like building a relationship with anyone else. It needs to be fostered and it takes time. Above all, time to build trust and respect, and time to build a sense of how each of you approach problem solving, and how you work together when problem solving. Along with these things you get to figure out if you actually like the guy or girl enough to be a passenger on your startup rollercoaster. I pulled this simple yet helpful list from a PandoDaily post written earlier this year by John Lilly.
John Lilly is a partner at Greylock Partners. Prior to Greylock, John was CEO of Mozilla, makers of Firefox.