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Posts Tagged ‘startup’

Ode to True/Slant: First year of a news startup in rhyme

Posted by andreaitis on April 8, 2010

One single year has come and gone
Since the Alpha launch of trueslant.com
Launches tend to be crazy, that’s the default
Ours was no exception courtesy of Mossberg-comma-Walt

But let me back up, start with some history
Of how True/Slant first came to be
LD had the idea, he needed a check
He got the first round with a powerpoint deck

Whiteboard'ing

We sat in an office;  year 2008, month July
Just three of us then: Lewis, Coates and I
In the back right corner we commandeered our space
Our office christened once the whiteboard was in place

We talked, we drew, we diagrammed and graphed
We walked to the corner for lunch at ‘Wich Craft
We posted on Techcrunch for a CTO
Enter SMcNally; he had us at “Hello”

Like speed-dating we interviewed for UI and Design
Surely we met with at least eight or nine
Then James rolled in, the last one to show
With his Williamsburg skinny jeans and glasses; he had us at “No”

He was smart and clear but he did not hob-nob
J argued back.  As LD says, “That’s what got you the job.”
With the Athletes on board we could really begin
The beat was on: No Sleep Til Brooklyn

During this time I came to realize
A VC’s Fred Wilson was very nearby
Up one floor, in fact, and me a big fan
That’s how my Fred Wilson Watch began

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startup’ing, month 8: thinking inside the box

Posted by andreaitis on February 26, 2009

i call this our macgyver period.

it all started with a not-so-little office drama.  we had a funny feeling about our nice digs in union square (yes, one floor below fred wilson!).   we were subletting, had carved out the space in the back right corner as our own…but noticed that, uhhh, the rest of the place was getting emptier and emptier.  so we huddled and quickly decided we needed a new place.  and then our landlord decided he wouldn’t continue renting the union square office at all.  since you can’t sublet if there’s no one to sublet from, the building decided to pleasantly evict us.  of course, all of this coincided with our alpha release #4.

within 48 hours our fearless leader announced it was done:  a new office that was bigger, cheaper and had seven windows, available march 1st.  unfortunately, it was january 27th.  we had another product release coming up, and a board meeting, and no place to work.   enter: the box.  we took a temp office in the helmsley building.  sounds nice, right?  join me for the trip to the box:

it was, in essence, an alice in wonderland office.  or something out of being john malkovich.  i actually didn’t mind it at first…until the connectivity problems.  and the loud day-traders next door.   and the game of musical chairs that meant the last person who arrived had to use a small file cabinet as a desk.   and the loose electrical outlet that sparked and sizzled.  and the lack of any windows which, ultimately, made it feel like we were working at a casino.  and the random electrical shocks from just, y’know, sitting down and touching a laptop.  pretty sure our cto got some free electro-shock therapy.

but, now that it’s my last day in the box… i might actually miss it a little.   it was cramped and crazy, but while we were there we released alpha #5 on time, and made it through another energetic board meeting.

oh!  i was also reblogged by fred wilson.  that’s like a rite of passage, isn’t it?  a blog mitzvah?  it was paul westerberg singing Waitress in the Sky.  after westerberg’s hit by a beer bottle in the middle of the song, he smoooothly slips in some improv lyrics without missing a beat.

i guess that’s kind of what we did in t/s month 8…improv.   minus the flying beer bottle.

improv-ing-ly yours –
andrea

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board meeting day: a brief debrief

Posted by andreaitis on December 12, 2008

it was raining.   which might not be a big deal for you, but for me it always leaves the possibility of unhappy  hair expansion.  so much so  that sarah palin could probably see my hair all the way from her house.   in alaska.

but the day is off to a good start.  i and my umbrella step onto the sidewalk, turn to look for a taxi and one pulls up right in front of me.  must be a good sign, i think.  until he goes the wrong way… twice… makes an illegal u-turn in the middle of irving place… and is on his mobile phone the entire time, completely ignoring me.  and, by the way, are ALL taxi drivers constantly on their phones these days?  is that some common code to drive passengers crazy??

but i digress…

at the office, we are printing the final three copies of the board deck when the printer decides to take a breather right in the middle.   and then it starts  printing the deck all over again from the beginning without finishing the first copy.   and then, yes, it stops again.  but i quickly step in, assess the situation and magically fix the persnickety printer:   i, um, realize it needs more paper.

so, decks printed.  projector tested.  water provided.   no muffins or snacks – we’re a startup in tough economicl times; they should applaud our food frugality.  we hope.

our ceo is doing a final check in the conference room.  we’re in the back  discussing the whereabouts of burt reynolds and his hairpiece and the merits of smokey and the bandit.   y’know, important and relevant pre-board-meeting conversation.  when suddenly our ceo strolls back with one of our investors,  tim forbes (from, yes, forbes).    and very nicely he tells us he’s  pleased with what he’s seen so far.   this, before the board meeting even begins!   we immediately forget burt reynolds (where is he, anyway?).    after the board meeting, tim’s comment is echoed by one of our other investors,  jon miller (formerly of aol and currently of velocity interactive group).  which is a long way of saying the meeting went very well.  the powerpoint performed as expected, and the conversation was good.  i’m sure we’ll have tough meetings at some point, but it feels pretty good to have two solid ones behind us.

but here’s the strange part…
after the meeting, when we were debriefing, there was some excitement… and relief… but it was tempered.  i thought we would feel light, buoyant,  but that wasn’t the case.  we were all quietly absorbing what had happened.  why, i wondered, after such a positive board meeting do we not feel exuberant?  and i think it’s this:  we’re setting expectations, big ones.  not intentionally, really.  we try to stay focused and we hold ourselves to a high standard, but it’s different when you know the board is now also holding you to that standard.  expecting it.   more pressure on us to push forward harder and faster.

which isn’t a problem since we’ll do that anyway.  but i know the board will walk into the next meeting and expect everything to be at a certain level, from our progress to our powerpoint.  so while part of my brain is excited and happy the meeting went as well as it did, the other part of my brain is thinking about whether  i should present the next update as an interpretive dance…

at least i’ll have a couple of months to stress about it.

startup’ingly yours –
andrea

ps:  burt reynolds is here.

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startup’ing, the second trimester

Posted by andreaitis on December 9, 2008

there is a rhythm to the startup cycle, at least for us.  the first three months or so were the dreamy times: everything fresh and new, imagining what we might build and how it might work, all 3…then 4 of us conspiring together in gleeful anticipation.

then, in the fourth month, there was a noticeable shift.   just as we were launching our first bits of functionality, the mood changed.  personalities became…sharper.  not in a bad way, it just suddenly became simultaneously apparent that this is all real.  big, and real.  seeing some working parts pushed us along, and we each became intensely focused on our particular role, what we had to bring to the project.  for the guys, that meant they were grumpy at times.   i, of course, was a ray of sunshine.  as always.  ;-p

we’ve continued to launch other bits and pieces in a closed alpha, and that initial burst of intensity has eased into a good, constant buzz.  we’ve got a name, a tagline and a logo.  we’re working on site design now, and prepping for our second board meeting.  and, still, seeing signs along the way.   when we were at the jeff jarvis news summit a few weeks ago i happened to notice a display in the hallway: the new york herald tribune.   our tagline — “News is more than what happens” — is a quote from jock whitney, publisher of the new york herald tribune.  there’s more to that story for another time, but here’s a look at the display…

we’re finishing up our second trimester in a good place.  more after the board meeting…

buzzingly yours –
andrea

ps:  oh!!!  i saw fred wilson TWICE last week.  once in the elevator, and once when i went with our New Guy to the sandwich place around the corner.  i think i was a little less dorky, but fred wilson would have to confirm that.  of course, he doesn’t really know my usual level of dorkiness so it might be hard for him to judge…

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inside a startup, looking out

Posted by andreaitis on October 22, 2008

as the money’s melting down, we’ve seen post after post from venture capitalists.

smart people, with a particular perspective . . . from fred wilson to tom evslin to alan patricof.

they are the fairy godfathers for many an internet story.  but now, with the economy dipping and diving, some of those tales are looking grim.   (or, uh, grimm.)

the view is a bit different from the inside.  when we officially started on july 1,  we were truly starting up from scratch — no product, no site, just the rough rock of an idea we were anxious and excited to polish.  and we set about doing just that.

then, almost four months later, the markets went mad.  and we knew we needed to do something.  here’s what we did, our startup steps for keeping dollars and sense:

1. pay attention
what happens outside affects you inside.  the economy matters, for your product and your audience.  do not ignore what’s happening.  we thought about what we’re building, and how it would play in a good economy and a bad one.  we thought about adjustments we might need to make, and the associated costs and efforts. we’re big on back-up plans.

2. show me the money
repeat after me: i am running a business.  i am running a business.
now figure out if – when – how that business will make money or provide an equivalent value in a lopsided economy.  we looked at our potential revenue sources, and estimated high and low scenarios.  the more information we have, the better equipped we’ll be to roll with whatever happens.

3. stretch
update your operating plan and budget.  if you don’t have one, do one now.   n-o-w.   we have some initial funding, and decided we’d like it to last through (at least) december ’09.   so we went through the budget, line by line, and made adjustments.  we spent money on a very good biz dev/finance guy in order to do this.  money well spent, in our opinion, with an eye on long term survival.  we know what we need to do, we’re comfortable with the changes and we did it all in a week or so.  we also reviewed it with our investors, to get their input and support.

4. scrimp AND spend
sure, you’ll need to hire contractors instead of staff.  and maybe you’ll have to let some people go.  or you’ll hold off on a particular product feature or partnership for a bit, or closely evaluate open source tech (we are big into open source).  but spend where it makes the most sense, where you’ll get the biggest bang for your bucks.  be objective and unemotional when making those decisions.  think about the greater good, not your particular pet project.  we have a solid core team of 4, and we will invest our time and energy (and our investors’ money) in our product.  we know the experience we want to create, and we are unified in our pursuit.  which leads me to. . .

5. focus
stay focused.  that’s it.  know what you need to do, and do it.  do not get distracted.  do not panic.

oh, and use common sense.  lots of it.

we are aware, but not scared.  we know when we’ll need to go for a second round of funding, and we’re doing all we can to be smartly positioned.  there are, of course, plenty of unknowns (including how the advertising market will be impacted).  we keep up, we think, we talk and we plan.  and we do.  we are launching phase 1 of our alpha next week.

as always, we are appropriately anxious.

sensibly yours –

andrea

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startup’ing, month 3.5

Posted by andreaitis on October 12, 2008

we had our first board meeting this month.  it’s sort of like meeting the boyfriend’s parents: you want them to think you’re smart and together; you want them to be impressed; you want them to respect the real you (not just the polished-up you standing before them); and, while it’s not absolutely necessary, part of you does want them to like you.  really like you.

oh, and you want them to be comfortable giving you some space, to let you find your way through the relationship all the while knowing they’re right there should you have a question or need some sage advice.

yeah.  like that.

so how did it go, you ask?  if the board meeting was the dancing with the stars finale, we would’ve strutted away with the disco ball trophy.   BUT… it was one board meeting.  and early on.  so heads will not swell and egos will remain checked and the ‘we did it!’ dance will not be done again for quite some time.  still, it was nice to get the positive feedback and encouragement.  and to know that i am, indeed, the powerpoint princess.

some other highlights: we got a server.  yep, a real live we’re-building-this-thing server.  i named him, of course.  yes, it’s a him.  jock whitney.  meet jock whitney, our server.  cute, huh?  and no i’m not going to explain jock whitney.  r’member when the world wide internets used to be called the information superhighway?!  take a drive, clive.  ;-p

what else. . . oh yeah, i left the key to the ladies room IN the ladies room a total of four times.  which means i am now acquainted with everyone in our hallway.  of course, they all know me as the kooky girl who knocks on their door to borrow a ladies room key to retrieve a ladies room key,  but whatev.   it’s not such a picnic for me, either.

and, finally, the fred wilson watch 2008 continues.  no actual in-person sightings yet. . .but i am still on the case, dignity (somewhat) intact.

startup’ingly yours,
andrea

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fred wilson watch

Posted by andreaitis on September 20, 2008

i have not yet orchestrated the accidental bump-in.

and, shockingly, i haven’t even wandered up to fred’s floor to scope out the union square ventures office situation.  i deserve some kinda medal for all the restraint i’m exerting.  not to mention the embarrassment i’m not causing the rest of the company (all 3 of them).   unless they’re reading this, of course.

anyway, i just know the chance meeting with fred wilson will happen soon.
two close calls must mean something:

1.  i saw the back of his partner brad burnham’s head as he was leaving the building.
here’s a picture of brad burnham from the front, so you can imagine what he looked like from the back.

b. i saw this twitter message from fred:

60 minutes away from meeting fred wilson

60 minutes away from meeting fred wilson

i was at taralucci’s exactly one hour after fred wilson.

at that very same spot.  and it’s small, so i was probably even standing exactly where he stood.  ‘course, i was getting gelato instead of espresso.  but still!!!  surely this is a sign.  of what, i’m not sure, but a sign nonetheless.

so i asked lewis, our ceo, what he would say to fred wilson if he happened to see him in the elevator.  a possible scenario, requiring an actual elevator pitch.

“what would you say?” i asked.

“why do you ask me these things?” he answered.

and then, after the obligatory eye-rolling (which, yes, i get a lot),  he proceeded to give me the pitch.  it was good, and definitely do-able in 13 floors.

and now i know fred’s not a shine deli kinda guy.

the fred wilson watch 2008 continues…

unabashedly yours,
andrea

ps – i wonder if anyone ever calls him freddy.

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startup’ing, month 2.5

Posted by andreaitis on September 11, 2008

where to begin. . .

the days are zipping along.  we are officially cto’d, and happily so.  our cto started and it was as if he’d been working with us all along.  maybe because we spent so much time together during the interview process.  maybe because he’s the right guy for the job, he just fits.  we practically heard the ‘click’ on his first day.

oh, we also now have an equal mix: 2 macs and 2 pcs.  and 2 iphones, further proof of our startup status.  wave around an iphone, wear skinny jeans and a button-down shirt untucked with sleeves rolled up and  people simply nod, exchange a knowing glance and say to themselves “oh, startup.”   me being a girl and all, i have more wardrobe options.  but the rest holds true.

we’re excited, and anxious.   i say that’s fine, we should all be appropriately anxious.   “appropriately anxious,” i say.  and there’s much to be appropriately anxious about:  are we moving fast enough?  are we thinking about the product in the right way?  are we thinking about the audience in the right way?  what are we forgetting?  what.are.we.forgetting???

we don’t have a name yet.  we have a tag line, but no name to sit on top of it.   yep.  some angsty discussions about that today.  but other things are moving.  we’re prototype-ing, and experience-ing, and product roadmap-ing, and all sorts of other th-ings.

and the office is shaping up.

glory days: All the President's Men

gory days: A Current Affair

Mac Cube

adore-y days: Mac Cube

more to come…

startup’ingly yours,
andrea

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out-age

Posted by andreaitis on August 11, 2008

we got the call.  the “hey, what are you guys doing?” call.   next thing we know, some facts about our still-stealthy startup in paidcontent.org.   yay.

here ’tis: Former AOL Exec Dvorkin Starts News Aggregator Backed by Forbes, Velocity

reporting live from the acela –

andrea

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startup’ing, month 1

Posted by andreaitis on August 1, 2008

well, it’s actually month 1 + a day.  i’m on the train, all geeked out with my laptop and mobile air card and ipod and bleary glazed eyes.   i’m getting into a routine.  i know for sure because the guy at the shine deli knew what i was going to order this morning.  plus which, he smiled at me as if he remembered me.  i like that in a corner deli.

it’s been a good month.  we’re in an office near union square.  fred wilson is in our office building.  i haven’t met him yet, but i’ve been threatening to ride the elevator up and down and up and down until i do, um, accidentally meet him.   he’s a techebrity.  and i like his taste in music.   and he’s smart.  and it would be kinda cool.  i know what you’re thinking, but i won’t hit him up for funding.  we’re lucky enough to already have some funding.  besides, that would be tacky.  as opposed to, y’know, my elevator plan.

startup office plants

hello, office plants

there are just 3 of us so far.  until today.  it was a big day today.

we hired a cto and bought 3 plants for the office.
see?   i think i might have to name them.

we’re stealthy right now, but- to recap – here’s what i can tell you:   we have some funding…we’re building something in the news space…our office is near union square…we just hired a cto….we have one plant that needs water every day, another that needs water twice a week, and a third that needs water once a week.  and i can’t remember which is which so take a good look at the office plants now while they’re still green.

oh, and i think i’m officially a regular at the shine deli.   those are all the facts for now.

factually yours,
andrea

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