Posts Tagged ‘Soma’

8 Things Instagram Did Right

April 11th, 2012 04:00 admin View Comments

photo (26).jpgWith its billion-dollar sale to Facebook, Instagram instantly became the latest poster child for startup success. In just 551 days, the photo-sharing mobile app zoomed from zero to 30 million-odd users, and 10 million U.S. visits by March 2012, up 1000% since December 2011. Its valuation outstrips that of the 116-year-old New York Times.

An amazing run, and it wasn’t all just luck, though the company enjoyed plenty of that. To boost its chances to win the startup lottery, Instagram did eight very important things right.

1. Instagram Operated as a Nimble Start-up

Despite its meteoric growth, Instagram kept its overhead low with a total of only 13 employees, and its headquarters weren’t anything to brag about, either. Instagram is housed in Twitter’s old digs on 164 South Park Street in the trendy but still slightly seedy SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco.

More important, it stayed nimble enough to switch gears from its original idea of a location-based social network called Burbn to an iPhone app focused solely on photo-sharing. And instead of hiring workers or looking for revenue, the company was able to focus on growing the platform, its community and its aesthetic offerings.

2. Instagram Cashed in on the Mobile Explosion

Instagram’s timing was perfect, capitalizing on a historic increase in smartphone use. Starting out as an iOS app, it successfully targeted the burgeoning legions of hip iPhone-app users. It waited until Android reached nearly 50% mobile marketshare to launch the long-awaited app on that platform. Meanwhile, Instagram mostly ignored the no-longer-as-hot Web space, although there is a Web version called Webstagram.


3. Instagram’s Interface Stayed Junk-Free

Spend 20 minutes on Instagram and chances are you’ll be hooked. Beautiful pictures filtered through hazy lenses flow down an otherwise cold, glass screen. Instagram charges up a smartphone screen, filling it with emotion – not piles of distracting controls and icons. On Instagram, the image stands alone. Instagram successfully created a new world where images – not functionality – are the main focus.

4. Instagram Didn’t Get Creepy

Instagram managed to keep its creep vibe low. It doesn’t push users to post, to share or even to like – it is an open space, available to use as you wish. Stay on the sidelines and just observe – no one will ever know. Pop into a conversation and then quickly leave. You won’t be the only one: Instagram users are notoriously fickle.

That’s why Instagram’s easy follow/unfollow option doesn’t require a commitment as heavy-handed as “friending” on Facebook. Follow whomever you want, or just wander off and find new images to look at. You won’t accidentally see some old fling pop up in the Instagram stream, unless you purposely follow that person.

5. Instagram Married Visceral, Visual Communication & Community

Instagram built a devout community based on a single idea: capturing and sharing beautiful images. Powerful images are inherently emotional – think about The Atlantic’s In Focus section.

Instagram gave people an easy way to connect around images, without the added pressure of complex social relations. Communities popped up organically around filters, around using too many filters and around just friends.

Chicago-Instagram.jpg“There are a lot of things in [a] photo that someone can respond to, [that] promote conversation – then you get a wonderful interaction out of it,” says Piictu Community Manager Zachary McCune. “I hope that continues, because that’s what’s beautiful about being able to relate to photographs.”

A talented photographer can capture a single emotion in a square image, and make the viewer stop and feel something, if only for a moment. Instagram makes that moment easier to share.

6. Instagram Created a Valuable New Data Set

Every time an Instagram user snaps a picture, the app can capture a rich set of data, including location, time of day and other data points that can be associated with a smartphone’s sensors, explains ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Rowinski in How Instagram Will Help Facebook Monetize Mobile.

Instagram may not have been monetizing that data, but you can bet Facebook will. “Facebook is adding another crucial set of data points/edges to analyze people’s activity online,” says Pixable CEO Inaki Berenguer. “With Instagram in the fold, Facebook can now quantify what people are taking photos about based on the tags they put on their photos.”

7. Instagram Didn’t Worry About Making Money

In its short 15-month lifespan, Instagram focused on building its community, user base and functionality rather than worrying about how the platform was going to make money. By not chasing the dollar, it was able to focus on making the app better.

Of course, Instagram did pay attention to acquiring VC funding. Right before the Facebook acquisition, it closed a $50M Series B round from Sequoia, Thrive, Greylock and Benchmark, valuing the company at a sweet $500 million.

Figuring out revenue streams is now something that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team will have to worry about.

8. Instagram Embodied a Cultural Shift Toward Photo Inboxes

As the future of photo-only inboxes approaches, and more people use photo-sharing apps to connect with their friends, the need for more visual communication will only intensify. The idea that social interactions will increasingly become visual and mobile is attracting widespread interest.

“Increasingly, we see people using photos to share an experience with a friend, whether it’s to tell them what they had for lunch, show them a cool spot in their city that they found or to share special moments like birthdays or weddings,” says Pixable’s Berengeur. “The ultimate goal of sharing mobile photos is to broadcast your life to your friends instead of keeping a memory. The rise of smartphones, photo apps and social networks have made taking and sharing a photo easier than ever.”

What Other Startups Can & Can’t Learn From Instagram

What worked for Instagram isn’t guaranteed to work for every startup. It’s always easier to look back and uncover the right and wrong strategic moves. Only in retrospect is it clear that Instragram did everything right. Along the way, there were plenty of critics carping at just about every decision the company made.

There is, however, one thing that other startups can certainly learn from Instagram: Timing is everything. If Instagram had come along six months later, things might have turned out very differently. Some other company might have already executed on its ideas and it would be the one preparing to cash some very big checks.

Source: 8 Things Instagram Did Right

Reddit Hits 1.2B Monthly Pageviews, More Than Doubles Its Engineering Staff

June 15th, 2011 06:11 admin View Comments

Community news site Reddit, which at some point was running on one engineer, has almost tripled  its engineering staff today, with the addition of three new hires, Google’s Logan Hanks, Oracle’s Keith Mitchell and recent engineering graduate Brian Simpson.

Reddit can use all the developer help that it can get, seeing as though unique visits are up 37% since January, going from 13.7 million unique visitors then to 18.8 million in May. Reddit pageviews have also grown 37%, going from 999 million pageviews in January, to 1.228 billion in May.

According to community manager Eric Martin, the site has no plans to spin out of Conde Nast (as rumored) and is actually moving to a new office space in SOMA, where the Wired building is.

“Right now we’re focusing on improving site performance and infrastructure and after that our focus is going to be improving user experience,” said Martin on what the new hires will be tasked to do. “We want to make it easier for Redditors to discover and create sub-Reddits, and we’ll be updating our ad product as well.”

Source: Reddit Hits 1.2B Monthly Pageviews, More Than Doubles Its Engineering Staff

Foursquare (Finally) Checks In To Its Very Own SOMA Office [Pics]

June 10th, 2011 06:20 admin View Comments

As Steve Jobs has proven times a million this week, if you want your employees to feel great about working for you, give them a great office.

Foursquare‘s San Francisco outpost has amazingly enough shared space with mobile payments Square from August 2010 until earlier this year, when it got too big for the Square offices and bumped itself up to another floor in the same building. Well, the company is moving once again, this time to startup saturated SOMA, at 363 Clementia, between 4th and 5th Street.

The startup will be leasing the entire top floor of the 363 Clementia building, using the 5,500 square feet to house an additional 50-60 people (more than doubling its current staff), Foursquare head of Talent Morgan Missen tells me. Foursquare SF expects to occupy space for several years.

“We believe in going where the talent is,” Missen says. “We had 3-4 employees working remotely from SF for the past year, simply because they were the best ones for the job and they were rooted in SF. When we realized the need to hire engineers faster, it was a no brainer to expand our presence there.” Missen says that the company is in the process of hiring Software Engineers and has snagged a few key hires from Twitter and Google (but won’t tell me who they are just yet).

As soon as the company has decorated it’ll be holding the first of many Foursquare sponsored parties/concerts and events. “As you can see from the photos, there’s obviously a lot of work to do,” Missen explains.

Foursquare currently has 65 employees (and “a lot of summer interns”) and is thisclose to hitting 10 million check-ins, with users averaging about 3 million a day.

Those of you looking for the new Foursquare SF venue on Foursquare can find it here. Currently Foursquare VP of Mobile and Partnerships Holger Luedorf is mayor, but with only two check-ins I’m sure he’ll be swiftly unseated.

Source: Foursquare (Finally) Checks In To Its Very Own SOMA Office [Pics]

SpotOn Shows What You Should Do And Who You Should Do It With

May 23rd, 2011 05:27 admin View Comments

Need to find an amazing Hatha Yoga class in the West Village? Want a press friendly restaurant in Soma. New app SpotOn takes into account existing data like Foursquare checkins, Facebook Likes and more in order to provide choices that are tailored to you and your friends (whether they download the SpotOn app or not).

Friends can also recommend merchants to SpotOn by rating them through its innovative and delightful petal interface, “an entirely different layer of data that did not exist before.

While it does provide user accounts, SpotOn has solved the zero start problem by importing your already existing social graph from Facebook and Foursquare. SpotOn maps take into account which one of your friends has been to a particular venue or who has rated a particular venue highly in order to offer up its suggestions. It can visually recommend places to go based on checkins, Facebook info, similarity to what venues your friends visit, the time of day etc.

“In short, we take your digital preferences, whether it be Facebook Likes, Foursquare checkins or anything else  and make them useful in the real world,” says SpotOn CEO Gauri Manglik.

SpotOn monetizes by daily deal affiliate fees, as it already shows users recommendations, it’s only one step further to show recommendations for daily deals near by. But right now the company ia focusing less on monetization and more on product Gaunglik says.

Daily deals services are a dime a dozen but an app that offers recommendations tailored to your social graph on on all your mobile platforms, not just limited to the Facebook platform, is one to watch.

The app is currently bootsrapped and has an iPhone app version is in the works.


Positive reaction from the judges.

Judges: The difference between SpotOn and 4Sq.

SpotOn: Foursquare is just Foursquare, we are pulling in data from Fourquare, Facebook, Hunch. Spot on is where should I go, where do I want to hang out with/

CD: There’s a lot of noise a lot of apps in the space.

SD: We didn’t have any marketing it the space with Foodspotting and we did pretty well.

Source: SpotOn Shows What You Should Do And Who You Should Do It With

Foursquare SF Hires HR Manager Morgan Missen, Is Closing In On A New SOMA Office

May 12th, 2011 05:28 admin View Comments

Former Twitter recruiter Morgan Missen is joining Foursquare today as Head of Talent for Foursquare West.

Missen (née Missentzis) was the first Technical Recruiter at Twitter responsible for all backend engineering hires. Prior to that position she was Technical Recruiter at Google for three years. Missen’s Foursquare hire is important because it solidifies the check-in service’s ongoing San Francisco expansion; Foursquare is also closing in on an office in SOMA, and is planning on leasing space for between 30-50 additional engineers.

Foursquare SF’s team of ten now has three non technical employees –VP of Mobile Partnerships Holger LeUdorf, VP of Business Development Tristan Walker and Missen — with the seven remaining being engineers.

Missen, who consulted and worked on her side project in between Twitter and Foursquare gigs, will be focusing on recruiting at Foursquare in addition to human resources and development. She will be operating under Foursquare General Manager Evan Cohen and recruiting 100% of the positions at the West Coast branch.

Right now Foursquare shares the historic Chronicle Building with Square, but its team is rapidly outgrowing the small space.  Their move out of the Chronicle Building is imminent, and should be completed in about a month’s time. Foursquare SF eventually wants to grow to 100 people (the entire Foursquare team, SF + NY, is now at 60).

The demand for skilled recruiters like Missentzis in Silicon Valley and SF is high as everyone and their mother is hiring. On what she thought about the talent rush Morgan told me, “It’s an exciting time and I’m fortunate to be at Foursquare,” which she holds has the strongest team and is the best engineering job in SF. Also, it had angel investor Ashton Kutcher call her personally to seal the deal.

Foursquare has somewhere around nine million users and just hit 3 million checkins, with $21.4 million in funding from Kutcher, Andreessen HorowitzUnion Square VenturesO’Reilly AlphaTech VenturesRick Webb and others.

ashton kutcher

I’m starting to become convinced that people put my name in articles just to improve their SEO or hoping I’ll tweet it.

Source: Foursquare SF Hires HR Manager Morgan Missen, Is Closing In On A New SOMA Office

Twitter Considers Moving Its Headquarters. To Brisbane, CA?

January 13th, 2011 01:56 admin View Comments

The San Francisco Business Times is reporting that San Francisco-based microblogging darling Twitter is looking into a real estate purchase in Brisbane California, specifically the 200,000 foot current home of Walmart at the Sierra Point Towers.

While reports hold that Twitter is also considering the Centennial Towers in South San Francisco, Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine confirmed the Brisbane inquiry to the Mercury News saying, “I don’t know where they are in the process.”

Just a couple months ago we had heard that Twitter was down to two places in their new HQ search, both in SOMA. A move to San Mateo county would come as a surprise, especially considering how proud San Francisco is of being home to the company.

“Thank you for not leaving our city as you grow,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone at at a 2009 press appearance meant to highlight his adoption of the service.

When asked to confirm the reports, Twitter representative Carolyn Penner said in a statement, “We have about 350 employees. And based on our current growth trajectory, we can’t stay on the two floors that we currently have. So, at some point we’re going to have to look at other options.”

My request for more specific details on whether those “other options” included more tax friendly locations outside San Francisco have as of yet gone unanswered.

At 350 employees, Twitter has tripled its staff in a year’s time, and with its aggressive hiring practices and new funding that expansion rate isn’t likely to slow down. SF gamers leader Zynga recently moved down the street (to what used to be known as “Multimedia Gulch” from us to accomodate it’s explosive employee growth.

Jennifer Matz, director of the SF Office of Economic and Workforce development, did give some hope for the tech giant’s staying put here the city, including possible tax breaks,“We are going to do everything in our power to keep Twitter’s headquarters here and help them find space that allows them to grow.”

As Twitter has become the poster child for the revitalized tech sector in San Francisco, its move would be both a great symbolic and economic loss.

Image: Diamond Props

Source: Twitter Considers Moving Its Headquarters. To Brisbane, CA?

Zappos Expands To A San Francisco Office, Is Hiring

December 17th, 2010 12:32 admin View Comments

Golden Gate in San Francisco, Californiaphoto © 2009 Alain Picard | more info (via: Wylio)Online shoes and accessories retailer Zappos just announced an expansion and a move to San Francisco on its employee blog, in a post called “Zappos IP, Inc. Is Looking For ‘A Few Good Developers’”

Buried down deep in the post, which also announces the launch of a public API  as well as the launch of Zappos iPhone and iPad apps, is this one paragraph blurb detailing the expansion plans:

“We are very excited to be opening up a small San Francisco office.  We’re jazzed to go back to the Zappos Family’s Bay Area roots and surround ourselves by the many amazing people and companies who make the world a happier place through technology, arts and culture.The San Francisco office in some ways will be a mini-start-up within the Zappos Family.

Our office is going to focus on experimentation, incubation and off roadmap projects.  We will want to try a lot of fun and new zany things that might become the future of how people shop online or may end up in the huge pile of unused ideas “that sounded good at the timeâ€.  We’re eager to work and partner with great Bay Area companies to really put out some WOW.â€

The company is looking for spaces in the SOMA area (unfortunately they’re not considering our home, here at startup central 410 Townsend). Zappos Product Manager Will Young will be heading up the new office and currently plans on hiring eight senior developers and two senior visual designers.

Zappos was an outgrowth of Venture Frogs, an incubator CEO Tony Hsieh and CFO Alfred Lin started in the Bay Area. The two ended up moving to Nevada to get away from the Valley during the crash and tap into that city’s customer service oriented culture. This move back represents a rekindling of some of that startup energy.

Says Young, “We’re thinking this office will hopefully hit a sweet spot for developers/designers who want to work in an environment that feels like a start-up (10 people) but also want to join an existing company that has a pretty awesome culture and brand.”

The new hires will still have to go through the rigorous four week Zappos customer service training that all potential employees do. “It’s harder to get into Zappos then to Harvard,” Hsieh told me in this pretty infamous interview.

Here’s their dorky “A Few Good Men” inspired recruitment video, below:

Source: Zappos Expands To A San Francisco Office, Is Hiring

Singapore: Why Innovate in Utopia?

October 28th, 2010 10:21 admin View Comments

SINGAPORE– On the eve of my trip to Indonesia last May, I was having dinner in Cape Town with someone from an investment firm that has been killing it in Asia. When I told him Indonesia was my first trip to Southeast Asia he almost spit out his Springbok, saying “My God! You are starting with the hardest one first!”

On the eve of this trip to Singapore, I was having coffee in San Francisco with a venture capitalist who has been killing it in the Valley, after four years of living in Southeast Asia. He gave the same observation a decidedly Valley twist: “You are going to be bored to death in Singapore.”

Bored is hardly the word I’d use– it’s hard to be bored when you are running from meeting to meeting, not to mention eating some of the most awesome food known to man. But Singapore is most definitely an Asia with training wheels. And that’s the Singapore blessing when it comes to globalization, but it may be its curse when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Singapore is easy, clean and staunchly non-corrupt at a country level. The trees are immaculately groomed. Any 7/11 can give you a week of Blackberry service for less than $20 and double as full-on tech support if something goes wrong. You think of a cab, and it’s there, clean and cheap. When I landed in Singapore on Sunday, there was a white haze over the sky– that looked almost like a dome. Combine that with the clean streets and lush foliage and my jetlag-hazed drive from the airport to the hotel looked like I was in the episode of Battestar Gallactica where Starbuck and Apollo grab some faux rays on Cloud 9. People here call it “an experiment” and a “startup country.”  But James Chan, of the incubator/ venture fund Neotany Labs co-founded by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman, says what they really mean: “It’s utopia.” (More from Chan in Friday’s Ask a VC.)

Of course there’s a reason few people call it utopia. You don’t have to be a science fiction junkie to know utopia always has a catch, and obnoxious American reporter that I am, I’ve been looking for it since I arrived. So far– from what I can gather– people aren’t murdered when they reach the age of 30, homeless people aren’t repurposed into crackers, or encouraged to have meaningless sex as long as they don’t procreate and stay drugged up on Soma. But Singapore has one big challenge: How to create a country of entrepreneurial problem solvers and hackers when there’s no chaos, total practicality and a culture of obediently going-with-the-flow.

People call Singapore a police state because of its heavy authoritarian reach, punishment by caning, one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world, and– you know– the whole ban on gum, to which people here get defensive and say “That’s totally overstated! You can chew gum, it’s just that no one is allowed to sell it.” (So, you get it from….?)

But that’s not really apt. Unlike a lot of authoritarian regimes, Singapore is ruled by practicality not some force-fed morality. When the population was growing too fast it instituted a “two is enough” campaign. When people reacted by having fewer than two children per household the government mandated that local TV stations devote their final hour of programming to romantic soaps to get people in the mood. I’m not sure if that story is really true or apocryphal, but its certainly believed by a wide swath of people here I’ve asked.

An even better example, which may also be apocryphal: The government wanted to encourage the development of a more vibrant artistic culture, and a study revealed that societies with more open gay and lesbian populations had more artistic achievements. So Singapore’s Prime Minister went on TV and expressed support for “our gay brothers”– nevermind homosexuality had been illegal before. Locals have told me Singapore has one of the more accepting cultures of homosexuality in Asia today.

For the last few years, the government is trying mightily to spur high-growth entrepreneurship. Unlike, the US, which is punishing immigrants and proposing laws to restrict angel investing, Singapore is doing all the sensible, practical things. The red carpet is rolled out for skilled immigrants, who now make up some 40% of the population. After years of investing hundreds of millions directly in entrepreneurs, Singapore is now taking a lead from how Israel created its venture capital ecosystem. It partners with venture firms, allowing them to make the best investment decisions and given them up to 6-to-1 matching funds. In other words, a firm invests $15 million and the government will invest $85 million for a convertible note. Under other programs the government will pay 50% of small companies R&D costs, ensuring they are focused on building something differentiated.

Billions are spent in government-run R&D labs that produce crazily disruptive innovations and “science fair projects” that capitalist, short-term thinking VCs in the US would never fund. Government programs send kids to the United States where they can work with startups, see behind the glamor, and hopefully catch the entrepreneur bug. They’re trying to augment an already rigorous education program that focuses on math and science to include more exercises on reasoning and problem-solving. Looking at the highly-practical policy free of moralistic, protectionist grandstanding, you can see why Singapore– a tiny nation of just five million people with comparatively few natural resources relative to its neighbors– has so outperformed on a per capital economic basis, with a stunning 18% growth rate.

Practical as ever, most Singaporeans I’ve met with this week have told me up until now, it’s excelled at being a global hub, but it hasn’t excelled when it comes to local high-growth entrepreneurship. Can it legislate its way there? It’s unclear. If any place can it’s likely Singapore. I mean, if local stories are true it helped legislate who people have sex with and how frequently they do it.

But my gut says that chaos and problem solving go hand-in-hand. When things are too comfortable, why take risk?Disproportionately immigrants make better entrepreneurs than trust fund kids. Small companies are the ones who actually innovate more than large, publicly-held market incumbents, who like to buy innovators or just throw the word around. (OK, Google, you and your flying cars get a pass…for now.) Countries in chaos tend to have greater needs– and great market holes to exploit.

It’s hard to find any corner of chaos in Singapore. The system is engineered with one outcome, Chan says: “Making people good economic units for society.” Is there room for a high-beta version of good economic units of society– one that could succeed disproportionately or fail disproportionately in a culture so tied to obediance? The big “what’s-wrong-with-youth-today?” scandal of late has been kids getting out of school and taking all the tables up at Starbucks with their endless studying. Lily Chan, CEO of the National University of Singapore’s Enterprise program, thinks it’ll take generations for Singapore to truly develop a culture of entrepreneurship– and she blames the parents. In a place replete with accountant and banker jobs, where buying a house is more expensive than most places in the United States the pressure not to waste your time building something speculative is high. There’s also another problem: One employer has optimized the system to find and make lucrative offers to the smartest kids in the system– that’s right, the Government. People who could have made the country’s top entrepreneurs instead make comfortable salaries trying to craft policy to encourage people to be entrepreneurs.

But just because an ecosystem isn’t poised to give rise to a disruptive potentially $1 billion dollar company doesn’t mean it’s not innovating and doesn’t mean the Valley doesn’t need to pay attention. I’ll detail how Singapore is accomplishing both of those in future posts.

Source: Singapore: Why Innovate in Utopia?