Alex's Tech Thoughts

So Much Noise


There is a lot of noise out there right now. So many startups raising money, going through the hype cycle of the tech blogs, it can really mess with your head. Seeing things announced on prominent tech blogs, day in and day out can make you feel shitty and ask yourself “why not us?” It was a lot easier when startups were not as sexy and companies could focus, mess up, fix things, and get them right without the bright-light in their eyes.

After all is said and done, the ONLY thing that matters is building a product that people actually use and care about. Sure you need money to operate and scale a business. And sure you need to promote your product so more people will discover it. But if you do all these things and forget about the most important thing (i.e. the only thing that matters) you will not last.

This is why it concerns me when companies, who depend on user adoption, raise money before they have a product in the marketplace. It’s frightening to think that people would even fund something like that. If you consider that a good product is the only thing that matters, you’d think people would want to see a product that people care about and use before pumping money into it.

This also make me think about the real startup work. This isn’t the sexy aspects that you read about on TechCrunch. This is the stuff that is happening behind the scenes. The blood, sweat, and tears. The determination. On occasion you will read a blog post about what it is really like, but this is not a side frequently seen in public. Product spec’ing, long days and nights of writing code, bug testing, pipeline building, market research, copywriting, product iterating, and more. Nailing this is what makes a company successful. Not the stuff that makes noise.

So when you see some big splashy announcement- read it, internalize it, then remember - “don’t believe the hype” - it will mess with your head.

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Tech Blogs VC Raising money Startup Product
Startup Drama


Every week there seems to be a new drama happening in the startup space. I remember seeing someone post an article (someone please find it so I can link!) that said something along the lines of.. .making movies, music, and other hollywood pieces used to be all about the arts. Then the hollywood space evolved and celebrity and gossip came in. This diluted the arts and it’s now a big facet of making movies, music, etc.

The same is happening for startups. Gossip, drama, celebrity is infiltrating the startup space. From tech blogs gossiping to reality tv shows about startups- it is happening. But hard work is still happening. Real companies are being built. You just needs to dig through the noise.

In terms of the actual drama and gossip, just don’t bother. Don’t comment on FB or Twitter. Do your best to ignore it. Stay focused on doing good things and hopefully you won’t get too distracted by the noise.


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Startup Drama Gossip Tech Blogs
Can You Trust An Early-Stage VC With a HIR and EIR?


I’ve been thinking about the concept of a hacker-in-residence (HIR) and entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR). I think these are very cool roles at VC funds. Lots of place have them now. But I have a nagging question in the back of my mind: Can you trust an early-stage VC with your idea/biz when they have a HIR and EIR?

First off, stealing ideas is a misnomer. Ideas are valueless, it is all about execution. Anyone who says differently is either misinformed or unable to execute. But, normally when people ask if a VC will steal your idea when you pitch them, I’d say, maybe…but doubtfully. They are not in the business of building companies, they are in the business of funding companies.

BUT… with an EIR and HIR, where the EIR is actively looking to build a business at the VC and spin it off, and they have an in-house hacker that can build a prototype quickly…well now things change.

I still firmly believe VC’s are in the business of funding companies, and you shouldn’t worry too much about an EIR stealing your idea/business. EIR’s are there to give an entrepreneur’s viewpoint and help incoming business.

But listen, it’s not like it hasn’t happened before

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EIR HIR VC Startup early-stage

This past week in Austin, I met two crazy kids who run an app called Definer, that was built with/by Fueled. They just launched it a few hours before I met them at the Angry Bird pool party and I was really impressed with what they have going on.

Basically, Definer is a place to share new words and names for friends, places, hashtags, and phrases. I downloaded the app on the spot and must say I was laughing out loud at some of the words that people came up with. I found it a mix of Urban Dictionary, Reddit, 4chan, with the design of Instagram.

I don’t know how big this can get, but I sure as hell know it will be popular when they really unleash it. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with this.

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Definer Startup
How To Win A Hackathon

Dwolla and Etsy organized eCommerce Hack Day yesterday. It was awesome. I’ve written posts about hackathons before, but never about how to win one. After starting and running Photo Hack Day 1 and 2, and being involved in 5-10 more hackathons, I think I now have the experience to point out some do’s and dont’s for hackathon winning.


  • If you are a good developer, team up with a designer. If you are a good designer, team up with a developer. You need both to be successful at the hackathon. This past week ShopPapaya (a one-click tool that helps you shop smarter) won second place. The team was an awesome developer and designer (that met each other that morning). I would say that the designer is much more needed for those final touches
  • You have typically 2 to 3 minutes to demo. Either show a killer designed and functioning product and let it speak for itself or make sure you have a funny spin to make them laugh (chance to win a people’s choice).
  • Work on something that does one thing really well. Show it off- focus on it for your demo.
  • Tell a story. If you think you are solving a problem (big or small), tell everyone about the problem and how you solved it. People like stories. If you are solving an interesting problem and have a cool/working product you have a high chance of winning something.
  • While you might not win the top place, by focusing your project on a specific API you may come away with the best use of the API. I’ve seen people enter hackathons saying they want to win or Twilio’s prize (whether an iPad, Kindle, etc) and focus their project entirely in that direction.


  • To be successful at the presentation you need to be able to get through your demo. You can slave away all night working but if you can’t clearly express your project/hack you won’t have a chance of winning anything. Make sure you don’t waste time talking about pieces of the project that aren’t essential to the crowd’s understanding of what you have built.
  • Don’t bet the house on a project/hack joke. They are always seemingly transient and don’t have a high chance of lasting after the weekend, which is traditionally one of the criteria that the judges use when voting. You should make jokes during your presentation, but just be wary of making your entire pitch a joke.

If you follow these do’s and dont’s your chances of winning will definitely increase.

Any other tips? Leave them below.

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hackathons dwolla apis building culture entrepreneurship ny tech startup
A Daily Newsletter You’ll Want To Actually Open: theSkimm

Here is my latest Forbes piece:

Let me know your thoughts!

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theskimm startup launch news twitter
Ideal Makeup Of An Early-Stage BD Team

I’ve been involved with a few business development teams, and I’ve come to see what works and what doesn’t.

The ideal makeup of an early-stage BD team, that is very deal/partnership heavy, has four people.

The first piece of the team is a coach or tribe leader, usually the COO, who sets up the gameplan and points you in the right direction.

The third is the star pitcher or hunter. This person goes out and actively brings in deals/partnerships.

Then there is the catcher or gatherer. This person takes the torch that the pitcher/hunter passes along after the deal is closed and live. Offering help with any updates or issues. Similar to an account manager.

The final piece is the junior BD individual. No cool name here. This person supports both the hunter/pitcher and gatherer/catcher. Helping to build and update the company decks, keeping the pipeline clear, and generally getting involved anywhere that can lend support.

If you have a team like this, you will do big things.

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Business Development early-stage partnerships startup Thoughts
Collective Thinking

I was having a sit down with @msg a week or so ago and our conversation landed on how everyone is reading the same things, going to similar events, and generally thinking about the same ideas.

@msg called this collective thinking. 

He posited that anyone who is thinking of building something right now should be aware, that at least a bundle of other people are thinking and planning the exact same thing.

I was talking to a friend this past weekend about a hack off LinkedIN I would love to see/build. One of the most important things on LinkedIN is when your connections change jobs. I want a tool that can track your connections moves and send you an email summary of them.

Well that night I saw Melody Koh from Time Warner Investments tweet this out:

Collective thinking, I like it.

So, if you have a startup or product, get moving, because there are a ton of other people planning the exact same thing.

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Startup Ideas NY Tech
I’m So Focused

I’m so focused. Yeah.

I’m so focused. Yeah. (We don’t play around like that. Listen.)

We ain’t scared a you! Tell them other mutha f- we prepared for you! Ungh!

We ain’t scared a you! Tell them other mutha f- we prepared for you! Ungh!

-Childish Gambino: “I’m So Focused”

(ode to Ben Horowitz’s blog)

I returned from vacation on June 13th. One thing I wanted/needed to do, once I returned, was to become hyper-focused. We have a lot of products/verticals in the wild (and coming up) at Aviary and it was important to lock down on our focus and tear it up. Most of my posts are general startup posts- this post is more work personal. This post will share how I am getting focused and what I focusing on.

The first thing I needed to do was figure out which product we should be working on. The company focus is in simple editing, developer tools, and upcoming mobile tools. Our simple editor, Feather, is the tool that has been out the longest and is ready for more prime-time action.

Now that I’ve decided to focus on our simple editor, what vertical makes most sense? There are tons of applications ranging from photo sharing, social networks, dating, e-commerce, and more. One vertical that has particularly interested me in the past few weeks has been real estate.

We have a theory going internally that photos move the needle in marketplaces. The higher quality the photos, the higher chance someone will want something in a marketplace. This applies to dating sites (wanting someone attractive rather than pimply, red-eyed, etc) and regular marketplaces like eBay and Etsy (users buying because of better looking photos of products).

Same goes for real estate. We think that if real estate listing websites empowered their users with the tools to improve their photos they would sell more property. This applies to websites like Trulia and Zillow to Airbnb and Craigslist.

So that is what I am focusing on now for the next few weeks. I am going to learn the web real estate space and start knocking on doors.

If anyone has any good leads, feel free to send them my way.

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Aviary Real Estate Startup Hustling