Breck's Blog - Startups Posts

High Impact Thoughts

May 20, 2024

Leibniz thought of Binary Notation; Lovelace of Computers; Darwin of Evolution; Marconi of the Wireless Telegraph; Einstein of Relativity; Watson & Crick of the Double Helix; Tim Berners-Lee of the Web; Linus of Git.

Even more importantly to you and to me, at some point our mothers and fathers thought to have us.

And since we were born, many people throughout our lives have had thoughts that had high positive impact on us.

If you believe we live in a Power Law World, then it follows that there is nothing with higher expected value; nothing with more leverage; nothing with higher ROI; nothing with higher impact; than High Impact Thoughts (HITs).

HITs dominate both our professional and personal lives. Let's take a closer look.

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May 15, 2024 — I typed tail -f pageViews.log into my console.

Then pressed Enter.

I stared at my screen as it streamed with endless lines of text.

Each line evidence of a visitor interacting with my new site.

It had been like this for days.

Holy shit, I thought.

This must be "Product Market Fit".

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May 12, 2024 — The Four Seasons website says

Treat others as you wish to be treated

Sometimes Four Seasons sends me random emails.

When I reply with a random email of my own I get does not receive emails.
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January 4, 2024 — You can easily imagine inventions that humans have never built before. How does one filter which of these inventions are practical?

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December 28, 2023 — I thought we could build AI experts by hand. I bet everything I had to make that happen. I placed my bet in the summer of 2022. Right before the launch of the Transformer AIs that changed everything. Was I wrong? Almost certainly. Did I lose everything? Yes. Did I do the right thing? I'm not sure. I'm writing this to try and figure that out.

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June 27, 2023 — I am so disappointed in myself for having yet another manic cycle and hurting the people I love. I'm sharing this to come out publicly as having bipolar disorder, take 80% blame for my actions and words, and maybe help someone avoid my mistakes.

Last August my brain lit up like fireworks. It felt like a cosmic river of energy suddenly detoured through my veins.

My FitBit data shows a seismic event:

In two weeks my heart rate rose 33% and my sleep fell to 2 hours per night.

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October 7, 2022 — In 2007 we came up with an idea for a scratch ticket that would give everyday Americans a positive expected value.

Still makes me laugh.

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September 1, 2022 — There's a trend where people are publishing real data first, and then insights. Here is my data from angel investing:

Sigh. I am sharing my data as a png. We need a beautiful plain text spreadsheet language.

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February 28, 2021 — I read an interesting Twitter thread on focus strategy. That led me to the 3-minute YouTube video Insist on Focus by Keith Rabois. I created the transcript below.

One of the fundamental lessons I learned from Peter Thiel at PayPal was the value of focus. Peter had this somewhat absurd, but classically Peter way of insisting on focus, which is that he would only allow every employee to work on one thing and every executive to speak about one thing at a time, and he distributed this focus throughout the entire organization. So everybody was assigned exactly one thing, and that was the only thing you were allowed to work on, the only thing you were allowed to report back to him about.
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February 28, 2021 — I thought it unlikely that I'd actually cofound another startup, but here we are. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

We are starting the Public Domain Publishing Company. The name should be largely self-explanatory.

If I had to bet, I'd say I'll probably be actively working on this for a while. But there's a chance I go on sabbatical quick.

The team is coming together. Check out the homepage for a list of open positions.

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A poster from the 1850's promoting Folsom's Mercantile College in Ohio. The poster includes a motto (which I boxed in green) that I think is great guidance: Integrity and Perseverance in Business ensure success. Image Source.

February 9, 2020 — In 1851 Ezekiel G. Folsom incorporated Folsom's Mercantile College in Ohio.

Folsom's subjects included bookkeeping, banking, and "railroading".

Their motto was: "Integrity and Perseverance in Business ensure success".

Guess who was then a young student there and presumably influenced by this motto?

John D. Rockefeller.

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June 23, 2017 — I just pushed a project I've been working on called Ohayo.

You can also view it on GitHub:

I wanted to try and make a fast, visual app for doing data science. I can't quite recommend it yet, but I think it might get there. If you are interested you can try it now.

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September 23, 2013 — Making websites is slow and frustrating.

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March 8, 2013 — If your software project is going to have a long life, it may benefit from Boosters. A Booster is something you design with two constraints: 1) it must help in the current environment 2) it must be easy to jettison in the next environment.

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February 24, 2013 — It is a popular misconception that most startups need to fail. We expect 0% of planes to crash. Yet we switch subjects from planes to startups and then suddenly a 100% success rate is out of the question.

This is silly. Maybe as the decision makers switch from gambling financeers to engineers we will see the success rate of starting a company shoot closer to 100%.

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December 19, 2012 — For the past year I've been raving about Node.js, so I cracked a huge smile when I saw this question on Quora:

In five years, which language is likely to be most prominent, Node.js, Python, or Ruby, and why? - Quora
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December 18, 2012 — One of Nassim Taleb's big recommendations for how to live in an uncertain world is to follow a barbell strategy: be extremely conservative about most decisions, but make some decisions that open you up to uncapped upside.

In other words, put 90% of your time into safe, conservative things but take some risks with the other 10%.

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March 5, 2011 — A good friend passed along some business advice to me a few months ago. "Look for a line," he said. Basically, if you see a line out the door at McDonald's, start Burger King. Lines are everywhere and are dead giveaways for good business ideas and good businesses.

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July 2, 2010 — A year ago I wrote a post titled The Truth about Web Design where I briefly argued that "design doesn't matter a whole lot."

My argument was: "you go to a website for the utility of it. Design is far secondary. There are plenty of prettier things to look at in the real world."

I do think the real world is a pretty place, but about design, I was completely wrong.

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June 28, 2010 — Competition and specialization are generally positive economics forces. What's interesting is that they are contradictory.

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June 17, 2010 — Doing a startup is surprisingly simple. You have to start by creating a product that people must have, then you scale it from there.

What percent of your customers or "users" would be disappointed if your product disappeared tomorrow? If it's less than 40%, you haven't built a must have yet.

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March 22, 2010 — Google has a list of 10 principles that guide its actions. Number 2 on this list is:

It's best to do one thing really, really well.

This advice is so often repeated that I thought it would be worthwhile to think hard about why this might be the case.

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March 8, 2010 — If a post on HackerNews gets more points, it gets more visits.

But how much more? That's what Murkin wanted to know.

I've submitted over 10 articles from this site to HackerNews and I pulled the data from my top 5 posts (in terms of visits referred by HackerNews) from Google Analytics.

Here's how it looks if you plot visits by karma score:

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January 22, 2010 — Network effects are to entrepreneurs what compounding effects are to investors: a key to getting rich.

Sometimes a product becomes more valuable simply as more people use it. This means the product has a "network effect".

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January 5, 2010 — Possibly the biggest mistake a web startup can make is to develop in a bubble. This is based on my own experience launching 13 different websites over the past 4 years. The raw numbers:

Type Count Successes TimeToLaunch CumulativeGrossRevenues %ofTotalTraffic CumulativeProfits EmotionalToll
Bubble 3 0 Months <$5,000 <1% -$10,000's High
NonBubble 10 5-8 1-14Days $100,000's >99% Good None-low

What is "the bubble"?

The bubble is the early, early product development stage. When new people aren't constantly using and falling in love with your product, you're in the bubble. You want to get out of here as fast as possible.

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December 28, 2009 — At our startup, we've practiced a diversification strategy.

We've basically run an idea lab, where we've built around 7 different products. Now we're getting ready to double down on one of these ideas.

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2021 Update: I think the model and advice presented here is weak and that this post is not worth reading. I keep it up for the log, and not for the advice and analysis provided.

December 24, 2009 — Over the past 6 months, our startup has taken two approaches to diversification. We initially tried no diversification and then we tried heavy diversification.

In brief, my advice is:

Diversify heavily early. Then focus.
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December 20, 2009 — Programming, ultimately, is about solving problems. Often I make the mistake of judging a programmer's work by the elegance of the code. Although the solution is important, what's even more important is the problem being solved.

Problems are not all created equal, so while programming you should occasionally ask yourself, "is this problem worth solving?"

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December 16, 2009 — If you combine Paul Graham's "make something people want" advice with Sean Ellis' product-market fit advice (you have product-market fit when you survey your users and at least 40% of them would be disappointed if your product disappeared tomorrow), you end up with a possibly even simpler, more specific piece of advice:

Make something 40% of your users must have
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December 15, 2009 — The best Search Engine Optimization(SEO) system I've come across comes from Dennis Goedegebuure, SEO manager at eBay. Dennis' system is called LUMPS. It makes SEO dead simple.

Just remember LUMPS:

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December 11, 2009 — Jason Fried from 37signals gave a great talk at startup school last month. At one point he said "software has no edges." He took a normal, everyday bottle of water and pointed out 3 features:

If you added a funnel to help pour the water, that might be useful in 5% of cases, but it would look a little funny. Then imagine you attach a paper towel to each funnel for when you spill. Your simple water bottle is now a monstrosity.

The clear edges of physical products make it much harder for feature creep to happen. But in software feature creep happens, and happens a lot.

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May 6, 2009 — There’s a discussion on a mailing list I belong to about piracy and the iPhone. One of the responders I thought was really insightful. The basic premise is “what you focus on, increases”–at least in your mind–so it’s better not to focus on negative things. In this example, by focusing on the small problem of pirated iPhone apps, bigger opportunities are missed. I’ve reprinted the part below:

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April 14, 2009 — Here’s what I’m going to assume: craigslist, Google, and eBay do not have very pretty designs. How can a website be so successful if the design isn’t pretty? My position is that because design doesn’t matter a whole lot.

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April 6, 2009 — Twitter Search is starting to replace a ton of websites that I used to visit.

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January 5, 2009 — I’m reading a fascinating biography of Warren Buffett right now(Snowball).

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October 12, 2008 — I just want to share the most valuable piece of Internet startup advice I possess.

The startup advice out there is filled with pyschology mumbo jumbo, but ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS IS THE NUMBERS.

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September 19, 2008 — Got in to San Fran last night. Moved in to the Mission District with college buddies. I expect to be a multibillionaire in a month, tops.

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August 20, 2008 — This evening launched. Before you co-found a company, you need to find good co-founders. The best way to do that is to just work on projects with people. The idea for JustHackIt is to connect hackers in one place and encourage them to just start projects together, without even knowing the person. Hopefully you’ll find some people who are smart, talented, and will make a great co-founder in the future.

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May 8, 2008 — xirium posted a tarball of all the individual profile pages for HackerNews readers(minus lurkers and those who joined after 05/07/2008). I was curious what insights, if any, could be gleamed from analyzing the data. My findings are below. I could have figured out more interesting things if I also included posts in my data, but I was looking for something simple to work on. BTW, to get the data into a table I wrote a simple python script to parse the html files. The source code is at the bottom. Or you can download the resulting dataset as an excel file.

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September 28, 2007 — So after 1 year, my Fantasy Stock Portfolio returned a little over 150%, which was enough to capture 1st place. We used the MarketWatch game. At first I had no competition among our friends in our private game, although Conor(and his risky day trading in the subprime market) spiked at one point and finished around 80%. I lucked out thanks to a hot tech market and picking some of the best companies in that. Not a single pick lost money(though this is lucky).

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September 13, 2007 — Every successful person in the startup world will tell you that the most important part of any startup is the team. From my own experiences, I wholeheartedly agree. But everyday I talk to people who think the most important thing is the idea. For instance, I just met a nice young woman at Logan Airport. She was wearing a well-pressed white blouse and grey skirt, dressed to impressed for her job at a prominent Boston-based health care consulting firm. We started talking about Facebook, and she repeated something I’ve heard at least a dozen times “[Zuckerberg] is going to make so much money. Facebook was such a simple idea. I wish I had thought of that.” I smiled and agreed pleasantly while trying hard not to roll my eyes.

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