SXSW: Sink or swim, the five most important startup decisions

Consisting of some big names in web and software startups, this panel was mainly interesting due to these headliners. On the panel were Evan Williams (CEO of Odeo), Joshua Schachter (creator of, Joel Spolsky (CEO of Fog Creek Software), Michael Lopp (Sr Engineering Mgr at Apple), and Cabel Sasser (co-founder of Panic). There wasn’t actually a true discussion of only five important decisions, but the panelists did discuss important decisions in the beginning stages of their ventures. Here are the notes:

– Fog Creek never had outside funding.

– No reason why you cant start with little money (Cabel)

– Panic places heavy emphasis on design of the software; he’s amazed at what features they can take out based on the PhotoShop comps; donâ??t forget about design

– Panic has never advertised â?? press releases have been their advertising; plus Mac users lover new things

– Blogging is a platform to get the word out on the company (Evan)

– Hard to separate personal and business on your blog despite disclaimers to the contrary (Cabel)

– First customers to Fog Creek have come from Joel on Software web site

– Being able to talk to and with your customers / users is important (Joshua)

– included many viral ideas â?? RSS everywhere possible, etc.

– Quickest way to keep employees from posting bad things on the company blog is to require them to post â?? they write one thing and never want to do it again (Joshua)

– Google acquisitions are usually to hire the talent (Joel)

– Private offices for developers (Joel) â?? need the privacy; this is a requirement of producing good software

– Only hire when necessary (Cabel)

– Everyone interviews at Fog Creek and they all have veto privileges on the candidates

– It’s easy to hire too fast (Evan); need to be careful about timing

– hired consultants for short projects before hiring them full time (Joshua)

– Hiring an office assistant would have been useful very early on (Joshua)

– None on the panel had a true business plan when they started their products/companies; the group consensus was that they just winged it

– The execution of the idea is what matters (Joel)

– Everyone has ideas, but ideas are not worth anything. Itâ??s the execution that matters.

– Need to master the pitch; keep it to one sentence (Cabel)

– Writing new versions of the products was the best use of time â?? affiliate programs, coupons, partnerships, etc. did not work well; major releases of their products have increased their market share (Joel)

– What you decide to leave out as often as important as what you leave in (Joshua)

– Start small, think big (Evan)

– Try not to make single decisions that will kill the entire company (Joel)

– Make something you would use yourself and use it often; make something better (Cabel)

– The very talented developers are not as worried about the risks â?? they can easily get new jobs; first hires have to be generalists (Joel)

Tom currently works in developer relations for IBM Watson. A serial entrepreneur, he's been the founder of numerous startups including Investify and StatsMix, a Techstars alumni company. Tom lives outside Boulder, Colorado and in his free time he's an avid rock climber, skier, and trail runner.

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