What I learned from interviewing 22 successful entrepreneurs

I believe it was back in 2012 when I started interviewing people for my blog. I did the first interview for my personal blog, here on duskic.com. Then on my business blog, over at whoapi.com/blog. After that, I started a new website webmaster.ninja and posted a few interviews there as well. It was a humbling experience because some of these people are multimillionaires, some are true rock-stars in their industries, and some share that one simple piece of advice that magically doubles your income… or something similar.

Since it’s been a few years, I thought it would be a good idea to create a condensed post with a list, if for no other reason, so that I can reflect and see what advice I picked up over the years. I am sure you are going to be able to find a few tips yourself.

Joel Gascoigne

I first reached out to Joel via Twitter, and he was super nice about it. This was back in 2012 before I pitched 500 Startups and found out I am going to live in Silicon Valley for 4 months. Turns out Joel and Leo Widrich were also there at the time, and I ended up meeting Joel in person! If you read the interview with Joel, you can see right in the title that he is focused on customer happiness. After the interview Joel also became huge on transparency, so now (and for the last few years) Buffer’s numbers are public!

Focus on customer happiness!

–Joel Gascoigne

Joel Gascoigne is the Founder and CEO of Buffer, a social media app that helps you with scheduling your posts. According to Baremetrics, they are making around $1.54M per month in revenue every month.

Sasa Sarunic

I met Sasa at a local meetup when he was with agency Five and startup Shoutem. Companies he co-founded and helped build together with Viktor Marohnic but left a few years later. What I learned from Sasa’s interview was that he had years of experience before making any success and that they started hiring people only when it started to hurt. (Meaning they couldn’t do the work themselves, and they could afford some help).

Hire for growth!

–Sasa Sarunic

Sasa Sarunic is the CEO of Five by five since September 2013 (a company he started after leaving agency Five) and a co-founder at Agent Cash (now Floe). According to Crunchbase, Techstars is an investor with Agent Cash.

Jason Mendelson

I reached out to Mr. Mendelson when I was doing investor outreach and wanted to get in touch with Foundry Group. Among many high-profile investments like Moz, they invested in technical and API companies such as Full Contact (I interviewed their CEO Bart Lorang as well, check below). More importantly, their team venture partners (like Brad Feld) are very tech-savvy. Jason’s advice stood the testament of time.

Having the self-awareness to be able to constantly monitor one’s performance is key. Aside from that, have a maniacal focus on the product and customer is a must. Release product often and be deep into analytical thinking to gauge success.Click To Tweet

Jason Mendelson is a co-founder and a partner at Foundry Group an early-stage technology venture capital firm. They invested in Moz, Full Contact, Yesware, and others.

Ben Coe

Before Jason, I interviewed Ben Coe. I heard about his startup attachments.me from one of our clients’ domain registry .me. I reached out and the result was that interview. I am sad to report that his startup went under, (Foundry Group and Jason invested around $2M according to Ben’s LinkedIn profile), but these things do happen. Even successful startups miss several near-death situations.

Just like Sasa Sarunic, Ben told me that even if he had a successful exit, he would have fun a little bit, and then start another company. Ben is currently a systems analyst at Npm, Inc.

That’s about it as far as interviews on duskic.com go. These were mostly startup related because I was trying to figure out how to reach out to investors and what it was like to run a VC backed startup. I haven’t mentioned it here, Sasa’s startup at the time (Shoutem) had 1 million euro backing from a local VC fund – RSG Capital (now operating under the name South Central Ventures).

Moving on to a bit different set of interviews. These were published on WhoAPI’s blog and were mostly around successful domain name investors and domain registrars.

Mike Mann

I interviewed Mike Mann back in May 2012, which was about a month after he became known to the world as a domain investor who registered 14,962 domain names in a single day. At the time of the interview, Mr. Mann said that he owned 300,000 domain names like seo.com, software.com, phone.com, DomainMarket.com, PRMarketing.com, PurePPC.com. His advice was to stay focused on the .com TLD and forget the new domain extensions.

.com is king, people will be disappointed with all other TLDs.

Mike Mann

Mike Mann is the author of Make Millions and Make Change. Mike is also the founder of several successful, active, for-profit corporations. Three of these corporations were listed among the 2012 Inc 500 fastest growing companies in America: Phone.com, DomainMarket.com, and SEO.com.

Frank Schilling

I’ve met Frank Schilling in person while I was at the ICANN 44 meeting in Prague. Very rarely have I had the opportunity to meet someone who has achieved so much, yet you have a feeling true greatness is yet to come. Like Mike Mann, he owns a ton of domain names and a patent in the domain industry. Speaking of patents in the domain industry, Paul Stahura and Pinkard Brand also have them (check below). The second time we talked he gave a glimpse of the new domain extension wave. Pretty much the exact opposite of Mike Mann’s focus on the .com.

Frank Schilling is the founder of Uniregistry and DomainNameSales.com. The Namepros domaining community agrees that at one point he owned the largest domain name portfolio and don’t be surprised to see his company sold $12 million USD worth of domain names.

Rick Schwartz

If you think that 12 million dollars worth of domain names is a lot, check out Mr. Schwartz’s portfolio self-evaluation + past deal numbers. His biggest advice in an interview with me was not to quit your day job until it interferes with your domain investing earning capability. As for as domain investing goes, he said to buy domain names that are valued at $1,000, and sell those for $10,000. After that, you just rinse and repeat until you get better at it.

If you think that buying a domain name for $1,000 only to sell the same domain name for $10,000 is easier said then done, you would probably be right. Hard, but not impossible.

Here’s how Rick Schwartz did it himself. He bought the domain name porno.com for $42,000 in 1997 and sold it in 2015 for $8.88 million. In the 18 years that he owned the domain name, it earned approximately $15 million. In 2003, he sold men.com for $1.3 million (purchased for $15,000). In 2008, he sold Candy.com for $3 million, plus a 12.5% equity stake, to a candy company that had been in business for 35 years. Lastly, in 2004, he sold iReport.com to CNN for $750,000, but then again, at the moment this domain name is not even resolving. Seems to me like someone wasted $750,000. HA! Unless they sell it at a 10X multiple, as Rick Schwartz advises.

Rob Grant

Mr. Grant’s story is a classic rag to riches story. Ok, maybe not exactly “rags”, since he had a nice paying job on Madison Avenue. But he wasn’t having anything near success with his domain names. He was definitely one of the pioneers, and during his interview with me, he shared a few nuggets of wisdom. One thing, in particular, stood out. You should never think you are at the top. The moment you do, you are done. This is especially true in the internet space. No other industry changes as rapidly and without warning as technology.

You should never think you are at the top. The moment you do, you are done. This is especially true in the internet space. No other industry changes as rapidly and without warning as technology. -- Rob GrantClick To Tweet

Rob Grant currently owns more than 8000 domain names and has had some success with selling them and building websites. In his spare time, he is attending his daughter’s (Lana Del Rey) concerts.

Paul Stahura

Mr. Stahura apart from being kind to do the interview helped me with business advice on several occasions. He is definitely a pioneer who had huge success in the domain industry on more than one occasion. As you can see from the interview, he has several patents and built one of the largest domain registrars at the time (eNom). Once eNom was making tens of millions of dollars, he sold it to Demand Media. Paul’s advice was focused on new gTLDs and how legitimate domain investors can make money by providing value to the marketplace. He confirmed how .com will still probably stay on top, but new domain extensions will have a place under the sun.

Paul Stahura is currently executive chairman and co-founder at Donuts Inc after leaving the CEO position in January 2017. In November 2017 Donuts Inc. ranked fastest-growing company in North America on Deloitte’s 2017 Technology Fast 500, followed by an acquisition in September 2018 by private equity group Abry Partners.

After Paul Stahura I took a little break from interviews, but then returned strong with some very high-profile interviews that I published in my ebook.

Mitch Wainer

Mr. John Ives (Managing director at Tahoma Ventures) introduced me to Ben Uretsky and Digital Ocean. The reason why I am saying this is because I ended up working with Digital Ocean on several occasions, and although I didn’t get to interview Ben Uretsky, I met Mitch and we spoke on several occasions! Side note, there’s a great lecture by Mitch on growing your startup. You should check it out. It’s very hard to single out one good advice Mitch gave me! But I think we can all learn from their stellar growth (from 2000 clients in January, to nearly 150 000 in December 2013) since they announced their $5 SSD VPS plans on Techcrunch. Great product, offered at an amazing price at the right time, and voila!

Mitch Wainer joined DigitalOcean as co-founder and Head of Marketing in 2012 and left after 6 years. He is currently Chief Marketing Officer at Clubhouse and advisor at Flybridge Capital Partners.

Bart Lorang

Bart was another perfect interview for my eBook since Full Contact, like DigitalOcean, fundraised a lot. Back in 2015 when I interviewed Bart, they were handling over a billion contacts, and they’ve raised around $20 million in funding. The thing that stood out most during the interview was his deep care for his employees! They call it the “Paid, Paid Vacation” and their blog post explaining the concept went viral.

Speaking of viral blog posts, the other one that Bart mentioned during the interview was his “The Story of 126 No’s and 1 Big Yes“. Hint, watch Bart’s video for Techstars application. As far as the blog post goes, I highly recommend it since it’s their entire journey from a basement (hint again, check the basement in the video) to getting an investment from Brad Feld (Foundry Group, the same person I mentioned earlier when I talk about interviewing Jason Mendelson).

Here’s the video before Bart decides to pull it off the Internet.

Even after this video, Bart Lorang is still the Co-founder and CEO at Full Contact. According to Bart’s interview with Nathan Latka back in December 2016 Full Contact has 220 employees, revenues of $12M in 2016, 50K+ customers and have raised $50 million in funding.

Isaac Saldana

Isaac invested a little bit of money in my company WhoAPI back in 2013 when Dave McClure introduced us over email. I interview Isaac for my ebook, but after Sendgrid had an IPO I wanted to publish the interview and share the interview for free with everyone. After a short update, the interview went live. Isaac reveals how he was facing a challenge while working on something, and he decided to face it head-on! After having some initial success, he went on, and on. That translated into him becoming mission-driven. Other people noticed, clients, starting using this product, and investors started investing in the company. The rest is history.

Isaac is currently acting as the co-founder and CEO at Joy Labs. Sendgrid, the company he co-founded sends more than 37 billion transactional emails it was acquired by Twilio after going IPO. Earlier, Sendgrid raised more than $80 million in funding.

David S. Rose

In his TED talk, David S. Rose introduced himself as someone who both raised and supervised investments of tens of millions of dollars. In the interview (which is published in my ebook), I asked him if there was anything that stuck out as an obvious commonality among all those deals. Here’s what he had to say: “If there is a commonality among the various companies in which I’ve invested—aside from the founder having impeccable integrity, which for me is the number one criterion—I think it is a sense of entrepreneurial optimism, passion, and vision combined with a sense of reality.”

If there is a commonality among the various companies in which I’ve invested I think it is a sense of entrepreneurial optimism, passion, and vision combined with a sense of reality. David S. RoseClick To Tweet

David S. Rose has been described as “New York’s Archangel” by Forbes. He is a serial entrepreneur, Inc 500 CEO, active angel investor, and CEO of Gust, the SaaS platform powering over 600,000 startups and 75,000 early-stage investors. He’s the NYT bestselling author of “Angel Investing” and “The Startup Checklist.”

Patrick Ambron

I reached out to Patrick at the time when my fiance and I tried to start a project that would offer unique illustrations on a company mug. The project ended up to be a disaster, but the interview with Patrick turned out to be just fine. The biggest message I got from that interview, and the research I did before the interview, was that if you truly solve a big problem that people care about, they are going to come by the thousands. I know my vanity kicks in when my name appears on Google, and I want only good and respectable results. Patrick’s company BrandYourself helps non-techincal users achieve just that.

I interviewed Patrick back in 2013 before he pitched his startup on Shark Tank where Canadian-Croatian Robert Herjavec offered $ 2 million for 25%. Patrick turned down the offer. They now have more than 100 employees. Back in 2016 BrandYourself reported having raised $ 6 million so far and made $4.2 million in revenue for 2015. Nice progress since 60,000 signups in 60 hours (confirmed during my interview).

Daniel Greenberg

Riding the wave of branding (personal and corporate) I reached out to Daniel regarding the company mugs (yes, the same project that was a disaster). To this day, I still find myself drinking coffee from those mugs, and I am happy that we were able to create those mugs for them. As far as the interview goes, I still remember the shocking story where an African medical insurance company allowed a domain name linked to the management of its domain names to lapse and be deleted!

Daniel is the owner and managing director of Lexsynergy, a company that specializes in online brand protection and domain management. They have offices in London, Vienna, and Johannesburg, with clients from around the world.

Pinkard Alan “Pinky” Brand

I’ve interviewed Mr. Brand years after I met him during the World Hosting Days (now called Cloudfest). I finally decided to ask him to join me on a Skype call where we discussed: domain name extensions, China, Marc Ostrofsky. The information that just blew my mind was that: “Keep in mind that China’s 618 million Internet users are comprised of 28% rural users (177 million) with 81% of those users (500 million) going online via smartphones and tablets. And still, Internet penetration has reached only 46% of China’s 1.3 billion. Also, only 10 million of those 1.3 billion speak English! That’s less than 1%!

Combining my thoughts from Daniel Greenberg’s interview (growth in Africa) and this interview (growth in China) you get the feeling the Internet will change a lot in the coming years! Pinkard Brand is currently acting as the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at RegistryOffice.

Tomislav Bilic

Tomislav’s story could be very interesting to domain investors. His company (around $2 million in reported revenue for 2016 with 50 employees in 2018) has remained on its .net domain name since the beginning! Matter of fact, one of their clients (partners, or employees, I am not sure) bought and gave them the inchoo.com domain name as a gift! Obviously, Tomislav was obsessed about the right things, and the dreaded .net domain extension hasn’t stopped him on his path of success. On the contrary, it is still their main domain name!

Marko Kovac

Speaking of Croatians and successful .net domain names salespod.net comes to mind! I think I met Marko Kovac, CEO & Co-Founder of Repsly during the GOAP event in Zagreb. The reason why I reached out to him for an interview was that they had just finished a rebrand from salespod.net into Repsly.com. Although this wasn’t exactly a full-blown interview (I topped it off with “12 things to watch for when picking a new name.”) we did have a great talk, and I think one can learn a lot from their example and early mistake of choosing the domain name salespod.net.

Repsly made around $5 million in revenue back in 2017, and counts around 60 people in their team and raised more than $4.8 million to date.

Rimac, Repsply, WhoAPI - photo by Marina Filipovic Marinshe, source Netokracija

Rimac, Repsly, WhoAPI – cover photo by Marina Filipovic Marinshe, source Netokracija

After those interviews, I more or less took a break from interviewing and posting my findings. I eventually got around to it when I started posting content intensively on webmaster.ninja. My idea here is to get advice from experts in various fields on how to become a true Ninja Webmaster. You would then by definition need advice on web hosting, domain names, SEO, and so on. I started with advice from:

Glen Allsopp

Glen shared his favorite SEO tools, thoughts on the latest Google search algorithm update, and the reasons why he got into this industry in the first place. Money was the initial factor, but now when he is maybe even set for life, he is giving away super-duper SEO advice for free. These are so good it will make your head spin! Advice that stuck with me the most (during the interview, (if I put aside advice on his awesome website) is that I should relax if I get a negative comment.

I’ve had blog posts where I get 300+ comments of total praise, and then one or two which are just…harsh. Of course, being the slightly flawed humans that we are, it tends to be that those 300 positive comments quickly go out of the window and it must be the two negative ones which we believe to be true. I see this happen on a lot of blogs. Authors ignore a lot of the praise but always rush in to defend themselves against the critics.

Tim Soulo

Since I was using Ahrefs for years, (and Glen listed Ahrefs as one of his favorite SEO tools), I just had to interview someone from Ahrefs. I reached out to Tim Soulo a while back after taking a course he created, called Blogging For Business. It was absolutely free on the day of the launch, and it seemed too good of an opportunity to miss. Tim is their marketing director and he spends a lot of his time creating content.

His advice on how to create content that converts readers is just amazing, but also too long to fit here. Hop here to read the interview with Tim Soulo of Ahrefs!

According to our data, almost 75% of pages that rank in top10 for a given keyword doesn’t have even a single mention of that exact-match keyword anywhere on the page.Click To Tweet

Spencer Haws

My car is one of those “college on wheels” type of vehicles. My fiance and I mostly listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Niche Pursuits is one of them. Among many podcasts, some have the power to help you change your life. Again, Niche Pursuits fits the category. So who is Spencer and why we should listen to his podcast?

I think I am not far when I say that Spencer made his first million when he sold Long Tail Pro. A software that helps SEO experts find keywords that are high in traffic, but low in competition. An SEO tactic he practically invented. For some people, that’s where the story would start and end. However, Spencer made a lot of money with his Amazon FBA business, before he sold it for nearly half a million dollars.

Here’s the kicker, he did all that without any outside funding, and AFTER he created a small website empire. If you imagine a beast working in a cave 24/7, you would miss by a light year. Spencer is a loving father of four and that’s the first thing he uses to describe himself in his about page. Mindblowing!

His #1 advice from the interview, I keep repeating to others is:

The ideal niche can be found is at the intersection of these 3 things: low competition keywords, money in the niche, and your interests.Click To Tweet

Michael Cyger

Last but certainly not the least, was the interview I did with Michael Cyger. We talked just a couple of months ago about picking the very best domain name for your new website. Michael started a very popular domaining blog and a podcast DomainSherpa.com back in 2010, and most people know him from there. Recently he started DNAcademy which I attended and was able to learn a few domain investing tricks myself!

These companies are trading the up-front cost of buying a premium domain name for years of hidden costs, not just from a lack of productivity in communications but also from being associated with a weak brand. Click To Tweet

For those of you who missed it, Michael is essentially talking about opportunity cost. And if we are to trust Alan Dunn, the world is running out of good domain names.


Wow! And we are done! I hope you found some good advice within those lines, and that you can implement them tomorrow at the latest. You have the night to think it over. Please share the post with someone who is currently struggling with their business.

Oguz Serdar, stubborn, laser focused and keen on solving one important thing

Oguz Serdar chilling in Chile (I just had to say that)

Goran: Hi Oguz! Can you introduce yourself? Tell us what makes you an entrepreneur, what do you love about developing?


Oguz Serdar

Oguz Serdar

Oguz: Sure! My name is Oguz Serdar (22), I grew up in Turkey, have been making money from web based projects for the last decade. I always believe that entrepreneurship is more an attitude and mindset than a skill or a profession. An entrepreneur loves what he does, does what he loves. The idea of fixing small problems that make other people suffer thrives off of me, especially when it’s possible to build a profitable business around it.

Goran: Like many successful startup co-founders you are a “hard working + never give up” material. Would you also say you are stubborn (which is a common disadvantage) or do you have a different Kryptonite? What separates you from where you want to be, and what was the advantage that gave you success over the years?

Oguz: Not only the startup founders like us, but also the most successful entrepreneurs (or athletes, politicians, artists… you name it) that we know happened to have a stubborn personality which was one of the main reasons of their extraordinary success. Never giving up, or taking “No” for an answer is actually a good thing, and I wouldn’t count it as a weakness. By applying this mantra to my life, I would say being a hustler was the biggest advantage that gave success over years.

When it comes to be a hustler,  there’s one important thing that you should be careful about it: Don’t be weird. I remember this deck from Paul Singh of 500 Startups that recommends not being weird as number #1 goal in life. As long as you’re able to stop before things getting weird, hustling and pushing the boundaries are good. Honestly, I feel like this might be my Kryptonite, as I tend to forget where to stop when insisting on something, and not noticing that it’s already getting weird. 🙂

Goran: I saw Nico Orellana wrote a comment on Limk’s AngelList profile, and we all know how important public commenting and referencing is. It’s always difficult to get someone talk about you or your startup, so when someone says you are perceived as “Startup Chile heroes” that’s really special. Can you write a little bit about that experience, how it changed you, what was the best thing you took home with you?

Oguz: Chile is a wonderful place with incredibly friendly people, and the program is good. You get to know a lot of cool people, learn a lot, experience other cultures and have the resources to make your startup better. If you have the right expectations you can make Start-Up Chile a fantastic experience, but people shouldn’t expect a program like YC, TechStars or 500 Startups accelerator. You don’t have people like PG, David Cohen, Dave McClure or Christine Tsai to run the program, lead the batch. You don’t have office hours, startup dinners, or incredible mentors stopping by. You don’t have the cash wired into your bank account as the batch starts, but you have to deal with lots of bureaucratic stuff and submit all your receipts, and expect to get them approved. Things like that…

No matter what I think more developing world countries like Turkey or Croatia should replicate the approach. My experience is overall positive, and I would recommend it to everyone else.

Goran: Oguz, you have over 2,800 subscribers and nearly 3500 friends on Facebook, almost 44,000 followers on Twitter, Limk has over 70,000 likers, give us your secret recipe! Or at least give us 1 best tip we can all use! Also be honest, how much time do you spend on social networks per day?

Oguz: Not that much, probably half an hour in a day. Thanks to tools like Hootsuite & Buffer (you can read my interview with Buffer’s co-founder Joel Gascoigne) that let me to schedule things ahead of time, I can pretty much set everything I want to share in that short time frame. Hootsuite is also great at monitoring stuff as it gives you more options comparing other solutions out there. I think the #1 tip we should all consider to use is avoiding the overdose of social media.

Use your time wisely, and be selective when it comes to sharing content. That’s the best & guaranteed way to build a follower base that gives a damn what you have to say. Follower counts are misleading indicators, and I believe they never represent overall influence. Limk is a different story as it has a strong history in Turkey.

Goran: Now that we have everyone attention, tell them why Limk.com is cool, awesome, life changing and why everyone should actually click on this link, and spend their time in order to sign up to yet another service. What is Limk? Can you compare it to http://www.thefancy.com or 9gag.com?


Limk - a world without noise, yet to explore!

Limk – a world without noise, yet to explore!

Oguz: I would compare 9gag to Cheezburger Network, and The Fancy to Fab. What we’re trying to accomplish with Limk has nothing to do with our alpha release (*), and is a struggling one. Although most of the services aiming to lower the web noise claimed the very opposite, I think the problem of bringing relevant content to you has always been simple. They simply never want it. Why? Because not only those services, but also the major social networks aggressively compete with one another to monopolize the time & attention of average users because their business models are built upon, and heavily rely upon, selling this attention.

Such companies like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter are the giant movers and shakers of the Internet, much like McDonald’s and Burger King are in their industry. What they don’t yet know, or are just ignoring in a wait-and-see holding pattern, is that they are the source of something akin to an epidemic of obesity on the worldwide web.

Ozer Dolekoglu, Product Guy (left) and Oguz Serdar, Chief Hustler (right)

Ozer Dolekoglu, Product Guy (left) and Oguz Serdar, Chief Hustler (right)

That’s where we will excel. Limk cuts through the web noise intelligently by offering a clean feed built around your interests that strips away the clutter, and incentivizes users by giving credits to their actions which they can redeem for related goodies, deals. The beta release is almost ready, and we look forward to release in a few weeks.

(*) During the current alpha release , we have been testing out a few channels which are known to attract massive attention, entertainment and inspiration, in order to make sure the dynamics of users’ attention is understood. We also got quite a feedback from the community that we wouldn’t otherwise have without shipping a product. We also learnt (the hard way) that there’s no such a thing as glamorous launch of startups. But of course you can always make it fun by having Dave McClure to push the launch button, as you did. Very classy move. 🙂  You should be shipping all the time, focus on your one important thing. For Limk, it’s cutting the web noise by offering a nice & clean feed, and everything else is secondary.

Goran: Thanks for the compliment on our launch. Let me return by saying Limk.com is a great domain name! I own a couple of 4 letter domain names, they are really hard to get, especially good .coms. Have you ever thought about building more websites on other great domains around your main one (like a franchise or a sister company)?


Oguz Serdar chilling in Chile (I just had to say that)

Oguz Serdar chilling in Chile (I just had to say that)

Oguz: At this point we’re laser focussed on achieving the one important thing of us, and not considering such things. But we might consider doing so in the future. Other than limk.com, we also hold .co, me, biz, tv, us extensions for safety, and li.mk also belongs to us. There’s one thing I believe about domains is that they matter a lot, but how you look (branding & PR) and what you do (product) matter more than anything else.

Goran: I think that reading books really transformed my life, and changed the way I think, do business, and many other things. What was it in your case that sparked that change to go from an ordinary job to a startup? And what is your favorite book if there is one?

Oguz: Ever since I was a little kid, I never thought of having an ordinary job and never had one thus far. I can’t say that books helped me to make a switch like that, but the situation itself mostly affected book choices of mine. By far, “Losing My Virginity” from Richard Branson has become my favorite book. It is just thrilling to read about what a dyslexic man with no college education could create for himself & the rest of the world.

Joel Gascoigne is focused on the lean startup approach and customer happiness.

Joel Gascoigne

Few months ago I stumbled on a great tweet from a great blog. Since it’t been a while, I can’t really remember what was it about. What matters is, since that moment I wanted to interview Joel. You can see from a persons tweets, Facebook statuses and their blog posts what they are made of. You can see what drives them, and how they inspire other people. You can use people like Joel to see if you are going in the right direction. What a funny coincidence that perhaps a week from now two of us could be sitting together in San Francisco, and when we met online I was in Rijeka, Croatia, him in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Goran: Joel, first of all I have to say we have a very similar taste in books! 🙂 The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell, and Richard Branson’s autobiography Loosing my Virginity. I also read all of them, and these are some amazing books. But apart from those, which is your favorite or perhaps top 3 if you can’t decide? And also, has any of them made a big impact on your life?

How to win friends and influence people: Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends & Influence People – By Dale Carnegie

Joel: By far my favorite book is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Published long ago in 1936, it is still one of the most important and relevant books I know. The book is all about human relations, all about simply doing the right thing and finding ways to make others happy. It just so happens that this is by far the best strategy to get what you want, too. It also is a much more satisfying approach than being a typical “hard-nosed” business person. The book changed the way I approach others and find people I can get advice from. It has also shaped how we handle customer support at Buffer.

Goran: Why do I get the feeling you traveled a lot? Birmingham, Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv did I miss anything? You wouldn’t happened to hear about a book Four hour workweek by Timothy Ferriss? What Ferris did was he lived a 1-3 months in a lot of different cities. Places like Berlin, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Thailand, so it seams to me you are a bit of Timothy Ferriss yourself?

Joel: You missed a quick trip to Japan that we fit in there too, and another brief one to Spain in the earlier days of Buffer 😉 It’s interesting you mention the Four Hour Workweek, since I actually read that book when starting Buffer, before all the travelling happened. I never thought it directly influenced my decisions to travel, but I think that it perhaps did subconsciously. I certainly enjoy spending 3-6 months in other places and truly experiencing new cultures. It’s very powerful and I think the travelling has helped me in many different ways.

Goran: Since you are an experienced startuper I would like to set an example with your answers on how to pitch to an investor. Can you describe your business model? What does your startup do? How do you differentiate yourself from your competition and what do you have that they don’t? Why should I use your service?

Buffer logo

Buffer logo

Joel: Sure thing! Buffer is your smarter way to share to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Whenever you come across an article you love, throw it in your Buffer and we’ll share it for you with your friends and followers. If you add 5 articles to Buffer, we’ll space them out through the day so you don’t flood people with 5 Tweets at once. We’ve been running for 2 years now, and we have 350,000 users of which 35% are active. We have a super simple business model: people pay for a $10/mo Awesome plan if they want to share more in advance (e.g. line up 4-5 days of sharing) or want to share to more accounts (up to 12 of any social network). We have 1.5-2% of users on the paid plan, so we’re currently on a $800,000 annual run rate. Our key differentiation is that we’re not a dashboard for people to stay inside all day long. Instead, we’re a thin layer spread wide across the web and mobile apps. We have great integrations, for example you can add to Buffer right from inside Pocket, Instapaper, Reeder and TweetCaster amongst others.

Goran: On your Twitter account it says “Focused on the lean startup approach and customer happiness. “. I personally think that’s a great line, and that was the reason why I really wanted to interview you! Can you share some of the strategies you are using for your startup in order to achieve this? How does that work on a day to day basis when you fall into a routine?

Joel: The key question we try to keep asking ourselves on a daily basis to stay lean is “What can we do right now?” This means – what can we do right at this moment to learn about whether what we’re planning to do, what we’re working on, will turn out as we expect and as we hope? It means doing things manually, like manually emailing 100 users a fake weekly report of analytics from their social sharing in order to validate right now whether we should continue spending resources on that feature. More often, you don’t need a product or a feature to be fully built in order to learn if assumptions are correct.

Goran: Hypothetically speaking, if you sold Bufferapp for $100 gazillionbazillion what would you then do?

My other passion is to help others with their startups. I already talk with 5-10 founders every single week over coffee or via Skype to help them with their current biggest challenge (people can get in touch here: http://joel.is/startup-help). We have a long vision with Buffer, but if I were to do something else I would want to help other founders full-time. It would perhaps come in the shape of a co-working space, coffee shop or incubator, but the focus would be on helping others. I’ve found when I do that, I’m happiest myself too.

Goran: What does your tipical day look like? Do you code late, or do you get up early?

Joel Gascoigne

Joel Gascoigne

Joel: I awake early, around 5:30 and try and work for a couple hours until 8am. I then grab some breakfast and have our daily team standup Skype call where we update each other on what we’ve been working on and any improvements we are trying to make with our schedule, sleep, exercise or anything else. I split my time 50/50 between maker tasks (currently building our Android app) and manager tasks. Every day in the afternoon I head to the gym at around 2:30pm to break up my afternoon’s work.

Goran: My startup WhoAPI deals with domains, so I need to ask you a couple of domaining questions 🙂 What was the first domain name you registered?

Joel: Haha, wow, that’s a difficult one. I think it would probably be one for a team I used to play online games with back when I was 12. It’s not live anymore 🙂

Goran: Does Bufferapp have any other cool domains like bufferapp.com? For example, would you be interested in registering buffer.app? Why yes, why not?

Joel: buffer.app would be cool, but I’m not sure the real use of it, so for now we’re avoiding picking up too many domains. I do like our short URL buff.ly though 🙂

Goran: You had a great post recently about naming startups, and the role domains have in that process. http://joel.is/post/29186927028/how-to-name-your-startup I do agree in large part, even my startup went through the same thing. We started as www.getwhoisxml.com, and by the time we were 100% sure, we switched to www.whoapi.com. But don’t you think that with proper strategy a domain name like www.twittlater.com or www.sharelater.com or one that’s still available for registration that I will mention privately. 🙂 After all you do own www.joel.is, if that’s not a cool domain I don’t know what is 😀

Joel: I think a good name is useful, especially if people will search Google using similar keywords to your domain. For us, that doesn’t happen, so the domain is less important. Rather than having an outstanding domain, I’d rather have an outstanding name and then get a domain that might not be the exact name. Yes, I’m very happy with joel.is though 😀

Goran: Would you like to ad something, perhaps if you are looking for new employees, or some special announcement, some news, or just say hi to mum and dad?

Joel: Absolutely! I’m back in San Francisco now and would love to meet any founders who want to ask advice. They can Tweet me at @joelgascoigne or book a slot from http://joel.is/startup-help. Also, we are of course hiring at Buffer. We’re looking for people who love our culture of improving ourselves and providing above and beyond experiences for our users. Right now we’re looking for front-end and back-end developers as well as devops, customer support and BD people too. Just email me directly at joel@bufferapp.com if you’re interested 🙂

I never go on a 1 week vacation, but when I do, I mentor 22 startups

Startupcamp Vis

Last week was one of the best weeks in my life, hands down. Why? First of all, thanks to Stevica Kuharski I was invited to come to Vis for free for a week. I asked what’s the catch? He said I have to do what I love, help startups and act as a mentor. I had absolutely no problem with that, and after talking with my investor (who was also coming as a mentor) and my partner (Edi, the other WhoAPI co-founder) I was on my way.

However, I wouldn’t be on my way if the whole camp wasn’t funded by the U.S. embassy! Now if that wasn’t cool I don’t know what is… Also, most of the images and video used here are from U.S. embassy’s in Zagreb facebook page.

Goran Duskic

Goran Duskic

On startupcamp Vis there were 22 startups, and top 3 already got coverage. Just to show you the quality of ideas and startups there I decided to interview co-founders of my three favorite startups there. Some may think why focus on the losers? Well here’s where they are wrong. I see them as winners. They were winners because they showed up on Vis, they were winners because they made profound progress from first pitch on day 1 to last pitch on day 3. And in my eyes, they are winners because they show passion and commitment to do what it takes to succeed. Perhaps there are projects at later stage or with better ideas. This doesn’t matter because these people are ready for overnight success, they are willing to work overnight. They will finish their projects, and if necessary find better ideas.

I published their answers in alphabetic order – I love them equally and if I was an investor I would do some serious due diligence in order to give them seed funding. This post is for them, and I am hoping to help them once again!

Oh yea, it’s ON, Croatia’s got startups!

Goran: Stevica, you an Saša Cvetojević from Croatian angel network were the two conspirators in the master plan called Startup Camp Vis. Can you tell my readears how did you get to this idea, and what was the crucial turning point when you realized that this is actually going to happen?

This idea crossed my mind while we were in Barcelona. Four of us, Sasa, Damir Sabol and Marjan Zitnik were living for 6 days together, which looked like a camp. Then I’ve realized that having a camp for startups would be blast. Participating a panel organized by US Embassy, I’ve expressed this idea to audience. Sita from US Embassy asked few questions and approached me after the panel asking “Were you serious about that camp?”. I’ve sad that I was. “OK, we’d like to pay for it”, she concluded.

Goran: You played a key role in organising the event, to which I personally thank you. I really think we made a difference. Can you tell me what was the most rewarding thing you saw in Startup Camp Vis. Obviously we all had to bail out from our offices to make this happen.

The most rewarding thing was seeing students changing their pitches and presentations. They have made tremendous progress during just two days. I still feel warm around my heart thinking of it.

Stevica Kuharski

Stevica Kuharski

Goran: Do you think that camps like this can make a real difference in the croatian economy, and what needs to happen on larger scale for this camps to occur more often?

Yes, in the long run it could make a difference. Pitched projects now need to grow more and to mature. Only then they will be able to attract foreign investors. For sure we would need more serious young entrepreneurs to have camps more often, not just in Croatia, but in the whole region as well.

Goran: In your oppinion, what was the thing that was missing? More mentors, more time, better ideas, more keyotes, something else? Can this be provided in perhaps next camp?

We’ve missed one more day. For the next camp we’ll squeeze it in and provide students lectures about dilution of ownership, how to create their pitches and basics of investments.


Goran: What makes your startup so special and why do you think you were invited to come to
Seedcamp, and this week’s Startup Camp on Vis? What exactly does your startup do, and tell us a
little bit about your team (age, background, qualities, etc)?

Ilona Spajic and Matea Torcic

Ilona Spajic and Matea Torcic

What makes us special are basically two things- firstly the team whose energy is unstoppable, and secondly the idea behind it. These two made us pass to the competition part in Vis, work all day and night there (literally) and get much more than we’ve expected (and we expected A LOT).

Our idea is to connect organizers of all kinds of non-formal educational events and their prospect users (attendees) by their previously chosen criteria. The reality is they sometimes just can’t seem to find each other. We want to provide them an ultimate place to meet and make their search and life much easier.

Our team for now consists of us two, Matea (22) and Ilona (24), we’re specialized in Marketing, Business and Finance fields, however we are on the search for the development partner, equally enthusiastic in this as we are. We both come from entrepreneurial families and, therefore, have the insight of all processes needed for something to succeed. And that’s exactly what we have in mind with this project.

Goran: Whats the most valuable thing you got during the Startup Camp Vis? Do you think camps like
this should happen more often, and should perhaps the Croatian government fund such an event/
camp? In general, what can you say about the Startup Camp Vis?

The most important thing we’ve learned in Vis was that we ought to share, comment, ask, criticize and pitch our idea as much as possible. That’s different from the usual Croatian mindset, but you just can’t progress alone, in your room, holding jealously your idea to yourself. Startups need to be dynamic, flexible and fast. With that in mind, Startup Camp Vis was the best place to be this year.

Things like SCVis should most definitely happen more often, and it would be great if the Government would fund them, but somehow we think it will continue to depend on the enthusiastic and crazy people who do it out of the pure belief in young people and their ideas. They were the ones who made Camp flawlessly organized, filled with awesome energy and people.

It’s really a great thing in every sense of that word for them to do it and, without any cliché, make the world a bit better place.

Goran: Were you satisfied with my performance as a mentor, and have the other mentors deliver what
you expected of them? Did we lack some critical information to your startup, and what would that
information be?

Mentors on startupcamp Vis

Mentors on startupcamp Vis

You were a great mentor, to be honest, one of the toughest but with the constructive critics. It was great to listen to you because were/are a startup yourself. Therefore, you were the only one who gave us opinion with the startup perspective which was very valuable.

All the mentors gave us some great feedback that really helped us, not just for the future, but we literary implemented them right away. It was incredible how none of the teams said for Camp it was “Ok”, or “Good”, we were all thrilled. Time of our lives, really.

Goran: At what stage is your startup, and what are you currently looking for? Is it funding, development
guy, biz guy, mentor, or perhaps clients and partners?

We are merely at the beginning of our project, and the Camp was the best thing that could happen at this moment. Our next steps are to establish the first version of our web site, get the developer, collect some data and get our startup going. Obviously, since we are students with limited budget, it would be great to get funding, but to be honest, not as much for the money part as much as for the mentoring, feedback and partnering part.

Goran: What do you see as your advantage compared to Silicon valley startups, and what’s your next
step in achieving that? What’s your and your teams next step in general?

Well, we are geographically in Croatia which is so much cooler than Silicon Valley 🙂

There’s nowhere in the world so much (stupid) bureaucracy obstacles like here, but we like to see it as a challenge. Like we said, we have a great team to start, but we’ll have to expand it a bit more to optimize our resources, skills and technical knowledge.

As we said, we are just beginning the story we believe it’s going to be big. Our passion for non-formal education drives us to work long hours.

Like Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

You can see allmyconferences.com presentation here.

Just a quick update, I hear the girls have a new name and a logo to replace allmyconferences.com 

Goran: What makes your startup so special and why do you think you were invited to come to Seedcamp, and this week’s Startup Camp on Vis? What exactly does your startup do, and tell us a little bit about your team (age, background, qualities, etc)?

Marko Pavlovic

Marko Pavlovic

-Why is my startup so special? Well most of all, I think that we as a team make our startup special, not because we are some kind of a geniuses, but because we are very passionate about doing what we do.. simply „We are in love“ with the problem that our startup solves , its really breaking the limits once it comes to social media tools, gives users the ability to create their own environment and gives developers a „hotspot“ for building their social apps. Those are probably the reasons why we where invited on SeedCamp and Startup Camp on Vis.

Team is sustained of my coworker Goran Blazevic and me(Marko Pavlović).

We are building social media marketplace called Anctu. It’s an open platform for developers to have a place where they can build and sell their social apps for users, mostly community managers, so they can choose between a long range of social apps/tools that suits them and their business, this way they will be able to create their own working environment for managing and tracking their social media and finally do it all from one place; Anctu!

There are ton of social media services out there which are mostly broken,useless or even good but their are dying since its hard for them to profit, I think a lot of people will agree with me on that. We are not only trying to unite existing ones, but to create new ones and have it working in a harmony with users on a single platform!

Team is expanding rapidly since recently we met some people that share the same vision as we do. Goran is 5 years experienced frontend developer and graphic designer which comes from Đakovo, Croatia. He is 27 years old and just getting his bachelor’s degree at Electrical Engeenireing, very calm and hard working guy, we have a lot in common (we both love Anctu and rakija, that’s for sure!).

I am 20 years old PHP developer(4 of years exp.). Coming from Vinkovci, where I graduated from high school of economics and trade. I don’t know how I ended up there since I love coding & tech overall, from my 10. I started seriously with one unsuccessful Andriod app and ended up 4 years in freelance waters with dozens of web projects behind me. Curentlly studying on faculty of electrical engineering at Osijek, but I feel „one big“ dropout coming up since Anctu needs me here alot, but anyway I plan to finish it later on. At the moment I’m living at Osijek and Goran is moving here also.

Goran: Whats the most valuable thing you got during the Startup Camp Vis? Do you think camps like this should happen more often, and should perhaps the Croatian government fund such an event/camp? In general, what can you say about the Startup Camp Vis?

Most valuable thing I got from Startup Camp Vis is those great people I met there, for god sakes, we became one happy family and that’s awesome! I really felt the bound with all of them there, both teams and mentors! So much positivity, great working atmosphere and crazy fun-times! Startup Camp Vis made me believe in myself even more then I did! What a great experience, it should happen much more often. Croatian government should definitely fund it, especially since this explosion of innovativity is happening on Croatian ground, right?
Startup Camp Vis is connecting people with great ideas and helps them to improve, that’s something great!

Goran: Were you satisfied with my performance as a mentor, and have the other mentors deliver what you expected of them? Did we lack some critical information to your startup, and what would that information be?

You where amazing Goran and same I hear from others! You supported me, advised me, felt my passion and energy about my startup and most of all, you where bloody honest, not only to me but to everyone; that’s exactly how every mentor should be, good job! Every of you mentors where great, some of you had harder time to understand what my startup is actually about, since its pretty deep into social media and development world, but on the end you all got it even better then I expected. This is one thing that almost made me cry: After doing the final pitch, one older mentor came to me and said „I am 70 years old, its really hard for me to understand some tech and social media stuff, but you made me get it all in only 5mins, amazing job, amazing pitch!“. This was my StartupCamp Vis reward, 50 years older person telling me this words. Felt.Stuning! All of you showed interest in my startup, both inside agenda and outside, that’s great!

Goran: At what stage is your startup, and what are you currently looking for? Is it funding, development guy, biz guy, mentor, or perhaps clients and partners?

Anctu logo

Anctu logo

We are at „wrapping up“, we expect our first live beta to be out in a month or so. We are looking for people that have any of those skills and are interested in Anctu, we are looking for people who will share the same vision as we do. Mostly we lack „biz guy“ which would do the sales and keep business connections, but we are also open for all interested clients and partners!

We are looking for funding, but we will turn to that much more seriously once we get the product out, all trough, it would not hurt us if it happens at this point also.

Goran: What do you see as your advantage compared to Silicon valley startups, and what’s your next step in achieving that? What’s your and your teams next step in general?

Silicon Valley atmosphere is much more competitive, here we live in a high-friendly atmosphere, that’s one of the advantages being in smaller communities. For Anctu its just another great location with bunch of good startups, we are not intimidated by it. Our next step is to release the product and get first costumers in.

Get you’r preinvite for Anctu live beta at: www.anctu.com
You can download Anctu presentation here.


Goran: What makes your startup so special and why do you think you were invited to come to this week’s Startup Camp on Vis? What exactly does your startup do, and tell us a little bit about your team (age, background, qualities, etc)?

Ivan Ivankovis, Ivan Kapulica, Krunoslav Klaric

Ivan Ivankovis, Ivan Kapulica, Krunoslav Klaric

What makes us special? That is a hard one. We consider our self different, hmm. That is about it. We believe that we have a good project. That our application has what it takes to become popular not just in Croatia, but with broader public. Squee is a beautiful app that basically allows the user to discover, share and buy an independently developed gadgets directly from your iPhone. Today the Silicon Valley is going through Hardware Renaissance, due to the cheap 3D prototyping and new technologies a lot of small teams make incredible gadgets, they make a prototype in the US, Europe and then they ship it to China, India for “mass” production. A lot of those teams get funded trough www.kickstarter.com. Squee is basically a social hub (mcommerce) for all the gadget creators and lovers.

Squee iPhone app

Squee iPhone app

Ivan, he is a creative guy, designer (likes to brag with the Squee UX), at the moment he is a proud user of CodeAcademy, earning his badges, learning how to program and having a time of his life, also
he is our blogger. Most of our gadget reviews are coming from him. He is a proven entrepreneur. Ivan has successfully founded and runs the best and most beautiful espresso&wine bar and coffee house
in the city, in his words Rubirosa (the name of the place, named after Porfirio Ariza Rubirosa) is the perfect connection of pleasure and taste. Ivan has initially came up with the idea and now he strongly
believes that he is more cool than Mr. Cool himself, Steve McQueen.

Kruno, where to start with Kruno, hmmm. Lets say he is a adventures type of guy at least. Every one of us knows a guy like him. Example, when the waves are so high, and no one else is on the sea he is the first one to come with the idea to untie his sailing boat, pushing us to come with him. We believe he was brain washed by watching Thomas Crown Affairs and Indiana Jones movies just too many times. Also, he is our rock star marketing guy and strategist. As well, he is constantly harassing indie manufacturers to work with us and he is fiercely explaining to them what we are all about. Not that we are counting but we are pretty sure that he achieved seven restraining orders issued against him so far, talking about persistence :)). Kruno is also a consultant with additional self entrepreneurial
experience trough his whole life.

Squee logo

Squee logo

We have two Ivans in our team, not to be confused; the first one isn’t so in love with himself to write twice about his life :). The second Ivan is insanely focused, doesn’t sleep during day nor night, we still believe that he is a robot, or has a twin brother that we aren’t familiar with :). He is the Christopher Columbo of our team, always knows where we are going and in which direction. He deals with everyday problems and issues. Also he is contacting web portals and blogs around the world to develop mutual endorsement and he is spreading the good word. When other people are watching reruns of Two and a Half Men he is working hard as a community manager pushing info and sourcing gadgets. Ivan is working for 3 years now as a strategy consultant with a high number of successfully
executed projects.

Marin, he is our in house developer. Marin is developing our code and he is crazy good at it. Hence, he developed several iOS apps and successfully launched them. Few of his apps have a fan base of over 10.000 users. He is passionate about what he is doing and we are having a blast with him. The most important thing is that we utterly understand each other, when talking about women and wine

Goran: What is the most valuable thing you got during the Startup Camp Vis? Do you think camps like this should happen more often, and should perhaps the Croatian government fund such an event/camp? In general, what can you say about the Startup Camp Vis?

The most valuable thing we got during the #scvis was the mentorship and all the networking with super creative and smart people. We definitely believe that camps like it should happen way more often. First thing on our mind when we came back in Zagreb was the feeling of emptiness, I cannot describe in words how much we wanted to wake up again in our apartment on Vis and start with the pitching, hustling and fast mentoring. We missed the entire crew, all the creative startup teams that became our friends and all the mentors. It is not expected from our government to fund such events, #scvis is something they cannot grasp or think off, and that is a shame.

Goran: Were you satisfied with my performance as a mentor, and have the other mentors deliver what you expected of them? Did we lack some critical information to your startup, and what would that information be?

Honestly, we will be forever grateful for all your help and all of your information and time you gave us. Your mentoring was incredibly helpful for us, thanks again for believing in our team and our project.

Goran: At what stage is your startup, and what are you currently looking for? Is it funding, development guy, biz guy, mentor, or perhaps clients and partners?

At the moment our startup is in seed stage. What do we mean by that? We are in a prototype phase and pushing hard to launch our app on the App store. We are looking for a in house developer and

Goran: What do you see as your advantage compared to Silicon Valley startups, and what’s your next step in achieving that? What’s your and your team’s next step in general?

Silicon Valley is full of large companies and great startups that are hunting for talented young people, so that is maybe the advantage compared to SV, here in Croatia you have a lot of talented people.
Hence, you can more easily gather a good team in the beginning. One big difference is the funding. Silicon Valley is fool of angel investors and VC-s, so startups in Silicon Valley can more easily get funded. Our next step is to push our application to MVP (minimum viable product) and launch it until the end of the year. Also, we are hoping to get funded.

You can download Squee presentation here.

A drummer, whose firm invested in Zynga, Seomoz, Trada and attachments.me

Foundry Group

It’s been a working Sunday for me, and it’s time for my first of many to come VC interviews. I am proud to present Jason Mendelson a co-founder and Managing Director at Foundry Group an early-stage technology venture capital firm. Yes, he is a venture capitalist. Previously, he was an attorney at a large San Francisco Bay Area Law firm and prior to that, a software engineer at Accenture. And before that he was a drummer. Yes, drummer.

Foundry group invests in a range from $100,000, up to series A – up to $10 million. So far, they have invested in: attachments.me, www.admeld.com (that was acquired by Google), www.seomoz.org and www.trada.com, www.yesware.com (my three personal favorites) and www.zynga.com (perhaps you’ve heard of them). All together 49 startups, you can see there portfolio on their website. Not bad for a drummers portfolio.

Jason Mendelson Talks About Startup Failure

Goran: Jason, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. As you may know, there are a lot of startups looking for funding, looking to become great entrepreneurs. What is the most common pattern you see in someone who just doesn’t have what it takes to get the investment, to bring that startup to the next level, to succeed?

Jason: Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses are key. Not only will this allow the person to scale into different roles with the company, but also build out a great management team. While the founder may be the CEO from start to finish, the actual job changes greatly over time, as the company matures.

Having self-awareness to be able to constantly monitor one’s own performance is key. Aside from that, have a maniacal focus on the product and customer is a must. Release product often and be deep into analytical thinking to gauge success.


Foundry Group

Foundry Group

Goran: As you already know, I interviewed Ben Coe, the co-founder of attachments.me. He certainly doesn’t fall into the previous category, but what was the sexiest thing him and Jesse did in order to get Foundry group to invest? Back than, they were in Toronto, how did that affect the negotiations?

Jason: I thought both Ben and Jesse were super smart, had a ton of passion for what they were doing and identified a real problem in the market. Personally, I’ve wasted way too much time dealing with the problems that their solution fixes. Also, I just really liked the guys. They are the type of people that you want to spend a lot of time with and that is a good quality for a VC investment.

Goran: Was moving them to Silicon Valley a part of the deal? Do you remember Ben’s and Jesse’s reaction when you told them you want to go through with the investment?

Jason: Not part of the deal – they put that on the table the first time that I spoke to them. As for their reaction, they were excited. So was I.

Goran: What does your every day look like, what is your passion? Is there something that you think about every day?

Jason Mendelson

Jason Mendelson

Jason: Best part of being a VC is that I don’t have an “every day.” It’s always different and that is what I’m passionate about – change. I love thinking about how quickly technology is changing the complex and simple things we do every day. I appreciate every day the great entrepreneurs that we get to work with.

Goran: I saw that you do interviews with Bloomberg, but you also know how to have fun. Who is the real Jason behind the curtains?

Jason: Wow, that’s a good one. I think I’m essentially the same guy who grew up in Detroit, Michigan, but with more grey hair. I really love helping, in any small way, folks who have a good head on their shoulders and are trying to do the right thing.

Goran: Can you recommend a book, speaker, or something else for those who are knowledge hungry?

Jason: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my partner Brad Feld and I have a book out called “Venture Deals, how to be smarter than your lawyer and VC”. It’s a book that teaches folks how to get a VC funding done correctly and removes all the secrets of the process.

Goran: Is there something you wish to say that is important to your portfolio, is someone hiring, did someone reach a huge milestone? What’s the biggest news currently around Foundry group?

Jason Mendelson sitting to the right

Jason Mendelson sitting to the right

Jason:There is always so much going on that news will be stale by the time your readers get this article. I’d say that I’m tremendously proud of our portfolio’s success and even more proud of the great relations between the Foundry Group partners, the entrepreneurs we get to work with and our investors.

It’s really important to us that everything we do is done in an open and transparent manner. It is really important to me that being a VC means you can do well by doing good.

You can find out more about Jason on his website JasonMendelson.com.

Sasa Sarunic – serial startuper

There’s something about serial entrepreneurs… Take cliff diving for example. You are standing on top of a cliff, let’s say 10m high. It doesn’t matter if your plan is to dive straight in, or, on your legs. You are scared as hell! Some of your friends and “friends” are teasing you. Saying you don’t have the guts to jump. You know that the chances of something bad happening are minimal, but there’s this loud voice inside your head yelling you could break your back, neck, embarrass yourself.

And then finally, finally you beat the coward in yourself. You take the jump! Just do it, as the commercial says so. The rush goes through your body, and as you hit the water you are relived. You are victorious as your friends are cheering, not teasing you. Entrepreneurs, you know what I am talking about.

Then the funniest thing occurs. Along comes winter, and the next summer. You are up on that big rock again.

Guess what, your legs are shaking of fear. Once again you have to beat the devil, the diablo. What in the world led you to that silly rock again?

What in the world were you thinking?! Why, why, why do you persist? Maybe because you choose to. Maybe because you are foolish enough to think you can change the world. Maybe because you want to help people. Or maybe you just have that drive within you, and you are like a rocket prepared to do whatever it takes to reach Mars.

This is why I interview entrepreneurs. In our country, entrepreneurs like Saša don’t get (wrongfully) much media attention, because all the bad “entrepreneurs” get it. This leads the public oppinion in the wrong dirrection, so the public turns into a crowd that laughs at you, points fingers for no apparent reason, and throws accusations, because they are used of entrepreneur wrong doing. I choose to believe differently, I see entrepreneurs as saviours of the society. Paying way more taxes that drives country budget, and drive the ecnonomy by spending more, hiring people that were unemployed, and inventing new services (or bringing old ones to mass market) so they solve problems. Basically entrepreneurs are problem solvers, they are the solution!

I am sure there are some people in your country as well that call themselves entrepreneurs, when they are not. Know thy true entrepreneur, the force is strong within him.

Why Saša Šarunić? Oh well, no particular reason… He co-founded a succesfull mobile and software development company (5minutes) and got an $1.7 million for (ShoutEm) (The Next Web, 50 cent and even Eric Ries with Lean Startup use Shoutem), that’s innovation and high tech wrapped into one. You could say cliff diving is second nature to him, if you know what I mean. They were the first Croatian startup to get VC funding, went to Seedcamp, and so on.

Goran: Saša, how do you measure your success with your projects/startups/companies? You co-founded Pticica and Trosjed (which was sold to Net.hr), then 5 minutes, and then ShoutEm, in your eyes how do you measure success in them?

Saša Šarunić started coding at the age of 12

Saša Šarunić started coding at the age of 12

Saša: I measure success in work by two parameters – fun that you have by doing the work, and money as a compensation for your effort. I started all four projects with Viktor Marohnic who proved to be a great partner, full of energy and good ideas. Working with him was already guarantee enough that we were looking at fun times 🙂

While both of us were pretty enthusiastic about Pticica and Trosjed and had a great time working on them, those projects were complete failure in terms of revenue. The whole concept was based on our false presumption that advertisers will stand in a queue to advertise on such great social networks we had built. 🙂 Nevertheless, we learned a lot on our failures and entered the web and multimedia business which was completely unknown area for us before.
Experience gathered on Pticica and Trosjed allowed us to establish Five minutes which is currently going really, really great in terms of interesting projects and amazing coworkers. The money is not bad either. 🙂
ShoutEm is definitely the most fun project we’ve being working so far. It’s for us what’s going for Olympics to a sportsmen – fighting with the best ones. While not profitable yet, ShoutEm has, at our opinion, the potential to outgrow Five minutes significantly.

Goran: Can you tell my readers where did you learn to code so well? How would you compare yourself with some of the best coders in the world that work at Google, Facebook, Twitter? Would you say coding is your passion, and why did you choose this particular programming language?

Saša: I’m programming since I was 12. I’m 37 now so you can do the math 🙂 It must be a passion since no one was forcing me to do it.
There is no chance that I can compare or compete with the best coders in the world. Most of ShoutEm and Five minutes employees are better developers than I am. However, I think I have a knowledge and people skills broad enough that I can be a CTO and do it well.
Since the team is growing and management roles take more and more of my time, I must admit that I’m programming less and less, just a few hours a week on some non-critical tasks. I do it to stay in shape and because I love it.
Among programming languages, I would say that my current favorite and the language of the future is definitely – JavaScript. That is the language that was unfairly neglected and been hated over the years, considered ugly and badly designed by most. These days, Javascript is a high-performance, well understood dynamic scripting language good for both – client and server programming.
If someone wants to learn how to write code these days, the first thing I’m going to say is learn Javascript.

Goran: At what point and why, did you choose to go after a VC money? Whas the process difficult, or should I ask, what was the most difficult part? How did you feel when RSG Capital said they were interested in investing, how did they tell you the good news?

Saša: Viktor and I knew from the beginning that we don’t have enough money to finance ShoutEm development and were aiming for VC money from the day one. The process lasted for the full three years. During that time we were constantly rejected by VC-s as being in too-early stage of development (which is just a VC’s code for “we are not sure if you will succeed or not”). RSG was one of the first VCs we contacted and they passed on a deal as well. However, we were persistent as hell, and this didn’t went unnoticed. After years of pushing it, we finally closed a deal. Since it didn’t came overnight, there was no ecstasy, just a relief that we’ll be able to finish the project for which we knew will be a success.

Goran: How are you coping with the employee growth? Do you use any strategies, attend seminars, read any books, gut feeling? Werner Vogels for example likes to use small times, and he calls it the 2 jumbo pizza rule. If you can’t feed your team with 2 jumbo pizzas, the team is to big. 🙂 Do you have any particular company culture, do you do something different?

Saša and his team from 5 minutes, all wearing mustaches for a humanitarian cause - they raised 4000$ for a children's home

Saša and his team from 5 minutes, all wearing mustaches for a humanitarian cause – they raised 4000$ for a children’s home

Saša: I must say that I’ve read a pile of books on organisation, project management, psychology and software development in general, but non of them survived the touch with reality. Each company is different in its own matter and best practice books are good to get a general feeling on how others do it, but you have to find what works best for your own company by yourself.
When we looked where to grow the team, we always did it where it “hurt” the most. For example, we didn’t employ a secretary only until we couldn’t do the paperwork by ourselves because of lack of sleep.
If I could stress one thing we constantly promote in our company(ies) is pro-activeness. That is a trait that pushes the company forward.

Goran: Hypothetically speaking, if you sold ShoutEm for $100 gazillionbazillion what would you than do?

Saša: I would rest for a year (just sleeping and doing nothing 🙂 and probably start some new venture the year after 🙂

Goran: What does your tipical day look now? Do you code late, or do you get up early?

Saša: When I was younger, I really liked programming in the silence of the night and that was the most productive part of my day. However, now I have a lot of coworkers who depend on me being available in the company, and I can’t afford to wake up at noon anymore 🙂 To my great relief, I discovered that mornings are great for working as well. I would even dare to say now that you can’t be really successful in life if you don’t get up early (except if you are a rock star, maybe).

Goran: My startup WhoAPI deals with domains, so I need to ask you a couple of domaining questions 🙂 What was the first domain name you registered?

Saša: That was time.hr, a domain for my first company – Time d.o.o. This was a company doing software development for radio stations, real estate agencies and lawyers. Although it was a one-man-show, helped me earn some money during my university days.

Goran: Time.hr, that’s a great domain name, what are your plans with that!?

Saša Šarunić - wearing mustache proudly while helping raise money for a great cause!

Saša Šarunić – wearing mustache proudly while helping raise money for a great cause!

Saša: It is now a company ran by my mother doing marketing for local newspapers in Dalmatia. It is interesting that time.org and time.net domains were for sale at the time but I didn’t want to buy them. I thought that it was too much to give $70 for the domain (the price of a domain in 1995.). Stupid me! 🙂

Goran: Does ShoutEm have any other cool domains like shoutem.com? For example, would you be interested in registering shout.app? Why yes, why not?

Saša: Yes, we bought all variations that we thought people would type in and address box instead of shoutem, like shoutem.net, shoutm.com, shoutm.net and we are always looking for new ones. I consider good (short and simple) domain name crucial for the success of the company and would be interested in buying shout.app as well.
I even have a few of my own, like – sarunic.com, truehackers.com, hackerville.net, etc… waiting for me to finally start a personal blog.

Goran: Would you like to add something, perhaps if you are looking for new employees, or some special announcement, some news, or just say hi to mum and dad?

Saša: We are currently seeking a JavaScript ninja (he/she doesn’t have to be a Japanese, though). If someone is interested in changing the world of mobile app development, please send your resume to sasa [at] shoutem.com

Thank you for your time!

Discover the “attached” man – Ben Coe

Ben Coe - co-founder of attachments.me

Let me welcome you to the new era. Everything is not working the way it’s supposed to, but there are some startups that are trying to fix that. I think that’s the best thing that can happen to us, and to our society. So don’t let anyone tell you changing the world isn’t possible, cause it is.

Cloud just got cloudier - save to drive option

Cloud just got cloudier – save to drive option

There are so many cloud services out there, and one wonderes, is it really cloud if at some point you have to use your hard drive? Attachments.me is like a bridge for a few clouds. One cloud being your email (Gmail) and the other being your online drive (Dropbox, Box, Google drive). At this point you probably guessed it right. When someone sends you an attachment, you can save it directly to one of the most popular online drives, or vice versa when you are sending an email, just access your account and attach it.

Epic? Hell yeah! You can even search all your attachments, but it works way better than looking up keywords in your gmail. Why? Because this is a specialised “attachments” search, and you lookup only attachments, they are highlighted, and you can see the preview. I gotta tell you, you have to see it for yourself. (Especially if you are already a Gmail/online drive user).

Correction, I managed to filter attachments

Correction, I managed to filter attachments

I wish I could give you a screenshot of that, but it’s way to personal. I’ve tried finding a spot where I don’t publish something that’s not supposed to go public, but no luck. So it is safe to say that attachments are reeeealy important to a business individual such as my self. And obviously I am not paying enough attention to them since so far I haven’t had any real help around with dealing with them.

You are just going to have to try it by yourself. Signing up is…well, you just login with your Google account, that’s how easy it is.

So, what they want to do is get you and your company’s files organized. They do this by making sure all the files you receive in email are easy to find and automatically put in their final destination. As I said before, they connect your email to cloud storage solutions like Dropbox  (Dropbox gives 500Mb for every user you send their way, so I would be thankful if you signed up with this URL) and Box. They follow you where ever you go, which means, when you are logged in to Gmail, or when you are browsing with your Chrome (Chrome Extension – Attachments.me for Gmail, Dropbox, …), or if you are on you iPhone! Attachments.me- Gmail inbox software to efficiently manage emails

Attachments.me was founded by Benjamin Coe and Jesse Miller. Originally they were located in Toronto, Canada. After taking funding from Foundry Group they relocated the business to San Francisco. Our office is in the sunny Mission district, in a shared space called Dolores Labs.

I’ve read Ben’s “confession” and instanlty I said to myself, I have to interview this guy, he is the real deal.

Goran: Ben, first of all thank you for a great blog “Confessions of a 20-Something Startup CTO” post with wich a lot of startupers can relate too. Do you blog a lot, and why do you do it? How do you manage to find time in your busy schedule? Why do you use Tumblr as a platform?
Ben: I’ve always loved writing as a hobby, and it’s a skill I’m constantly trying to hone. Most weekends I take a bit of time to write a blog post. Partly because I enjoy it, and partly because it helps me reflect on the week. I use Tumblr because it has an intuitive interface, and is easily customizable… in short, it doesn’t get in my way.

attachments.me - changing the way we attach

attachments.me – changing the way we attach

Goran: What about the beginnings of Attachments.me, were you excited about registering that domain name? How did you choose that name, and did you have any trouble with picking the right name for your startup? Did you feel from the start that something big was about to happen?
Ben: The domain name was actually registered by Joe Stump, who was one of the original founders of Attachments.me. This saved me some trouble, since I’m terrible at picking names (you can look at my Github page and confirm this). I definitely felt from the start that something big was going to happen with Attachments.me.

After university, I spent a year working at a startup called Freshbooks. This was an awesome experience: I got to work with a great team of people, building awesome features, and shipping them to millions of people. I learned a ton about the startup world, and about the software development process. I saw Attachments.me as an opportunity for me to take that next big step, building something I believed in from the ground up.

Goran: Can you tell my readers where did you learn to code so well? How would you compare yourself with some of the best coders in the world that work at Google, Facebook, Twitter? Would you say coding is your passion, and why did you choose this particular programming language?
Ben: I fell in love with coding when I was twelve. It matched my personality, a mix of creativity, science, and problem-solving. I didn’t have the Internet, so I’d buy programming textbooks from the bargain bins at RadioShack — In particular, I fondly remember Andre Lamothe’s, Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus. I read this from front to back several times.

I didn’t start learning to become a good software developer until my stint at Freshbooks. I think this is an important distinction to make, there’s a big difference between a good coder and a good software developer. There’s a lot of process outside of coding that goes into building good software — It’s a lot like an apprenticeship, you learn it from your peers when you’re in the trenches.

I don’t have a clue how I compare to the best coders in the world. I have a friend I hack with occasionally who was a developer at Twitter, I’m pretty wowed by how good he is. I think there are experiences you get when you’re developing at Twitter’s scale that I haven’t had. It changes the way you think about approaching problems.

Currently, I spend most of my time writing Python and JavaScript: Python for building tons of random DevOps scripts for administrating our servers, something it’s well suited for; and JavaScript for Attachments.me’s Chrome Extension.

Ben Coe - co-founder of attachments.me

Ben Coe – co-founder of attachments.me

Goran: At what point and why, did you choose to go after the VC money? Was the process difficult, or should I ask, what was the most difficult part? How did you feel when Foundry group said they were interested in investing? How did they tell you the good news?
Ben: We were kicking Attachments.me along on evenings and weekends, and consulting during the day; we kept this up for a few months. venture capital was attractive, because it gave us the opportunity to make Attachments.me our full-time gig.

In hindsight, it feels like raising our initial 500k seed round happened really quickly. It was definitely stressful at the time, and made more difficult by the fact that Jesse (Jesse Miller – Co-founder of Attachments.me) and I were based in Canada (we’d have to deal with immigration issues when/if we closed funding).

Jesse spent several weeks on phone calls with VCs pitching the product. We managed to get to the next stage with several of them. Jesse and I then flew down to San Francisco for a whirlwind set of meetings. We hit it off best with Foundry Group, both on the phone and in person. Within a day of the final meeting, they had a term sheet for us, Jason Mendelson told Jesse on the phone I believe. It was exciting.

Goran: How are you coping with the company growth? Do you use any strategies, attend seminars, read any books, gut feeling? Werner Vogels for example likes to use small teames, and he calls it the 2 jumbo pizza rule. If you can’t feed your team with 2 jumbo pizzas, the team is too big. 🙂 Do you have any particular company culture, do you do something different?
Ben: There are only six of us, so we haven’t run into any huge growing pains yet.

We gun for constant communication: Jesse and I have a meeting at least twice a week where him and I catch up;
we have a weekly planning meetings, and daily stand-ups with the team. The planning meeting to make sure everyone is on board for the goals of the week, and the stand-ups to make sure that everything is going alright on a daily basis.

One thing we do that’s pretty neat, is a hacking day every two weeks. This is an entire day where developers can work on whatever they feel like, with an emphasis on getting a roughed out prototype of the idea done that day. This does an awesome job of encouraging creativity, and the features often make their way into production.

Goran: I see that your office is “in a shared space called Dolores Labs.”, can you share your thoughts on what it’s like to work in Dolores Labs? Does it have to do anything with CrowdFlower? Are there any other cool startups sharing space with you?

Ben: Dolores Labs was originally CrowdFlower‘s (now Appen) office, it was converted into a shared space by Trinity Ventures when CrowdFlower outgrew it. Working in shared spaces has been great for us. It gave us a good set of peers early on, when our company was small. We’ve shared offices with Card.io, Milk, Happiness Engine, and Tapviva, just to name a few. It’s been great to be able to bounce ideas off these fellow entrepreneurs, I highly recommend a shared space for early stage companies. (Goran: You can read more about Dolores Labs transformation to CrowdFlower in this great inc.com article)
We recently moved into our own offices, in the Hamm’s building in San Francisco. This is an old brewery that has been converted into a space for startups. Along with Attachments.me, Asana, Rdio, and Get Satisfaction are based out of here.

Goran: Hypothetically speaking, if you sold all your companies for $100 gazillionbazillion what would you than do?

Ben: I’d rock-climb for six-months, then build my next company. Afterall – Rock Climbing Saved My Life, and Made Me a Better Software Developer.

Goran: What does your typical day look now? Do you code late, or do you get up early? Do you worry about sitting wrong, or drinking too much coffee?

Ben: Hours are flexible, if there is a big feature we’re all working on, we’ll tend to put in longer hours. We encourage everyone to live a balanced life. For example, if you you want to leave early one night a week to go to Yoga, that’s awesome. I think we all do a pretty good job of staying healthy, because of this atmosphere.

Goran: My startup WhoAPI deals with domains, so I just have to ask you a couple of domaining questions 🙂 What was the first domain name you registered?

Ben: hackwars.net, a game I made in college.

Goran: Do you have any other cool domains except attachments.me? For example, would you be interested in buying attachments.com, or something like mail.attach? Why yes, why not?

Ben: We looked into getting Attachments.com, but it was a hassle as it was owned by a fairly large company. We own att.mn, which we plan on using for short-urls eventually.

There’s also this great review on domain.me about attachments.me, check it out. Attachments.Me Rethinks Email Attachments: How Dropbox, Box.net and Gmail Should Work Together