coming full circle (and cheerleading!)

(Picture taken by the remarkable photographer, Justin Hankins. Go get engaged and then have him photograph the wedding:

I was invited to click through some ppt slides at this year's U21 Conference, which was conveniently hosted at UVA this year. I'd attended the same conference three years earlier when it was in Singapore. Furthermore, it was on my first night there that I finally got the unbiased encouragement from a professor (Mark White) to try starting a startup with Steve. Until then, I'd only pitched my parents, who were incredibly supportive but ultimately unreliable. I could have told them I wanted to play professional rugby and they'd high-five me. You should see me run.

Anyway, this year's conference was about leadership and I feel like my hungover dog, beer-guzzling child, and cute kitten slides went over really well. I'm basing this on the number of Facebook friendship requests I made afterward that were not declined.

There is one thing I wish I'd mentioned though. Since I already hardly have much of a right to be sounding authorative about anything, I want to stress the one overarching thing that probably anyone could have told you, startup founder or not.

Look around and you'll likely find something that's wrong (or something you want to do right). It can be in technology, politics, society, it doesn't matter. Whatever it is -- just do it*

Rah, rah, rah.

I happened to be at a U21 Conference (and by that I mean at a bar the night before it began) when my switch flipped.

At this point, Steve and I already had a few casual conversations over grub or television about ideas he'd had. After a Waffle House epiphany with another friend, Jack, I'd ruled out law school and wanted to try starting a startup. I just didn't know what. I'd thought about putting salsa into a squeeze bottle (it'd be called Squeezalsa). Lucky for me, I was friends with Steve. He had much better ideas.

One of the better ones was what we ended up applying to YC with (and got rejected on, but that's another story). This is had in my head on the way to Singapore the Summer before my 4th year. I'd had an NYC internship lined up with Ogilvy PR when Professor White invited me to attend a "technopreneurship" symposium in Singapore as a member of the UVA team. And it'd be all expenses paid. The decision wasn't too hard to make, but it couldn't have been more fortunate.

Please forgive all the ellipses, typos, and the lack of punctuation; my well-ingrained US touch typing wasn't playing well with the keyboard layouts in Singapore so I get lazy.

This is the email I sent Steve on July 11, 2004:
hey bro, i'm in singapore at this technepreneurial seminar, and am basically spending a week learning how to create a tech start-up.

i spoke to Mark White (a professor in the comm school, the guy who took me to South Africa, and who recruited me to come here, as well as a generally good guy and technophile) over some drinks last nite, and pitched him on our idea...

from his feedback -- and let me remind you that he gets pitches every couple of months from students, and was very candid and honest with his thoughts, but basically said it was one of the best he's heard, period. Not only that, but he wants to be on the board of directors, and already knows some people to hit up for starting capital... I've got plenty of more details, but I am seriously considering putting off law school for this, but i need you, and we'll both need to be doing this full time for about a year to get it off the ground....

but the potential he saw was in the millions my friend...

we need to talk


i am coming back the 20th so if we could have lunch around 1pm i could meet you whereever you'd like... let me know.

honestly, this is the kind of thing that could change our lives - and his motivation has really spurred me.

but i need you and the same kind of commitment.

Needless to say, I did talk him into it, and he did indeed wholly commit to a company essentially started in our college apartment living room.

Good thing it turned out OK ;-)

*alas, Nike does not pay me for that.

my next startup

I think the next startup Steve and I start should involve widget production. That way, we'd have a case study for every possible scenario.

Fun fact (a "Wikipedia fact"):
The etymology of the "widget" apparently goes back to Beggar on Horseback (1924), a play written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. Apparently life in the widget factory is the "soul-deadening living" that is the alternative to a life with any artistic or spiritual value. Fun times.

taking down freakonomics like a bad case of the flu

I've been on vacation for a little while -- and included a sustained Internet abstinence -- so I've got some catching up to do.

In returning to my bloated inbox (mostly spam), I found a link Jeremy had sent from the Freakonomics blog. Apparently a frozen website is like a sick person, which is sick because reddit made it sick. (Idea for a new slogan: reddit, it's like Internet pestilence!) Anyway, it was neat to see the shoutout, so I'm returning the favor with a logo. You'll notice I just ripped off the apple/orange from their cover art (I must say, I've always really liked that cover -- in part because of how much I independently like apples and oranges and wonder how good a hybrid fruit of them would taste). I'm still a bit jet-lagged.

The offending blog entry posed an interesting question about whether or not public libraries could be started today (assuming they'd never existed). I always thought they had a terrible business model: "Sure, let's just let people read the books for free."

Incidentally, the discussion on reddit got quite good:

Regardless of what (some) publishers might think given the hypothetical situation, I doubt you'd find many authors who would want fewer people to have exposure and access to their work.

Are you suggesting the desires of the authors are often contrary to the desires of the publishers?

Oh, authors and publishers, why can't you two just get along...

not safe for scandinavia

Thought I'd share an interesting email convo I just had with a friend:

trying to decide btw. the concert in finland 5/8, sweden 7/8, or norway 8/8....hmmm. what's closest to madrid? yeah, i suck at geography...

here's a geeky mnemonic I use: you know about NSFW (Not Safe For Work) material online, right? Those 3 are in the same order from west to east (Norway, Sweden, Finland)

Whenever you think about Scandinavia, just think about porn. Problem solved.

Although this still leaves the meaning of the "W" unanswered. Now there's room for Scandinavia to finally accept Wallis and Futuna (yeah, I looked this up on Wikipedia -- this territory is the only "W" country in the world).

Got any other geography mnemonics you'd like to share? The U.S.A. doesn't often test well for this sort of thing, so we could use the help.

this blog has jumped the shark cat

I never thought it would come to this, but it was late last night and I wasn't quite ready to go to sleep (yes this is what I do on a typical Friday night).

Few folks know that I own a cat that looks like Kaiser Wilhelm II. This is a very disconcerting thing, even for non-German-history majors.

So naturally, this led to my LOLCAT attempt (if only I could find a Pickelhaube he could wear like a bukkit):

I've also evidently hit a new Internet low now that I've posted a picture of my cat online. Forgive me.

almost spoke too soon, phone now unlocked

Guess no one at AT&T/Cingular had read the earlier post about this (shocker) or they're just that considerate. Here's the confirmation email, imagine it in what must have been 18pt font:

*** SIM Unlock request REVIEWED and APPROVED by Subsidy Unlock Group IMEI: (###############) / SIM unlock is: (################) Emailed code and instructions back to: (****

To make sure you have the correct code for your phone, power on phone and type *#06# this will display the IMEI, or you can pull the battery out of the phone and the IMEI will be on the sticker.

* The customer only has five (5) tries to unlock the phone.
* If this process is unsuccessful five times in a row, the phone will be permanently locked to the Cingular network.

BlackBerry 8800

For the device to display the software version, select "Options" then "About"

1. Insert Cingular SIM into device

2. Power phone on and Turn off the radio (Turn Wireless Off option) VERY IMPORTANT.

3. Select "Options"

4. Scroll down and select "SIM Card"

5. Type "MEPD"

6. Type "MEP2"

7. Enter the Unlock Code

8. Press enter

9. Reboot device. Device is now unlocked.

zenter bought by google, not bad for a winter

I think this has already sufficiently been blagged about, but now that we're free to talk about it, I wanted to congratulate the Zenter team. I couldn't help but smile when I saw this on my visit to

I'd missed their presentation at demo day by only a few minutes, but I heard great things. Then I saw Paul use it to give his talk at StartupSchool (the first time, I believe, that Paul Graham has used slides in a presentation). Next thing I know, there's a glowing Newsweek article about the then newest batch of startups.

(great pic)

And sure enough, here they are after a super industrious winter and change, joining the Goog.

Very impressive, guys.

OK, I think I've done my YC promotion for the week. Back to today's logo...

**Forgot these guys were in the 2007 Winter Founders Program. Silly me.

fresh reddit gear

Just before we sold out of our last batch of shirts, I'd doodled up some new ideas for designs. The new release is finally available at our store. As you can tell from some of the pictures, we desperately need someone with a better camera and no shame to model a couple of the new shirts.

The folks over at Vogue have better things to do than help us with our shirts, so we did what we could. Two of the designs were also inspired by user suggestions. I'll let you guess what one of them was:

BTW, shipping is included in the $16 price -- none of that $.99 pricing BS. How 'bout that?

PS. If you were one of the many redditors who submitted a pic, since we've decommissioned a few versions, I'll figure out some kind of display for all your pics so you can hang on to that piece of Internet fame. From now on, you can also refer to your shirt as "limited edition".

idaho's portugal no more!

... or is it California's Canada? Washington's Mexico? I can't remember.

But it doesn't matter, Oregon now has it's own reddit.

It's something we built with the folks at And by "we", I really mean Jeremy. We turned it on earlier this week and it's been fun watching their readers use reddit to vote on the news that's important to them.

Case in point, behold the hottest story at the time of this writing:

Great things happen when you let readers decide the news.

Idaho is gonna be so jealous when it finds out.