Brian Ma's Blog (@zealoustiger)

Weekly insights from an Entreprenuer: To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep

Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

How to name a company?

For those that been around me, you probably know that I’ve been struggling with finding a name for this startup. (And thanks to those who’ve tried to help) It’s sooo hard!

Your name is the thing you’re going to be known for forever. It has to be easy to remember and spell, sound like music from heaven, and have a cutesy story around it so it’ll look good in the headlines when you become super famous. And what’s more… it can’t already be a registered domain name. Impossible.

Megan at PartnerUp has a nice blog post about this.

But… no picks yet, still working on it. My whiteboard has been plastered with random words for quite a while now.

cartoon courtesy of Slap Upside the Head

Startup Costs: $12,000

Man, I wish I could’ve found this article from Guy Kawasaki’s blog earlier. I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how much stuff will cost to launch a startup and here it was right in front of my nose. $12k.


Not bad, I think I can handle that. Read Guy’s account of launching Treumors from the ground up. Short, concise, straightforward, and super useful. Thanks Guy.

It is lonely being an Entreprenuer…

So I like to take some time everyday reading about how others have gone through it. Today, I was lucky enough to run into this great post from CuriousOffice comparing Entrepreneurs vs. arm chair quarterbacks. Here’ s a highlight: (But I encourage you to read the whole blog post, it’s concise and to the point)

But the arm chair quarterbacks will be the ones who get under your skin. They are drawing paychecks from a company somebody else started. They have never raised money against their own ideas. The have never put themselves out for others to put under the microscope. They will never be need to be judged against their true abilities because their faults are hidden within the infrastructure of something much larger than they are. So, entrepreneurs I hope you pat yourselves on the back today. You live and die on how you do. That earns you the right to say whatever the hell you want about things because now you don’t have to appear politically correct in meetings so you’ll get that holiday bonus or that promotion. You are not perfect and the armchair quarterbacks will be sure and remind you of that fact. But you have courage in spades because what you do is too scary for most people to try.

It’s been a hectic, but very fun three weeks of startup work, but oh Zillow, how I miss the ping pong, guitar hero, and super smart and great friends I have made there.

I just wish someday I’ll have earned that right to say “whatever the hell I want about things” too. But until then, gonna have to get back to work and find me some funding for my little startup.. .

“Business is easy”

“Business is easy.”

Rich Barton, the big man at Zillow, said this once at an all company meeting… And it’s haunted me ever since. I can still remember where I was, what the weather was like, what pizza I was eating, and even what shirt Rich was wearing. I can replay it over and over in my mind – and I do. Everyday.

The past few weeks of trying to throw a business plan together have been hellish. Sure, I don’t have to wake up early to commute and go to work everyday and sit in an office, but I’ve been tracking my time and my “work” has easily extended to 12+ hours a day (which doesn’t count the time in the shower, eating, turning around in bed, etc while still thinking about the startup).

When you’re passionate about something – it engulfs you. It’s a good feeling, but at the same time its freakin’ scary. There’s no motivation better than the thought of everything riding on your shoulders.  If you fail, its your fault.  At least back at Zillow, I always had someone else to blame. (read: developers :) )

So yeah… two whole weeks, many many hours, and working through weekends on the business plan and where have I gotten? Not very far. There is so much stuff to learn and so much stuff to do. But hey, it’s fun. At least for now.

Sorry Rich, you’re wrong. Business is hard. Very hard.

$$$: Online Ad Spend


I’ve been doing a lot of market research lately for my startup. Any web entrepreneur is probably considering or has considered Ads as a viable business model. Google has made it super easy here. $9.99 Billion in ad revenues in 1H07. They must be doing something right. So what category/industries spend the most online? Here’s what I undercovered:

Categories that spend the MOST online:

  • Internet (51.2%)
  • Diet and Fitness (26.1%)
  • Computer Products (18.6%)
  • Financial Services (17.0%)
  • Education (14.2%)
  • Media (13.7%)

Categories that spend the LEAST online:

  • Home Furnishings (1.8%)
  • Personal Care Products (1.8%)
  • Retail Home & Building (1.7%)
  • Household Products (1.5%)
  • Apparel (1.4%)
  • Restaurants (0.9%)

The percentages read something like this: Diet and Fitness category advertisers spend an average of 26.1% of their 2006 total media budget on the Internet. So while this might not be a good indication of how much absolute $$ each category spends, it is a good indicator of how comfortable each of these industries are at spending money advertising online.

Maybe I should start a “LOSE FAT IN 30 DAYS” startup to capture that 26.1% Diet and Fitness category. :)

Startup essential #152: Be able to fend off Pirates

(Dedicated to one of my good Zillow friends “Jonny Mo” after a rather weird conversation about entrepreneurship)

Here’s what Jon says: “Entrepreneurship 101: If your boat is being robbed by pirates, find a way to take their weapons and hold them hostage.” Yeah. Kinda random. I thought so too.

Here’s what he was really referring to (a Wikipedia article about Stanley Ho, one of the greatest Asian entrepreneurs, who Jon claims he’s related to):

Pirate flag

Once, he was in charge of a trade at sea, when the ship was attacked by thieves who were armed with guns. He was holding 300 thousand dollars, the equivalent of several millions today. His partners were shot and he quickly laid down. When the thieves saw the money, they rushed towards it. Ho then took the gun, gained control of the ship, and drove it back. The incident established his reputation as a trustworthy partner, and led to great success in subsequent sea tradings. Because of his outstanding performance, he was given one million as a bonus.

Definitely impressive – To be able to take such big risks for your work. Very honorable, but what really struck me was this short little sentence from the beginning of his career:

The dentist knew he had no money and said something that embarrassed him. He ran home and cried. He swore to his mother: “I must become a successful man.”

Great people do great things all the time and the more that you read about them, the more you realize that even though they’ve achieved greatness, they’re just ordinary people like you and me. What distinguishes them is their ability to take initiatives, be super risky, define long term visions, and be passionately competitive and self confident about what they’re doing despite what anyone else says. If they fail, they fail, and it’s ok, because it’s their ability to learn from their failures and never give up that gives them the will to move on.

Here’s to you Mr Ho and Jonny Mo – for teaching us the value of risk taking and having the determination and motivation to achieve your dreams. Cheers.

Startup Ideas: Sell first, build later

Growing up with techies, you quickly learn and internalize the path to startup success – have a great idea, prototype it, show it off to people, and if you’re lucky, it’ll stick, and the $$ will follow. For a long time, I’ve been following this strategy: coding at home in my free time to try to build the next coolest thing and I’m sure I’m not the only one that aspires to change the world in this very way. Gates did it. Zuckerburg did it. I should be able to do it.

House blueprint

After reflecting on this ‘truth’ for the past couple days, what I’ve quickly realized is that you don’t NEED a product to SELL a product. Being a visionary and being able to present, persuade, and sell to investors, employees, and customers is much more important than having the know-how, time, and money to prototype your ideas. Of course, it never hurts to actually have something to show when you’re presenting, but a good entreupreneur needs to be able to have such a clear vision of their product that they don’t need to build it, before they sell it.

I love real estate, so lets use that as an example. Every builder out there knows the most important thing to building a house is the architectural drawings. Once they can hand that over to an agent, the agent can sell it. Nothing is built, nothing is finalized, and nothing has actually really happened yet, but that plan, on that little piece of paper is enough to persuade some buyer to fork out enough money for probably the biggest transaction of his/her life. That’s pretty cool.

Sell first. Build later.