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

Free is Powerful

Free stuff sells.  I was just at Denny’s free grand slam breakfast today and even though I’m not a big fan of standing in lines for giant breakfast with over the top calories – I went.  How can you say no to free?  (The wait time was actually much shorter than I expected and they were very fast in terms of service.  Props to you Denny’s)

dennys

In business, free is good.  When we approach recruiters with the concept of Eggsprout, they’re always amazed at our concept of free job posts and free resumes.  On the big job boards – they go for hundreds of dollars a piece for job posts and thousands a month for resumes.  That’s a big contrast from free.  And it sells – because we make it such a no brainer.  What do you have to lose for trying us?  Just 5 minutes of your time.

My suggestion – in whatever business you’re trying to build, always offer a low-cost option.  It could just be a free trial, a basic package, or even a free place for people to connect with you and your brand (like a forum or blog).  Structures like these allow you to obtain new customers quickly at a very low cost.  You’re thinking this is pretty obvious stuff – and it is – but I really didn’t understand the power of free until I found myself dropping my plans today to spend the 10 minutes driving and 15 minutes standing in line just to get my little piece of the grand slam deal.  It’s powerful.

Want to get better than free?  Pay people to use your product.  It sounds strange, but that’s exactly what Google Adsense and Microsoft Live Search rev share does.  That’ll be a post for another time.

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Eggsprout Launches!

This is probably old news to alot of people, but Eggsprout is live – as of last Thursday.  Sorry for posting here so late, I’ve been swamped with awesome feedback, encouragements, fixes, meeting requests, etc ever since launch.  The entire team stayed up until 7:30am to get it out and it was EPIC.  Many stories to tell the grandkids haha.

logo

If you haven’t already checked us out, the site is here.  We also got some good coverage from John Cook (the most amazing Seattle Tech reporter ever).  Story is here.

I’ll be splitting my blogging efforts between here and the eggsprout blog.  Hopefully that means I’ll be blogging more often in both places – and not less.  :)  Alright, back to work.

Seattle record snow ’08

I’m sitting in my room looking out the window right now and all I can see is flurry of snow.  For those unfamiliar with Seattle weather, lemme tell you that this is extremely rare.  In the past 16 or so years I’ve lived here, we’ve only had one single day where we got 4 inches of snow.  This time, we’re nearing 8-10 inches and it’s been snowing every other day for at least a week.

You know you’re getting old when snow becomes more of a nuisance than it used to be.  Even though part of me is giddy with excitement and is dreading the feeling of dissapointment when it’ll all melt away, the other part of me is trying to calculate the lost in economic productivity from all the companies around here – including ourselves.

So, in an effort to stay productive, we did the only thing reasonable in weather conditions like this.  Build snow-eggsprout!  Here it is:

img_0518Our baby

img_0517Closer view

img_0511My bro Ian and I behind giant snow-eggsprout

And that’s only from the first day of snow… there’s plenty more now.  Alright, hope all you Seattle-lites out there stay warm.  Merry Christmas and Happy new year.  =)

Deathnote

A slight digression from my usual Startup theme’d posts, but I just finished Deathnote and it was AMAZING!  What if you could kill anyone by simply writing down their name in a notebook?

deathnote

Sounds disgusting (that’s what I thought at first too), but watch the first few episodes and you’ll be hooked.  Every episode is non-stop smartness all the way until the end.  I seriously believe my IQ has increased many points after watching this.  Make sure you limit yourself somehow though or else you’ll lose days of sleep without realizing it.

Highly recommended.

When it’s all over: Economy, Depression, and Roofs

It’s 2008.  We’re officially in a depression – my house price is dropping like an airplane that’s lost its engines, I lost so much money in my portfolio I’ve stopped caring, my friends are all losing their jobs, and every conversation I overhear revolves around doom and gloom.  But something different happened today, something I want to share:

I have a rental home (don’t get into landlording, many stories to tell here, but I’ll save it for another time), and recently I’ve had a pretty bad moisture problem.  Water is getting into the bedrooms, soaking the walls and carpets, and mold and shrooms have grown inside the house.  It’s any homeowner’s worst nightmare, and it costs an arm and a leg to fix.  Needless to say, it has not been a very pleasant few weeks.

But its fixed now, I’ve had at least 5 different people come inspect/fix things.  I’ve been informed that a majority of the problem is inadequate drainage of water from the roof, so today, I reluctantly decided to climb on the roof, rake the leaves, and unclog the drains.  It’s messy, it’s stinky, and it’s hard work.

I know this might sound cheesy, but as I was standing there on top of the roof, a weird feeling overwhelmed me – a feeling that anyone who’s been on top of a mountain looking across the vast landscape might know.  That after all the doom and gloom, all will be well with the world.  I saw all the little houses around me, the large trees that had been leaving their leaves on my roof looked less intimidating, the cars parked on the sidewalks looked like toys, and in the distant, I could see cars busily continuing their daily routine.

mountaintop

Standing on top of something big makes you see the world from a different perspective.  It mights you feel small, and it reminds you to stop worrying about all the tiny problems in your life.  What if your startup fails?  What if that round of financing doesn’t close?  What if your competitors are faster than you?  Just stop worrying.  Because in the end, the world will keep turning, and everything will be all right.

I suggest you try out your roof too.  It’s fun.  And it feels good.

Read more startup lessons from bma…

Running a Startup: Time management

Startups are time consuming.  At least 10 hour days, 7 days a week.  Not because you have to, but because you want to.  At this rate, even the greatest of the greats will burn out.  So how do you prevent yourself and your team from burning out?  Here’s a couple strategies we’ve tried, maybe some of them will help you:

time

4 hour sprints: Creative people (developers, designers, etc) need time alone to get things done.  Sure, teamwork and discussions are necessary, but studies have shown that context switches and interruptions – even in the form of someone asking a quick question – actually do a lot of harm to productivity.  That’s why every day, we have 2 large blocks of time periods around 3 to 4 hours each where everyone puts on headphones and just works on their part.  It works like a charm.  A lot gets done.

Eat together: We also cook together, but just eating together works too.  A lot of really good things happen when you eat together – you learn about each others quirks, you have extra time to discuss stuff, you get everyone comfortable with contributing, you can talk about stuff completely unrelated to work, etc.  Teams that eat together, stay together.

Play: Wii’s, Xbox’s, guitar hero, super smash, etc are a must.  No better way to relieve the stress and take your head off that annoying bug than kicking each other’s butt in an epic game.  Ah, so many stories to tell.

Work from home: Find people that work well by themselves and can motivate themselves even when not at ‘work’.  Working at home is one of the best things ever – you’re more relaxed, you dramatically lower the chance of someone interrupting you, and you’re on your own schedule.  This also has the strange benefit of making it so ‘work’ never ends.  :)

We’ve played around a ton with how we work as a team and have settled on something that combines the 4 of the above items.  We work together and meet 2 to 3 days a week.  Usually M, W, F, where a typical day contains of: cook breakfast, work 4 hours, cook/eat lunch, smash, work 4 hours, go home, shower, work 4 hours.  All the rest of the days (weekends included), we work by ourselves at home and stay on IM for any immediate needs.  Works really well for us, but I’m sure every team is different.

It takes a long time to find that “team rhythm” but once you’ve found it, it’s a great feeling.  Cause things get done.

Why do a startup?

Because you’re frustrated with some problem or inefficiency and you think you know how to solve it.  You see other people suffering and it pains you.  You need to solve it.  And you need to solve it now.

Too many people are into the “startup thing” for the wrong reasons.  Money, power, impact, influence, social status, ‘coolness’, etc.  Focus on the problems, solve it, and all those ‘other’ things will come. If you’re in it for the wrong reasons, you’ll find yourself (and your team) burning out very quickly.

startup

Forget about the money.  If you’re solving the right problems well, that will come.  Hopefully.

Startup Visualization

One of the bigger challenges we had at Zillow was how to aggregate up house listings when you’re zoomed out on the map – like at the neighborhood or state level.  It wasn’t an easy task, and that’s why I was so impressed when I saw this:  http://www.crunchvision.com/

Startups from Cruchbase on a map that’s easy to navigate and loads fast.  Very cool.

crunchvision