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Matt Linderman

About Matt Linderman

Now: The creator of Vooza, "the Spinal Tap of startups." Previously: Employee #1 at 37signals and co-author of the books Rework and Getting Real.

[Podcast] Episode #26: Q and A with Jason and David (May 2011)

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 8 comments

Time: 37:24 | 5/16/2011 | Download MP3

Jason and David answer questions posted by readers at Signal vs. Noise. How did David became a partner at 37signals? What happened with the affiliate program? What is David’s take on methodologies like Agile or Waterfall? How do you move beyond a lack of motivation? Will David ever “retire” from Rails development? How did Jason advise Groupon? How do they prepare for public speaking? Do they play the stock market? How do they deliver criticism/praise? What advice do they have for a young programmer? When was the first time they realized they wanted to do their own thing?

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Exit Interview: Newsvine's Mike Davidson

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 9 comments

In October of 2007, social news site Newsvine was acquired by It was’s first acquisition in its history.

Newsvine announced the acquisition and answered this question: “Why would a young, efficient independent news startup become part of a large organization?”

It’s all about growing the community and spreading the idea of participatory news as far and wide as possible. Although going from zero to over a million users a month in less than two years is heartening, operates on another scale entirely. While Newsvine may be well known in early adopter circles, we want every college student, every farmer, every weekend journalist, and every household to have their own branch on the ‘Vine. In order to spread this idea further, we could have gone out and raised a lot of money, quadrupled our staff, and gone it alone, but when one of the finest news organizations in the world is headquartered right across Lake Washington, the potential of partnering with such a great team is dramatic.

Meanwhile, Charlie Tillinghast, president of MSNBC Interactive News, offered this take on the deal:

Tillinghast said was racing to foster a community among its readers and to exploit the power of unmoderated user commentary and ranking of the news. Ideally, he said in an interview, the site would design and build its own tools, but Newsvine, a small, lean company headquartered in downtown Seattle a few minutes from’s newsroom, “is just a great fit.”

“Newsvine is local, small, nimble — they don’t come with a lot of things you don’t want,” he said, such as complicated partnerships and contracts. “There isn’t a lot to rearrange.”

So what’s happened since then? Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson (shown below) is still with today. Here’s what he had to say about what’s happened post-acquisition:

Do you still work with the product?
Most of the Newsvine team (including myself) is still here. In addition to maintaining, our team’s technology runs all MSNBC, TodayShow, and other brand family blogs (about 25 of them and counting) as well as many of the interactive features within the company’s core sites (global registration, live votes, inline comment threads, Facebook/Twitter integration, etc.).

svnBecause our team does not have end-to-end creative control over these other projects, they are generally less satisfying than working on our own product. But at the same time, they are more satisfying from a financial standpoint. A 10% increase in Newsvine’s traffic doesn’t move the needle much for the company’s bottom line, but a 5% increase in overall traffic means millions of dollars, and since we’re a private company with profit sharing, that’s real money for all ~275 employees every year.

What impact did the sale have on customers?
When we were acquired, the growth wave that ensued — about 450% over the next few years — brought criticisms. Not only had the user base become much bigger, we were now associated with a mainstream media company; a development that some users appreciated and others felt uncomfortable with.

On the bright side, we’ve been able to get some of our best users on TV and send them to political events like the RNC and DNC, but on the down side, some users wrote on Newsvine specifically because they didn’t see eye-to-eye with mainstream media.

How is Newsvine doing now?
Traffic-wise, the product is about 400% more popular than it was, but feature-wise, it unfortunately hasn’t changed much in the last few years. A lot of this is due to the fact that our team has remained small (8 people now) and we’ve been working on many other projects within alongside our Newsvine duties. Currently, over 25 million uniques a month are hosted on Newsvine technology via the various projects we power around the company, and we’d like to think we’re a contributor to the extremely profitable business our parent operates.

As for things we wish went differently, it’s tough to say because we were acquired literally the week the market peaked in 2007, and things went downhill for the economy directly after that. Because of the downturn, many media companies (including cut back their budgets and dug in a bit for a long winter. We stayed at 6 people for a very long time, and as our responsibilities expanded outside of the Newsvine brand, our attention to itself diminished. Thankfully the nature of the site has always been for users to essentially run it, so this worked out ok, but it’s definitely the reason you don’t read as much about Newsvine in the tech press as you did a few years ago. When you don’t reinvent yourself every year or two, there just isn’t much of a tech story to tell.


Forget passion, focus on process

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 35 comments

The problem with the “follow your passion” chorus: We can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy but make the world go round.

It’s something we’ve seen in our Bootstrapped, Profitable, and Proud series. Braintree processes credit cards. You won’t meet too many people who claim to “love” credit card processing. Even Braintree’s Bryan Johnson admits, “I’m not particularly passionate about payments, but I am passionate about trying to build a good company.” Johnson gets satisfaction from making customers happy, creating a workplace that employees enjoy, and improving “an unscrupulous and broken industry.” sells insurance. Again, it’s tough to find anyone with a “passion” for insurance. Seth Kravitz of says, “Insurance is not an exciting industry, but that doesn’t mean the work can’t be meaningful. We had to find ways to make the work more fun, make the environment more family like, and show people the positive impact of what they do.”
Both these companies have succeeded by dropping the “follow your passion” idea and focusing instead on process.

The problems with passion

Part of this is recognizing that, despite its wonders, there are also problems with passion. For one thing, most people’s passions aren’t that unique. That’s why it’s so hard to succeed in the restaurant business or as a professional dancer; You’re competing against everyone else with that same dream.

Also, turning a passion into a business is a good way to kill the passion. You might love music. But become a music critic and you’re going to have to listen to hundreds of albums every month. Including a lot of stuff you hate. By the end of it, you might just discover that you can’t stand the thing you used to love. Kravitz says, “I love reading books, but I would hate to be a book reviewer. What you love to do in your personal life, many times doesn’t translate well into a business.”

How not what

So does this mean we’re all doomed to a life of ditch digging drudgery? No. It’s about redefining passion. Instead of working with a thing you love, think about how to work in a way you love.

It’s something Amy Hoy talks about in Don’t Follow Your Passion. Here’s her take on The Cute Little Café Syndrome:

If you want to run a successful café — and enjoy it — you need to love a lot more than coffee. You’ve also gotta get some kind of pleasure, even grim satisfaction, out of the daily grind. (Ha ha.) Which means, of course, interacting with customers, hiring & managing wait staff, handling the day-to-day necessities like ordering supplies, cleaning, paying rent, marketing your butt off, and dealing with customers who want to squat on your valuable tables all day for just $2 of brew.

Take your cues from this “daily grind” example and how companies like Braintree and succeed. Find meaning in what you’re doing. Work to improve your industry. Get joy from making a customer’s day. Surround yourself with the kinds of people and environment that keep you engaged. Figure out the details and day-to-day process that keep you stimulated. Focus on how you execute and making continual improvements. Get off on how you sell, not what you sell.
It might not be the romantic ideal of “passion.” But if it provides you with sustainable joy and profit that you can count on, you’ll still be way ahead of the curve (and have extra resources and free time to spend doing whatever you want).

Jumping to a specific part of a long podcast (or other long audio/video file) can be a challenge on your iPhone. The controls work fine for a five minute song but lose accuracy when it’s an hourlong file.

This complainer explains: “For hour-plus podcasts, it’s absolutely ridiculous that you have a scrollbar that’s roughly half the vertical width of the iPhone. Every miniscule tick that the slider moves is 2-3 minutes! When you want to rewind 20 seconds or so, this is absolutely unacceptable.”

Turns out there’s a neat solution: Instead of going left/right, 1) touch the slider, 2) drag your finger down, and 3) then move it left or right. This lets you move the scroller with “fine point” precision and allows you to fast forward or rewind to just the right spot.

[via 16 Tips to Take Your iPhone to the Next Level]

Matt Linderman on May 5 2011 5 comments

Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud: SparkFun

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 24 comments

When Nathan Seidle blew up some electronics in late 2002, he began to scour the internet for replacement parts. But the results disappointed him. “The state of online electronics stores was pretty horrible,” he recalls. “I remember just wanting to see a picture, any picture, of what it was I was trying to order. But with that frustration came the clarity that there was an opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, I could start a website that sold electronic bits and pieces — and they would have pictures. Non-blurry pictures! And maybe even a picture of the back of the electronic device. In 2002, this was blasphemy. Electronics were ugly — who would want to see the back side? But I knew I did, and I figured there were a few other people with similar needs.”

NSSo in 2003, he started brainstorming business names. He realized making sparks is really what started him down this path. “Any time I’m frying things, I’m always having fun and pushing the limits of my abilities. When I found the domain available, I knew it was perfect.”

Not knowing what to sell, Seidle (right, in a photo from originally purchased just a handful of products. The orders started coming in immediately, but at a slow pace — one or two per day. “Over time, I was able to write more tutorials and build more projects using the parts we sold,” says Seidle. “It was not until 2004, once I graduated from University of Colorado that I had time to design original SparkFun products. Ever since, we’ve been growing our design and production abilities.”

Now, SparkFun helps customers assemble all kinds of projects, from an earthquake data logger to a high altitude balloon to a touchscreen mouse. Products include things like resistors, LEDs, humidity sensors, and LCD screens which are sold to crafters, designers, artists, DJs, teachers, professors, and engineers. In addition to online tutorials, SparkFun now offers classes too.

Starting from scratch
The business began with about $2500 worth of credit card debt, according to Seidle. “I believe about $2000 went to inventory purchases and $500 went to infrastructure including $25 for a scale, $15 for a tape gun, etc. I forgot to buy boxes to actually ship product to customers. How I made it this far is good fodder for pundits.”

Arduino Mobile Camera
This Arduino Mobile Camera by “Dr_Speed” uses Bluetooth control from an Android phone, a Canon A530 Camera, and a Vex mobile base.


The incredible delivery system of India's dabbawallahs

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 37 comments

Every day, approximately 4,000 dabbawallahs deliver 160,000 home-cooked lunches from the kitchens of suburban wives and mothers direct to Mumbai’s workers in “the world’s most ingenious meal distribution system.” (Hey UPS, how’s that for logistics?)

Dabbawallahs pick up the home cooked lunches in the suburbs, hop on trains, and deliver them, via bike, to Mumbai office workers. Later on, they pick up and bring back the same empty tiffins (the name for the metal containers used).

Despite the lack of fuel, computers, or modern technology involved, a tiffin goes astray only once every two months. So for every six million tiffins delivered, only one fails to arrive. That’s why Forbes awarded the dabbawallahs a 6 Sigma performance rating (a term used in quality assurance if the percentage of correctness is 99.9999999 or more).


I don’t need every customer. I’m primarily in the business of selling a product for money. How much effort do I really want to devote to satisfying people who are unable or extremely unlikely to pay for anything?...

Maybe you think there aren’t enough people willing to pay $5 for an app with no free version. I used to think that, too. But I was wrong.

I’ve made a lot of assumptions in the app market over the last three years that turned out to be wrong. Most frequently, I underestimate demand, both for my product and for others.

Matt Linderman on Apr 29 2011 11 comments

Jack Donaghy and Meeting Magazine

Matt Linderman
Matt Linderman wrote this on 6 comments

In a recent episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy has dreams of making the cover of Meeting Magazine.

Jack [to Liz Lemon]: In addition, I have a huge presentation coming up — Meeting Magazine is already calling it the first great meeting of the decade.

[Later in the episode]

Jack: Lemon, I am supposed to represent NBC in a negotiation that Rex Belcher, of the American Journal of Meetings, rated ‘Four Chairs.’ Four!

Liz: I’m sorry, is there another magazine about meetings?

Guess what? There actually are multiple publications devoted to meetings. For example, Convene and Meetings & Conventions Magazine. Can’t find anything on The American Journal of Meetings though.