Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How Not To Promote Your New Startup (groups.google.com)
174 points by tptacek on Jan 2, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

Wow. Pratt's obsession with Kickstarter "ripping off" Fundable is especially silly considering that both are essentially variants of Kelsey and Schneier's Street Performer Protocol, published in 1998 [1]. (That paper is not even the first instance of the basic idea, just one of the most well-known.)

Edited to add: I'd be really interested to see one of these sites implement the Rational Street Performer Protocol [2], which essentially means that each donor pledges matching funds ("I'll donate $X for every $Y that anyone else pledges, up to a maximum of $Z"). This gives individuals a stronger incentive to pledge more; the hard part is coming up with a simple explanation that first-time users will understand.

[1]: http://www.schneier.com/paper-street-performer.html

[2]: http://www.logarithmic.net/pfh/rspp

Would you happen to know why the Austin police were after the company? Sounds like a messy soap opera, but I'm curious about what went so wrong.

Sounds like Pratt is framing it as his partner making it up as a scare tactic to try and acquire his portion of the company.

If any site could claim credit for making the broader notion of crowd funding mainstream it's kiva. There are now a whole range of sites, including many niche sites, that are variations on the same theme. Claiming ownership of the idea of crowd funding and singling out kickstarter is incredibly myopic.

Is there a list of websites that provide services based on the street performer protocol (or something similar)? I like the whole escrow release idea, kind of how Blender was made open source.

Yeah, the basic idea is clever, but hardly novel. Back in 2004 my friend and I entered our college's business plan competition with a plan for a music site based on this kind of funding model. We originally got the idea from an article on corante.com.

I was the project manager at Kickstarter during its initial phase of development, during the time that we went from a single requirements document and some mock-ups to a functional site. We weren't ripping anybody off.

The boring truth is that we took Perry Chen's idea, and, like any software project, continued to refine and adjust our vision of what the site should be, and what the user experience should be, based on the imagined needs of some hypothetical users.

What we ended up building was only remotely similar to what our requirements started out with, and the project continued to morph after those initial stages, to what it is today.

I am sorry that this guy's startup did not take off as Kickstarter has. Making libelous claims about the work of others, though, is no way to be.

I'd have to say I agree - It's quite easy for someone to come up with the same idea as you and not even be aware that you exist(ed).

Blog posts and comments about my startup (http://FriendBinder.com) often think we copied FriendFeed, SocialThing or some other site though the reality is that those sites didn't exist when we started early in 2007 (or were in stealth at least).

That's life I'm afraid.

I don't use any of the three services, but the landing page of FriendBinder made me more curious then FriendFeed's. However, it just looks a tad unprofessional, with faded looking colours, unsubtle shadows & gradients, and heavy use of Arial. I'd really get a professional designer to tweak that a bit, I think you might profit from that.

Or, if you don't want to spend money: Brighter, more friendly colours, replace Arial with Helvetica, drastically cut down on the italic, draw some subtle, but clear seperations of the containers. But keep the basic concept intact, I really like it.

Thanks for the suggestions, I've started to move us to Helvetica (except logos for now) and cut down on italics. Do you have a site, twitter etc.? my details are in my profile.

I cannot tell you how painful it is to watch 5 assholes take your idea and run with it and not even give you credit. I hate all 5 of them for that. If I see them, I may punch each one of them in the face. If you have never started your own company and then had someone else steal the credit for what you worked hard to develop, you don't understand.

yikes, sounds like entrepreneurship really doesn't suit John.

Was any patents involved?

This is almost funny enough to become a meme:

For those of you who insist on thinking that the truth always lies in between two accounts of a situation, I urge you to drop that misguided notion, especially for this situation.

Wow. And check out www.fundable.com

Customers are encouraged to use Kickstarter as a replacement for Fundable.com and seek legal action against Louis Helm personally should he fail to resolve your payment issues promptly.

He apparently just redirected fundable.com to his new thing.

From the article:

All it took was 5 super-connected people at Kickstarter (especially Andy Baio) to take a concept we worked hard to refine, tweak it with Amazon Payments, and then take credit. You could say that that's capitalism, but I still think you should acknowledge people that you take inspiration from.

The thing is being well connected does matter. And I wouldn't say that's just calling it capitalism. Further, getting an idea off the ground is hard regardless of how well you are connected and how good the idea is. The fact that Facebook is "the" social networking site shows that one idea can become successful while earlier attempts fall by the wayside. It happens everyday. Perhaps Kickstarter will be wildly successful, or perhaps not, but the connectedness of the founders is only one part of Kickstarter's rise.

To the issue of giving credit where credit is due. If Kickstarter did not use the author's code or his/her own works, then the author deserves no explicit named credit. Just as Google deserved no explicit named credit from Microsoft when it released Bing. Not to mention the other possible legal ramifications if Kickstarter came forward and publicly acknowledged their idea was based on Fundable's.

People become "super-connected" when they've earned a lot of people's trust or respect.

Can't imagine why this Pratt guy is having difficulties with that.


From the comments that pretty much sums up why he failed.

The quick synopsis: He gathered fundraiser money then just kept it and never returned it or dispersed it to the users. (Explains the police charges)

For all first-time entrepreneurs, first read the original post and then remember the following as your first lesson of 2010. Whatever you do, don’t post on the web immediately after you fail. Don’t try to make yourself look smart. Don’t try to rationalize your failure. Talking about failure doesn’t make failure go away. It just opens yourself to saying things you will surely regret in later days. Instead of talking, you would be much better served if you just shut up and peddle like hell. Now is not the time to seek fame and recognition. With success, you will have both. It is much more fun to do a Blog when you fully recover and share your hard earned experience from the vantage point of sweet success. Otherwise people would make the obvious observation that you are nothing but a wannabe. However, if you inadvertently discover you have a knack for on-line comedy, then you should give up being an entrepreneur. It is a much better career anyway.

Good gravy this is sad-not to mention embarrassing for other Oregonian entrepeneurs like myself.

Connected people (usually) aren't born connected. It's simply a byproduct of past success. They work hard, network, execute, iterate, succeed and get people's attention.

If you can't figure that after 4 years, too bad for you.

He doesn't strike me as the sort that's going to be able to make Portland work with him. Collaboration needs some cooperation; which, well, not his strong suit obviously.

I wish being connected was such an innocent and purely merit based thing. I don't know anything about this particular case, but in general that's wishful thinking.

What a laugh!

Gosh I know how this guy feels -- I've had three other startup ideas that were "copied" by the market and took off in other formats. And he was so dead on and hilarious in his assessment of presenting to investors: * I tried for 4 years to get people to take Fundable seriously, traveling across the country, even giving a presentation to FBFund, Facebook's fund to stimulate development of new apps. It was a series of rejections for 4 years. I really felt that I presented myself professionally in every business situation and I dressed appropriately and practiced my presentations. That was not enough. The idiots wanted us to show them charts with massive profits and widespread public acceptance so that they didn't have to take any risks.*

But guess what? None of that matters and it's all so much whining. Dude -- don't go 4 years with any one idea. Try maybe a year or two. This is a numbers game and you may have to get 10 or 15 of these ideas behind you. Forget about financing. It's a fools game played by people with more money than common sense and all about jumping on the bandwagon and who you know, not about real market-changing potential.

Damn I feel your pain. I really do. It sucks to have a paradigm-shifting idea and watch some other assholes who are simply better-connected run with it. The marketplace is NOT a meritocracy.

I'm right where they were 4 years ago -- new idea, developing a new site, lots of upside potential, and lots of odds stacked against me. I could move to SV and start becoming a professional fundraiser/hanger-on, or I could work my idea and most likely fail.

I choose to work my idea. I'm not going to create charts or blow smoke up investors butts. They get so much of that -- it's one of the reasons their discriminators are so broken. Jesus himself could appear and ask for funding to start a new world religion and they'd probably respond with something like "Wonderful idea, Jesus, but your team doesn't look so good -- lots of fishermen and nobody is even literate. Also the market you're chosen, Judea? Not so good in terms of disposable income. You should move to Rome. Get to know some of the Senators. But good luck with all of that. Don't call us, we'll call you." [damn. That's a good blog idea -- if Jesus was a startup]

Having laughed (and cried) at how real this article was, I wouldn't have written it. As grellas points out, sometimes venting helps and sometimes it doesn't. It's time to get moving, not complaining.

The marketplace is NOT a meritocracy.

Right, and neither is one's own opinion of oneself.

I don't know if this John Pratt guy actually has any intelligence, perseverance or marketable skills, but one thing he certainly does have is personality disorder. If I were him I'd take some time to reflect on his public persona, figure out what's wrong with his attitude, and then go get his name legally changed before trying again.

From http://pdxcell.com/

"The image comparison below indicates that I have something to offer in this area." What???

I think this guy needs some serious therapy. It's not healthy to be that deluded and angry about things.

You can either spend all your time and energy moaning and whining like this about how you had some idea once and someone stole it and executed it, which is obviously trivial if you're well connected (BS). OR you can spend your energy executing, and making things work.

This is the first sentence I read in the page and thought the all site was a joke.

The funny thing about all that is that the guy put a lot of efforts into that and had the time to think, at least, twice.

I hope Pratt gets over his misdirected anger.

I was happy when I heard of Fundable in 2005, not because it was a cool new idea but because it was an old idea overdue for someone to do it right. (In fact, in 2001 I owned the domains 'payzi.com' and 'tipzi.com' -- as possible homes for some sort of audience-sourced creative-project funding system to complement the Bitzi metadata service.)

Fundable didn't quite do it right, for whatever reasons. Now I'm happy the concept is getting another try from another team.

Wow, that's one of those emails that he should have put in a drawer for a day and then torn up without ever sending it.

Amen. Wish I had a time machine just to unsend some of my own emails...

Besides some miscellaneous bits about the guy not being a good businessman, one lesson I think everyone can learn from this is the following:

--if you do anything with shifting money on the internet, your first and largest group of customers will be fraudsters. Plans to deal with this need to be in place from day 1, if not before.

Fundable was beset by fraud, and for whatever reason, failed to deal with it in a successful fashion.

It's sort of like input/output sanitization. If you take input from one user, and show it to another user, you've got HTML security problems. If you take money from one user, and you give it another user, you've got massive fraud problems, unless you have a comprehensive "money sanitization" process operating behind the scenes.

It was a great sob story until he tried to promote his wireless thing at the end... Then I just had to laugh.

Yeah, that's really where it takes a turn for the surreal. "How not to promote," indeed - and the scary thing is how you can sympathize with his bitterness and sort of see how there, but for the grace of God, go you.

The part where he calls the founder of the list a troll is also choice.

You gotta love his sweet pic at the bottom... page - http://PDXCell.com pic - http://pdxcell.com/images/johnpratt.jpg

I think this is worth highlighting specifically:

> By nature, most engineers try to tear projects down and explain why things won't work or are "too much work." It's often a consequence of how most of them can interpret minor hangups as major, nearly-insolvable problems. That's why you have to find those rare engineers, like Google engineers or Apple engineers, who have a respect for the arts and humanities. Those are the engineers who create breakthroughs and push the limits of existing technologies. NeXT, a computer company from the 1990's, was a very good example of this and its innovations are still being felt today. Its technologies underly the iPod, Mac OS X, and the iPhone. Its hardware manufacturing advances were far ahead of its time.

> If you are saying that this project is not feasible, you are simply incorrect. Non-specialist observers can see that the technology to accomplish this is available. We may not yet know how it's going to work specifically, but we'll find engineers and programmers who want to make it work.

Step #1 to making sure no capable engineers ever work with you: presume to know their craft better than they do.

I think it is a little bit odd that he links to Kickstarter from this PDXCell page.

Yah, that pic screams douchebag (as if it wasn't already obvious).

Would you say as much to his face?

I'm not particularly impressed by his antics but I don't think name-calling adds anything to this discussion.

Let me rephrase my comment this way: The photo is unprofessional and coupled with the related drama reinforces the impression that the guy is full of it.

I'm generally all in favor of calling people out when they act like internet tough guys, but I'm puzzled that one use of the word douchebag qualifies with you. To each his own.

Wow, not sure if it's new but there's even an excerpt from the email thread above the photo.

"I cannot tell you how painful it is to watch 5 assholes take your idea and run with it and not even give you credit. I hate all 5 of them for that. If I see them, I may punch each one of them in the face." ... "I am not very bitter because I realize how much I learned and how much I got to experience"

Good god.

If you're a "scanner" rather than a by-the-word reader, some advice here.. make sure you don't quit before you get about 7 paragraphs in. That's where it starts getting funny/sad.

(The title isn't mine, it's Janey Lee's from Twitter, but it fits and so I kept it).

ha, thanks :) not that I can take credit for anything either, I just happened to have been subscribed to the barcampla mailing list.

A venting of the spleen, with words improvidently spoken, over a topic best kept to oneself.

Lots of hate for kickstarter.

Pledgebank has been doing this since 04 at least. I run petitionspot so I have been watching sites like this and they just didnt do a good job. Just look at thepoint.com ( now groupon ) - They tore it up because they did a good job. They were in chicago, not the valley.

You should read basics about web usability. Nobody will ever read your new page.

I can understand the disappointment, but, come on.. that's what a startup is all about. Sometimes you have to fail to succeed. Sometimes your ideas will get stolen. Sometimes Google will buy you for half a billion dollars; it's the name of the game.

In the end, "ideas" are worthless. It's implementation that leads to success; you actually have to build the better mousetrap.

I would have liked the article to go into more depth about his rejections and if he used the rejection feedback to change his marketing strategy. My guess is when things start heading downhill it all turns into personal problems so I would ignore that stuff in the analysis.

That guy really seems to be a marketing genius http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/one-more-fundable-...

looks like this particular train wreck has made it to news.yc previously:


Screenshot of Fundable "closed permanently" (October 2009)


(image from: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=858033 )

Just a little bitter! You win some and lose some dude! Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and for god sakes Shut Up, no one wants to hear you wining.

Quote from the bottom of PDXCell.com:

You can also hire me to teach you how to build your self-confidence as a standup guy or give a talk to your organization on the subject. The image comparison below indicates that I have something to offer in this area

Perfect example of "Lets kick the guy when he is down", and Seriously why is this even here? I rest my case.

I feel somewhat obligated to reply because I originally tweeted this (and with a title similar to the above).

I didn't do this to kick the guy while he's down. It's that on Twitter I knew enough people working in various roles in startups and even just most companies that I thought this would be a good warning to all of them of what never to do. You don't ever publicly accuse your competitor of outright ripping off your idea (if that really was the case, take them to court, but it's clearly not appropriate here). You don't publicly attack your co-founder because it didn't work out for whatever reason. You especially don't do either one in an email to a group of pretty tech-savvy and possibly well-connected people and then go on to attack said group when they don't respond favorably because oh noes, they're being unfair to you. All because you wanted to tell them about your new startup.

Pratt seems to want to get more connections and more interested eyes looking at his new project for funding and development and more, and he's not helping his case by acting the way he does. All this bad press could have been prevented if he had edited out most of his original email. It should have been something like "Hey, remember me, we might have met before at a previous BarCampLA...I was one of the guys behind Fundable. I'm now working on a new startup called PDXCell, and I'd appreciate it if you'd check it out!". Not this burning-all-bridges tactic. I tend not to talk much at BarCampLA events, but I've still met people there looking to fund startups, talented developers/engineers/hackers, marketing types, and more. That's a lot of potentially useful connections that will now remember this guy as someone never to work with.

So while some of the comments here might really be kicking the guy while he is down, I saw this link as an educational moment, especially to HNers that might someday (if not already) find themselves tempted to do the same. I'd hope Pratt realizes what he's doing wrong eventually..

yeah, the comments make me think that we got a little carried away with the schadenfreude aspect. but i'd argue that this type of posting does serve a real purpose. now i know not to have anything to do with pdxcell, for example.

It's a set of reminders on how you can go wrong. Every time any of us hears ourselves say something similar to what he said, we're going to back off real quick.

And frankly, Michael Pusateri's response at the end was pretty wonderful.

It appears the author has the wrong idea that a good idea demands exclusive success...if that were the case, I would imagine most of us would be millionaires.

You can't complain about something being hard to execute on and then bitch because others executed the idea better than you could. That's just the nature of the game.

That was my (probably engineer-biased) take as well. Pratt seems to think that their awesome idea even with shitty execution (by his own admission) should have won the day.

The hilarity continues at PDXCell.com Check out the section entitled: "A response to this page". Shoulda known he was an Apple fanboy.

Yeah, trying to defuse expert criticism by accusing experts of being narrow-minded really sets off my crackpot alarm. (History is full of cases where expert consensus was wrong, but I think these cases are notable precisely because they are exceptional.)

I got new iPhone. Now what's next.

I got new Mac OS. Now what's next.

I read the Y Combinator news feed. Major drama from some nutjob who ruined his company and was a douchebag. Ha ha.

Cool. Now what's next.

I read the TechCrunch page. Now what's next.

What's Apple working on next?

Ok. What's Google working on next?

Ok, I found out. Now, what's next?

What does Tim O'Reilly say is the next thing?

Ok. What does Cory Doctorow say is the next thing?

Ok. What does Andy Baio's link blog say is the next thing?

Ok. What does Mashable have to say is the next thing?

[continue as nested loop: your wasted life on the computer]

Not to wind you up further, but I think you mean "infinite loop".

I had never heard of fundable.com or you prior to the exposure initiated by this thread. I started looking up the all the background information I could and I tried (hard) to not pass undue judgment. The problem is not so much what others wrote about you or your business, the problem is what you wrote. In your messages you start (somewhat) rational and reasonable, albeit frustrated (for reasons anyone can understand). Then as you are coming to wrap-up of what you write, you say something that really makes me cringe. I don't know how or why you do it, but seriously, before you post something I urge you to sit on the text for a couple of hours before pressing that submit button.

Your name is attached to that shit.

(yeah yeah, feeding the troll, bbye karma -- should I have any)

Defend yourself online.

Ok. Defend yourself more online.

Ok. Wait, there are still some people who disagree?

Defend yourself online. Right!

Ah, not everyone yet agrees!

[continue as needed to staunch the hole in your ego]

Lot's of people fail at startups. That's actually the norm, despite the way that people perceive the market. Only the most asinine people would make fun of you for just not succeeding. But the difference between most people's attitude and your attitude: you seem to think that you did everything right, that everyone else conspired against you.

That kind of mindset is not the way to succeed in this business.

I have three phrases for Y Combinator blog commenters:




- John Pratt (yes, it's me)

Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism -- the phenomenon is real!

Seriously, you need to cut out the coffee, stat.

"You can also hire me to teach you how to build your self-confidence as a standup guy." http://pdxcell.com

More coverage of this at http://lalawag.com/great-moments-in-google-groups-with-john-...

with some unpublished emails from the original Google group

Again, probably not the guy. This account was just made.

If you comment on tech blogs like this, you're probably a loser. People who accomplish things don't have time to leave comments in tech blogs unless there are stories written about them.

That means if you are reading this, you are probably a loser.

Sorry, fags.

-John Pratt (yes, it's me)

Hey, HNers! Keep baiting him! The weather satellites show a spike in temperature over his location. At the rate he's steaming up, he'll explode into a fine red mist in a couple of hours!

("Fags"? Really? This from a grown-up? Utterly bizarre. Is this a fake account or something? It's done well, if so.)

Yeah. I can't believe anybody would really use the "f" word in a forum like this (or ideally anywhere, but especially in an otherwise civil, focused forum like this). Probably (hopefully?) a fake account.

His own replies to his google groups posting are just as bizarre. Sadly, this looks authentic.

Eh, the account was only registered to respond to this post. I'd presume John innocent until proven guilty.

I was referring to the follow up comments made on BarCampLA using the same gmail account as his original post there. Those comments have the same tone as the ones made here.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact