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HN Office Hours with Kevin and Sam
191 points by sama on June 26, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments
Starting at 11 am PDT today, Kevin Hale and I are going to try online office hours. If you'd like help with your startup, please post a top-level comment with one or two sentence description of what you do and the first thing you'd like to talk about. We'll let the community vote, and talk to the top 5 companies.

Unless you're one of the companies we're having office hours with, please don't comment otherwise on this thread until we're done at 1 pm PDT so that we can keep a clear flow in the conversations.

UPDATE: We're going to do office hours with ismail, trsohmers, ljd, ph0rque, and dzine.

UPDATE 2: Ok, have to sign off and go do office hours with YC companies. Thanks everyone!

Background: Every day in South Africa low income people suffer through 2+ hour commutes into work using public transport. This has a serious impact on their lives, due to long wait times and inefficiencies. I interviewed a single mother, who only got home after 7pm and leaves at 6am in the morning.

We have built a ride share matching system:

Our goal is to make use of unused seats in cars matching drivers and passengers. We do not put any cars on the road (i.e Uber), We match to drivers on their daily commute.

Our Biggest Problems:

1. We are quite successful at converting people who are posting to online classifieds etc. We have strategies to get these users. We grew week on week by as much as 50% but then we hit a negative growth week. In order to continue growing, we need to expand into other areas.

We also have an un-balanced market. Demand for rides is much higher than rides offered.

2. We have not figured out how we will make money yet. Our initial hypothesis was a transaction fee.

The passenger and driver will be traveling together on a regular basis. Once we match them, we run the risk of being dis-intermediated.

You could make an argument that a payment directly into the bank account is more convenient than cash, though i am not sure that is a strong enough incentive.

3. Our churn/attrition is very high, There is no need for the system once they start traveling together. We have churn built in to our model.

When I think about marketplace problems, I ideally want to solve one side of the equation at a time. That means understanding whether this is supply constrained or demand constrained. Looks like you have an abundance of demand (people who want rides) and not enough supply (drivers). So all your efforts should be focused on how to get people to offer rides.

Usually the incentive for drivers when I've seen other companies work on this problem is they get to drive in the carpool lane. Does that not work in your instance?

Why couldn't you have drivers be paid by passengers and you take a cut of that process?

I think a lot of people are selfish about their cars because they're valuing efficiency and control of their commute over everything else. Adding a passenger reduces those primary values. Can you think of other values that might overcome those? Money is one, but considering the lack of interest to meet that demand, it might not be enough.

If I were creating a ridesharing program that I wanted people to talk about organically, I'd want to design it in a way that commuting via my program was FAR better than commuting by myself. Off the top of my head, the best part of my commute is listening to a great podcast. If you could get exclusive content that only ridesharers can get access to if they ride together...that could be interesting.

Doesn't need to be entertainment. Could be learning a language together or business skills, etc.

Why did you think you had a negative growth week?

Thanks for the response Kevin.

- Yes we realize that the supply side is constrained, and lacking. Passengers seek out a solution and find us easily.

- There are no car-pool lanes in South Africa, they had a trial a few years back but did not continue with it.

We have spoken to people at a few municipalities. For the city, they have parking constraints so ride-sharing is something they want to encourage. However, passing new legislation may take quite a while. We can not be sitting around in the hope of this.

- This was our initial plan. The current behavior is: The driver & passenger will agree on pricing, timing etc. Then they pay weekly or monthly. This happens mostly in cash, currently.

The passenger and driver will now travel together for the foreseeable future until something changes (i.e someone moves, new job etc).

At this point, there is no incentive for the driver to continue receiving payment via the platform. The triggers to search for a new ride share per a year is quite low.

So strategies like ratings, and reviews do not encourage keeping transactions on the system.

People on the passenger side may not even have a credit card or bank accounts.

- Yes people are selfish, and value convenience. Spending an extra 10-15 minutes to pick-up and drop-off is an issue. Which is why most people do not do it.

In an ideal world, if we had complete information on all drivers and passengers, we could match person x with y who is just 2 minutes away.

One of the other blockers to offering a ride, is the 'commitment'. They now need to think twice, if they want to sleep in late or if they want to call in sick.

- This is a great idea, do you think having a PR stunt like "Ride with someone famous" Or "Ride in a cool car" would work?

The content idea seems feasible, we would need to figure out what content is important to our market. From our analytics our #1 segment is Jobs/Employment

- Growth example: Week 1 our growth was +86% # trips posted. The following week we had -26% # trips posted based on the previous week

We are saturating our current acquisition methods. Other strategies have not been working as well (Off-Line)

The # people searching for a ride on classifieds are small, the market of people commuting via public transport is massive, the people using public transport are not searching online for a solution.

Yes, people are selfish. That's why you should think of what you can offer them that will make them want to sit in the car for 10-15 minutes longer. That's why unique content came to my head, I've sat in driveways much longer just to hear the end of a good radio program.

Also, I don't like stunts. It's not sustainable and it's short term thinking.

I think you should shoot for building a great community. That means thinking for the long term and building a lasting relationship with your customers and have them build those relationships with each other.

You seem more focused on what you can extract from your users. It's better to start with what can you give that they can't help themselves but want to take.

We are also seeing the network effects kicking in (which is a massive positive). Our matches keep increasing at a much higher rate than trips posted.

Apologies for delayed response. Tethering from mobile was choppy and had to get to more stable wifi.

Should we pivot to a different market/model?

Expecting regular commuters to continue paying is like a dating site expecting married couples to continue paying. Focus instead on helping irregular travelers find rides or minibus entrepreneurs find paying passengers.

How about this: riders pay a reasonable monthly membership fee based on distance; 0-15km daily = $X/month, 15-25km daily = $Y/month, etc. Drivers pay nothing. Payment to the driver works like with Flattr... every month, each rider took m rides totaling n km. Take your cut of the rider's monthly fee and the remainder is divided proportionally across each ride based on some allocation of base amount per ride plus amount per km, and the driver gets paid.

This may avoid disintermediation as the price should be more than fair for the rider that they wouldn't want to have to deal with forking over cash (from what I've read about South Africa, I suspect there's a risk of getting robbed which this prevents). And what happens if a rider is sick or has a day off and they need to pair up with another driver? Additionally, look at what AirBNB has done: offer supplemental insurance to cover unfortunate circumstances. Investigate what it would cost to provide some additional insurance to riders and/or drivers such that if they try to go outside the system, they're not covered. I'm not sure what kind of insurance coverage is mandatory for drivers, but if there's something many drivers routinely avoid (eg: they have collision only, but no liability) there's an opportunity to step in and provide something extra. And/or what some auto clubs have: drivers are covered for so many flat tire repairs, jump starts for dead batteries, etc. Leaving the system cuts both drivers and riders off from this coverage.

Also, look for ways to partner and offer additional benefits. There's probably some underdog gas/petrol chain which would love to be the exclusive provider and could kick back a small percentage of purchases. Ideally it's kicked back to your company via a reward card and is part of your payment to drivers. Rate drivers on vehicle cleanliness and reliability and now there's an incentive to have a clean, well-maintained vehicle... and you can partner with a chain of mechanics and auto detailers and give your members a 25% discount or whatever you can negotiate.

As you're dealing with many low income people, not sure what level of tech you're facing, but you could also provide mobile app notifications or SMS a few minutes before the driver arrives.

Finally, if the local government wants to make ride sharing a priority why not partner with them to subsidize the program on a per-rider basis? This may let you offer a cash incentive to riders for signup and/or get 100% of your fees through this subsidization, allowing you to pass through all of the monthly fees to the driver. With whatever other benefits you offer, there's really NO reason for them to leave the program.

If anyone else has any thoughts mail me : (hnuser)@codiez.co.za

Hi Kevin and Sam,

May be a bit out of your area, but I'm curious about your thoughts. Even though we are in "Silicon" Valley, there has been very little when it comes to new semiconductors investments. I'm the co founder and CEO of REX Computing (http://rexcomputing.com), a new semiconductor startup working on a super energy efficient processor architecture. We've actually raised seed funding, and I'm interested in what you think about the semiconductor space in general (and its future in the valley), plus ideas on how we can thrive as a very low level hardware company in a primarily software world.


Edit: One other thing I should note is that we are also big on software! We're utilizing a lot of open source projects to help build up our compiler and other software tools. Obviously hardware without software to run on it is pretty useless.

We funded a semiconductor company in the current YC batch (I believe for the first time).

I think extreme energy efficiency is a great thing to go after for a new semiconductor company. It fits the "surf someone else's wave" principle well. Big companies are of course trying to do this to, but focused startups beat big companies all the time.

Don't worry about being a low-level hardware company. It's a feature for you, not a bug, that there aren't many startups doing that. You can look a lot like a software company that produces a piece of hardware.

When will your first chip be ready? Who is going to manufacture it?

Who will be your first customers, and how much better will your chip be than whatever they are using now?

How much money will you need to get that first chip to market?

That's pretty awesome that you guys backed a semiconductor company. I didn't apply as I was skeptical you would invest in one... great to see YC expanding so far and fast though.

We're looking at having full simulation capabilities (with physical verification in progress) come the end of this year, with a shuttle run (prototype) tape out in Q1 next year. It's about a 3 month turn around, so we are expecting to have our first 100 prototype chips in the ~May-June timeframe next year. From there, we'll be putting together 20-25 evaluation units (consisting of 4 of our chips put together), and selling those... we have 4 order commitments already, which almost cover the cost of getting the prototypes made (though we are not reliant on that, as we now have outside funding). We'll be using TSMC (the largest pure-play semi foundry) and their 28nm process (with the very slim possibility of going down to 16/20nm if the price is right at that point).

Right now, our connections are primarily in academia and government, so they are the people we have talked to the most and have said they will put money up, and we do have some government grant funding. I do not want government and academia to be our primary focus though (Any thoughts on that?), although early non dilutive funding is nice. For the applications we have specced out that they care about, we are showing around a 10x efficiency increase for dense matrix applications (over top of the line CPUs and GPUs currently used), and even enabling some applications that were not really practical on existing systems. I can't go into too much detail on those publicly, but can talk about them offline.

When it comes to our best application space, and what I would like to target, is the signal processing and mobile basestation space. Our best performance and efficiency (25x the best CPUs, GPUs, and DSPs at the moment) comes with FFTs, and we're capable of doing next generation large FFTs better than the best DSPs are at doing the current generation types. The few people (mostly academics in the field) I have talked to in this think this is a big game changer for that industry, and the problem we have is that we don't really have any connections in the industry itself. My idea has been we should try to build up as much evidence before talking to more people in it.

While I have talked about two areas, our architecture isn't really limited to any one, it just performs exceptionally well for those... but planning for wider market adoption is I think too far ahead of us at this point.

With our current funding, we'll be able to get through making 100 (16 core) prototype chips, build those into evaluation units, and test them with customers... from there, doing a full tape out and getting the full 256 core chip to market will be another $10 to $15 million, and we expect to be able to tape out and go into mass production in the first half of 2017.

Question: Do you think the Thiel-style monopoly approach would work in our case? I initially imagined we would be able to enter and do very well in the High Performance/Supercomputing area, eat up market share from the big guys (Intel, NVIDIA, etc) who don't care about the "small" HPC market. From there, expand to large business data centers (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc) and mobile basestation systems, and so on until we hit mass market devices. Do you think this is a decent (although very simply described for brevity) plan for the 3 to 5 year timeframe?

Are you sure the power savings for mobile base stations are worth building chips for?

I don't know the numbers, but suppose for example that there are 100,000 base stations that currently use 100 watts each doing the DSP. That's 10,000,000 watts total, costing about $10M/yr at $0.12 / kWh utility rates. If you can save 80% and capture 1/3 of the savings for the first 2 years (typical of efficiency improvement sales), you make $5.3M. If it costs $15M to design the chips, that's a bad business.

To have a good business doing energy-efficient chips, you'd need to target applications burning a billion watts from the grid, so you can make a fraction of a billion dollars.

The mobile device market values energy efficiency much higher than $0.12 / kWh. That might be a better domain to target.

I'm curious if there might be a premium brand strategy with this. If you work out the economics, a Prius almost never saves you enough in gas mileage to be worth the extra cost of the car. People still buy them anyway, because they want to advertise to everyone that they are environmentally conscious and care about the planet, and in this era of global warming, pollution, and institutionalized selfishness, that's worth something. It's conspicuous economy.

This would require a radically different marketing strategy, but what if they partnered with artists and sculptors and the advertising departments of the companies whose property the base stations would be located on? A mobile base station is usually designed to be as inconspicuous as possible; what if they flipped that around and turned a bunch of them into public art installations? The sales pitch to companies would be "Show your customers that you care about the planet, and get them talking about your brand." That's an advertising business, where they could charge way more than the power savings business.

Mobile basestations in developing markets are badass. Grid doesnt work 24 hours. Small diesel power generator is used as backup. Backup usage ranges from 3 hours a day in good electricity areas to 21-22 is worst.

Although mobile device market is certainly better target as a market.

This sounds really good. If mobile base stations are the right first customers, go try to get some of them to agree to buy your chip (if you deliver it as planned), and then go try to raise a seed round. After you deliver the evaluation units, try to raise a $10-15MM seed round.

I'd focus less on academia and government. They are usually difficult investors and difficult first customers. Non-dilutive funding is nice, but dilution is not so bad in a binary-outcome situation, and venture investors are usually far faster and more helpful.

I think taking over the "small" HPC market first is a very good plan.

I've questioned my sanity at many points due to thinking that the "small" HPC market is our best route as that is what none of the big guys are looking at, and they are horribly underserved. Most investors and others we have talked to have said to focus where the current trends/money is (mobile devices themselves, not base stations).

One more question: I'm an engineer at heart, and I want to stay involved in engineering at some level, but don't want to give up control of the direction of the company. Do you think it makes sense/is possible to be CEO and still be involved in doing day to day engineering/design work, and if so any tips on balancing that? If not, at what point does it make sense to bring in a "professional" CEO?

Thanks for the feedback! Would love to grab coffee if you're interested... feel free to send me an email.

Not only do I think it's possible to stay involved in engineering/design work, I think it's optimal, at least for the first few years. The best technical CEOs do this--they're happy to hand off most of the organization to a COO, but not product or engineering. Mark Zuckerberg did this for a long time at Facebook, and probably still does. Every time I meet with Elon Musk I'm struck by how much of the conversation is about engineering details of SpaceX or Tesla.

What practical application is your chip best for? What can we do with your chip that we won't be able to do with the current line of chips coming in the next few years if they stay on the current path?

The biggest problem for hard technical problems is the storytelling. I went through your site and I couldn't find the sentences I would need to make someone else excited about what you're making in a conversational way. It should feel like you're making something science fiction a reality through your technology alone. That storytelling is what you'll need to convince/inspire customers, investors and future employees.

Hi Kevin,

Thanks! I really need to update the website as it is based on our (unsuccessful) fundraising pitch... thankfully, we had some great feedback a couple of months ago on storytelling, and it really improved our pitch and we were able to close a round. I'll make updating our website a priority this weekend.

Right now, it is best for signal processing applications and dense matrix (although it is not limited to that). To give you some actual applications, think mobile base station processing (Everything from your wifi router to big cell antennas, small cells, etc), computer vision/image processing, video rendering, machine learning (both convolutional neural networks and recurrent NNs), plus a bunch more to long to list. The new abilities that we are providing is that we can fit the performance of a high end system with ~300 watt GPU (which also needs a ~100 watt CPU attached to it), for say machine learning, in a 4 watt power budget.

The simple story that we've come up with is this:

30 years ago when existing computer architectures were designed, the power cost of moving data and processing it were roughly equal, but things have changed. Today, it takes 100 picojoules to do a double precision floating point operation, but 4200 picojoules (42 times!) more energy to move that data from RAM to your registers. We're solving that (among many other problems overlooked by the rest of the industry)problem through a new design rather than a radical new technology in order to achieve over a 10x energy efficiency increase over existing systems.

I typically have a more succinct oral pitch with accompanying presentation... hopefully this came through clearly. Any feedback would be apppreciated!

Today, it takes 100 picojoules to do a double precision floating point operation, but 4200 picojoules (42 times!) more energy to move that data from RAM to your registers.

This is a fascinating observation. As one of pg's essays asks, "what do you know that know that no one else knows?" [quoted from memory]. It sounds like this is your answer. Interestingly, it's not literally that no one else knows it -- it's that no one else (AFAIK, of course) has factored it into their designs, as doing so probably requires more-or-less a clean sheet.

@Scott When designing the architecture over a year ago, we used that fact as the basis of our design paradigm, and while known to some very smart people in the industry, no one has really dared to do any real redesigns in large companies. When I re-read this post (http://blakemasters.com/post/22866240816/peter-thiels-cs183-...) and thought about what our "secret" really was, I decided to include that fact in our presentations and it finally started to "click" for people... technical folk and investors alike.

That post is probably what I'm remembering. Apologies for the misattribution.

Thomas, I've read about REX before and I've been intrigued. How did you learn enough to be able to innovate in the HPC space before you went to school for EE?

Company: http://PlaceAVote.com

Pitch: We're replacing congress with voting software. We are running 70 candidates in the 2016 Congressional elections on our platform, if any of them get voted into office we'll take all bills before congress and put them on our site where each voter in that district gets one authenticated vote.

Question: In your experience, what's the most effective way for B2C company to educate users that you even exist?

I know that signups and conversions are an art, but more than all of that, just telling people that you have something new that they may not be searching for but could still dramatically improve their life. We will take any demographic that will have us, so we aren't picky on that front.

We have 100% week-over-week growth during election cycles, and 10-20% when it's not, so we know the message is received, we just want to get more people in the top of the funnel.

Hey guys, good to hear from you again!

Why do think your company is a B2C company? You're selling the software to politicians / political organizations. The consumer awareness part of this will be handled by your customers if this is part of a greater trend of voters wanting more transparency and accountability of their representatives.

Of course, candidates will adopt this only if they find out they can win elections by adopting this software/philosophy. So part of your job will be to do everything you can to help your candidates win. Basically, if you do this right, you could turn the US into a three party system.

So the education you're going to do should be the talking points and marketing materials needed by their candidates to convince voters. Think of your first candidates like a beta test of a new sales force. You'll learn from them after this upcoming elections what worked and didn't work with constituents and you'll amplify on the next election cycle.

But that to me, isn't the most important thing you should be focused on. If it were me, I'd try to get as many candidates using your software on the ballot as possible.

Do you know the best conditions are the best for a candidate running the placeavote platform? eg. does this work best for a candidate in a heavily contested race?

Great talking again, Kevin!

Good question! We're not selling to politicians or political organizations. Our PAC is running candidates that are part of our community. People like you and I; professionals in tech that wouldn't mind making $170k to do literally nothing but proxy votes for their district.

Regarding what candidates need to tell voters, we're really looking to run a very centralized campaign, where people can come to our site to find out which name to vote for. We've found ways of legally hacking the election system so that we get ballot access, and differentiate our candidates in a uniform way. So we still see ourselves as a consumer product.

Is it wrong that we are adamant about remaining B2C? I want to find the best possible path, but I don't see how turning politicians that are so used to political donations for favorable voting will decide to shun their financiers to listen to the people they were voted to represent. It feels like that is a practice in futility.

We both agree on the last point, since we've spoken, we've picked up 11 new candidates in California and 9 abroad. We are trying to saturate the 2016 ballot with candidates.

Half our team are data people (I'm an algo dev myself) so finding the best conditions is something we are sorting out with data right now.

Being a PAC sounds like the most expensive way to do this. Usually, that's not a good way to do a startup. Also, this sounds so cynical.

I'd start with the true believers. People who believe this is the best way to represent the people. Those people will win races because it will feel like a revolution when you hear them talk about you. It's the best kind of sales people to have.

I'd be very worried about having your kind of people talk about your movement. No one wants to feel like they're voting for a tax mooching puppet.

With a ~10% approval rating for congress and historical lows across the board for most Americans, I'm not sure it's cynicism.

I don't think you could honestly find someone that feels like they are being represented in congress. Our lobbying system is an open joke that we wish we could do something about.

Also, our PAC is funding those true believers but most people don't realize that it costs thousands of dollars to run for congress and most Americans don't have that money. We can help these campaigns with a PAC.

We're looking for people that are tired of a broken system and have the desire to make change but need a strong toolset to do that. We're building that toolset. Part of that means we build the world's most secure voting platform that's has a clear audit trail and it also means that we can't turn a blind eye to the fact that it takes money to win elections in the United States.

Your language here is what I prefer. You wrote this:

"professionals in tech that wouldn't mind making $170k to do literally nothing but proxy votes for their district"

This description of your first candidates is what I find cynical. They should feel like true believers. Not opportunistic passive income collectors.

Yeah, I understand your point. I think I'm communicating why someone has a personal incentive to run for congress under our system since they won't be receiving lobbying money. I'm hoping the electorate isn't under the belief that congressional salaries are negotiable. I don't see why people can't feel passionate about this project and also be compensated for improving a system that is rife with inefficiencies.

Since the original question was never answered, if anyone has experience with my problem set please email me ldavis at placeavote.com.

1. what kind of binding promise can someone make to vote?

2. presumably only those who registered an intent to vote (in the election) for your proxy candidate will be able to direct (with website-votes) that proxy. have you thought about what legal measures can be taken to ensure that someone voted (probably it's not legal to determine who they voted for)?

I am reading The Circle right now and this reminds me of that.

Hi Sam and Kevin,

The potential market for automated micro-farming (backyard farming) is huge, but it will take a long time to to reach its potential. My question is, at what point would AutoMicroFarm (http://automicrofarm.com/) become attractive to investors (both YC and others)? Would 10% weekly growth for a year be key, or something else?

Two and a half years ago, we AutoMicroFarm founders had an interview with you, and you decided not to invest, saying it was difficult to see how AutoMicroFarm would generate the kind of growth startup investors are looking for. However, YC invests with infinite time horizon and is not afraid of risky-looking companies (http://blog.samaltman.com/new-rfs-breakthrough-technologies).

So what would YC or other investors like to see before investing?


10% weekly growth for a year will certainly get investors' attention.

However, for a company like this, I think the most important consideration is how you plan to build a monopoly. There are lots of companies proposing to build automated food growing units for families with very similar plans; what stops this from being a race to zero-margin pricing? Why will a customer buy your product in 5 years and not one of the many clones?

People refer to this in lots of different ways--Warren Buffet as the relatively benign sounding "moat" and Peter Thiel directly calls it a "monopoly". Whatever you want to call it, how do you plan to do it?

When will you have the first unit in customers' back yards?

How are you going to price it? If it pays for itself in 5 to 6 years, have you thought about going out with a leasing program? I think people almost never do enough on the financial innovation side.

Thanks for the reply, Sam.

To build a monopoly, the plan is to make the product open-source. On the data side, having data about all the different environmental conditions and how they affect plants and fish will also help build a monopoly.

The first unit will go in a customer's back yard in a few months. In my new-construction neighborhood of ~400 houses, I plan to find 10-30 customers; I've started talking and have several interested.

The 5 to 6 year payback period is conservative: it assuming the need to build a greenhouse to house the AutoMicroFarm for year-round production. At scale and without needing a greenhouse, the payback period drops down to 3-4 months (when compared to similar organic food).

Edit: as far as a lease program, the USDA has a family farm lending program with a low rate that we could tap into on behalf of customers.

Could you say more about how making the product open-source will give you a monopoly? Will the data be open-source too?

If the product is open-source, how will monetization work?

If you can get 30 houses in your neighborhood as happy customers, that would be a great start. You should give them super customer service--ie, go around to their units and make sure everything is working perfectly. The word-of-mouth recommendations from your first customers is so important.

What do the unit economics look like? How much are you charging for the current units, how much do people need to spend a year to operate them, and how much do they save on groceries?

My thinking is that the hardware and software will be open source, but not the data. Also, the OS license would allow modifications for the customer, but not for resale. Since the biggest part of the cost will be the "dumb" hardware (the containers and structure make up ~70% of the cost), it should be straightforward to sell the product at a profit.

Another point of monopoly would be to keep up a pace of innovation that is faster than the competitors.

I am offering the first customers a sale price of just the material costs. Also, they would get 24/7 support, and the CEO's (i.e. my) cell phone number.

Currently, similar products cost $1500+. My costs are $1000 (in quantities of one), and that price will come down 10-fold once I can manufacture 10k units per year.

At the current costs ($1500), the payback time is 1-2 years. Once purchased, the cost to operate is negligible (tens of dollars yearly). So they save $1-2k in groceries annually, depending on the length of the growing season.

I think you will have a hard time claiming that the project is open source except the data which you keep and monetize.

I strongly suggest considering other models. Why do you want to "open-source" this at all? Why not just make it hardware and software you sell, and recommendations about how to grow based off of your large data set, but very hackable?

Sure, I have no qualms with dropping the open-source label, and opening up the data set. (However, trying to patent the hardware/software might be hard to do, given how much prior art is out there).

Do you have any other suggestions on how to build a moat/monopoly?

I'd be tempted to try a Nespresso/Gillette model, where the initial product is cheap and the "refills" are relatively expensive subscriptions, but very high quality and easy to use.

That is a distinct possibility with plant "inserts"[0] for the vegetable beds, one of the planned innovations I've had in the back of my mind. AutoMicroFarm could sell just the empty media inserts for a reasonable price, and also offer pre-planted, ready-to-fruit plants with inserts for a much higher price.

That way, those who are willing to wait weeks/months for their plants to grow from seeds/seedlings can save money, and those who want it now can pay the extra cost.

[0] Something like this, but deeper and made of biodegradable material with mycelium (mushroom roots) growing throughout the material: http://www.koifood.net/contents/media/l_floating_plant_islan...

Speaking solely as one potential customer:

I like this idea.

As for the "moat", I think the product with the best automation will win at least a defensible niche within the market. I would encourage you to start upmarket and not worry about price so much right now. Get really good at making the thing run itself; you can cut the price later. (But, I'm someone with a lot more money than time, so that colors my view here.)

(Yes, I'm already on your mailing list.)

Thanks for the encouragement, Scott. Any idea where to find more customers like you, who don't worry about the price as they have more money than time? ;)

I haven't polled my friends on this, but Silicon Valley (where I live) is full of such people. And a lot of us have yards, the area being resolutely suburban, and of course the weather is great (assuming this thing doesn't need too much water).

I don't think a lot of people here want to spend time gardening, but lots of us love fresh vegetables. That's an opportunity, it seems to me.

Sounds like a fantastic opportunity!

One of the benefits of aquaponics is how little water it uses (after the initial fill-up).

ph0rque, in addition to all the good ideas here, think about a solution to the problem that all gardens and farms have - that what you want is not always at the right harvesting time. Ie: if I want to eat a carrot, I want it now, not in 2 months. How can you solve that problem with your system? Bigger volume? Exchange with neighbours with their own AMF? etc... Also I'm definatly with @sama on the Nespresso model. Don't even bother selling seeds because some will not even germinate. Sell the pods (biodegradable of course) that "plug" into a prepared receptacle.

Thanks for the insight, jonnycowboy. I'll think about the problem you pose. It can be somewhat mitigated by staggered planting (in the case of carrots) and continuously-fruit-bearing plants (e.g. some tomatoes), but there must be a better, more elegant solution.

Thinking about it more, I could introduce the subscription model by knowing how far along each insert is in the harvest cycle, and offer to ship new inserts right as the existing insert harvest is winding down.

I wonder... you could advertise something like this as a health product. Let's say you have Celiac and you need to eat gluten free. Using this AutoMicroFarm, you can grow exactly what your customer needs (some lettuce strains may be hard on the stomach, some much better etc), so using your combined data from all units, customers, you can make sure that a certain AutoMicroFarm unit is completely fine tuned to that customers health needs.

Celiac is a silly example, but hopefully you know what I mean! I'd definitely be looking into this because it's realistic, and could help people a lot. Another wee example is that a lot of mass-produced foods are probably genetically modified and have odd chemicals which of course a lot of the population have adverse reactions to -- using an AutoMicroFarm unit, you can make sure that the food is completely organic, no chemicals, you have a record of everything that's gone on so you know you're safe to eat it.

Though, I'm probably talking crap!

p.s. I'm into hydroponics, etc. Done a few things like this unit with Tessel and stuff so I'm excited to see where you end up.

Thanks, I'll definitely keep that in mind! I have a friend who eats only organic for health reasons and to avoid ingesting the odd chemicals you mention, and he's definitely interested in an AutoMicroFarm.

There may be overlap with the market for food spectrometers, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/903107259/scio-your-six... . You are providing food supply chain transparency at the point of production rather than consumption. This is related to software security efforts to build reproducible binaries from open source, to guarantee production integrity.

Sam, Kevin,

We are building a platform that allows anyone with a mobile phone to earn a living by performing discrete tasks.

Our platform aims to break down complex jobs into easily actionable items, that can be performed easily by anyone, anywhere.

The first vertical we are applying this to is reservations. The Loft Club (https://useloft.com) is a service that makes reservations for you at amazing restaurants every month on your preferred day, saving you the decisions and the hassle. Through our platform, we centralize restaurant recommendations and assignments, before farming out the logistics of making and manging them to our agents.

Our question is: Should we work on building out the generic platform and expand quickly into other verticals, or focus on building out The Loft Club and owning this space first? We've customers paying us for The Loft Club with the mild publicity it has received thus far.


Zhuang and Derrick

Hi Zhuang and Derrick--

I think that 98% of the time, the right answer is to start out and remain focused on one vertical until you take it over. Most startups expand far too early and then fade out everywhere (this is often the fault of bad advice from investors). Facebook started in an extremely small vertical (Harvard undergrads), then expanded to a still-small vertical (US colleges), and then at some point took over the Internet.

Why did you pick this vertical to start with? It seems there are a lot of services helping people get restaurant reservations. The idea of breaking down tasks into small action items and farming them out to people seems good, but this doesn't seem like the most pressing need. What else did you consider as a first vertical?

How many users do you have, how much do they pay you (and how much do you pay the agents per task), and how fast are you growing?

We picked a reservation concierge service first, as it is a vertical that is immediately testable in SF with easy to understand mechanics for consumers. With the increasing mass-media fueled foodie culture, our hypothesis being that people don’t want the trouble of deciding where to eat and making the reservation - they just wanted a curated experience. And that made it a good candidate for our platform.

The other 2 verticals we considered were 1) a marketplace for on-the-ground, region specific collection of data and 2) travel planning in countries with low internet penetration, namely bookings and suggestions by locals.

With Loft, we have 20 customers paying us $10 ~ $20 a month, but we haven’t grown beyond that due to limited marketing, as we focus on nailing the operations side of platform. The agents are currently just the both of us, and we can afford $10 - $15 an hour per agent if our economics hold.

All in all, we have our vision of what the future of jobs can be. Loft is an experiment towards that which has seen mild traction, and that’s why we really want your advice!

If the main thing you want to prove out is that you can build a platform where small tasks can be easily farmed out (which again, sounds like a really good idea), I'm very unsure this is the right way to start. It's well established that you can get people to make restaurant reservations for you.

The best companies do something either fundamentally new or 10x better than existing solutions.

As you think about the future of the world, what can't people do today that they should be able to and that your platform could allow?

Thanks Sam, really enlightening points.

I realize we might have actually gone about it the wrong way. From a consumer perspective, that’s where we were struggling to find a niche to start off with. Our long term goal is to enable people to buy services from anyone in the world, no matter how small or large (i.e. reservations, travel), and it’s on us to make it actionable by as broad an workforce as possible.

We felt we had to prove out the concept of farming out discrete tasks in a straightforward niche like the concierge-space, as opposed to perhaps a white labeled platform. That probably wasn’t the right approach, and we’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

I still think picking an initial niche is a good one, but ideally you'd pick one that represents a complex task that is easier to get done in broken-down subsets, and that customers don't have an easy way to get done today.

Gotcha, that's a really good way of putting it. And I agree that reservations as tasks are not the way to go to prove the concept out.

Seems like we have quite a bit of thinking to do. Any further advice for us? Thanks!

i know of a company doing something similar in hong kong. their niche is to get people in various locations aggregate data from brands by going to retail stores and take photos of their products. each user gets 3-10usd for doing this and the brands save on sending expensive people to each location.


ZeroDB is an end-to-end encrypted database that lets you operate on data while it's encrypted.

Demo video: https://vimeo.com/128047786

Question: We want to sell to large enterprises (financial services, healthcare, saas providers, etc.). The common advice is to start with SMBs/startups and get traction that way before going upmarket to enterprises. How can we balance that with the fact that what SMBs are asking us for is very different from what enterprises have told us they'd like in a fully-baked product?

Ok this sounds really cool so I can't resist replying.

This is great time to be selling security software, especially at the data level.

I've never totally bought the "start with startups" approach for enterprise security software. I'd suggest finding a CSO at a large enterprise that loves what you're doing, and tell him/her that if you can get a signed LOI for a pilot, you're happy to build whatever they'd like. This will likely be enough to raise some seed money to build it. Then go make that customer as happy as you can.

Curious. What are the differences in features being asked?

To add a bit to michwill's answer:

Startups want a JavaScript version so they can use it in-browser. And they are more interested in full-text search than other types of queries.

Enterprises are big on integration with existing stuff (Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, etc.) and using it as a CASB-esque solution.

My gut tells me to work on the features that alleviates the bigger hair on fire problem for the customer. Usually, startups have less pressing needs for security than large enterprises, but I can actually see how your tech opens up a lot of startups to build quickly in that very lucrative healthcare space that is being thrown up in the air because of the Affordable care act.

You should aim to build only enough to close a sale. IF you build the in-browser features will that ACTUALLY close them? And that calculus should include this: Will it close enough SMBs that it counteracts doing a single integration with an existing system that will close 1 big customer.

Yes, that's currently the plan!

More than that: when end-user is SMB but paying customer is a B2B cloud software vendor, needs are often the same as for startups.

ZeroDB co-founder here.

Basically, end-to-end encryption for client (browser, mobile) software vs protecting backend software which uses some flavor of SQL

Hi Kevin and Sam,

We are about to finish building a table reservation system (think OpenTable or SeatMe but on steroids). Although it's a "Me Too" product, we will offer features that our competitors can't or won't, e.g. bigger API control for restaurants, various hooks to extend the service such as food delivery, pre-paid reservations, and ticketing for tables to name a few. Essentially, we will offer an iPhone/iPad app for restaurants to manage their reservations/orders, while their guests can use an iPhone-app/Android-app/Search-Engine/Restaurant's-Website to make those reservations.

I have a question about a launch/pricing strategy:

- Is it sane to do a freemium model for our product? For example, restaurants would be able download our Manager app in App Store for free but it would have limited offline features. If restaurants want to accept online orders, then they must get that feature via in-app purchase. If restaurant wants to incorporate discount cards, then it's a different in-app purchase. This logic applies to all different features.

- Or should we go through a regular sales process, i.e. sign up restaurants one-by-one, charge them via check/credit-card/etc and escape Apple's 30% cut?

Thanks in advance and I hope it will be helpful for other startups that are in a similar position.

I think you go freemium if the market is large enough to support the idea that if you just convert a small percentage of customers, you'll still be a successful company. If the answer is yes it's large enough, then whatever strategy gets your software in the hands of the most number of users should be the path you follow.

Now, as a startup, I wouldn't start by competing head to head with OpenTable's salesforce going after their customers. That sounds expensive. Also, getting people to switch providers is always way more difficult. Plus, I think people value OT not because of their features but because of the network effect they bring. Don't get me wrong, you'll definitely still be going one-by-one and converting users, but I don't think you should start with those using your competition.

Instead start with new restaurants or those not using anything. To them, you'll feel like a miracle.

The reason you want to maximize distribution of software and engagement (having something that even the free plan is worth talking to people about) is because going freemium is not unlike investing in startups or building up a portfolio.

You invest in your customers in mass (with free features not money) and you hope a small grouping of them will make back that investment many fold.

Like investing, freemium works best as a long term strategy. So when you look at your upgrade triggers, be sure not to cripple that free plan so much that you're optimizing for conversion rate for users as SOON as possible. Convert them when they've grown to be successful. So they can say you were a key part of their success.

I think MailChimp thinks about this really well if you haven't read their ideas already: http://blog.mailchimp.com/going-freemium-one-year-later/

Good luck!

Kevin, thanks for your advice!

1. We definitely want to start with countries, which OT hasn't penetrated yet.

2. Since we will start with restaurants that do not use OT (or similar service), we may consider having only paid plans. And maybe convert to a freemimum model once we are ready to compete with OT in USA/UK.

Hi Kevin and Sam,

We’re MinoHubs (https://www.minohubs.com) and we build commercial and community tools for software projects. The barrier to building a successful software project is high - apart from writing the code, you need to build a community and potentially set up some commercialisation (backing, licenses, support etc.) which isn’t an easy task.

We provide customizable hubs that give projects:

Commercial tools

- Paid support - ability to offer on-demand consultation to businesses and developers.

- Licensing - ability to sell one time and recurring licenses to businesses and developers (coming soon).

- Backing - monthly contributions. In return, backers get more visibility in Discussions.

Community tools

- Powerful discussions with voting.

- Announcements - emails and notifications to project followers.

From Kevin’s initial feedback (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9746206) we understand that we need to be better at:

1. Leading the user through things to do after creating a hub.

2. Showcasing the benefit of using MinoHubs.

We’re working on those right now.

Our challenge is that, as Kevin also pointed out, we have a lot of features, but we’re also trying to appeal to an audience that would use different combinations of features; open source software, commercial software or projects that want to just use community features.

How do we reconcile that users want a wide variety of functionality with the issue that this might present too many features for us to convey concisely?

Users will always ask for more features. Your job is to curate. When you recommend a book or a movie, you don't tell the entire synopsis to get someone to read or watch. You figure out how to curate the recommendation. No different for a startup.

For you guys, the only thing people need to know and remember is that MinoHubs helps me get funding and make my software projects successful. That's the core of the idea.

The feature usage of an actual product also tends to follows the Pareto Principle. Most people use a small fraction of the features and a handful of features will be the most used by a wide margin.

Usually you market those most used features, but sometimes those features are different from the features that are best for getting them to sign up or even converting into a customer.

Thanks again Kevin. We're iterating on our design and how we get these messages across. This is really useful.

I'm a co-founder of Recent (https://recent.io), and we've created an iOS/Android app and recommendation engine that we describe as news powered by artificial intelligence. We have technical backgrounds; one of us also worked as a journalist for Wired, Time, and CNET. We're seed-funded, on the SF peninsula, and incorporated in Delaware. You were kind enough to invite us to attend YC's Startup School last October.

Coincidentally we started sending out beta invitations last night to the first group of people on our list before a planned public launch next month. Our recommendation engine is built on Google App Engine, which should (we hope) allow us to scale. My office-hour question for Sam and Kevin would be: What advice do you have for us at this stage?

Get out of beta. You're artificially constraining growth.

For example, I wanted to try it out. Couldn't. 1 user lost. You will struggle your entire startup's life trying to get as many people to use you as possible. It's not like you don't have bugs after you launch. If you're a decent startup, you will be agile and you will change and fix things as they come in.

Since this is a news recommendation engine, no one is going to die or lose a ton of money if your app isn't perfect out of the gate. So make it easy for people to try it out, recommend it to others, and get as much feedback as possible so you can make it better.

If you're worried about growing too fast...well, you should consider that winning the startup lottery. Chances are that's not going to happen and you should be so lucky.

Good luck launching!

Kevin: Thanks much for the excellent advice! My fears were finding serious bugs in the app or problems with the recommendation engine that would come to light with more users. But in retrospect my fears seem to have been launch anxiety: The response so far has primarily been folks saying: It's good, it's fast, and please can I have these additional features too!

Again, thanks for the advice, and I plan to follow it as quickly as possible.

Hey HN,

What we do:

We're building a community of vehicle data (http://shadenut.com). Mechanics and DIYers will be able to look up any piece of information they need to work on their car directly from their phone while still under the hood (ex. torque specs, TSBs, fluid types/capacities, etc). As a developer I've seen the positive effect that StackOverflow has had on our industry as a knowledge base and am trying to do the same for the automotive industry. The data will be crowdsourced and 100% free to use.

Our Problem:

Our biggest problem is that the product is not really usable unless it contains EVERY piece of technical data about a model, after which it becomes tremendously useful. The most common feedback we get from technicians is that they'd love to use it and contribute once it's a complete database (as long as it's accurate) but wouldn't switch from the paid competitors until then. The data is all available but there's simply too much of it for a small team to manually import. Our current strategy is to start with a select few models and incentive technicians to make their own entries.

However, I'd love to hear how Kevin and Sam would solve this or from others in the HN community who have faced similar problems.

My suggestion: start with strong subcultures. Become known to drifters as the people who have all the data on 240sx's, or to Jeep people who have specs on every single difference between each model year. Develop a good reputation with each community before moving to the next. Toyodiy is a great resource for me that does what you're doing, but it's not available in handy app form. Basically a comprehensive catalog of every Toyota model every made, with microfiches, parts lists, part cost estimates, task tutorials, and the ability to find your car not only by model and year, but by different models or body styles/trim styles within the same year. Unbelievably comprehensive and very uesful. If you can be as good as them (and they are nonprofit) on a mobile app, even if it's just for toyotas, all you will have to do is shut up and take my money.

That's my vision exactly. All the knowledge you would ever need is already out there, probably on page 17 of some forum post. But it'd be a huge to have it all in one place, easily accessible and most importantly, be able to confidently say that it's accurate (the wrong torque on a head bolt could be a $x,000 mistake).

Creating a database schema that reflects the manufacturers model naming and options decisions is indeed a complete pain but we're grinding through that.

I like your idea of finding a small number of the most passionate enthusiast subcultures and growing from there. Would love to hear more about how this app could help you. I'll send you an email.

Sure, it's listed in my profile.

I'm making a competitive real-time strategy game like starcraft (which is declining) but without the punitive aspect of the game which is why a massive number of players stop playing it I think. Starcraft is also the only decent competitive RTS on the market right now, a successor can grow at startup-level in the long term I beleive.

I have a solid engine, nothing launched yet.

My question is: why would you not fund this project right now? What could I do to improve my odds of getting funding?

Are you working on this by yourself?

Haha I know it sounds impossible but I think it is actually feasible. I beleive a game can grow like a typical startup product, you can start with a hundred players interested in a game with a handful of units and grow from there.

Here is a video of the product: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNIFd6jxQbY

Cracking attempt 3

I've proved in the past (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQLiANnRPBU) I can get plenty of traction with a minimal game done by a couple of guys. Moreover, since the RTS is competitive, I can get a feedback and growth loop by organizing tournament with prizes. If the core gameplay works and the updates are substancial, players will come more and more numerous each time.

Here is a video of the RTS (January): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNIFd6jxQbY

deprecated answer

Thanks Kevin for getting in touch. Yes I am. I've bought 2D graphics on the web which I think are enough good to get say 200K players. I also have a friend I've worked with recently at a game company which has started to help on the design (units, skills). I've talk to numerous players on reddit, that help for the design too. Here is what it looks like (please note this is an old video, a lot have changed since, even the name of the game): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNIFd6jxQbY

edit: oh also, you should look at the following FAQ that may answer some questions.


Q: Why don't you make a mobile game instead?

A: Ordinary game developers think there is some kind of a "game industry" which embodies the promess that if they make some cool content, copy some cool features and drop some names, they can make a profitable product.

Smarter people knows that a tiny fraction of softwares makes all the revenue. There is no exception to that rule, not even for games. Here is the proof: https://thinkgaming.com/app-sales-data/

If you look carefully, you'll notice that the 10th grossing game on iOS make 10% of the revenue of the first one. The 100th does 1%. And so on.

But smarter people think that games are like cat pictures: you can't predict which one gonna make it up to the top. Some top rated HN users think that, I have the names :)

I believe this is true about games on mobile platforms. Success on mobile is, well, just luck in my opinion. The proof is that it simply doesn't exist a single company right now which has made multiple hits which gross at startup-level (unless it's clones of the first product or others products, even then, the ratios are not the same). Another way of telling this is: I love flappy bird, it's an amazing game really, I've played it a lot, but no one ever would have predicted it would be a success. Same for angry birds.

It is false on the PC platform however. The proof is that some companies succeed to make multiple, if not only, hits which gross at startup-level (ie. blizzard, valve etc.). It is important to add that their games have high skillcaps (more on that later) and they never die: players keep playing them. This is true games like chess and poker and these companies achieve to conceive many of them. That proves you can think rationally about games and make some predictions.

Q: Why don't you make a facebook game then?

A: Beside poker, I've never seen a game on facebook, do you? I'm sure there is some but what I've seen the most are what we call in french attractions. That is roller coasters. So here is how it works. You put some cool banner on facebook. People click on it of course. Then, you put the people in wagons with a cool theme and you run the roller coaster in loop. At some point, you tell them it can go faster if they invite some friends. So do they. Since the friends of a random person on facebook is likely to click on a banner too, it works pretty well. Fine, I've no problem with this. But this is a very special kind of game if that is games at all. Real games have high skillcaps. It means that you can be better than your friend - subtancially better. Great games have even very high skillcaps, which means that you can dramatically beat your friend, also find someone who dramatically beats you and another one who dramatically beats the one who beats you and so on.

So here is the thing: Facebook offers a real nice feature which is the social graph. But it doesn't mean a game has to use it to be an interesting project to invest on.

Q: All right, but what I want to say is, your game is too big to be done by a couple of guys isn't?

A: I beleive this is false. The traditionnal way of shipping a game is to build all of it and then launch it to the world once and for all. I beleive it can be done another way. I beleive I can get 100 players playing it, then 1000, then 10000, etc, I just gonna make iterations. Minecraft did it that way. My game is in 2D for example. It's not top notch for a RTS, but I can get many players with a great 2D RTS. Once I have a great 2D game, I can replace the 2D graphics by 3D ones - it's particularly easy for a RTS technically. If the game is great, it will generate enough revenue to make subtancial iterations/opus, the same way a startup grow.

Q: Have you launched a kickstarter campaign?

A: No. I'm not entirely sure I like kickstarter for early-stage games. It tends to actually bring back the old shipping method: a launch once and for all. I might be wrong. What I was thinking however, and I'm not sure it has be done already, is to launch a kickstarter campaign when the game is quite in a pretty advanced stage. I think that would maximize the success of the campaign. Just thoughts to be polished.

Q: Have you launched your game on steam greenlight?

A: Not yet. Unlike kickstarter for early-stage games, I beleive steam greenlight is an amazing tool. I'm looking forward launching on it very early.

Q: Wait, but have you already made games?

A: Yes professionnally and as a hobby. Most companies in that field totally sux however, imho, so I've never shipped a game you could tell your friends. However this game I've designed from A to Z (I've even made the 3D characters under ZBrush) has been reviewed by Total Biscuit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQLiANnRPBU

We want to bring real time and accurate air pollution data to people on their mobile phones, using a network of low cost, solar powered sensors deployed at key road locations. Our sensor network will be more accurate and cost less than the EPA monitoring stations.

Help needed - We think that either the government or certain enterprises will pay for this data (since they already are spending money on such technology). What is the best way to validate these channels?

Hey Kevin and Sam,

Pitch: We're ATLAS, we plan to launch extremely small cubesat payloads (x<100kg) into low earth orbit on demand.

1) How much calculations/numbers crunched would we need to convince angels to invest? Rockets of this size aren't something we can bootstrap without a little financial support.

More Background:

Right now, the only way to get a cubesat into orbit is by ridesharing on bigger rockets as a secondary payload. The problem with this is they're not assured to reach a preferred orbit and are at the mercy of the scheduling of the primary payloads. NASA currently has a backlog of ~50 cubesats that need to get into orbit, as well as the many upcoming launches (including SpX this Sunday). We are currently working on the RFP for the Venture Class Launch Service however we may not have the resources to fully complete it by the deadline (13 July). We plan to market this service to Universities as well as hobbyists and government space agencies.

I think one of the challenges is that there is usually extra capacity to the ISS, and so you at least initially you need to compete on convenience not money (by the way, I should note that we funded Bagaveev in the last YC batch).

The most convincing thing to investors will be an order book--ie, go convince people in that backlog to say they will pay you a certain amount for future launches if you can build a reliable rocket. If you have that plus credible initial technical development you can probably raise some money.

Golden Speak (http://www.goldenspeak.com) helps you speak better by analyzing your voice for pitch, rhythm, vocab, fillers, and clarity. We'd like to talk about launching minimum features quickly vs. high user expectations that people have from apps like facebook, etc. Does it make sense to focus more on polish instead of launching within an almost embarrassing feature set?

I believe to be one of your target demographics (international students, thick accent) and I would definitely pay for a service like yours.

Focus on delivering a polished products that can deliver, I will try your product only once and if your product's quality convince me that there is an opportuntity to improve my speaking skills I will literally throw money at you.

Could Golden Speak be used to correct non native speakers with their accents? I have a (very) strong French accent when speaking English and I could use a tool like that.

My View: The smallest amount of features that will add value.

I'm in the early stages of bootstrapping a marketplace similar to those that exist for hotels (e.g. Booking.com, PriceLine, etc). The supply-side is primarily small businesses ("merchants"). The demand-side is consumers. The initial target market niche is small (~$600 million/yr in the US), but the product can serve a much larger market niche and I will do so when resources permit.

Today, this market niche is fragmented with high search costs for consumers. My marketplace will make it much easier for consumers to find and buy the products this this niche. Once off the ground, the marketplace will be a key source of customers for the merchants.

Consumers like the product, but the merchants are difficult to get on board. I find that the prevailing view is that the status quo is 'good enough'; merchants are conservative, and very few are early adopters.

Things I'm doing to address this:

1) Price for growth -- pricing based on a small flat fee that the merchant pays per transaction to align with value delivered, with first X transactions free (obviously I would prefer to charge a % of revenue, but that's a very, very hard sell with these particular merchants).

2) Provide the merchants with tools that help them run their business (i.e. give them reasons independent of the marketplace to use the app)

3) In-person visits to merchants. These are valuable for many reasons, and are only partially a sales call. These visits will always be something I do, but it doesn't scale enough to create a marketplace.

What strategies and tactics do you suggest to get merchants into the marketplace, to build up the supply-side?

I think that would depend on the type of merchants. what kind of merchants are you talking about? how would you manage their inventory?

it's positive that customers like the product, is it an app or website? if you have enough users you can convince merchants that you'll bring them more business by showing them the numbers you currently have

Tasqr (http://www.tasqr.io) makes it very easy for developers to ship their software to the cloud automatically, and very frequently. Developers and operations engineers typically have an understanding of how to manually configure and deploy their software via the command line. Tasqr leverages this existing knowledge in teams by helping them record their manual steps and replay them onto their live deployments. This allows engineers to operate in a language/environment they are already comfortable with- the command line.

My strategy thus far has been to find startups that need help doing their devops and help them automate their deployment using Tasqr. Finding customers this way has been slow, but I've gotten to learn quite a bit about how the product fits within a continuous integration workflow. I am starting to feel a little financial pressure to change my approach and scale my outreach, though my existing users really like my "do things that don't scale approach" unsurprisingly :-)

What are some signs that it's the right time to scale and chase bigger chunks of the market?

Hey fellas,

ACe here from Painless1099 (www.painless1099.com). We automate tax withholding/filing for anyone earning 1099 income (think: freelancers and Uber drivers.)

We're thinking through growth specifically right now and are chewing on whether to go the B2B route or the B2C route. Different implications for both regarding scale and revenue obviously. We'd be stoked on a bit of help figuring out which to tackle first and how to make headway!

Can you explain how B2C would work?

Hi Sam and Kevin,

We built ObjectiveFS, it's like Dropbox, but for servers. We have users running our shared file system in production, and are getting great feedback.

Our current challenges are user growth and upcoming competition from Amazon EFS.

We would like your feedback on what we can do on our website (http://objectivefs.com) or additional things we can do to get more people to start our free trial and to address the Amazon EFS competition.


Isn't NFS more of your competition? It looks like Amazon EFS is designed as a NFS competitor itself. Is your software better than NFS? As far as I can tell, everyone who uses NFS thinks it sucks. You will have a much easier time convincing people to switch from NFS to your stuff than from a not-yet-existing product to your stuff.

"Like Dropbox but for servers" doesn't seem like it's quite the right pitch. Because you also say, use this on your laptop. Maybe you want something more like, "Dropbox for teams of software engineers". Or just, "NFS that doesn't suck".

Thanks for your insightful comment. We are currently competing with NFS, GlusterFS & other distributed file systems. Our software is much easier to use, requires no storage cluster maintenance and has no single point of failure.

I like your suggestion on the pitch, especially the "NFS that doesn't suck". :-) We will work on improving our pitch. Thanks again!

Live Dota - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teamtol.li...

About a year ago I created an eSports app that lets fans of the game DotA follow and watch their favorite teams live and on the go. It's been super fun seeing my side project grow and have users in the community volunteer to help with designs and language translations.

The biggest tournament of the year (http://www.dota2.com/international/announcement/) is coming in a few months and I would love to talk about different ways to capitalize on this.

Hi Kevin and Sam,

I'm thinking about starting a company that extends the open-source concepts to the biology/pharmaceutical sphere. The concept is to make a modular, drug-producing microbial strain, and release that to researchers/industry under a permissive licence (e.g. bio equivalent of GPL). Monetization comes about by offering manufacturing services which cut the pain of 1) scaling and 2) getting "good manufacturing practice" regulatory clearance for clinical testing, and ultimately full consumer product.

Do you think there's VC interest in funding these sorts of ideas that have a somewhat riskier business model that also ultimately will extract a lower margin, but has a chance of changing the "way things are done"?

Hi there,

we are Tiedots (http://tiedots.co), a networking platform that provides you tailored information about other attendees every time you go to an event. This way we unveil you the most valuable leads and also find you the best way to approach. Saving time and increasing your business opportunities

The biggest challenge so far is building a solution that can provide relevant connections. Accuracy is the key and we’re working on a web semantic solution since we’ve been testing the solution manually with around 100 event attendees.

How would you determine the relevance? any other ideas?

PS: No matching solutions. Networking is about leads no matching.


Subcurrent sends out a single question/poll to enterprise teams every day or every week via Slack. Users respond with a single click, then optionally leave a comment.

The problem: our focus is divided on two types of customers (we’ve even created two landing pages for each type)

1. Product/Engineering teams - they get asked a new question every day that attempts to keep tabs on the health of the project. Questions are a combo of “post-mortem” style questions (but asked as you build product) and around prediction markets (larger n make better predictions) (https://www.getsubcurrent.com/product)

2. HR/Employee Engagement - users get asked a well researched question every 2 weeks. Instead of long, annual surveys, you now get to keep a pulse on morale and culture. Participation is higher since it only takes a single click in your already existing tools to respond. (https://www.getsubcurrent.com)

We have a number of customers using our free beta - most are using it for option #2. A very small number have connected with #1, and while we think it has a lot of promise, we haven’t talked to enough people to know how it might need to change to achieve product/market fit. We are at a crossroads of needing to pick one to focus on, because the distraction is making it difficult for both to progress.

I wanted to know how you would structure a profit sharing plan as an alternative to equity options for a small, bootstrapped company with virtually no IPO option. What would be fair? How would it work? How did WooFoo's program work? Consider this a blog post option too!

Our profit sharing plan pretty much followed the two pool approach. Here's a decent resource covering it:


That is, of course, if you have profits. Also, be careful. Extrinsic motivations like profit sharing doesn't correlate perfectly with productivity and performance. At some point, you're just throwing money away if you're just giving it all directly to employees. You'll get more bang for your buck if you spend first on things that create intrinsic motivations in your employees like a mission driven culture.

Hi, We are developing a self-checkout mobile application that allows consumers to scan items in a store and then pay with just their phone. Our app will use geolocation to identify which store the consumer is in and then automatically connect with the store’s point of sale system to ensure payment.

We built a prototype last week and went to stores and a retail conference this week. We are having problems convincing stores to adopt out product as they are very concerned with shoplifting.

Thanks, Rohan

Hi Kevin and Sam,

I am the creator of https://www.spqrs.com

The goal of Spqrs is to have a platform for the debate of ideas. As Sam noted in https://twitter.com/sama/status/610494268151431168 most smart people are wary about commenting on sensitive issues.

This is unfortunate as the Internet is a great place to discuss issues with people who may have a vastly different view, and in the process really examine why you think the way you do.

Spqrs provides a service similar to Twitter but allows you to follow hashtags as well as people and has a 1000 character limit instead of 140 better allowing you to make a point. The defining feature is that all usernames are pseudonyms so you can avoid threats to yourself or your livelihood based on what you say.

Right now this is a pay service. I am planning on charging $9/year. My biggest problem right now is finding subscribers. Any feedback and suggestions would be appreciated.

Hi Kevin and Sam,

We're from Mise. We are an online marketplace and meal delivery service for the signature/best dishes from professional chefs in the Bay Area. There’s a face and a story behind each dish. We do free weekly delivery to SF Bay Area, including San Jose & the Peninsula.

We operate on a revenue share model. Chefs source their own ingredients, pay for kitchen rental, cook dishes, and earn 70% of everything they sell. We apply our 30% towards delivery, personalized packaging, copy, and kitchen administrative fees.

We'd love to talk about obtaining that 10% week over week growth. We're launching in 2 weeks and have a lot of orders (but a good amount are on us and going out to influential members of the community). How do we grow that into paying customers? And is it too risky to keep giving out free product that when you have to also balance the returns of the suppliers/chefs themselves?


Thanks! :)

I launched Tech Talks and Books (www.ttbooks.io) about three weeks and just got my first 600 subscribers. It's similar to product hunt but for book and videos about tech and the community of submitters is more restricted than PH.

I'd like to discuss two things:

1- Signal vs Noise in online communities: Since you've been heavily involved in Reddit (Sam), I'd like to know how what your opinion in curating content vs. having an algorithm sift through the noise. We see companies like netflix and ph (allegedly?) combining big data with human curation and having a lot of success, so my question is: Should online communities invest in curation or big data? Is there a trend towards one or the other?

2- Monetisation: I'm having a hard time monetising this community. Since I'm looking to bootstrap it, its crucial that I get monetisation right so I was wondering if you had any tips on monetising communities?

I'm a co-founder at Stay22 (https://www.stay22.com), a Montreal-based startup that has developed a platform for users to search for places to stay (hotels & Airbnbs) around events

We provide a free solution for event organizers who are tired of doing customer service to their attendees by embedding our widget as easy as embedding a YouTube video. Other conferences have already hopped in like Traction Conf, check it out in action: http://www.tractionconf.io/accommodations

Let's just say that getting more events one by one isn't hard and our next step is to partner directly with ticket providers (SeatGeek, Ticketmaster) and do some sort of revenue share deal on accommodation sales.

I have seen a few companies that do custom apps for events.

Could you maybe partner with them? They include it in their app as an addon and you have a rev split? Win win on all sides.

I know one of the co-founders at: https://www.hellocrowd.net/

Mail me if you want an intro.

Howdy! How would you suggest marketing a new service to a hard-to-reach audience?

Brief overview: I would like to market local, weekend yoga retreats to professionals in the oil and gas, energy, and finance industries. No long absences from work or family, and no long-distance travel. The startup is set up in Houston, but can operate in any city in the USA. Lots of different marketing and advertising methods are being tried (online groups, directories, online forums, linkedin, etc.), but I am pretty much throwing things to the wall and seeing what sticks. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!

startup: bodyhugs: hug your body with movement and care

website: http://www.bodyhugs.org/

local health and wellness retreats in the USA

Just curious why have you chosen "professionals in the oil and gas, energy, and finance industries"?

Thank you for responding! (I thought bodyhugs would disappear in the comments.) This is where I am having the most difficulty in marketing. I'm not sure of the best way to reach them without coming off as intrusive.

I think yoga and meditation in a local, relaxed setting (not in a traditional gym or studio) may be truly beneficial to those who work long, stressful hours, particularly in industries that are sensitive to oil prices and environmental conditions.

Our product is a URL shortening service for individuals to monetize the content they share. Monetization occurs via an interstitial ad between the source of the short url (e.g. Facebook) and the destination of the short url (the content being shared).

The team right now is investing itself in areas such product, marketing, and architecture. We want to launch a product so we can begin testing our hypotheses, but we also want to go to battle sufficiently prepared. The latter requires significant effort in team building, which would detract from a product launch. What should we do?

How do you distinguish yourself from adf.ly?

adf.ly focuses on publisher-side monetization. We're focused on individuals monetizing the content they share through their social networks. While the traffic a user generates through a social network is less than a publisher, we hypothesize that it is still significantly undervalued, especially to the user.

Background: Review Signal aggregates and analyzes what people are saying on Twitter about web hosting companies to build a transparent review site.

URL: http://reviewsignal.com

Problem: People generally buy web hosting once every few years and there are very few channels beyond Google and word-of-mouth to capture people at the moment they are considering purchasing. The competition for Google is astronomical (one of the highest PPC areas at ~$20/click). Organic rankings are filled with spam sites touting the highest paying companies with very good SEO (Hello CNET). I've been trying for years to get my SEO up to that level without success. I'm stuck on 2nd/3rd page and have been for ages. It's like purgatory, I've tried build other sources of traffic through PPC, CPM and none have really panned out that well. I've tried creating great content and it has been ok in some niches. For example, for high performance WordPress hosting information my blog has become the go to source. I'd like any ideas on what I should be trying to do next or what I can do to improve what I'm currently doing.

Hi, Kevin and Sam,

I am the founder of https://ManualTest.io. My app automates manual testing. It generate and run integration tests by recording and replaying users' actions on their websites. Manual testing is still being used everyday (by developers or not), so this could be a huge time saver for them.

My app is recently available on the Chrome Web Store, it only got a few users, despite having quite positive feedbacks. My question is, I am not sure the lack of users is because (1) I haven't done enough marketing/SEO/etc to get it in front of people, or (2) because I need to build more features before users would find it useful enough to try, or (3) it is just not something users want.

If its (1), I should stop coding and start focusing on letting people know about my product. If it is (2), I have a few very useful features that are still waiting to be done, but they could take at least weeks to complete. Without enough initial users, I am not sure which features users want most, or if the current set of features is enough for now, so I should focus on letting users know about it (so it is (1)).


Hey, who is your market with this? From my POV developers doing testing have quite mature toolsets to do automated integration tests I.e selenium.

So what other types of people would find it useful?

Off the top of my head:

1. Tech Companies that have a testing/uat team that are not developers. For e.g i worked on a contract where testing was handed over from dev to a testing team which was largely manual.

2. Companies that purchase software, that have their own internal testing process which is still manual. For e.g when some projects i worked on we would do our testing then the client would do their testing which was all manual. These are business users with out any programming skills.

3. What about other people doing repetive things? Capturing data, saving data, extracting data?

  Who is your market with this?
That is a very good question. My original intend is for developers. Although there are tools like selenium, setting up, writing and running automated tests can still take a lot of time for the developers. Thats why I believe most developers still do some levels of manual testing, either during developing a feature or after, because the cost of automating it is too high (can easily exceed the time to develop the feature being tested). My frontend developer friends find my app useful mainly because it allows them to validate their code, even in the middle of development where the code churn is very high, since creating and running the tests are almost effortless. Plus, I could add the feature to export the tests/scenarios into test code, which would also be a huge time saver for developers, but this could take weeks.

But like you said, since developers have other options, I am not sure if the value proposition is high enough to make this into a viable business model. Another possible kind of customers would be those that doesn’t have the technical still, but need to either validate their websites, or provide a way to validate their websites to someone else, like in your example 1 and 2. The problem is, I am not sure where and how to target this niche of market to focus my marketing on, as it seems they could be in many different industries.

This is part of the reason I asked the original question, if I focus on developers, is the app good enough for developers to find it useful? or do I need to spend more weeks to add more features? If I focus on nontechnical users, where and how should I target them? If you have any suggestions, I definitely like to hear them.

(for your example 3, there are already better tools like import.io, so I don’t think I will repurpose my app toward that usage for now.)


I built a site to run tennis leagues. We have started in the bay area with 210+ matches taken place since February when it launched. Most other sites that try to do this look like they are built in the 90s and have little support for modern features like communicating via Whatsapp or decent mobile support. It could also be extended to other (racket) sports later. People pay a $20 fee for each league, which is about 8 matches in 8 to 10 weeks. http://www.racketlogger.com

The goal is to scale it across the US (and beyond, to any english-speaking area). Doing cost-effective marketing is key. How do we get the word out? How do we improve the site and experience so much that players tell their friends?

We put effort in SEO building a large database (the largest?) of string and racket specs with the goal of attracting some of the core fans of the sport (we started to get some clicks a day). There are a ton of other "social" and related ideas, the question is how to select which one(s) will work best.

The concept is awesome - I would definitely check this out when it becomes available in Texas, but navigating through the website is a little confusing. It is hard to figure out where to go, where to sign up, and how everything works. Can the site/software be integrated or customized? There are lots of tennis clubs that could use racketlogger to organize their leagues and fill up empty time slots for their courts. I wonder if you could also partner with gyms and fitness facilities.

Hey, here are my thoughts:

Where do tennis players meet? Where do they hang out? Are there online/off line spots you find them hanging out at? How are these leagues formed? Where are they formed? i would answer these questions and then focus aquistion around the answers.

Hi Sam and Kevin,

Company: http://PassWhiz.com

Question: We have an awesome product that schools love. It's time to sign up as many middle schools and high schools as possible before the new year rolls around. As a one or two man show, what advice could you give about approaching these schools and how to expose our product to this market? Thanks!

Hi Kevin and Sam, I'd like your advice on startups that connect real people/experts with those who need them.

Background: I'm building freedom.biz, which is currently a course for retail business owners who'd like to take their business to the next level. I sent out a survey to those on my interest list, and it became clear that I couldn't personally fulfill all their needs. However, I know people who can.

I'd love to build a company that connects vetted experts with the business owners who need them. I've seen startups in this realm, but they all feel generic and unfocused. What do you think would be a competitive advantage in this realm? What would you like to see that's not out there right now?


Hey guys, Our platform unbundles apps' and websites' most essential features and transforms them to interactive Cards. Similar to Google Now Cards. However the entire architecture is designed to be an open platform. Meaning anybody could come and build these interactive cards using our Language, REL. We believe, by unbundling Applications/WebService we can seamlessly start connecting different pieces of the web together, and create a more fluid and unified internet experience. An experience with an intelligent fabric that grows with our needs, preferences and expectations to help us make the right decision, at the right time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Relevant. Thanks!


I think that the next big step in Medical Technology will the the rise in software making medical decisions. This doesn't pose a big technological problem but it does pose a large regulatory problem.

I have experience getting cloud-based software through the FDA as a "medical device" and have overcome some of the most common hurdles.

I have an idea on how (and the ability to implement) a product to reduce the regulatory and monetary barrier to entry for this type of software.

My question is, in the current market, does this have any shot of getting funding? The product could never be used without the approval of the FDA, an expensive process. Is this a non-starter for most funds?

We are Blue Seat Media, a startup product studio in Cincinnati making apps for baseball fans. We're more inspired by Pixar than Fox Sports and our goal is to capture the magic of baseball in an industry that is inundated with bad design and middle-aged men arguing on the radio.

Question: how do we sell this to investors? I'm a designer and the CEO. I'm good at making a product that people love but I'm bad at fundraising. We are out to make only high quality products, another hard sell to investors because high quality takes more time (money).

We have a great product that fans will absolutely love, we just need help getting it out there.

Streak - (https://goo.gl/VvgCnv)

We made a trivia gameshow for mobile devices. Everyone plays simultaneously once-a-day at 11AM PT / 2PM ET. Players see the exact same questions, so it's like a live, multiplayer, interactive version of traditional gameshows on TV.

We have ~300 MAUs and ~50 DAUs and solid retention, but to get that up to 1,000 DAUs should we be more focused on trying to trigger organic sharing within the app or top line from press, blogs, reddit, Facebook ads, etc? Is our user base too small to even know whether our organic sharing is really working?

Company: https://www.staffjoy.com

Pitch: Our application decreases labor costs by precisely scheduling hourly employees to fulfill business demand. By preventing over and under-scheduling, we've been able to show a 10% decrease in labor costs with early customers.

Question: What wisdom do you have about "go-to-market" strategy in the retail space? We have startups as clients that are eager early adopters, but to cross the chasm to sustainable growth it seems that we will have to focus on retail companies and going to many trade shows. What can we do now to prepare?

Hi Kevin and Sam,

We are working on a new version of http://www.muusical.com. The new version is a significant change. It is going to be a free Spotify that is powered by a crowdsourcing platform where users add the music and meta data.

I would love feed back about a strategy for approaching investors who are wary about music startups.

If you're interested, read more here too: https://angel.co/muusical


Product: Marine vector maps (GPU accelerated)

iOS Download link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/i-boating-gps-nautical-marin...

Website: http://i-boating.com

Our biggest pain point: Distribution

Are there any plans to do another office hours session? Would be interested in getting Kevin's feedback in particular on my startup FocusGroupIt (https://focusgroupit.com).


Memaroo is a web research dashboard, designed to make iterative web searching organized and more efficient. Memaroo records your search history into different projects, which can be accessed from anywhere -- so you can search for things on your phone and then continue your research later on your desktop. Projects can also be shared with other users, allowing collaborative searching and result sharing.

Memaroo is an improvement to an established search paradigm. But people are comfortable in that paradigm, despite its flaws.

How can I get potential users to break their existing search habits and try something new and possibly better?

Stealth mode side project is software for creating data entry forms for clinical medicine and research. I have, uniquely, solved the discrete data with ontology problem in healthcare and healthcare analytics. The question I would like to discuss is what is my point of entry into the market; what kind of customers would be best targets as early adopters?

Hey guys,

We are CodePicnic (codepicnic.com), a platform for sharing, running and showcasing code through a browser. We help people and business improve their demos, APIs documentation, or anything that needs for their users to run and try some code online.

We'd love to improve our "getting there" process. We've been interacting with users here in Hacker News, Reddit, Product Hunt and other sites, and getting better and increasing our usage, but still we feel is not enough right now. Our first users love us, the service and the potential, but perhaps there's something glaring we aren't doing well in order to be more well known. Is a long process, we get it, but the more we learn, the better.

I also believe this is an important matter that many other startups would love to learn about.


Detached from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9785941, per "please don't comment otherwise on this thread until we're done at 1 pm PDT". You're welcome to have this discussion after that, of course.

I am building youtube for content where users get paid for sharing their content.

One of the problem I am facing is how to pay them back? And how to checkout if the view was genuine or was done by some bot?

Kevin/Sam: This is way off-topic, but it's an unusual and I think worthwhile situation: A couple of Nigerian teenagers have their project on the front page and one found his/her way to the discussion. Unfortunately, most of the thread is nitpicking criticism. A quick comment might do a world of good.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9787010

Sorry to all if this comment is inappropriate.


Office Our provides a portal for investors to interact with their top 5 potential investments. "Separate the wheat from the chaff."©

At Office Our an investor creates a post (or "bulletin") inviting the community to pitch their startup. Users vote on the "wheat" and the top 5 earn the right to receive a response. The investors can then manage their bulletin and follow-up outside of our platform.

For this we charge a simple, flat $5 fee to each investor per potential investment per month on an annualized basis in the form of credits which are distributed by each of the user's votes in batches of baker's dozens. "Investing - simplified"©

I look forward to your feedback.

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