New Startup Connects Inmates to Their Families

It seems like the Internet is always buzzing about new startups, but Pigeonly, which connects prisoners to their families and loved ones in the outside world, sets itself apart from the others by serving a community that few have thought to include in the tech development mix. 

Founder Frederick Hutson started the company after spending four years in prison for drug-related charges where he saw that an inmate’s money does not go very far. While most companies operating in this space seem to be gouging prisoners with exorbitant prices, Pigeonly is trying to make life a little simpler.

“I noticed that there was this population of people that no one was paying attention to and they had very specific problems. That’s where the idea first formulated in my mind to build products to address various communication issues between inmates and their family members,” Hutson said.

Read more.

Image: Flickr/[AndreasS]

Launching a Y Combinator-backed product

Last Wednesday, I launched an app for the first time since my company joined Y Combinator. It was huge for us: our TechCrunch article has been shared over 1,500 times, we were on the front page of Hacker News, and the ProductHunt post about Treeline has received almost 1,000 upvotes. Best of all, in the first 48 hours, we had almost 10,000 developers sign up for our app.

Since then, a lot of people have been asking about our launch strategy, and for the low-down on our numbers. Rather than responding to everyone individually, I figured I’d put together a more complete analysis for everyone to share. Here goes:

Wednesday morning, I drove up to San Francisco to chat with Kyle Russell from TechCrunch. We had just launched our developer preview of Treeline a few days before, but we still hadn’t announced ourselves as a company in the Winter 2015 batch of Y Combinator. With Demo Day fast approaching, it was time.

The chat with TechCrunch went well (Kyle’s a really cool guy), and about an hour later I was on my way to SFO to fly back to Austin for South by Southwest Interactive. I wasn’t sure exactly when the TechCrunch article would go out, but I figured we’d have at least a few days to “batten down the hatches”, so to speak.

So when the plane landed in Austin at around 9PM and my phone started going off with over 100 Slack notifications, I started to panic a little. The TechCrunch article on Treeline had gone out 18 minutes ago.

There were a few comments on the article itself, but I spent most of the next four hours glued to my phone responding to tweets. Back in California, Scott and Cody had turned our living room into a command center to send out beta invites and monitor our infrastructure, and Irl was responding to in-app questions with Intercom.

Within an hour and a half, we were on the front-page of Hacker News. I geared up for a long night. This had happened to me a few times before: when I posted the original Sails.js screencast, when I first talked about the framework on InfoQ back in 2013, when Microsoft contributed to the framework, and more recently when I taught a live Sails.js course on Platzi.

A good eight hours on the front-page of Hacker News usually drives anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 unique visitors, depending on the time of day. That’s not all that crazy, but it’s important because of who the visitors are: in my opinon, the Hacker News readership is a mix of extremely vocal (and oftentimes nameless) commentors and mostly quiet but influential readers. The comments can get pretty negative sometimes, but there are usually some nice folks who will stand up for you, particularly after dark (PST).

It’s important to realize that 90% of the value that comes from this sort of attention- whether it’s a TechCrunch article or getting on the front-page of Hacker News or showing up at the top of subreddit- is the social media whirlwind that follows. Remember when I mentioned the 1,000-5,000 visitors from Hacker News earlier? The real number is actually much higher thanks to shares on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and other social media websites (more like 15,000-30,000 unique visitors.)

By 11:30 Austin time (9:30 back in California), we’d seen over 2,000 new signups for the beta, and the TechCrunch article had around 500 shares. Unfortunately, Hacker News went down a few times during this stretch of the night and we lost some traction there. However, despite only being on the front page for a couple of hours, Cody’s post picked up around 60 upvotes and definitely drove some virality.

As we invited more and more users to our closed beta, we ran into a memory leak which took us offline for several minutes, but we got around it temporarily by cranking ourselves up to 20 Heroku dynos. We were eventually able to resolve the issue, but around midnight, we had to triage our experimental API hosting feature. This was unfortunate, but not that big of a deal (Treeline ships with a CLI tool that you can use to develop against your app locally)

By around 1AM PST, we had around 3,000 signups, and that was just fine. I was relieved everything was working again for the people we’d let in so far. But then things got weird.

I’d heard of Product Hunt, but being rather disconnected from the mainstream Silicon Valley scene, I didn’t really know much more beyond the general idea: a website that lists a bunch of product launches you can upvote every day.

But nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

In the next four hours, the ProductHunt post brought us over 4,000 new signups. And these weren’t just any signups— these were JavaScript, iOS, and Android developers! (Considering that only 0.2% of the world can write code, I can’t even imagine what that number would look like if we were out of beta and launching to a wider audience of non-developers.) Crazier still, the next morning (Friday), when Product Hunt sent out the daily top 10 email, it drove 2,000 more.

While I learned a lot last week, perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered was Product Hunt. It does not drive more web traffic than “official” media channels or Hacker News… but it drives positive discussion, valid questions and actual early adopters. It brought us some of our most influential and active users from outside of the Sails.js community- people who actually use our platform.

As to “how?”…unfortunately, I have no idea. It’s possible that Treeline was a fluke, or that developer tools are just a particularly good fit for the Product Hunt community (as of today, our launch is the 15th-most-upvoted post in the history of the site). But either way, I can’t emphasize enough how important the platform was for us. If you’re a startup founder putting together a lauch plan, you should definitely make sure you’ve got ProductHunt near the top of your list.

Here are some of the things I would do differently next time:

1. Special invite code for the Product Hunt community

Even though we weren’t ready to allow open access to our platform, I should have thrown together a quick hack to allow people from Product Hunt to enter a special invite code which was time-boxed for 12 hours. Then we could have shared that invite code as a comment on the post and let more of the Product Hunt community access the site

2. Tweet button after signing up

We forgot to put a “Tweet” button on the “Thanks for signing up for our beta!” page until days after our launch. This could have added an additional factor of exponential growth, since every developer who signed up would have been reminded to let their friends and coworkers know about Sails.js/Treeline (we also could have put a “Tweet” button on every circuit so that new developers would know that they could share a permalink to the their app, or even down to a specific route or model. It was a feature we spent a lot of time working on, but no one even knew about it)

3. Spend more time in Product Hunt

We didn’t realize how much of our growth was coming from Product Hunt until we were all about to pass out and go to sleep. If we had spent less time in Twitter and Hacker News comments, and more time granting beta access to folks on Product Hunt, we could have done even better than we did.

Anyway, hopefully reading about our launch was helpful for you. And if you’re using Treeline, thanks so much for your support. Your early involvment and feedback is crucial to the success of our mission: eliminating repetitive backend development forever.

Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions.


PS. if you’re still waiting on your Treeline invite, please be patient— we’re still trying to keep up. If you’re anxious to get started, give @treelinehq a shout on Twitter and me or someone on our team will help you cut the line.

3/26 Sand Hill Buzz

Good news everyone!  Our friends at the SEC are opening equity crowdfunding in a big way.  

For months rumors had swirled that the cap on crowdfunding would be $1M with many strings attached.  Since $1M is less than most seed rounds, this would effectively have neutered the bill.  

Instead, they announced that the limit would be $50M.  This is great news for the Sand Hill Exchange community, who are the most eager to participate in startups. 

Sand Hill Buzz

$SLCK Slack claims to have doubled in valuation since becoming a unicorn five months ago, closing at a $2.8B valuation.  One writer hypothesized that the messaging app is just buying bubble insurance.

YC’s frothy expansion has generated buzz of late.  Following this week’s demo day (now diluted into two days), the accelerator (now calling itself a seed fund) announced a new emphasis on hardware (after recent foci on nonprofits andbiotech).  The club’s reigning oligarch made a $100K bet that the aggregate YC W15 class would be worth $3B by 2020, because everybody likes betting on startup valuations!

3/26 網摘 - 品牌電商行動化、活動平台、Zenfone

1.91APP 宣布獲 2.8 億 A 輪投資,矢志啟動第三波零售業革命

「app 加上官網,才是品牌在網路上完整的佈局」,接下來 91App Inc. 將在第二季實現「品牌獨立化」的目標,觸角延伸到實體世界,為實體商家推出 「實體門市POS串聯方案」,提供一站式服務,協助品牌深化會員經營,無論何時何地都能掌握消費者的一舉一動。何英圻指出,「91 App 將串聯商家自己的實體 + 網站 + app 三者,讓線上線下所有資源完全融合」。他預測,未來不會再有網路取代實體,或是實體取代虛擬的爭議,只會以「有無行動化」來區分。

不打火熱的平台戰,而是幫店家打造獨立 App 商店及行動版網頁,這樣也許不像平台上的搜尋可以一次列出各種價位和品牌的目標商品,但仔細回想自己的網購經驗,在搜尋後,我會選幾個比較有興趣的標的,再來回搜尋開箱文、評價文,最後在決定下單,如果改成讓我下載我本來就喜歡和信任的品牌商家 App,也許可以減少這些來回搜尋、切換頁面動作,商家推出的折扣活動也可以更有彈性,真正協助品牌抓住消費者



3.Google 的新技術:不同的觀眾看電視,可能看到不同的廣告

據 The Verge 報導,Google 推出了一項基於其光纖接入項目 Google Fiber 的電視廣告服務。透過 Google Fiber 的機上盒,Google 能夠讓廣告主明確知道有多少人觀看了一則廣告,而 Google 則透過有多少人觀看來向廣告主收費。目前我們並不清楚 Google 的電視廣告具體會做成什麼樣,但如果是和 AdWords 一樣,那麼 Google 的電視廣告也一定更加個性化。比如當你從足球比賽轉台到籃球比賽的時候,可能會為你播放紅牛的廣告,而當你轉台到新聞節目的時候為你播放保險公司的廣告; 比如你和朋友分別在各自家裡同時看同一部電視劇,但看到的廣告可能就是不一樣的。


4.YC DEMO DAY 2      




,致力於連接本地有機生鮮的生產者和消費者。平台首先吸引有機農場主們入住,然後以低於有機食品超市的價格向用戶提供優質安全的生鮮食品。Good Eggs在每一個城市都建立了集散中心,每天收集、存儲並打包客戶訂單上的貨物,然後再派送到分散各處的客戶手中。不過與其他如Good Eggs等其他生鮮電商不同的是,GrubMarket只做有機生鮮平台,而不建倉庫。

在這家公司提供的平台上,你可以尋找購買品質優異的紅酒,買完紅酒之後可以選擇立即送上門,或者是存幾瓶放在Underground Cellar自己的倉庫裡,等到想喝的時候再一併取出來。不過最棒的地方在於,如果你購買了平台上的一些收藏酒瓶,就可以用這些瓶子“免費升級”獲得品質更棒、價格更貴的紅酒。

5.自後台到前台,從 ZenFone 案例看華碩的行銷危機處理



我覺得除了提升公關危機意識,也要將危機的處理定下「SOP」,之前大學有修過一門業界前輩開的公關課,其中一堂課老師邀了某間公司的公關部門負責人來跟我們談公司的SOP制定,從向上呈報的流程,發言人的安排和訓練、媒體發布的策略等等,定出並優化出路徑最簡潔的 SOP 後,危機發生時才不會因訊息傳遞而耽誤到決策.我想,大多公司都低估了公關這個領域,許多行銷上的奇蹟或是一個產品的殞落都源自於此

The Startup Seesaw

“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.” -Paul Graham

Startups = Growth.

However, there is a disconnect many first-time founders have when starting a company.

“It takes investment to grow, and you have to grow to get investment.”

This is the Startup Seesaw.

When you are involved in the seesaw you have to quickly delegate tasks, update investors, and talk to customers, so that your growth is firing on all cylinders.

Everything else we associate with startups including investment will come once you and your team execute your growth goals.

The seesaw is overwhelming to many (including myself at times) but luckily there is a solution:

Communication and organization.

There are amazing tools to accommodate the organization of your teams growth processes.

For example the LendLayer team organizes our growth with;
Asana -for tasks and delegation
Pipedrive -for our updates on our funnel
Slack -for overall communication about tasks, operations, and the funnel.

Organization can go far keeping your team on the same page, BUT you still have to do the legwork to acquire new customers for close to nothing when you are first starting.

How do I acquire new customers without cash?

  1. Push content
  2. Social engagement
  3. Email templates

Content is king for startups.

Content is free.

One of my favorite startups Buffer mastered content early on. Every non-technical person on their team would publish a blog post daily/weekly.

This allowed them to target their readers through SEO and grow exponentially.

Fact: You would rather read a great article than look at an advertisement.

Social Engagement is just as free as content and even simpler to execute.

By utilizing Slack, we send each other pictures and quotes that LendLayer’saudience would enjoy reading or sharing.

Our content manager shares the pictures of events we’re attending or the quotes we hear on all of our channels tracking which drives the most uniques.

This is free and organic for the audience.

Fact: Social platforms users would rather have a brand personally comment on their Instagram photo than look at a promoted post/photo.

Start commenting and engaging with people you want in your community.

Email templates are commonly misunderstood and misused. I use email templates as a foundation to keep everyone sending the most up to date metrics.

When your team is reaching out to a potential new customer or partner, you need to have the most up to date success metrics involved in that email. (i.e. number of current partners, names of current partners, use cases)

Curation is easier than creation.

Your templates are merely a foundation.

Have your templates organized by who you are reaching out to, in Google Drive for your team to update as you acquire new customers/partners.

Again, your templates exist to ensure that everyone is keeping new customers up to date on your most recent growth metrics.

Personalizing each email is non-scalable, BUT a business without any customers isn’t very scalable either.

“One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale.” — Paul Graham

You absolutely HAVE to personalize each email to get to know your customers and partners.

Treat your customers and partners like you would like to be treated, do your homework on their business.

Fact: Nobody likes getting an email blast from a template email.

Moral of the story: The Startup Seesaw is difficult especially when you are raising money, but it is possible.

Investors want to see growth, so keep them updated with your growth goals, and completely crush the goals.

Hope this helps with your Startup Seesaw,

Mobile Is Hastening A Post-PC Era


Earlier this winter I joined several hundred investors at Helsinki’s annual Slush event, which started in 2008 as a cozy gathering of Nordic entrepreneurs and has since grown into a leading conference of its kind in Europe, drawing 14,000 participants and, this year, a keynote from Chinese vice premier Wang Yang.

It’s impossible to spend time in Finland without considering the importance of mobile—Nokia is headquartered there, of course, as are Rovio and the more recent gaming juggernaut Supercell. From a global perspective, to say that mobile devices are disrupting the digital media landscape grossly understates the case. We are witnessing a major shift in how billions of people connect to the Internet, consume media and interact with each other. More time is spent in mobile apps than on all of the Web, and the smartphone industry already dwarfs the PC sector. 

Indeed, mobile modes of consumption are ubiquitous across many cultures; just one train ride in New York, Beijing, or Berlin will quickly prove that, when it comes to staring at and touching small screens, we’re all pretty much the same. To date, the most common way to gauge the impact of this phenomenon has been to measure the amount of media consumed by device type—hours of YouTube videos watched, Pandora stations streamed—as well as the corresponding mobile revenue of certain media properties like Facebook

Less noted, but equally significant, are the changes being wrought by mobile modes of production. When it comes to media or content, many people still consider the smartphone to be the younger, peskier cousin of the desktop, inheriting all of its innovations of the past two decades, while still stubbornly resisting large-scale advertising. In fact, the opposite is true. These days, mobile often leads the charge, with smartphones and tablets serving as the test bed for experimentation in user experience. And mobile innovations are now often driving change on desktops. Here are four examples to consider:

1. Website architecture and design: The dominance of the Visual Web as a design metaphor is reflected in every major website redesign of the past year—from MarthaStewart.com to Weather.com—and owes its rise to the mobile camera. Never before in history has it been so easy to create and share high-resolution photos, and it is no accident that websites become less text-heavy and more image-rich at the same time high-quality images became easier and cheaper to create. Additionally, many media properties are finally embracing responsive design and some, like Quartz, are bringing mobile idioms—single-column scrolls with Twitter card types of functionality—into the architecture of their desktop sites. 

2. Native advertising: They say every new medium borrows the advertising formats of the past. That has certainly been true in mobile advertising, as anyone who has ever mistakenly clicked on a scrunched, illegible, resized 320x50 banner can attest. But as it became clear that ad adjacencies were often nonexistent on small screens, Facebook, Twitter and others created noninterruptive in-feed units, growing their mobile revenue famously in the process. Some desktop sites, like Quartz and BuzzFeed, now avoid standard IAB placements altogether in favor of units integrated within content. And a new AdTech cottage industry of native advertising platforms has arisen, including standouts like TripleLift and AdsNative

3. Push media: When Oracle’s Responsys group acquired mobile push notification company Push IO last year, it noted that “while push notifications are primarily delivered over mobile devices today … marketers will soon deliver push notifications through Web browsers, gaming devices and entertainment systems.”  Push notifications are the newest channel under the categories of direct marketing and CRM. According to the founders at Roost, a recent graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator program, Web push is clearly superior to both email and SMS, with higher opt-in rates, lower price points and more sophisticated analytics. 

4. Survey data: Not necessarily the sexiest area of media, surveys and panels have nonetheless formed the backbone of major media research companies such as Nielsen and SurveyMonkey. But in a world in which the average person consults his or her smartphone 150 times per day, there is diminishing patience for the long-form survey. Startups like Wedgies and Polar (now part of Google) bring a BuzzFeed- like sensibility to an old format, turning surveys into interactive content and capturing massive amounts of user data in the process. 

Over the coming years, as an additional 1 billion people come online through smartphones, digital will come to mean mobile, and mobile will continue to drive innovation in ways we’ve only begun to imagine.

- Josh Engroff, Managing Partner, kbs+ Ventures

3/25 網摘 - Y Combinator、足記、Facebook 新聞頻道

1.YC DEMO DAY 1- 又到了收割一大波創業公司的季節






當使用者成功被授權後,就能在Gmail或Inbox App接收電子帳單。雖然電子帳單已經不是新鮮事,但是透過這項服務,帳單類郵件會直接被歸到Pony Express的資料夾中,點開信件後,用戶可以直接選擇在Pony Express中,以銀行帳戶或簽帳卡繳費。
Google現有的付費機制Google Wallet並不支援連結銀行帳戶,Re/code就猜測,Pony Express若不是Google Wallet的延伸服務,就可能成為另一獨立付費機制。

3.文藝女青年的創業故事:足記 App 一夜爆紅

足記是一款圖片拍攝和處理 App,主題是「拍大片、遊場景,像電影一樣去生活!」使用足記可將普通圖片處理成電影畫面效果,並配上字幕,同時還提供大量的電影拍攝地資訊,將電影、拍照和社群相結合。
對於足記這樣的創業團隊,在中國市場做社群平台幾乎是不可能的,楊柳對於足記在社群方面的突破也沒有考慮太多,她不想做中國版的 Instagram。現階段把使用者喜歡的大片模式功能深度優化,做到簡單好用。足記誕生的初衷是圍繞地點故事的,這是足記的核心價值,任何產品都有起起落落,這終究是一群文藝青年做給另一群文藝青年的產品,看熱鬧的人走了,總有人會留下來,楊柳希望做的是不會有人因為足記當機而離開了這個 App。

原以為足記是那種潮流行的拍照 App,風頭過了就煙消雲散,但現在似乎即將被投資,先不管這消息正確與否,想跟大家腦力激盪一下,大家覺得這個 App 有哪些可能的續命方向?




媒體的效益太大了,有了流量,可以主導趨勢、公關操作、導購、賣廣告版位等等,大家都想跳進來做,FB 又擁有這麼大量的使用者,開發自己的新聞頻道是很合理的,但目前的消息看來,這個渠道總讓我覺得有點了無新意,就是彙整各家媒體的一個入口平台,期待 FB 能以社群為本玩出些新花樣

5.台灣圖像識別雲端服務 Viscovery 獲 A 輪投資 500 萬美元

在百貨逛街時,看到喜愛的商品,你是否會想查一下網路評價?卻在不大不小的手機畫面敲著關鍵字搜尋、一頁頁地找相關評論,翻到第三頁時你就會開始想放棄了。也許未來可以簡單點,通過 Viscovery 的拍照搜尋雲端服務,拍一下喜愛商品,即在幾秒內幫你找到相關商品資訊,有效縮短消費者從有購物慾望到下單購買的消費流程。
瞄準 O2O 崛起及行動搜尋商機,Viscovery 結合影像辨識、機器學習、大數據分析等技術,提供 O2O 行動商務解決方案,技術研發實力及商務拓展能力備受肯定,成為 Amazon、IBM、Cisco 等知名大廠技術伙伴

Meet Razorpay, the first Indian startup to get YCombinator backing this year

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The Y combinator is a very elegant and useful formula. :)

If this all seems gibberish to you (which it probably does), look up the lambda calculus. This article is a short introduction and mainly an explanation of the Y combinator and its use. For a more complete, but lengthy and academic explanation there’s also the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry on the lambda calculus, or this one which explains it using Python. It’s definitely worth learning, especially if you’re into programming and computer science.

"Payment technology is a fascinating area to me. To unlock funding capabilities is to create resources that can power social movements. Revolutions around the world start when people come together to try to change something, to make something better: improve their environments, change their government, or enhance their lives. Generating discussion and support for a movement are critical, but without harnessing the actual financial resources necessary to make that change happen, you’ve only done half the work. Building awareness is vital, of course, but it’s not simply social support, but also social capital that is needed to effect that change, and you need innovative payment technology to facilitate that piece of the equation. I’ve always been interested in different payment technologies, but what really excites me is applying these technologies in the real world. I’m passionate about what innovative payment technologies can enable. I feel the same way about computers — it’s not the computer itself that fascinates me, but rather its potential to change the world that inspires me.

I grew up in Egypt, in a poor environment.  At the time, ten or fifteen years ago, there weren’t a lot of resources. Looking back, I feel very blessed; coming from a poor family taught me the importance of hard work, and the value of money. To be honest, I believe that I got to where I am today because of an insane amount of luck and relentless perseverance.

The first time I ever saw a computer was in high school. There was a computer programming class, and I was always very mathematically inclined (my father was a mathematics teacher), so I signed up for the class, and that was my introduction to computer science. About one year after finishing the class, I started my first business.  

Keep reading

Right, PG’s advice is not useful for all founders, just the 1 out of every 10 that makes it big. The others are supposed to nut up and get over it. His advice does, however, benefit every venture capitalist.

I don’t think there are many who would seriously suggest that YC/PG have bad intentions but survivor bias can have exactly the same effect.


YC application is almost up, We are sending in our application :)