Founder Stories: Storify and MinuteBox

Last Friday, as part of the Imperial Entrepreneurs speaker series programme, we had the founders of Storify, Xavier Damman, and MinuteBox, Josh Liu, in the Imperial College Business School.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Imperial Entrepreneurs about what they do and the set of events planned out for the year. Both speakers had fascinating stories of entrepreneurship and how they grew their businesses from scratch in uncertain times.

Xavier, who has a background in Computer Science joined the City for one year and swiftly moved on to starting his own business. His first concept was to develop a product to help people publish stories around social media, in particular Twitter. He was bold and moved from Brussels to Silicon Valley with his girlfriend not knowing what to expect and with only a few contacts. After 6 months of hard work and networking, his business, Storify, got $2 million funding from Khosla Ventures and also managed to get a co-founder who was in the media industry. Xavier was juggling his time between meetings with venture capitalists and coding the product by himself. Storify allows people and companies to create stories around social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube. Xavier is very passionate about the concept of sharing and how his product allows people to capture individual posts, photos and links that would otherwise have been lost in the web, and create stories around these. Xavier says “Everybody is a reporter, but thanks to journalists, those voices can impact wide audiences, be remembered, change the world”. Xavier’s aim is to reinvent storytelling with social media, and to make everyone a ‘journalist’.

One tip from Xavier for aspiring entrepreneurs was “Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness.” It is, after all, in words of Steve Jobs, those of us who “think different, … , have no respect for the status quo”, that will make a noticeable difference in this world.

Our second visiting entrepreneur was Josh from MinuteBox. Josh is an alumni of Imperial College, and his product focuses on in getting people in touch with specialists in certain areas of expertise. The first iteration of his product got some negative publicity on TechCrunch (a leading technology/startup blog), but despite this, MinuteBox became a succesful startup enabling people to have a live chat with professionals in various fields through looking at LinkedIn profiles. Josh came from a working class family and fought hard to break out of it and build his own business. Josh’s largest piece of advice from the evening was to have a great team when starting out, as these are the people who you will be spending most of your time with. Even though Josh was not a technical cofounder, it was his succesful collaboration with the team he formed, that ensured the eventual success of MinuteBox.

The visit from Xavier and Josh is the first of many inspiring talks Imperial Entrepreneurs has planned. The focus of the society is to promote entrepreneurship and the idea that there is another possibility after graduation other than working for one of the very tempting investment banks. Imperial College represents some of the top intellect around the world, and it is people like that who are able to create innovative companies of their own which generate value for society.

If you are interested in entrepreneurship, starting your own company, the technology sector, or just want to listen to some very inspiring speakers, come to the talks organized by Imperial Entrepreneurs!

Seedcamp 2011

After interning in London for the summer, I had the opportunity of helping out with Seedcamp week 2011. Seedcamp is Europe’s largest tech startup accelerator programme. There were 4 main days, Entrepreneurs, Product, Growth and Demo day. The energy throughout the whole week was intense as a whirlwind of more than 100 entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from around the world were present each day. We also got a copy of ‘The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries‘ one week early!

We had quite a few interesting talks throughout the week as well. Notable ones are from Ilya (Yandex), Martin Varsavsky (Fon) and Dave McClure (500 Startups). The best quote I took away from the event was from Dave who said “Hate is closer to Love than indifference”. Slides from his presentation are here.

Inspiring talk by Martin Varsavsky

Good luck to the Seedcamp startups!

Facebook Puzzles : Liar, Liar

I have been meaning to write this post for some time. I had some time on my hands last year and decided to try and solve the Facebook Puzzle Liar Liar (spec here). The solution was accepted by the Facebook Robot.

The first thing to realise is that (like most of these Computer Science related challenges) this problem can be translated into a graph traversal problem. We have 2 distinct groups of people, liars and truth tellers. The problem can be represented using a bipartite graph as truth tellers give the names of liars and vice versa.

So the first step of the solution is to go through the input specification and create a graph with each person connected to the list of people they are accusing. At the time of solving this problem my strongest language was Java, hence the solution is in Java as well.

I used a HashMap of Strings (people’s names) as the key and the value was a set of strings (accusers of the particular key).

When this is done, we can use breadth first search to traverse the graph (as the graph is fully connected) and we can create two sets, one of liars and one of truth tellers (we will never know which one is the liars though) and output the size of both.

The solution is here, feel free to send me feedback.

Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge (svc2c)

I visited Cambridge on the 18th of November 2010. I took a train from London Kings Cross at around 19:30. The evening was spent roaming around Queens’ College and Cambridge.

In the morning I rushed to the Judge Business School to attend the Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge conference. The first keynote speaker was Mike Schroepher (Vice President of Engineering at Facebook),  where he gave an inspirational talk about his past at Stanford University, Mozilla and Facebook. He mentioned that young people should constantly look at the things that they enjoy as future career plans as opposed to doing something for financial or other motives.

A panel on how to endure startups was particularly fascinating. Adam Nash (Vice President of Search & Platform Products at LinkedIn) was of the opinion that flexibility in employees is a key element. Mike was of the opinion that hiring employees that can solve problems surpassing specifications was what he looks for. He also gave a very different outlook on life and how the theory of flow is something that is so vital and fundamental in the short and long term. Tackling pertinent problems rather than entire industries was the advice he gave to budding enterprenuers.

A keynote speech by John Lilly (Venture Partner at Greylock, outgoing Mozilla CEO) focused primarily on how to handle a work / life balance. He mentioned how his contacts had an impact on his life, and advised the audience to look 10-20 years down the road and visualise people you would like to be and work with.  Exposure to random social activities and meeting lots of people was a good way of networking he said. Treating people well who resonate with you is another key element he mentioned.

Top commandments for entrepreneurs given by distinguished Silicon Valley guests are as follows:

  • Hire the right people
  • Be loyal to your markets
  • The ‘if’ factor is the most important
  • Talk about your ideas to as many people as you can
  • People need to think for themselves rather than be lectured
  • Making your own mistakes is a key experience
  • Questioning authority
  • Find mentors
  • Change the world

The conference ended with a speech from Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn). His vision for life was to build human ecosystems through Technology, Finance and Business. His tips to entrepreneurs include making decisions in a time compressed situation whether you want to or not and to look at your business competitive edge in the industry.

This was followed by a networking session.

I got some dinner at Queens’ College and headed for London at around 20:45.