Monthly Archives: January 2007

Saying No?

Via Boris I came across a post on Susan Mernit’s blog called the No Patrol. It is supposed to be a defense of saying “no” to things in the product development cycle, but as I read each bullet point it struck me as actually a brilliant summary of why big companies often fail to create anything truly interesting, or put another way, why a product like Yahoo Personals is so impersonal. No one would advocate bloat or cruft in software, but sometimes a little silliness, a little frivolity, a little “novelty outweighs the business impact” is what separates a Youtube from a Google Video. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Sun Followup

In the past few days since I wrote the post on my experience with Sun there has been a lot of interesting discussion spawned, and as much about Jonathan Schwartz’s response as my post. Mr Schwartz rightly got a ton of kudos in the blogosphere for his honest and personable response. Two others shared their experience trying to get boxes from Sun: Alex Muse applied for a different program and was rejected, but it sounds like he got pretty prompt responses on everything; Stephen O’Grady had no problem getting in Startup Essentials, but had a fairly bad experience with their store and suggests that they outsource that functionality to Ebay or Amazon. (I’m fairly surprised I didn’t hear from anyone else in the SE program.) François Schiettecatte shared a story from his experience at Sun while at Feedster, and why they made the decision they did for their systems.

The entry also drew in some interesting comments some of which seemed to conflate the issue I was talking about, namely the disconnect between the promises and follow-up in the Startup Essentials program, and questions of Sun’s financials, direction, technology, and more. To clarify, I have no opinion on the business side of Sun beyond what I’ve dealt with directly, and on the technical side they seem to be kicking butt lately and tackling truly hard problems. Their evangelism of such is the whole reason why I gave my info to the SE program in the first place. (Plus the overwhelmingly positive in-person interaction I’ve had with folks that work at Sun and at Startup Camp.) Their marketing is great — it created the desire — just the fulfillment was frustrating.

At one point in the Scoble interview Jonathan Schwartz says something to the effect of their startup program targets folks with more time than money, where their enterprise customers usually value time over money. I think this might represent a fundamental misunderstanding. While I think this argument could be made for the motivation of some segment of Open Source communities, the situation in startups is even worse — time and money are both scarce.

Where does that leave Automattic now? We just brought 20 new HP/Debian boxes online. David Comay followed up his comment with an email requesting to get together, and since he’s a kernel hacker and not a sales guy I’m very open to that. Likewise with Jeff Barr from Amazon, though their web services are so beautifully self-service I wonder what we’ll chat about. Another chance for Sun? Time will tell. For us it’s a pragmatic issue, not a religious one. If nothing else, I’m hopeful that the discussions spawned will help put Sun’s nascent startup efforts back on track.

Wii Tennis

We’ve been taking breaks at night here in La Paz by playing a bit of Wii Tennis, which is one of the best multiplayer games ever. Barry decided to organize a double-elimination tournament where everyone had to link to the winner. That ended up being me and so they’ve requested this post so they can properly pingback their entries to this one.

MT MySQL Grid

Anatomy of MySQL on the GRID. “A number of these users came running to (mt) Media Temple with the promise that their applications, despite all of their deficiencies, would be accepted and not turned off. These users are radically different, by orders of magnitude, from anything we had previously analyzed or benchmarked.”

To Mexico

Tomorrow, along with the rest of Automattic, I am heading down to La Paz, Mexico for the twice yearly gathering of the company. The virtual company thing is great, but I still think it’s important to get everyone together a few times a year to connect and plan out the next 6-12 months.

Sun Isn’t Relevant to Startups

Preface: I don’t write critically about a company unless I think they have some glimmer of getting better, however small that may be.

I just watched another Scoble Show interview with Jonathan Schwartz, and it reminded me how frustrated I continue to be with Sun, particularly their Startup Essentials program. He seems to be complaining about the perception of startups that the Sun platform is completely wrong for a new generation of startups, a perception I would strongly agree with.

To illustrate, here is a timeline of my experience with the Startup Essentials program.

November 3rd, 2006: Drinking the kool-aid at Startup Camp, register on behalf of Automattic for the Startup Essentials program.

November 8th, 2006: I receive an email addressed to “Mr Muellenweg” (wtf?) saying “Due to the volume of interest in this exciting new program, it is taking us longer than expected to review your application. We will let you know your status within the next few days — thanks for your patience.”

Late-November: I talk for about an hour to a nice guy named Eric Cosway doing research about what I thought of Startup Camp and Sun. I tell him about the trouble I’ve had registering for Startup Essentials, he says he’ll note that and pass it on.

3 months since: Complete silence, punctuated by frequent Sun press releases and AP stories about how they’re great for startups, probably millions of dollars of PR.

Seeing their constant press releases and hot-air filled announcements around “Web 2.0” just makes Sun seem that much more out of touch with reality and desparate to jump on hype which has already passed.

I’m not writing this, as Joyent did, with the hope of connecting with someone at Sun that will take my money. I’ve given up, I’ve lost hope, and our business has moved on. We’re growing fast and adding infrastructure faster, all on a tight budget, and I’m less inclined to depart from the LAMP-based architecture that Digg, Flickr, Wikipedia, and dozens of other sites I respect use.

This is also what I’ve started advising other startups, if we had trouble getting anything going I can’t imagine what trouble a brand new startup with a smaller profile would go through. (An exception to this is going through Joyent, which has packaged Sun’s stuff so well Sun should just buy them.)

Personally I’m far more excited about what Amazon is doing these days.

Update: In a move most would never expect of a public company CEO, Jonathan Schwartz has responded. More than that, he has apologized in a human and personal way that is utterly admirable. I’m going to work on a followup to this entry.

Update 2: I’ve posted the followup.