We recently caught up with fellow hyper entrepreneur, Evan Williams…and asked him some questions regarding multi-product, sustainable companies (we’ve riffed on this here and here), life, stuff and the future.
Rand: You’ve done some classic serial entrepreneur stuff, you co-founded Pyra Labs (Blogger) and sold the company to Google, started Odeo, bought your VCs out and founded Obvious – what do you view as your key takeout from your experiences to date?
Ev: Trust your gut. Work hard. Screw up. Get over it. March on.
Rand: Obvious is, from my perspective, an attempt at building a sustainable, multi-product company rather than a single product/app quick flip, or as Ben Barren coins it – a product factory. Tell us a bit about your thought process in deciding to do Obvious, your strategies for success and the landscape you are journeying through.
Ev: Several things led to the thinking behind Obvious. One is that there is now an opportunity to create useful, fun, interesting sites and services that can make money but don’t necessarily require (or, in some cases, deserve) the overhead of a whole company (especially with the expectations of funding and cash-out events).
By building things cheaply and quickly — and sharing overhead, technology, and knowledge where it makes sense — a company that owns many of these sites could be both fun and viable.
Secondly, the web is so crowded these days, some really cool stuff doesn’t get serious attention, because it’s hard to distinguish from other sites and services — or people just don’t know about it. So we hope to create a network of properties, that can both serve as a launchpad for new products and as a way to lower the barrier for new users ( for example, by having their data already available to it, if they so choose).
And third, we wanted to create an environment where wacky ideas could be tried without having to justify or explain them to a board, or investors, or anyone else. Some of them won’t go anywhere. Once in a while, the wacky idea will be just what the people didn’t know they were missing in their lives.
Rand: If we use the film studio analogy, each of your products would presumably have an executive producer. How do you ensure that these folk are imbued with sufficient entrepreneurial fervor so that they embody the best attributes of a startup CEO?
Ev: I’m not sure yet. I do think the “executive producer” role, as you call it, is key. A lot of people want to pursue lots of ideas, because they can’t constrain themselves to one. The easiest way for us to screw up is to go in too many directions at once and, even if we have good ideas, not be focused enough on them.
Your first assumptions about anything are usually wrong, so you have to find the right balance between throwing things at the wall and seeing if they stick and iterating diligently ’til you get it right. So we want to make sure that the individuals in Obvious, who are leading projects, are able to focus, at least for a significant period of time.
I don’t think a project lead has to have all the same attributes at a startup CEO — they don’t have to worry, for instance, about raising money or many operations issues. But they need to be self-organized, an organizer of others and have excellent product sense.
Rand: How do you see the space playing out over the next 18 months and what will Obvious look like by then?
Ev: Part of the philosophy behind Obvious is that we have no idea how things are going to play out. No one ever does, really, the difference is we don’t pretend we do.
Rand: Shoot the arrow forward – what’s your view of the future 5 years out?
Ev: Jet packs and telepathic blogging. Those things are a given. Other than that, I dunno. What seems to stay true is that everything gets more complex and opportunity breeds opportunity. And the things that drive humans to do things don’t change that much: self-expression, convenience, personal gain, human connection (or the approximation thereof) etc. will continue to drive the online world.
There will just be new and more fascinating ways to do everything.