Wars and Start-ups

I’m Israeli if you didn’t guess and usually very moderate in my political opinions. Without getting into specifics I would say that I’m usually trying to understand both sides of every argument even though I may not agree with one, or both sides. My reasoning is that there is something to be learned from each side, which does not require agreeing. Notice I used the word “argument” related to politics and not the usual “discussion” or “idea” because in this side of the world, political discussions are usually arguments, with different levels of severity.

I’ve been an entrepreneur and in the startup business for many years now. I’ve also been involved and/or interested in conflicts and wars in Israel and other places to the point I began to see similarities between these two worlds: Startups and Wars. That said war is very, very different from business, especially when war is due to religion, philosophy, business, and other non-life-essential topics. At best, I categorize war as “necessary evil” and this latest war in southern Israel certainly qualifies.

But there are similarities too. For example, starting a startup is like starting a war. First, you think you’re right and you have the right. Many others have done the same thing before successfully and you’re smarter than most of them. Yes, you’ll need resources and funding but you can start relatively small and grow. It doesn’t have to be “shock and awe”…

You will need to get support from your investors/cabinet and other influencers/politicians. You will find yourself maneuvering between them making sure everyone is as happy as possible, even though you are the commander in chief.

You also have one or two a basic exit strategies, which makes perfect sense for you and your supporters. These strategies of course changes one month after you launch your product/attack. Both have casualties (though very different of course) and you require special talent/forces to do the job as efficiently and effectively as possible. No wonder they call startups “an uphill battle”.

On both there is some “turning point” that redefines the effort. Some breakthrough or event, some added ingredient that, when looking back, changes the picture and drives toward the win. But that point, the “win” is the most difficult thing to achieve. I think that beyond the obvious difficulties like funding, resources, competition, politics, etc it is actually the very definition of what WINNING actually means. And it is very different for each effort.

From all the different slogans I heard about wars it is the following, from the early days of Israel that caught my ear: “The Eager to Win Is a Prerequisite of Winning”. Seems pretty obvious but it’s not. Many people which are directly involved in startups (and wars) are doing it for different reasons: fame and glory, money, it is fun and cool, other people’s expectations, to prove that you’re right/can and other reasons. Most times, all these reasons fade the original reason they started this effort in the first place. “The Eager to Win” beyond anything else has to be at the top of the list .You can be famous and have some “action” while doing it but unless you want to win, you will not. Unless you remember why you started, chances are things will not work out.

We are working on it right now at Docstoc.

Last words

Without going into “war is bad”, I want to express the reason for this blog entry: learning from experience. Maybe it is best to learn from bad, sometimes, horrible examples to do some good in the world.

Alon

Why .Net???

From the first day we started Docstoc people have been asking me “why .Net”? I’m being asked this by technologies, of course, but also from other, non-tech people like private investors, VCs, SEO experts, marketing guys, potential hires, partners, and any random guests that just happen to stop by and say hi to Jason (of course…). Thank God my 9 year old son hasn’t asked me that yet…

I think it became a “style question” that make people look like they know/care/understand such as “what is your business model?” or “what is your current runway?” or “what do you think about the effects of the economy on high-tech?”. But unlike these questions, that try to understand something, the “why .Net?” is a charged question. What people are really asking is “why not X” where X can be anything but a Microsoft technology. This X can be PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, or even Java. Man, sometimes I’d rather say we developed the site in Assembly and I’m sure I’d get less raised eyebrows.

Well, seriously why .Net?

After all, it’s a Microsoft product and, as we all know, Microsoft is all about world domination and the end of free and open source software as we know it. Basically Microsoft is evil and we should avoid its technology at all cost, not even touch it with a stick. Why pay money for something that suppose to be free? The whole notion of a company trying to make money from selling software makes me sick.

Ok, enough with the sarcasm. Let’s talk seriously.

Our job as technology leaders (CTOs, CIOs, and other fancy titles) is to find and implement technology solutions for world/business problems. That’s it! We are not politicians. We should not have hidden agendas. The concept of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) VS. Microsoft must change. We need to choose the right technology just as we choose the right people. Can you imagine group of CTOs that hire only white developers vs. group of CTOs that hire only black developers? It is clear to that the way we thought since the 90s must change. The walls between selecting only ONE side of the technology fence MUST end.

The reason we all choose side is very simple which it is the answer I give to the “why .Net?” question. All startups in the history were developed using the technologies that the CTO knew and liked. Very simple, nothing more. Everything else is silly rationalization. I’ve seen many examples of successful startups built in PHP, Java, ASP.Net, CGI, ROR, and many others. All scale, all run fast, all are successful. Startups rarely fail because they used one technology vs. another. They mostly fail because they run out of money.

Starting Docstoc I’ve decided to break the walls, which I was part of. I’ve decided we will use the right technology for the right solution, regardless of the source. Although we use .Net for the platform and the site, we use MySQL as the database (yeah, not SQL Server), MemCached for caching, Lucene for full text search, and other open source technologies. Most of these had a matching Microsoft technology but it was simply not as good or just as good.

Last, let’s talk money. Can someone please tell me which company is spending more on hardware, software, license, hosting, traffic, storage, and support, MySpace or Facebook? Is one more successful than the other because of the technology they use?

I rest my case.

Alon

A starting point

My name is Alon Shwartz and I’m the CTO and co-founder of Docstoc, a LA based start-up focused on sharing and finding documents: www.docstoc.com. Check my profile and documents on: www.docstoc.com/Profile/Alon

I will use this blog to talk about topic I believe are of interest to many technology entrepreneurs which is a group I found to be quite unrepresented. These topics range from tips for successful outsourcing, SEO tips, why .Net (or why not), how to get a great team, and many others.

More coming soon.

Contact me at alon at docstoc.com