by Vibhu Norby

Founder of a startup. Formerly at Nest (acquired by Google). Ex-founder of (acquired by eFamily).

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Why Amazon is opening a bookstore

Amazon just opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle called Amazon Books. To many who believe that we live in a post physical store world, it doesn’t make sense. However, the reasons becomes clear if you just do the math.

In 2013, Amazon had 65% market share of online book sales. That same year, e-commerce accounted for just more than 50% of all book sales. So Amazon accounts for something like 32.5% of all book purchases. Put another way, online customers are likely to buy a book from Amazon. But all customers are likely to buy a book somewhere else.

That may seem like a lot, but book sales are completely flat. So the book market has become a zero-sum game where one company winning means someone else is losing. There’s no rising book tide. And there’s certainly no evidence to suggest that Amazon is just sitting pretty with 32.5% of the market.

To grow their book sales,...

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Amazon isn’t killing Walmart

There’s a lot of hype around Amazon surpassing Walmart in market cap in intraday trading. Amazon is the biggest online retailer in the world, and Walmart is the biggest offline retailer in the world. Amazon may very well be a more scalable or more capital efficient business. But implicit in this hype is the idea that this is a seminal moment in retail history that signals we now live in the post-physical retail world. The idea that Amazon is killing Walmart.

In my opinion, comparing Walmart and Amazon is not comparing apples to apples (more like Apples to Googles?). In fact, it is highly likely that both will continue to exist side by side and both will continue to grow, and that the real comparison here is not Walmart to Amazon, but to

In the US, online retail accounts for $297 billion in sales (and globally $1.3 trillion).

Last year, Amazon sold $55 billion...

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We all know the famous quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And Teller, the magician, says “Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.”

I think both of these statements are true, and truer together. You can build sufficiently advanced technology simply by spending more time on something than someone might reasonably expect. I think a lot of the magic we see in the products we use is really that more than random strokes of brilliance. When I look at how we can make progress on the future with technology, all I see is that more significant investments of time need to be made on every detail.

For example, the new game consoles have really powerful graphical capabilities. But when you look at some of the graphical content in the games, we are still very far away...

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Firing and being fired

I remember every detail from the day I was fired from my first post-college job. My manager pulled me into a meeting with the engineering director at the end of the day: “We have some tough news for you. We are letting you go. From the start, it wasn’t a good cultural fit. It’s not that you aren’t a good programmer. It’s just that this is not the right place for you. I’m sorry.”

In 30 seconds, all of my fears of failure and not being good enough to be a software engineer in Silicon Valley had come rushing back. And all of the work I had done in the past 7 months, the unfinished projects, the users I had connected with, the friendships with my colleagues - it all seemed wasted.

I wasn’t allowed to go back into the office and I fought tears as I was escorted out of the building. I sat in the parking lot for a long time and considered going somewhere else, doing something easier, working...

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Yin and Yang

I was talking with the founder of a very successful company the other day and he said something that really stuck out to me. Most companies need two founders. You need one founder who is a creative decision-maker, who will relentlessly uphold the vision of the company and product when employees, investors, and co-founders have their own ideas. The other founder is a team builder and communicator, who softens the blow from the creative founder and keeps the employees driving forward and executing daily.

When you just have the creative founder and not the other, chaos happens. When you just have the team-building founder, confusion happens. In both cases people leave, morale drops, ship dates extend, and money leaves the bank too fast.

If we look back at successful startups, we can see this manifest everywhere. Jobs & Wozniak, Page & Brin, Gates & Allen. Fred Wilson wrote...

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Hi, I make a photo-sharing app

Several days ago, a stranger at a tech event overtly made fun of me for saying I’m the founder of a social network. Usually it just happens behind my back. As such, I have been embarrassed to admit that our company makes social networking and photo sharing apps, so much so that I will pretty much use any other grouping of words to describe what we do. It seems “I make a photo sharing app” roughly translates to “I’m a copycatting clod” in Silicon Valley. I’m not alone – just look on TechCrunch at any story involving a photo-sharing startup and see how hard they try to avoid using the phrase. Just this morning, a photo-sharing app called Viewfinder launched and the co-founder had this to say: “I don’t think of this app as being about photo sharing. I think that’s one of its constituent parts.”

We need to stop this madness. I’m tired of being embarrassed to say what we are working on and...

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Don’t Launch Your Product

It was Monday, April 9, 2012 and we were at a team dinner. We were launching Everyme the next day at 10:00am. Launch was a Tuesday, of course. Consumers use their phones and the web more on Tuesdays than any other day. We had everything set: the TechCrunch article, the AllThingsD piece, and a handful of interviews with top tech blogs. We had 25,000+ people that had signed up to be notified about our launch. We designed and shipped a special page with a countdown three weeks earlier on our homepage. It seemed like the perfect time for our iPhone-only social network for groups: Instagram had been purchased the same day as our team dinner for a billion dollars and Everyme was, in our minds, the Next Big Thing.

Our plan was simple. Launch the app and generate enough buzz for 25-50,000 downloads, or what we guessed was enough to propel us into the top apps in the Social Networking category...

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The Hairdresser

I was getting a haircut recently, and the owner happened to be present. I asked the owner how the salon got its first customers, because the business is booming and the owner now has multiple salons.

“I used to go hang out in the mall where women from the town would be. I’d offer pretty girls a free haircut or other free hair services, as long as they came to my salon with my business card. The women didn’t always show up, but when they did, we’d give them a haircut or coloring or whatever it is they wanted free of charge, as I promised.

I knew I wasn’t that good at cutting hair at the time; I had just started. So I wasn’t going to be able to sell clients on my talent alone.

What I knew to be true was that if you were a pretty girl, the haircut didn’t matter that much – you’d get compliments on your hair all the time whether it looked good or not. And "your hair looks great” is...

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Fixing Mobile Platforms

I wrote an article recently on why mobile app-first companies are doomed to fail due to their inability to close viral loops and retain users effectively. I pivoted my own company’s new product Origami to focus on the web and build mobile as a companion. The article centers on data regarding onboarding and our inability to optimize onboarding in a timely manner. I’d like to propose a couple changes for Apple and Google to consider that I believe would make mobile a viable platform for startups going forward. I’ve ordered these from most plausible to least plausible.

1. Ability to pass parameters from a download URL to an app

“I have no idea why people are downloading my app, or how they found out about it” is the response given by most app developers when asked where their mobile downloads are coming from. This is a huge problem and there is an easy and powerful fix.

On the web, there...

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Why We’re Pivoting from Mobile-first to Web-first

There has been discussion from the venture capitalist angle on the failings of mobile consumer companies, including posts by Fred Wilson and Om Malik. I wanted to share my perspective, having been the co-founder of a mobile-first startup . We’ve raised $3.65m to date, and have tried two mobile-first free social products. However, for our next product, we are going web-first and charging out of the gate.

Ads are the Internet’s tax on users who want free apps and websites. Allmost all free apps and services have ads. Ad-supported companies are akin to the government in the sense that they are both really good at finding ways to charge you without it seemingly coming out of your pocket. Many people’s taxes are taken automatically out of their payroll, so they don’t think of that money as being theirs to begin with. Similarly, we feel like everything that we don’t directly pay money for...

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