I’ve got a very short list of people who’ve inspired me in ways that even I haven’t fully grasped yet. In that list is Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger & Twitter.
I’m pretty sure that the first post of Ev’s I ever read was when he founded Obvious Corp in late 2006. I remember reading this post and thinking “I’m not alone.” That seems like an arrogant thing to say, comparing myself to the co-founder and CEO-to-be of Twitter, but remember this was in 2006. Twitter in 2006 was very different that Twitter in 2010. Ev had already sold Blogger to Google and was independently wealthy, but that’s not what I admired.
A few things about Ev have always struck me. He’s careful with his words, or at least seems to be from a distance. That deliberateness is interesting to me. His candidness in his observations of the world around him. An odd sense of self-awareness that seemed otherwise missing from most of the business leaders I’d been exposed to.
There’s a few excerpts from that first post that I’d read that have resonated with me for a very long time.
I’m very excited to announce something that I’ve wanted to do forever.
You can feel the giddiness of that sentence. I know that feeling now for myself.
The Obvious model goes something like this:
- Build things cheaply and rapidly by keeping teams small and self-organized.
- Leverage technology, know-how, and infrastructure across products (but brand them separately, so they’re focused and easy to understand)
- Use the aggregate attention and user base of the network to gain traction for new services faster than they could gain awareness independently
As services mature, the goal is to get them to profitability with advertising and/or subscriptions, so they can add to the network (and fund more building).When justified by growth, resource needs, and desire of the team, we will spin off growing properties to form their own entities (with outside investment). It’s not that we’re against investors and acquisitions. That model works great for some things—especially once the idea is proven. But we’re also not an incubator, with the goal of hatching companies from everything we build. Some things are perfectly worthwhile but don’t need to be a company.
You can find bits and pieces of this in almost every project I’ve worked on. Advertising model aside (since I know now how difficult and unrealistic that can be for most companies), the idea of building things out-of-silos and giving them the ability to spin off is at the core of Indy Hall. Indy Hall isn’t about Indy Hall, but about the things Indy Hall has enabled. And even some of those things that Indy Hall has enabled have enabled things of their own.
Recursion. It’s a helluva drug.
Lastly, for me, I just wanted to create a company that would be as much fun and as fulfilling as possible. Fun in work to me means a lot of freedom, and ton of creativity, working with people I respect and like, and pursuing ideas that are just crazy enough to work. I don’t want to have to worry about getting buy-in from executives or a board, raising money, worrying about investor’s perceptions, or cashing out.
At SXSW a couple of years ago, a friend asked me, “Alex, what’s your end game?” My response was almost a direct pull from this excerpt, again probably without realizing it. My goal in life is to work on things that I think are awesome with people that I think are awesome. Whatever it takes to get to that point is worth it.
If the first quarter of 2011 is any indication, Ev’s final point in his post from 2006 is a perfect representation of how I’m feeling right now.
It may be stupid. It may be naive. It may be selfish and undisciplined. And, frankly, it may not work. All I know is I’m more excited about work than I’ve been in a long time. And from excitement and bold moves, great things often happen.