Dennis Crowley, who has appeared on multiple magazine covers this year and was on Fox News just this afternoon, is the entrepreneur of the moment.
He is the founder of Foursquare, and he left entrepreneurs with some words of wisdom on question and answer site, Quora.
Read on for Crowley’s full answer.
Pre-Dodgeball I went through 3-4 years thinking I was going to meet some magical engineer who would build all the stuff I was thinking about.
But I never met that person, so I taught myself ASP and MS Access (yikes! eventually PHP an MySQL) out of a book and got to work just hacking stuff together.
I'm still a really shitty programmer (ask Harry Heymann) but I know enough to hack a prototype together (which is what you need to get other people / investors on board).
I also went through a few years of this before I realised I probably just saw the world differently than the people who said the stuff I was excited about wouldn't work or that people wouldn't want it / use it.
If you're passionate about an idea that's stuck in your head, find a way to build it so you can prove to yourself that it doesn't work.
Alex and I lived by this in grad school and with Dodgeball. We'd roll out half-baked features a few times every week and were more worried about getting stuff in the hands of users than making sure it was perfect or actually worked.
We do the same kind of stuff with the foursquare prototype at SXSW 2009 (giving ourselves a deadline by which the thing HAD to be working - at which point we still though people would laugh as the idea of 'life as a game') and we still do it now - hacking on things internally to see how they 'feel' long before they're launched.
This is the biggest lesson I learned from from days at Vindigo (Palm Pilot cityguide, people!) - if there's something you want to build, but the tech isn't there yet just find the closest possible way to make it happen.
Vindigo was a mobile city guide before devices had GPS or network connections - they just compressed all the data like mad, combined it with slick UX and *asked the user to self report their location* (in a world without GPS - when everyone was talking about these services being mainstream 'in 18 months' - the Vindigo co-founders build something amazing by simply asking the user to do some of the work). We borrowed a similar playbook w/ Dodgeball - no GPS on phones? Who cares!
Just ask the user to tell you where they are! Is it elegant? Not really. Does it get the point across? Yes. If you're thinking of doing anything in an emerging space - RFID, near-field presence, iPods that trade files on the street, connecting strangers in a room - just find some way to hack it together.
Even if it's not ideal, your thinking will be advanced enough so that when the iPhone 5 with built-in near field RFID and 100 hours of battery life comes to market, you'll have the foundation in place (both tech & your understanding of what works / what doesn't) to make your ideas a reality (and if you are thinking about this space, use our API - it's pretty advanced in terms of 'who's with whom' and 'personal history' - we build this stuff because we needed it, and built an API so that other people could use it too :)
This was kind of easy in the early days of Foursquare - we hired our friends who were really passionate about the stuff they were building (most had other location+mobile+social side projects or startups).
We have a superstar team not just because their resumes are so strong, but because they've been passionate, thinking about and tinkering in this space forever. Those are the people you want to surround yourself with.
If your stuff ends up taking off, just put your head down and keep plugging away. Don't get distracted by haters talking shit or the bigger guys copying you.
We've got so many ideas of things we want to build and this is probably going to be our best shot at getting them out to millions of users. Focusing on what we're doing is the best way to make that happen. Getting distracted by all the dust we're kicking us is not.
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