Sunday, April 20, 2008

Startup School 2008 Impressions

Startup School 2008 is over. The videos of the event I am sure will be posted all over the Internet tomorrow, thus there is no point for me to simply describe what happened, you can go and see for yourself: the early, albeit a bit rough, footage is already available on Justin TV.

Instead I'll just share my impressions of what I've seen and heard. I got to see famous Anybots robots in action and I met their famous creator Trevor Blackwell and many, many other people I've known forever but always wondered how they were like in real life, including Paul Graham himself. Trevor turned out to be a lot younger and easier to talk to than I previously imagined, I had no idea where I got that previous "crazy professor" picture from.

The speakers were all excellent, but Paul Buchheit's performance easily wins my heart. It was just that: a freaking masterpiece of a speech on a seemingly lightweight topic. If anyone wants to know how to work the audience so seamlessly, without any visible effort - watch Paul do it. Don't get me wrong, the crazy in-your-face punchy style of DHH and sleek and polished talk by Greg McAdoo were both fine examples of public speaking, but Paul is simply in another league: he can easily switch careers and get into entertainment industry or something. Go and watch him and laugh your ass off in the process.

By the way, I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw on average about 20% of the attendees spent a fair share of their time there surfing freaking reddit, slashdot and checking their emails. There was one dude right next to me who had Visual Studio open (yes, a fucking Visual Studio) and kept resizing an empty form non-stop without paying any attention to Jack Sheridan talking. WTF have you been smoking yesterday? Here you have a well respected lawyer from Silicon Valley teaching you basics of freaking incorporation for free! Yet you prefer to ignore him perhaps not realizing that most of all (those who will get there) will pay $400/hour to guys like him, explaining these details in a more private and expensive setting.

And what the deal with all those Vista laptops everywhere? I thought it was supposed to be a hacker's event, not a retirement home.

Paul Graham's talk was the most unusual, out of place almost. I am sure what we heard was his next essay and you can expect it to appear on his site now. This time Paul turned a bit too much philosophical - and I'm just "not there yet" and need to think a bit about his observations.

With all that said, however, I predict that DHH's talk will be the most quoted on the Internet tomorrow. Of course it had a few f-words and a ton of funny bursts of clever analogies, but I believe most people in the room didn't take what he said seriously. Nearly everyone I talked to, seemed to be stuck in this "I gotta get a million eyeballs" trap and I couldn't imagine a more perfect audience for David's talk - it was the most relevant to this gathering.

Of course I don't want to crush anyone's feelings, but statistically speaking there were not any "next googles" in the room today. Or should I say "such event was highly unlikely", yet every hacker with an idea I talked to, seemed to be going after those "billions of advertisement dollars" and I came away with a strong suspicion that very few of them actually knew how many uniques a month they should be generating to pay for their own salary and rent. Just charge the freaking money for what you made, how hard can it be?

It was kind of ironic to observe the never-ending series of technical hickups, from dropped Internet connections to barking microphones and blacking-out projectors at a conference of young hackers in the heart of Silicon Valley. If we can't get our own shit straight how do we expect our customers to use what we make and pay us for it? Even PG himself, after proclaiming (a few years ago) that everything belongs to the browser now, had to ask the audience to "stop using the Internet" for his presentation pictures to get downloaded. In 2008! If Steve Ballmer was in the room, he'd be flattered: "your cloud is not always with you".

And, by the way, how do Stanford students manage to get any hard studying done in those surroundings? That's just too damn nice to be practical :-)

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