Over the years, much of Eugene’s business wisdom became widely known as “Kleiner’s Laws.” I was fortunate to have many lessons taught me one-on-one. Some of my favorites:
• Make sure the dog wants to eat the dog food. No matter how ground-breaking a new technology, how large a potential market, make certain customers actually want it.
• Build one business at a time. Most business plans are overly ambitious. Concentrate on being successful in one endeavor first.
• The time to take the tarts is when they’re being passed. If an environment is right for funding, go for it. Eugene, more than anyone, knew that venture capital goes in cycles.
• The problem with most companies is they don’t know what business they’re in.
• Even turkeys can fly in a high wind. In times of strong economies, even bad companies can look good.
• It’s easier to get a piece of an existing market than to create a new one.
• It’s difficult to see the picture when you’re inside the frame.
• After learning some of the tricks of the trade, some people think they know the trade. This reflected some of Eugene’s own humility; he recognized that many venture capitalists thought they were experts when they had just a bit of knowledge.
• Venture capitalists will stop at nothing to copy success.
• Invest in people, not just products. Eugene always respected founding entrepreneurs. He wanted to build companies with them not just with their ideas.
On Nov. 20, Eugene Kleiner died at the age of 80. In the last weeks of his life, I asked Eugene if he had any regrets — any investments he wished he’d made, places he wished he’d visited, anything he’d missed. He sighed deeply, and his answer surprised me, “I know I was lucky to get out (of Austria) myself, and I was young, but I wish I could have brought some of my friends too — I know it’s not realistic, but I wished I could have saved them.” With all that Eugene had done, all that he had contributed, he never forgot the value of a single human life.
Hi there. I took a break from posting (and social media in general—if you check my twitter, it’s been pretty thin lately) for a while due to some major life events both expected and not. Nothin’ like a little life to put the world of consumer software startups into perspective. But while I may not have been so chatty in the last four months, we’ve been hard at work at Hopscotch.
What’s Hopscotch, you ask? Short version: educational software to teach kids to program.
Yeah, yeah, we know programming education has been a hot topic lately. Learning to code is sexy because of startup sweepstakes stories like Instagram, and roaring demand for software engineers at a time of sustained high unemployment. A lot of people —especially in the world of tech startups—like the idea of learning to program.
But Sam and I were talking about doing something like this quite a while ago—back when we were figuring out how to overcome marketplace dynamics for Kangaroost. ”I wish there was a toy to get girls into learning how to program,” we thought. We were focused on something else though, so after idly chatting about how great the equivalent of female Legos for programming would be, I added it to my list of startups I wished someone would build.
But this past fall, when Sam, Evan and I were feeling a little lukewarm about applying to YC with NerdNearby, we dredged this idea back up again and all instantly realized we were all much more excited about this than a mobile location-based app.
Our general take on teaching kids to code is that you only want to learn to code in order to make stuff. Programming a computer is a means to an end: you don’t just code for the sake of learning coding, you code to make a product that has its own value. And so to get kids interested in it, you need to give them specific things to make.
Following the “launch early and often” philosophy, we put out a couple of experimental products:
1) Daisy the Dinosaur - an iPad app with a drag and drop programming language to animate a dinosaur.
2) Hopscotch Kits - CoffeeScript coding tutorials to make specific projects using the Raphael drawing library.
We’ve been surprised by the positive response these products have received, considering their lack of polish and our lack of promotion. To us, it only underlines the strong demand for a good product that gives people exposure to programming.
We’ve also learned a lot about kids learning programming. We’re hard at work on a new product now, and we’re back to the iPad. We’re really excited about all of this. And I’m excited to (try!) to be a little more consistent about posting here. Stay tuned, folks.