Sleeping through the launch of SlideShare mobile app

Last night we went out for St Patrick’s day and I completely forgot that our mobile app was being launched. I woke up this morning to check my feeds and realized that the app had been launched, was generating a bit of enthusiasm, and had been TechCrunched – all while I was sleeping!

This is the day every startup founder lives for – when smart, capable folks are taking the ownership for the app. I am lucky that we have such an awesome team! As you might have read the SlideShare mobile app was a skunkworks project – some of SlideShare team members decided to build a mobile app for Yahoo hackday. They started building it, rest of team pitched in as needed, and pretty soon it was ready to launch.

Thanks Kapil, Prasanna, Mani, Bhups, Cju, Ashwan, Arun and the entire team!

Running a scrappy startup – what would you like to hear about?

Next Sunday, I am giving a talk at Entrepreneur Trek at Stanford on a topic close to my heart: how to run a scrappy startup. It is something I know a lot about, having run SlideShare on a small budget. We took a modest round of funding in our second year, post funding, we remain a scrappy startup.

I will cover a whole gamut of startup issues from when to spend on marketing and bizdev, how to get started with sales, how to choose a lawyer and accountant, how to negotiate the best rates for every service you spend on. But most of all how to do this without compromisng the quality of the product and keeping up a fast pace of growth. At the end of the day, it would not matter how scrappy you are if your product is not great and if you are not growing fast. So the trick is knowing what to spend on (great developers, designers, good hardware) and what to skimp on (marketing, PR).

If you are running a startup or thinking of one, what topics would you like to hear about? What startup issues do you always have questions about?

Book review: Gang Leader for a day

Just finished reading Gang Leader for a day by Sudhir Venkatesh. I had first read about this book in Freakonomics where Levitt & Dubner talk about the economics of a drug gang and how a low level worker in a gang barely makes minimum wages. It had piqued my interest even at that time, so I picked it up next time I was heading for a long flight. Its the best sociology book I have read for a long time (maybe ever), that makes a group, a lifestyle come alive. Its not fiction, but its absorbing enough to rival great fiction.

It is written by a graduate student at University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatesh. He is doing a survey on poverty in the projects (the infamous Robert Taylor Homes in South-side Chicago) in 1989. Some gang members from the Black Kings think he is from a rival gang and hold him overnight. He becomes friendly with the gang leader JT and spends the next six years hanging around with the gang, learning how they operate, how the economics work, what lives in the projects is life, how the gang thinks of itself not as a “gang” but a “community group”, how well-meaning governmental plans never end up helping the poorest, how the police is often working in hand with the gangs.

Venkatesh articulates some of my own dissatisfaction with academic life. When I was at Brown University and at UC Berkeleu, it felt too isolated, too ivory tower. When I discovered the web, and how you could build for it and constantly iterate, it seemed a far more exciting prospect than sitting in a lab doing made up experiments on people. He writes about this again and again, how to isolation of researcher from the very people they are studying bothers him.

Please add a comment if you have read this book. Would love to know what others thought.

Women speaker Wednesdays on SlideShare

Ever so often the topic comes up of women speaker at conferences. All of us notice the small number of women (especially speakers) at tech conferences. I hear such discussions, but so far have been a silent observer. This time, I felt like I had to do something.

And its not just at tech conferences, I was just at a venture conference in New York, and the proportion of women (even women attendees) was even smaller than at tech conferences.

We feature presentations on the SlideShare homepage everyday. It drives a fair bit of traffic and conversation. From now on, every Wednesday, we will make it a special point of featuring women speakers. So if you are a woman who speaks at conferences (or want to speak at conferences), please upload your presentations to SlideShare and tag them “womanspeaker“. We will look here when we feature presentations on Wednesday.

Also, please complete your profile so we can see who you are. Tagging your presentation does not guarantee you will be on SlideShare homepage, we will look at everything with the tag and make an editorial judgment. But this tag will help identify women speakers for everyone (especially conference organizers) and I am personally (and publicly) committed to highlighting it in every way I can.

Please pass this on to your friends and colleagues. Ask them to tag themselves “womanspeaker”.