Stay Hungry… Never Give Up

In August of 2009, ex-Yahoo engineer Brian Acton wasn’t offered a job after interviewing at Facebook. Today, Facebook bought his company, WhatsApp, for $19 billion. I’d say it worked out in his favor.

Brian Acton Interviewed at Facebook

Four years ago Brian Acton interviewed at Facebook and wasn’t offered a job.

The Guilt of Selling

After being a bootstrapped company for more than ten years, it came as somewhat of a shock to find ourselves discussing the possibility of being acquired. It wasn’t so much the tiny boardroom in the middle of Utah where this conversation took place that was the foreign part, it was the situation all together. You see, we weren’t actively looking to sell the company. In fact, we were growing year over year and we loved coming in to the office each day. However, when the acquisition call comes in, you have to answer it. And that’s exactly how Scott Skinger, founder of TrainSignal and myself, president of TrainSignal, found ourselves in a one-on-one with Pluralsight executives and board members last April.

In the meeting, we spent the day talking about our respective companies, our achievements to date, recent projects, and future direction. We started discussing details revolving around our revenue, expenses, and individual departments. After a few hours, we realized that we had a lot in common and we were trying to achieve a shared goal; to provide affordable, valuable, and educational content to IT professionals and developers worldwide. In hindsight, having this common platform was the key to a smooth transition.

After leaving Utah and heading back to Chicago, I could sense that the deal was going to happen. I started mentally preparing to accept the fact that something I helped build was no longer mine to control. My stamp on things at TrainSignal would no longer be a part of my day-to-day. As if that wasn’t enough to process, I started wondering how our employees would take the news. I started speculating on who Pluralsight would keep, and who they would let go. It was a roller coaster of excitement and anxiety, ups and downs.

In May, we agreed on the initial terms of the deal and due diligence began by accountants and attorneys. While I knew this would not be an overnight process, it was wrecking on me to go into the office each day knowing that we were in the process of selling, but nobody else knew. I would sit there in meetings and be present for kick-offs knowing it would all mean nothing in a few months. The guilt mounted when I found out who was going to lose their jobs as a result of closing the deal. At that point, I just shut down. I started avoiding the office and declining meeting invitations. The lying, deception; I just wanted it all to be over.

A few years ago, I always thought about how great it would be to build a company that eventually got acquired. Isn’t that every small businessman’s dream? I pictured all the employees celebrating with champagne and party hats. But such was not the case for me. All feelings of excitement were overwhelmed by guilt; a brick that I can still feel in my stomach to this day. Ultimately, I keep repeating that mantra “It’s just business” and I try to remind myself that this was the best decision. But rest assured, none of that changes how I feel about being acquired.

Nothing could prepare me for the day we told the news to the company. In addition to delivering the news of the sale, we also had to let go of about 25% of our team. While we gave substantial bonuses to everyone (even those whose last day it was) and full severance, none of the consolations compared to the guilt of selling. Even though I won’t soon forget this difficult day in my professional history, I look to the future – and to new experiences – for the closure I so badly covet.

How To Block LinkedIn Intro On Your Servers

LinkedIn tried to give iPhone users a quick way to view the LinkedIn profiles of the people they communicate with through e-mail, but to do so they’ve routed all e-mails through their own servers. That’s a GIANT security no-no for so many different reasons. I’d recommend all companies immediately block the mail servers LinkedIn Intro uses by blocking:

IMAP: imap.intro.linkedin.com

SMTP: smtp.intro.linkedin.com

 

Uber Isn’t Perfect

Uber, a mobile-based car service, launched in June 2010 and has since grown to over 50 cities in 20 different countries. It’s an impressive global growth for a company who has had to scale operations while battling the archaic taxi commissions and city regulations everywhere they launched. With estimates of $125M in revenue this year, they’ve transformed from David to Goliath in three short years.
It hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns for Uber or its users through the last few years. On NYE 2011, many users encountered “surge pricing” for the first time, a dynamic pricing feature Uber uses to try and maintain ride availability by increasing prices. With surge pricing multiplying some fares by 6x, people took to social media to air their grievances about being charged $100+ for rides lasting only a few minutes.

Scaling from 0 to $125M in 20 countries is bound to come with growing pains, and Uber has handled most things very transparently and well, but they’re still lacking in a few areas, including user experience and customer service. As a user of Uber for about three years, I’d like to see them address the following:

1)   UberX

  1. UberX drivers are supposed to go through a city knowledge exam, but in Chicago, it seems like the tests aren’t thorough enough. I’ve heard of drivers not knowing how to get to O’Hare airport.
  2. Cities need to improve regulations on UberX drivers and vehicles to protect passengers, drivers and property.

2)   Customer Service

  1. Most Uber users tend to air their issues on Twitter and many times Uber fails to respond, and good luck trying to get someone on the phone.

3)   Cab/License Plate Number With Text Message

  1. When your Uber arrives, you always get a text message telling you the driver’s name and their rating, but what’s more important is the cab number or license plate number of the car picking you up.

4)   Drivers Cancelling Rides

  1. When a user cancels a pickup after 5 minutes, the user is charged $10. It’s only fair if a driver cancels a pickup after 5 minutes, that the user is credited $10.

5)   Marketing Campaigns

  1. In one of their marketing campaigns, Uber placed a “bounty” on the heads of Chicago athletes to get them in an Uber. If you could get a Chicago athlete in an Uber, you were awarded $500. It’s interesting to note that Uber has since tried pushing this campaign under the rug by deleting blog posts pertaining to the promotion last year.
  2. In multiple cities, Uber has launched with free ride promotions and I’ve noticed that in many cities, you see more people complaining that there aren’t any available Ubers versus those who are praising Uber for a free ride. If you’re going to promote something as large as free rides, you have to make sure you have the supply to meet the demand.

6)   Extra Tip

  1. There are many instances when a driver truly deserves a better tip than the standard tip that’s defaulted by Uber. On the screen where we can rate our driver and leave a comment, why not allow us to give an extra tip to the driver?

Uber has definitely come a long way, and nothing beats having a cab waiting for you outside in the pouring rain or walking out of one without paying. They’ve hit a homerun in an industry that was ripe for a technology revolution. With a few improvements, Uber will be an even greater force to be reckoned with.