The Real TechStars of New York
At any startup accelerator, Demo Days are a relentlessly upbeat affair–a parade of promotional pitch decks and stats about market size that somehow always reach up into the billions. But in New York City, Techstars’ biannual showcase takes the cake.
Founded in Boulder, the program launched in New York in 2011 (just as the startup scene cried out for tent poles to rally around) and easily fills auditoriums. Companies often announce “soft-circled” funding or even that the round has already closed. Mayor Bloomberg even called the number of investors who fly to New York to check out presentations, “proof positive that the TechStars is going to change this world and certainly change America and this city.”
Or as TechStars mentor Joel Spolsky put it before introducing one of the startups at Webster Hall: ”Time to get my company oversubscribed.”
Fog Creek Software has a fish tank embedded in one wall. The fish are pretty and colorful, but not neon; it looked like there might have been an eel in there too. They wandered around their dark blue and green environs, their movements accompanied by the soft white noise of the pump, imparting a sense of calm.
The offices of the developers of Fog Creek look sort of like fish tanks, because they have sliding glass doors to make them more soundproof. The compartments look airtight, as if you could fill the whole thing up with water. Founder Joel Spolsky has been preaching for years that developers should have private offices. It’s better for their temperament, and it reduces distractions and makes them more productive, he argues. Mr. Spolsky himself has a closed-door corner office, with a view of the Financial District in one direction and Fog Creek’s airy lunch room in the other.
Fog Creek has a motto: “What if programmers were treated like rock stars?” Betabeat had a chance to glimpse the office of the esteemed New York company last night during a class, “How to Hire Developers in a Competitive Market,” taught by two employees of Fog Creek’s uppity younger cousin, Stack Exchange. The message at the end of the night: developers are choosy, peculiar, brilliant and needy. But their needs are actually pretty simple.
Yesterday, Stack Exchange CTO Jeff Atwood did the unthinkable, at least in Startupland where work is your life and companies are talked about and tended to with the same care as young children. On his blog Coding Horror, Mr. Atwood announced that effective March 1st, he would leave day-to-day operations of Stack Exchange, the beloved New York-based community-driven Q&A site for programmers, behind.
But not for all the usual reasons like starting his own company, starting a VC fund, or untold riches in preferred Facebook stock. No, Mr. Atwood did for actual human young children. Earlier this month, his wife gave birth to twin girls whose Twitter handle (@theladybabies) is probably better than yours.
“Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful,” Mr. Atwood wrote, “But I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.”
Betabeat stopped by Stack Exchange the other day to interview the CHAOS team. We snapped some pictures of the big monitor array they have set up, including some eye popping stats on the way traffic is growing. But we didn’t want to make those public just yet, since we were invited in to visit to report another story.
But today Stack Exchange COO did an interview with founder Joel Spolsky about the big board and tipped their hat about some of these numbers. Over the last 30 days Stack Exchange has grown 40 percent, hitting more than 17 million page views on 6.3 million unique visitors. Gaming.stackexchange.com led the way, with 245 percent growth in the last month.
When Stack Overflow was created in 2008 as a forum for questions about computer programming, there was no need to worry about understanding the community. Co-founders Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood had long and storied histories working in the software industry. But as the Stack Overflow blossomed into Stack Exchange, a group of more than 70 sites covering topics from photography to parenting to cooking, they found that groups of humans do not respond well to being managed by an algorithm.
Everyone knows the drill. A community springs up online, leaders naturally emerge, and their commitment earns them the right to become moderators. But over time whatever small biases these folks bring with them are amplified in the minds of new users, until the inevitable charges of fascism begin to fly and a full-on flame war breaks out.
Is it possible to find a formula for combating this decline? In a row of two desks at the far end of the Stack Exchange office, just off the ping pong table, sits the CHAOS team (Cheerful Helpful Advocates of Stack), a group of community managers who spend their days experimenting in the laboratory of human interaction. “We’re trying to derive some universal principles about how to grow a community on the internet that can govern itself and regenerate after a conflict,” said CHAOS member Abby Miller. “So far we’ve learned that there are no universal principles.”
Beware the Headhunters
Thanksgiving marks the start of tech’s most intense hiring season, as promising computer science students start looking for summer jobs and internships. Software veteran Joel Spolsky was kind enough to let us print some of his thoughts on how to avoid getting stuck at your second choice. The original post appears on his Read More
Fog Creek Software is a Silicon Alley survivor. Founded in 2000, the company ran smack into the dot-com bust before it had fully hatched. “We were just trying to keep ourselves in business, so we looked at what we had built for ourselves, and we settled on this bug tracker we had made in Read More
Wheelings and Dealings
Stack Exchange and Facebook announced a partnership today–facebook.stackoverflow.com, a Facebook-centric forum embedded within Stack Overflow’s programming-focused, question-and-answer wiki–and there was much rejoicing.
“It came about very quickly,” said Alex Miller, director of strategy at Stack Exchange, the network of wiki-esque forums that includes Stack Overflow. (Mr. Miller is also chief of staff and “sidekick to the CEO,” Joel Spolsky, who is on vacation this week and was unavailable. He also holds more than a dozen other titles for which he has corresponding business cards, according to his various duties. Betabeat can empathize.)
“One of the joys of us being a small agile start-up is, we can do things very quickly,” Mr. Miller explained. “In late June, early July they approached us and basically initiated a discussion about ways for us to partner on it. They were looking for a new solution and recognized the value of the platform … we were obviously thrilled to work with them.”
It’s tough to say what’s a tech start-up anymore as the web becomes so integrated in every sector. Perhaps inspired by recent attention on the problem of patent trolling, Stack Exchange founder Joel Spolsky took to Google+ late last night to write up a grand theory to get at the essence of the phrase “internet start-up.”
“Let me see if I can explain how ‘Internet Startups’ work,” he writes. “They make these apparati that draw a box on somebody’s computer screen. That person then types words into that box on their screen. Then, the Internet Startup uses some computer codes to copy those words onto somebody else’s computer screen, so that other person can then read them.”
It’s awesome that the folks at Reddit keep doing our job for us. Today they put one of our favorite New York entrepreneurs, Joel Spolsky, in the internet hot seat. He quickly got the commenters fired up by noting in his bio that Fog Creek distributes all it’s profits among employees.
Reddit user Samdumb got the trolling started. “I think that’s misleading. You and your co-owner are both employees and are presumably receiving the vast majority of that money.”