2010 Musings

So much happened in 2010, and while I’ve been a bit too buried to write much lately, I wanted to take a step back and muse on a few topics.

Aprizi
aprizihome2010 was a year for a lot of learning, and execution, and evolution for Aprizi. Liz and I got the first alpha up in March and a couple of months later had evolved our thinking to something much closer to the present-day product. We still describe Aprizi as a “Pandora for shopping”, with a focus on emerging designers and independent brands. Bootstrapping our way, it took us to mid/late September to get a proper beta up and running, and things really got hopping as we recruited our team of design and fashion-obsessed curators, who have done a fabulous job bringing the site to life. Our traffic kept on doubling Oct > Nov > Dec and we are working hard to keep that up, although it is quite clear to Liz and myself that we need to take some investment dollars in order to take Aprizi to the next level.

Our biggest “pivot” came on the business model side. We realized last Fall that, rather than focus on affiliate or advertising, we were much better off taking the trending and targeting data we gather and using it to power a new kind of retail business. I see Aprizi as turning the traditional model on its head by collecting data across the entire ecosystem and at the top of our customer-interaction process, rather than the bottom.

Aprizi is mostly aimed at women, but not exclusively so. Regardless of your gender, I hope you check it out, sign up, and tell me what you think!

“Lean Startup” Takes the International Stage
I first came across Eric Ries, Steve Blank, and the concepts around “lean startup” in the Fall of 2009, and many people discovered this blog as I shared Aprizi’s experiences in trying to put lean startup ideas into practice.

In 2010, the names Eric Ries and Steve Blank spread in the broader tech community and their concepts met with a mix of both enthusiasm and anti-fad skepticism. The sensible middle ground is gradually winning out. In New York, however, I find that entrepreneurs closer to the beginning of their venture are the ones most aware of lean startup concepts. In September, I spoke at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup and ended up joining the organizing team — frankly I think the regular gatherings are one of the best entrepreneur events going on in the city.

To Bubble or not to Bubble?
There has been a lot of muttering about a bubble, but after some reflection, I have concluded that there is not one — at least not in New York right now. Instead, there are “pile ons” happening where competing “packs” of investors churn up the waters over a select few hot companies. Indeed, some notable NY angel investors have been pulling back and getting considerably more conservative. While you might hear *investors* complaining about other investors in the field, you won’t find many entrepreneurs in New York who would characterize raising money as easy — not by a long shot.

There *are* a lot of new startups underway, that is for sure. Right now, with big company jobs feeling unstable and Internet/mobile exciting again to people, there is probably a general sense that now is a great time to take the risk and give it a shot. In general, the collective energy, optimism and community support is marvelous, although having been through this before, I’ll note that the flip side to this flowering is that if you have *too* many startups all at once, everything gets a bit harder for everyone: it is harder to break through the noise to attract customer attention, it is harder to get investor attention because there so many belles at the ball, and it gets harder to hire technical talent — all of which can push the ecosystem into an unhealthy game of “who can raise the most money”.

Women in Tech
It seems like this topic reared its head every other month in 2010, with similar arguments being trotted out each time. I am hugely supportive of expanding diversity in our industry (and btw, my technical co-founder is a woman), but I admit to being tired of seeing the headline over and over. The good news is that there are plenty of people *doing* rather than talking. I can easily reel off 30 impressive women leading startups or product efforts in New York, and I’m sure there are many others that I have not met yet. I don’t actually think that there is a shortage of female entrepreneurs today, and I try to support/mentor younger entrepreneurs irregardless of gender. The imbalance is in engineering and in venture capital but unfortunately changing the ratios in those two areas is probably a 10 to 20 year process.

Getting My Hands Dirty
One of the most fun things about 2010 was getting to roll up my sleeves on the product again rather than managing a team. Around mid-year, I took a week to do nothing but learn CSS and it was very well spent. It is incredibly satisfying to take something from concept to Photoshop to CSS; to make that SVN commit and then that final push to production. For as much as I like the sales and marketing side of our industry and working with bigger teams, I can totally understand why some engineers forsake the corporate ladder in order to preserve the pleasure of just building stuff.

I wish I had had the time to learn Ruby.

Doing a Startup with Two Young Kids is Hard
This topic really does not need further explanation. 🙂

And finally this Blog
Google Analytics tells me that 30,000 unique readers came by here in 2010, so thank you. The last couple of months have been busy with a lot going on that I hope to share on this blog, but the timing has not yet been quite right. I’ll try not to let my post-less December become a habit — maybe I will get ambitious and try to write about some trends in ecommerce.

I hope you all have a rocking 2011, and that it kicks the pants off of your 2010!