In 2008, Noah Everett wanted to share photos on Twitter. Since there was no way to do it, he grabbed an old server and created Twitpic as a side project. This program will show you how he did it, but before you listen to it, I want to give you some numbers:
At this point, I bet many readers’ eyes will glaze and they’ll say, “Dumb luck, Andrew. This story is just as useful to me as studying a lottery winner.” I anticipated that, which is why Noah and I spent so much time in this interview going over the specific techniques that got him here and talking about what YOU learn from the way he built the company.
Andrew: Hey, you’re about to watch one of my most inspiring interviews. I saw the chat room get all fired up, and I know that you are, too. And I’ve got to tell you that one of the reasons that I was able to ask the questions that I was, is because of the conversations I’m having with people like you, thanks to my sponsor, Grasshopper. Grasshopper gave me a phone number that allows you to call me, and I’ve been scheduling phone calls with listeners, helping them out with their business issues. And then it also tells me what I need to ask in my interviews, to help other entrepreneurs and other business people who are watching my interviews. So Grasshopper, thanks for making that possible. And I also have two other sponsors that I’ve got to tell you about. RichWP, that’s where you go to get a new theme for your website. I know a lot of people have been going to RichWP to get a theme, and to start doing interviews similar to the ones that I’m doing here on Mixergy. And, of course, if you do that, I’m going to help you. As much as possible, I’m going to help you do interviews like this, and get the kinds of contacts that I’ve been getting. And I also want to thank Shopify.com. Shopify.com is an easy way to set up a store online. If you go to Shopify.com, took me five minutes to set up a store. I know you’re going to be able to do it in under ten minutes, probably in five minutes or less. So go to Shopify.com and check them out. Thanks to my sponsors. And here’s the interview.
Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, Home of the Ambitious Upstart. And I’ve got with me the kind of story that a lot of people in the Mixergy audience have been begging for. They want to hear from an entrepreneur who built something on the side, without the resources, without the tons of cash and support that comes with venture capital and being in the Silicon Valley bubble. And I’ve got the guy here with me. And this is an exciting story. Noah Everett, no, listen to me, I’m even getting excited about this.
Andrew: Noah Everett, in 2008, built TwitPic on the side. No outside resources, right Noah?
Interviewee: Correct, yeah.
Andrew: No funding.
Andrew: No tons of cash. Today, he’s got a website that is an Alexa Top 100 Website. Twenty thousand new users sign up every single day. They’re getting ready to hit 6.5 million users total. You’ve been offered eight figures to buy TwitPic, right?
Interviewee: That’s correct. Yeah, we had an offer around late summer last year for an eight figure buyout. And it’s one of those things; it blows your mind, you know. And one of the reasons why I turned it down is just that it’s so much fun to run TwitPic. And it is kind of like my baby because I started it from the way it was started and stuff. It’s just too much fun right now.
Andrew: And no, just to be clear. Eight figures, we’re not counting after the decimal points. We’re saying over ten million dollars you’ve been offered for this business that’s about two years old.
Interviewee: Correct, yeah. Actually much higher than ten million dollars, yes.
Andrew: All right. All right, I could see in the chat room that everybody’s excited about having you here. And they’re all excited about TwitPic. But if there’s anyone who’s listening to us who doesn’t know what TwitPic is yet, can you tell them?
Interviewee: Yes, TwitPic is basically a photo sharing application that’s built on top of Twitter. So basically, Twitter, as you know, is text only. Has a max message of 140 characters. And TwitPic basically lets you share photos on Twitter from your phone, from the computer, or from apps that support it.
Andrew: And how many pictures shared on the site?
Interviewee: I think we’re at, getting ready to hit, sixty-something million, I believe, yeah.
Andrew: Wow. All right. And we’re going to be talking about your revenues. We’re going to be talking about the profit margin. We’re going to be talking about all kinds of things about the business and where it is today. But I’d like to go back in time a little bit, and figure out how we got here.
Andrew: So before you were running this business, what were you doing?
Interviewee: So basically, at the beginning… I’m kind of getting over a head cold, so if I have to clear my throat, I apologize. So before I started TwitPic, I was working as a web developer during the day, doing PHP, MySql stuff, building websites, design. And that was my day job. And so it was actually my second time to join Twitter. And originally, I just wanted a way to share my photos on Twitter, and there was no solution at the time. And so, it was a Friday night, had nothing to do, so I spent that weekend. I had another site called EchoPic.com. I had a spare server laying around. It really now was just a side project that I built just to do something. So I took the code from that website, and spent the weekend kind of ripping it apart, and making it work with Twitter. And that’s how TwitPic was born over that weekend. You know, a few Red Bulls, and there we were. And what happened was, was that that following week, I think it was like a Monday or a Tuesday after I’d launched it, it got wrote up by a large blog, and kind of started this snowball effect of publicity, and the new users signing it up. And like I said, when I first started it, I planned on me using it. Maybe a few hundred people. You know I was just trying to fix my own problem. And it’s blown my mind, where it’s gone. I’m so very thankful for it. And I couldn’t be happier.
Andrew: All right. What was EchoPic?
Interviewee: EchoPic was basically just a simple way to upload a photo and share it, either via the website, or link it on your Myspace, or something like that.
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Interviewee: It was just, I wanted to build something. I get in these creative moods where I just want to make something. And that was just one of those projects. And I had a spare server laying around I wasn’t doing anything with, and that’s what I made.
Andrew: What was the purpose of EchoPic, in a world that had PhotoBucket and other photo sharing sites? What were you trying to add?
Interviewee: Basically the purpose of EchoPic was to be a cleaner version of it. Just no-frills, get to the point. A clean kind of, I hate using this term, but web 2.0ish design, you know. And that was the purpose of it. Kind of not full of ads, and not full of anything else. Just get to the point. And it went. It did great. I think we had like a couple hundred thousand users signed up. I basically had to shut it down because TwitPic was taking up all my time. And I wasn’t able to devote the necessary time to make it work properly. And the users deserved better than that.
Andrew: OK. I want to spend a lot of time here on TwitPic, but I’ve got to ask just a few more questions about EchoPic, because now I’m curious. So this was going to be a business? Or were you just tinkering around trying to see what you could do?
Interviewee: I was just tinkering around. So I’ve had this habit where I’ll get an idea, and I immediately go try to flesh it out. Build it, and build a mock-up, you know. See ideas are a dime a dozen, you know. It’s the execution that really matters, you know. And I originally started a website called Indify.com. The purpose of Indify was going to be an i-Tunes for independent artists. There was really, at the time, no good way for Indie musicians to sell their music online. And it had been an idea I had been working on for two years. You know, did the whole setting up a business, making a website. All legit. Got it signed up, started, got two bands signed up, local bands. And it did work for a while, but just didn’t give me the attraction that I needed. By the time I launched it, the market got really saturated. So that was kind of my first experience with starting an online company. It was always something I wanted to do, but I just didn’t know how it was going to happen. And so, I was just always tinkering around with ideas for websites. And the one that I didn’t expect to take off was the one that did take off.
Andrew: So what I’m finding is a pattern of, actually I’m finding three categories of entrepreneurs who I’ve been interviewing. I’ve got the tinkerer. The person who’s constantly just trying different websites. I’ve got the person who’s a missionary. This is a person who’s got a passion. He’s going to go dying. He’ll be 90 years old trying to build his business, even if there’s no traction at all. He’s going to keep at it in his 90s. And then I’ve got the mercenary. The guy who just needs to make money.
Andrew: I’m having a hard time categorizing you, because on the one hand, you’re not ready to sell TwitPic. On the other hand, you had a couple of tinkering-type start-ups before.
Andrew: Where do you think you fall?
Interviewee: You know, that’s a good question. To be actually honest, I don’t really like the term entrepreneur, just because I’ve seen it thrown around very lightly, you know. If someone wanted to compliment me, I’d like for them to call me someone that, you know, takes an idea and executes it. You know, because that’s where it really turns out if you’re going to make something or not. You know? I guess it comes down to, I just have a creative itch that I need to scratch a lot, you know. And sometimes even now, they’ll be another project that I just want to work on, just to tinker with something, you know. So I really don’t know how to classify it either. [Laughs]
Andrew: OK. All right, fair enough. And in the audience they’re telling me, who is this? This is Russ Bracker, is saying that you’re a self-taught programmer. Is that right?
Interviewee: Yeah. So basically I was home schooled since second grade. And I actually graduated high school when I was 15. I ended up combining some of my high school years together so I could graduate early, which was great. But the downside was that I was too young to get in college. Colleges wouldn’t let me in. I didn’t have a GED. I didn’t have a degree or anything like that. I mean I completed all the correct courses and stuff. I just, you know, I never took the correct tests. So basically what I did is, since I couldn’t get in college, I went to Barnes and Noble, bought some books on programming, and just spent 12 hours a day on the computer at home. And thankfully my parents never asked me the question, you know, why their son was on the computer 12 hours a day. [Laughs] But, and that’s how I learned. Just messing around with things. If there was something I wanted to learn, try it. I tried to build it, you know, maybe. It’s one of those things when you’re first learning something, you’re kind of naive about it. And it’s also a blessing in disguise, because maybe you don’t know that you can’t do it, but you’re going to try it anyways, you know.
Andrew: OK. And a couple of people in the audience are asking if your ROM and profitable yet. He is, and we’re going to get into the revenues and the numbers in a little bit. So I suggest you guys Tweet out to your friends, and tell them to come watch this live. And by the time they get here, we’ll start getting into the numbers. But first I want to talk about, this was February 2008, when you launched the business. And you said that you wanted to share pictures on Twitter.
Andrew: Was there a site already out there that just wasn’t easy enough to use, that you weren’t comfortable using, for one reason or another? Or were you the first person to come out with this?
Interviewee: As far as I know, I didn’t see any, but I didn’t really check that hard. So that could be coming to my head once. At the time, I didn’t find a solution. So that’s why I built mine. And my goal with it was to be a really simple way to upload a photo, get a shortened URL, and post it to Twitter, and have your friends be able to see it and comment on it.
Andrew: What about a business model? Did you have that at the time?
Interviewee: [Laughs] Not at all. Like I said, I was paying, so originally, when I first started TwitPic, I had a spare server lying around.
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Interviewee: So originally, when I first started TwitPic, I had a spare server lying around. It costs, I think like 40 bucks a month for a server, you know. I was just paying that out of pocket. And there was no business model in mind. We didn’t start putting ads inside it until, I think it was late 2008, I believe. I thought it was going to be me, and we were going to get some nerd treads, you know. Some blogs, small blogs added up, and I really had no intentions of it getting as large as it has, or belong as large as it has. It’s been a great, terrible thing. [Laughs]
Andrew: All right. So can you tell me about the first day that it launched? Was the blog that set it all on fire, did that happen the day that you launched?
Interviewee: I think it was the day of, or the day after. I was actually at work. I had launched it, I think, about 20 people were using the site for me twitting it out, and I was at work, and I think someone sent me a text message saying, “Dude, you’re on Mashable.com right now.” And I literally, I freaked out, you know, because this is one of the blogs I read at the time. And I think I called my mom. I’m like, “Mom, guess what. I’m on this, you know.” That was kind of when I had my first like, kind of had my first like, “Oh, my God” moment. And it was exciting, you know. And so that kind of started the snowball effect. Other blogs took that up. We started getting a retweet on Twitter. And that’s how it kind of got started.
Andrew: And just from that alone, things took off.
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean our growth rate from the beginning was nowhere near where it was, what it is now, but it, yeah, it steadily kept increasing, you know. So for the first year, TwitPic ran on a single server for about, I think the first eight months, you know. A little, small server, and then I had to go to two servers. And then, I’m sure we’ll touch on more of this later, but the scale on which we had in early 2009, completely floored me. You know I had really no idea what I was doing. A web developer is normally used to building websites on a single server. I didn’t know anything about scaling, only what I had read. And you know, so I was kind of like one of those just don’t jump in, and then start swimming, you know. [Laughs]
Andrew: You know what? I think that Otis Chandler, who created GoodReads.com, said that he got a similar effect after being in Mashable. I think he was a little bit more established when he had his Mashable post. But he said that things just started taking off from there.
Interviewee: Yeah, I think it’s good. That’s the great thing about blogs is that they’ll pick up sites. And frankly, at the time, Twitter was kind of barely a dot there on the site. It was just starting to break through that, and so Mashable, I think, was covering new Twitter services. And I was so thankful that they picked us up and wrote about us. So, you know, it helped get the word out. And other blogs picking it up. And I’m very thankful for the blog network that we have, that you can get free publicity, and you don’t have to pay for it. And it’s great.
Andrew: Did you have to court the bloggers in any way? Or did you go out of your way to reach out to them?
Interviewee: No, I may have sent out one email just to let someone know about it. But not really, no. Usually they just pick it up themselves, and that’s kind of how it’s been with TwitPic. We’ve done no marketing. We’ve done no, like, pushing it out there. It’s all been word-of-mouth. Having celebrity users use it helps as well, and stuff. And but no, no really traditional marketing, as you would call it.
Andrew: And I could see that the business is naturally viral. When I see that a friend of mine is posting a picture using TwitPic, when I think of a place to upload a picture, I’d go to TwitPic, and do the same thing. But did you do anything to encourage that virality?
Interviewee: So when I was first was building TwitPic, I had a kind of, “Ooh, that’s a good idea moment”, you know. After my second Red Bull, it was kind of like, the commenting system. So that was when you post a comment on a photo, originally the comment would be on the site itself. Often the comment kind of got lost, because it’s not going back to Twitter, and it’s only on this. And so I wanted everything to be connected. So the first, I guess, viral feature that I put into it was having where the commenting would be sent back to Twitter, and not “reply to user”, you know. As it should, because the users want to know where their comments are coming from. They may not check the photo for comments and stuff. And so that was kind of the initial thing that helped like, get the ball rolling.
Andrew: What else did you do to encourage a virality?
Interviewee: You know that’s, I guess the other thing that we did was the users signing up. So if you have a Twitter account, you already have a TwitPic account. You know you just sign in with your Twitter username and password. And there’s no need to create another account. So we kind of forego that whole unnecessary step. So that kind of helped users get on there quickly, and just start sharing photos, which was the main goal anyways.
Andrew: By the way, well before I get to what they’re saying in the chat room, I noticed that even today, I need to put in my username and password, instead of logging in using O-off. Is that right?
Interviewee: Yeah, so one thing we’re working on now is we’re going to be adding O-off support very soon. A lot of our users are asking for it, and we want to make sure that we’re doing that, and signing up for taking over all new features. So yes, O-off will be added here very shortly. We’re hoping for early February to have that released. And sometime in February, a lot of some other features that we’re working on as well. And an updated design, kind of keep the site looking good, so.
Andrew: Chris Drit is asking in the comments if there’s been any negative effect to asking for username and password, instead of using O-off.
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Interviewee: um, and thats why i say the most important thing on a startup is, y’know, ideas are a dime a dozen but its the execution that really counts, you know, and being able to push through things when it gets hard, you know, um, there have been many many times when i just wanted to give up ’cause it was just so hard, and I didn’t know what to do, you know I had no idea really what else to do at times, so…
Andrew: Can you talk about what you were feeling at the time, because I know that before then, people were loving you, I mean they were talking up the service, you were a gift to the twitter community, and then I went back to research this interview, and I saw that suddenly it seemed like people all turned against you overnight like “that jerk, what did he do to us” like you were intentionally doing it. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Interviewee: Yeah, so one of the things they dont tell you a lot about in running a business, and its an emotional rollercoaster, you know, one day you’re on top of the world and the next day you don’t really want to do it anymore, and I’m very thankful for the twitter community, we’re nothing without our users and they’re fantastic users and I’m so thankful for it and I don’t feel entirely in any way to whatever I’ve been blessed with, with this, and I’ve always wanted to provide the best service possible with twitpic, and the another thing we want to work with now is with is ads, making sure we’re always serving high quality ads, because I would want the same thing for myself, so you got to look at yourself and think “what would I be OK with”. And if you can’t say that for yourself, you’re trying to make a buck but you’re compromising what you wouldn’t want and its not worth it. But when the site started hitting some scaling issues and the site wasn’t functioning properly and users were getting upset and they had every right to be and I didn’t blame em. Its hard, sometimes people think that twitpic is a large company and it was me reading the comments, me reading the support issues and stuff, and its hard not to take those things personal, because there’s a real human being behind it and people don’t realize that sometimes. So I encourage people on twitter, when you maybe have an issue or complaint, that you realize there is a real human being behind there reading these things, … what I find is that when you respond to people on twitter in a human way they respond to you in a human way, cuz originally on people are used to getting bad support, they’re used to getting bad feedback so we’re trained to respond harshly to make sure we get what I want- and get what we want, but i found that when you respond back to them as a human and nice, and understanding, they turn right around, there are some people who had big problems with twitpic early on and now are some of
our biggest evangelists for the site and they’re actually good friends now so you can turn any situation all in how you respond, and people really endear themselves to you and they realize you’re a small company, at the time, so the first year and a half twitpic was just me. So it was hard times, but you understand you know?
Andrew: Yeah, I was actually talking to one of the guys at uservoice who said that same thing, that he’ll jump into twitter, and respond to the person whos his harshest critic, the guy who most people would fight against, if he just goes in and says “What’s the problem, how can I help out?”, he ends up having one of his biggest, ah he ends up creating one of his biggest evangelists
Interviewee: Yeah, people just want someone to respond to ‘em, and we- and I’m guilty of this too, sometimes I’ll call up my cable company and I’m kind of a jerk, at first cuz Im used to getting bad service. And I tried to change that about myself, its because it kind of comes from fear, we think we’re not going to get the service we need or the response we need to fix our issue, and I don’t blame anybody for being that way, thats kind of how the support industry is, and so one of the things we’re trying to do now, and I’m kind of trying work even more now is we’re going to be hiring a community manager for twitpic, to be full time support, to respond to issues, to talk users through it. Last night I was up till about 1 am, 2 am helping a user with an issue. I was getting ready for bed and I saw a tweet come through, and he was having a problem so I stayed up and I worked it through it, you know, and we got his problem solved and –
Andrew: – What kind of issue were you addressing?
Interviewee: Uh, I think he had changed his twitter username recently and so, Steven actually helped resolve it as well, he was on- I didn’t know he was up either and I was on campfire and he responded and I was like ‘Oh, you’re on”, hey thats cool.” (laughs).
Andrew: Uh- Oh, I thought we had lost you for a moment, there you go. By the way, Steven, if you are watching us and you are in the chatboard can you say hi and let people know if you’re there? And its OK if you happen not to log into the chatboard it looks like its a big crowd in there today. Um, lets see, somebody’s asking here “technically how do you…” ah, here we go, ‘Joe Leo': “how technically did you scale the database?”
Interviewee: Ah, so early on our first scaling issue was with our web servers, you know, we were running on one web server and it was just getting flooded, so we went to a load-balance web server off a [?] and then it was our databases that started to lag behind, so some of the things were improper setup and databases, from my ignorance whatever it may be from not a proper index or whatever, and then it just came from, we needed more cash in place, and so we put some cash in place, some mimcash for the technical people that are watching, that really helped drop our load tremendously, but yeah its been a plethora of things to fix…
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Interviewee: And that’s why I said, the most important thing on start up is, you know, ideas are a dime a dozen, but it’s the execution that really counts. You know, and being able to push through things when it’s hard, you know. There have been many, many times when I just wanted to give up, it was just so hard and I, I didn’t know what to do, you know, I had no idea really what to do at times, so
Andrew: Can you talk about what you were feeling at the time, because I know that before then, people were loving you, I mean they were talking up the service, you were a gift to the twitter community and then I went back to research this interview, and I saw that suddenly it seemed like people all turned against you overnight, like, that jerk, what did he do to us
Andrew: Like you were intentionally doing it. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Interviewee: Yeah, so, one of the things they don’t say a lot about with a new business, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, you know, one day you’re on top of the world and the next day, you know, you don’t really want to, you don’t really want to do it anymore, and I’m very thankful to the twitter community, you know, we’re nothing without our users, and they’re fantastic users, and I’m so thankful for it, and I don’t feel entitled in any way to whatever I’ve been blessed with this, and, but I always want to provide the best service possible with twitpic, you know and we’re trying to work right now with ads, there were always certain high quality ads, you know, because I would want the same thing for myself, you know, so you need to look at yourself and go what would I be okay with? And if you can’t say that for yourself, and you’re trying to make a buck, but you’re compromising what you would want, it’s not worth it, you know, but when the site started hitting some scaling issues and the site wouldn’t function properly, the users were getting upset, they had every right to be, you know, you couldn’t blame them, you know, it’s hard. Sometimes people think twitpic is a large company, and it was me and three comrades, three, me dealing with support issues and stuff, and it’s hard not to take those things personal, you know, there’s a human being behind it, people don’t realize that sometimes. I encourage people on twitter, when you’re maybe having an issue or complaining that you realize that there’s a real human being behind there reading these things, and so what I find is that when you respond to people on twitter in a human way, they’ll respond back to you in a human way, because originally now people are used to getting bad support, they’re used to bad feedback, you know, and so we’re training to respond harshly which will do what I want and get what we want, but I’ve found that when you respond back to them as a human and nice and understanding, they turn right
around, and some of the people that really had problems with twitpic early on are some of our biggest evangelists for the site, and we’re actually good friends now. So you can turn any situation around all by how you respond, you know, and people really endear themselves to you when they realize, here’s a small company at the time, for the first year and a half, twitpic was just me and it was hard times, but you know, you’ve got to understand, you know.
Andrew: I actually was talking to one of the guys uservoice that said the same thing, that he’ll jump into twitter and respond to the person that’s his harshest critic, the guy who most people would fight against, he just goes in and says what’s the problem, how can I help out? He ends up having one of his biggest, he ends up creating one of his biggest evangelists.
Interviewee: Yeah, people just, they just want someone to respond, someone, I just think we, I’m guilty of this too, you know, sometimes I’ll call up my cable company, you know, I’m kind of a jerk at first to getting bad, you know, bad service. But I’ll have a change about myself, it’s because, you know, it kind of comes from fear, we think we’re not going to get the service we need or a response we need to fix our issue, and I don’t blame anybody for being that way, it’s just, it’s kind of how the support industry is and so one of the things we’re trying to do, and I’m trying to work with more now, we’re actually going to be hiring a community manager for twitpic to be full time support, to respond to issues, to talk users through it. Last night, I was up until about one a.m. dealing with a user with an issue. I was getting ready to go to bed and I saw a tweet come through and he was having problems, so I stayed up and we worked through it, and we got the problem solved, you know, and
Andrew: What kind of issue were you addressing?
Interviewee: I think he changed his twitter username recently, and so the “speedman “ (23:55) was actually on and actually helped him resolve it as well. He was on, I didn’t know he was on either, on campfire and did a response and it was like, oh, you’re on, hey, that’s cool.
Andrew: There we go, I thought we lost you there for a moment. By the way Stephen, if you are watching us and you’re in the chat board, can you say hi, let people know that you’re there, and it’s okay if you happened not to log into the chat board. Looks like it’s a big crowd in there today. Let’s see, somebody’s asking here, technically, how do you, here we go, Joe Leo, how technically did you scale the database?
Interviewee: So, early on, our first scaling issue was with our web servers, we were running on one web server and it was just getting sluggish and so we went to a load balanced web server for protection, and then it was our databases that lag behind and so some of the things were improper, set up the databases, from my ignorance maybe we had non proper indexing or whatever and then it just came from, we needed more cashing in place and so we put some cashing in place and the cash, mim (24:53) cash for the technical people that are watching and that really helped drop our load tremendously, but yeah it’s been, it’s been a lot of clever things to fix, you know,
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Interviewee: When you fix one thing, then you go on to the next one and fix that and when your scaling at the rate we are, So we do about, Our servers handle about 3 billion requests every month the request being a pay view, an API call what ever it may be, so about 3 billion hundred requests a month, So at that scale large issues you wouldn’t have on a normal system become big issues, you know a one second timeout wouldn’t
be an issue on a small website, but a one second timeout on this scale could bring the whole site down on certain things so
Andrew: And I see that Steven is actually in the chat room
Interviewee: “Okay okay”
Andrew: His name is, tell me if this makes sense to you his name seems to be “Patrinaspheres”
Interviewee: Patrina I don’t know what that is it’s interesting
Andrew: I guess not, he says hi I’m here and listening so maybe it’s someone else pretending to be him or
or maybe he could tell us what that name was, How did you meet him?
Interviewee: So awhile ago we put out a job position for a developer to help me with doing some of that stuff,
and we interviewed several people and we got his resume in and it looked great, early on we were going to try
hiring a local over someone here in Charleston, and we had some issues finding someone not alot of tech here like
you find in other places and which is good I’m glad we got past that notion that we had to have someone loca you knowl so we hired
him on and he’s working in “Mo” like i said I never met Steven in person we’d just chat online I think we’re planning a trip
to go to New York City, I think in probably April or something like that and we’ll met for the first time hang out, but he sent in his resume and it looked great we did a couple interview processes and brought him on board, and it’s been a perfect fit couldn’t ask for a better worker
Andrew: And actually his name is Steven Corona right?
Andrew: Yeah so there he is someone I guess was impersonating him there so he is in there and listening
Interviewee: “Hey Whats up Steven”
Andrew:. So how’d you know he’d be a good fit
Interviewee: So I just did another interview the other-day as well, and what we tell our interviewees is that skill of course is a requirement yes, but skill comes second to a persons personality and ability to work as a team, and self motivation, you know a skill can be learned if they don’t necessarily know it, so the first thing we look for is someone that is passionate about what they do a great team player great self motivated you know and cause we’re working remote you know , we’re not always talking to each other, Not always in each others business you know, I’l try do all the work on something he’ll be working on something we just do our thing and it works great so the ability to mesh with your team is the most important thing, being self motivated being a passionate person in what you do, the second being skill you know say you know you have the skills to do the job but they may not have the nitch skill but that could be learned I rather invest into someone who can work great with us and then someone who has a great skill but can’t necessarily able to do that,
Andrew: Can we talk about what the web site looked like when it first launched
Interviewee: Like crap * laughs* No so when i first I think I can look in google images and search for Twitpic, I’ll be able to see some of the original versions of it
I did a design in like a hour just real quick and the logo was completely different then and the goal of the site was completely different then, when you start a product or a website
37 signals says, I love 37 signals by the way Jason Reed and their whole philosophy and what they do and one of the things they said that we picked up on to to and thought about was that
when you build a product get your core feature out there as soon as possible just put it out there it doesn’t matter if it’s half broken just get it out there because in the end your users will push you in the direction
it’s going to go, and you want product to fit your users not what you think is going to work so Twitpic when it first started is much much different than what it was now. just because it morph’s and evolves overtime
Andrew: You said the purpose was a little bit different what was the original purpose?
Interviewee: The site when it originally went on was more of a utility site we didn’t want it to be a destination or a socal site so you will but users kept wanting more functionality like tagging and commenting and better
profiles you know so we started putting more work into that to fulfill those needs that the users were wanting
Andrew: I see, did you design the original version of the site?
Interviewee: Yes there all the designs now going forth have been designed by me and developed by me and now we got Steven on board he’s doing alot of development to so yea by me
Andrew: I’m hoping that someone will put in the chatroom will post a link of what the site used to look like maybe from archive.org i would love to see it guys
Andrew: Hm so your the developer and your the designer and the site looks good it doesn’t look like what you’d expect a developer design to be
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Andrew: Developers today, I’m noticing, have got some real design skills.
Interviewee: Yeah, I have this issue where I like doing everything myself and it’s a good and it’s a bad thing because sometimes I don’t get the help I need sometimes I need it. I think TwitPic right now may have some rendering issues in IE but other then that it works pretty good. So when I was building side projects and ideas i wanted, you know, of course I didnt have money to go find someone to design it for me and I didnt like being out of that loop so i would, you know, learn how to use Photoshop. So I started using Photoshop making little stuff and so you learn to fill the need you want. I actually really enjoy doing the design working UI design, I actually enjoy doing that now more then developement work, you know, cause UI can make or break your site cause you want your site to be easy to use and non confusing.
Andrew: Alright lets talk about the revenue, the adds, in fact ads are the only source of revenue for you, right?
Interviewee: Right, yeah. So I was in the process of starting another company when I started TwitPic. It was gonna be a for profit company if you will where we have products and you pay them monthly subscriptions which is always the route i wanted to go and then TwitPic took off and I was like Well it would be stupid if I ignored this and not grab this tiger by the tail and run with it so we always wanted to mimick Twitter, what they were doing and Twitters charges fee, of course there free so we always wanted to be free. So, since TwitPic has been self funded by me we’ve never taken any outside revenue or funding or loans of any sort we had to be frugal with our resources and also make sure were bringing in revenue so we decided to go with ads. And ads are kinda a sticky situation, you know, because they can either be good or they can be really crappy and you dont want a crapy ad running on your website. We’ve tried to be very strict on the ads we allow on the website, you know, if we see an ad we’re not happy with or that somehow slips through our approval system we contact our ad partner and make sure that its removed immediately, you know, we get bad feedback for an ad we wanna remove it.
Andrew: I wanna find out a little bit more, I wanna find out how it developed. So the site launched in Feburary, 2008. Do you remember when you added advertising to it?
Interviewee: I think it was in late Summer, 2008-
Andrew: What was the first ad partner that you added?
Interviewee: I think it was Adsents, were using text ads on Adsents, and I like those cause they weren’t in your face and they kinda meshed with the site design-
Andrew: How much revenue were you bringing it, sorry to keep jumping in, how much revenue were you bringing in the first month and even the even the second month from adsents?
Interviewee: I’m trying to remember, I think I rought in one hundred bucks my first month.
Andrew: Okay and the second month, are we in the low thousands or are we in the tens of thousands?
Interviewee: I think still with Adsents it was still only a hundred bucks there on going foward. It was enough to cover our expenses at the time which are a fifty dollar server and then shortly there after we upgraded to some co-ocation of course our cost increased. Funny thing is our revenue is always been comparable to out cost, at those times i never had to go get loans. There were a couple of times when i was looking at my paycheck, looking at our expenses and saying, ok I gotta make this work and it came through. But Adsent, honestly I didn’t see any great revenue from that but it was just enough to cover our expenses.
Andrew: Alright and then what was the next partner for advertising?
Interviewee: I think after adsents we went with a company called Video Egg I believe and there great, they have very high quality ads, I love there ads and that helped us start bringing in more revenue so we could start hiring and stuff like that. In the end basically since we have been showing ads it’s been revenue positive. Sometimes only a few percent and sometimes alot more.
Andrew: Where did…actually lets jump into it. What size revenue are you guys bringing in now?
Interviewee: So right now we’ve finally hit the seven figure year in revenue and were in the low seven figures right now and were trying to get in the mids here, were projecting to hopefully in the next year or so and were running at about a seventy percent profit margin right now which it great for us, you know, it helps us have cash flow and cash that we can use for rainy days or emergencies or a big spin we may need.
Andrew: Low senev figures meaning what? One to three million?
Interviewee: Yeah, were about one and a half to three million right now.
Andrew: One and half to three million revenue coming in, profit margins are senety percent.
Andrew: Can you be more specific about the revenue?
Interwiewee: Yeah, so right now were at about 1.5 to two million anually right now and our goal and our projection is seen to put us at about three to four in about a year or so depending. And thats our goal, as of right now with our current revenue we are holding a seventy percent profit margin.
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Interviewee: …we’re holding at 70% profit margin.
Andrew: And that’s net profit, not gross, right? So we’re talking about after paying for employees? Sorry.
Interviewee: That’s all right. All of our expenses, hosting, whatever it may be. That’s what we can put in the bank at the end of the day. And use, for whatever we need, going forward. Which is good, because we don’t want to strapped for cash, because in the end, that hurts your end user. I’m not trying to make a big profit off of this so I can be gaining. I take a normal salary, like any other employee. The goal is to use this to build a better product for our users in the end. And so, this helps us get to there.
Andrew: When did you have that big leap, from making just a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to actually making substantial money? Was there a month that you actually took that big leap?
Interviewee: Yeah, so when we moved away from Google AdSense to other ad partners, because I just stuck the AdSense code on there just to be generating something. I really didn’t know anything about ads, or CPM or CTR, or whatever. I generally knew what it was, but when we started getting into higher quality advertisers, that’s when the saw the revenue it creates. Because that’s was actually what our value was. I said “no”, and I wasn’t putting the time into it. Then we started getting better advertisers on board. And…
Andrew: And it’s always through networks, right? It’s always through third parties, you’re never doing direct sales with poor people in the business, are you?
Interviewee: You know, early on, actually, I did direct sales myself, where I would just sell stock on the side. For this week’s lot, what was I charging? I think the most I ever charged for a week’s lot, back in the day was like, $500 for a week or something like that. And that was all the traffic, I put their ad or their link there. And the great thing about it was that the sites we were adjuncting for actually were other Twitter sites. So we were keeping it in the ecosystem, keeping it in the network, which was great. Since then, I haven’t generally had the time, so when you’re a one-man show from New Guinea, you got to figure out what are the most important things to do in that day? So, in every day, I made it an intention to point out to me, but you got to find out what’s the most important things at the time? Keeping the site running, keeping it running well, and scaling were the most important things. So, I had to pull away from the direct sales model. We are looking into doing more direct sales now, and may do some more of that going forward.
Andrew: OK. And Merrick, if you’re listening. Merrick is the one who introduced us. And I’m going to make sure to link to Merrick so that people who are listening to us, at least listening to the recorded version of this, get to find out more about Merrick. And I want to thank him for introdu-, we’re not over with this. I just want Merrick to know that I’ve seen the comments that he’s sending. Thank you and keep sending them over, Merrick. I actually should have put up, online, all the notes that he’s sent me on you. This guy is really methodical. He sent me not just research on you, but links to Tweets where you brought certain issues up. Links to information from Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, about you. Just incredible. Thank you, Merrick.
Interviewee: It’s amazing. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much for that.
Andrew: One more thing about revenue. Do you remember when you made your first million?
Interviewee: Yeah, I did. And I celebrated for about 5 minutes, and then I had to get back to work. No, it’s a great feeling. So, basically, one of the milestones that I had for myself was that I had a company that was worth 8 figures by the time that I was 24. And that was one thing that I felt good about, and just for a personal success. And another thing I felt good about was also by the time I was 25, having a company that generates 7 figures in revenue a year. And it’s important to, when you have those little victories, you celebrate. But in the end, sometimes there are many other things more pressing, that you got to make sure you’re on top of things. So, I guess I’m one of those people that, when I know there’s stuff to be done, I got to go get it done first. Then I can go celebrate. But the thing I want to celebrate about most is if our users are happy with TwitPic, and they end up using it, and they find it useful. That’s more important than anything. I’m not trying to get rich off of picture revenue, I know it’s there. I make a better service for our users.
Andrew: Well, Merrick actually asked me earlier to ask you what you bought? He said that he noticed that you Tweeted out a picture of your BMW’s dashboard, and this guy pays attention to detail, I’m telling you. He noticed that there was 150,000 miles on the dashboard…
Andrew: And he said, maybe you want to get a new car. Did you get a new car for yourself?
Interviewee: Yeah, after I had that car since about 2004, and I bought it with 20,000 miles on it. I put 130,000 miles on it. I like to drive it a lot. I drive a lot at night, I listen to music, clear my head, go to the beach or something. I wouldn’t mind having a new car. Actually, I would like to have a motorcycle. I’m a really big motorcycle enthusiast. That may be something that I go splurge on for myself and have something that I get away with.
Andrew: But you haven’t splurged on anything, you haven’t bought anything yet?
Interviewee: Uh, I’d see, I’m trying to think about, John McGraham, no? [laughs] No, I haven’t.
Andrew: You know, it’s funny. I think people, I think, want to be entrepreneurs, that as soon as you make a little bit of money, you go out there and you buy…
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Andrew: They assume that you’re buying. Yeah, it’s in all kinds of things. What I found and I’m not saying that Merrick [spelling] is. Merrick [spelling] sent me this information as part of, I think, a thousand points on you because that’s the way he is. But, a lot of times, a lot of times want to be entrepreneurs assume that you go out there and you spend the money right away. I remember once, I had a guy who was buying ads for me. He was working at a venture back company and I think he was sending us about a million bucks a month in revenue. And he kept wanting to know what I was going to buy. Every time he’d send over a check, he’d ask me if I was going to go out there and buy a new car for myself. I remember I was walking into work. I’m living in Manhattan. What’s the point of having a car? It just felt like the guy just didn’t get what I was about. He didn’t get the motivation, didn’t get where the enthusiasm came from. For me, the enthusiasm, the excitement came from seeing the numbers up on the board, from calling up Citibanks’ automated system and hearing it try to spit out all those numbers. What was it for you? What is it for you?
Interviewee: I guess what makes me feel good is knowing that we’re a company that we didn’t take any outside funding. Maybe it’s a private issue but that we grew it from nothing to where it is now. And I’m so thankful for it. And the fact that we can, we can pay our bills and pay our employees well and not to have to think, “Oh, we can’t pay you this week because, you know, we don’t have money.” We’ve never had that issue and I’m very thankful for you, you know. And having my parents work for me is great. I have great parents. And so that’s probably the most fulfilling thing that we’ve got a good product. People love it. And we’re generating revenue to help make that product better. I think that’s the best feeling out of all it.
Andrew: Alright. Let’s spend a little more time on advertising. Then we’ll talk about how much money you invested in the business and I know it’s not much so I know that won’t take up a lot of time. Advertising – I saw a blog post that complained about your ads at one point being too big. How much were you pushing the envelope on advertising?
Interviewee: So, originally on we started from a small text link ad. It worked great. Then we went to an image ad and then we went to a larger size now, with the format we are now. And we find that the format we have now gives the best visibility without being too much in your face. And ads – running a business off ad of new is a tricky thing to do because we don’t really want to look at ads. I don’t really want to look at ads either. You know, it’s kind of one of those necessary evils. But what we do is, we make sure that we listen to users’ feedback and if there’s an ad that runs that people don’t like, we’ll be sure to remove it, you know. Our users’ opinion about our site and service and what they like is more important than making a buck. I’m already making an extra few thousands that month or whatever.
Andrew: What kind of click-through rates are you getting on the ads, on the standard banner ads, the standard image ads?
Interviewee: You know that’s a good question. I actually don’t even know. My dad’s been handling all that lately. And so, I’ve been trying to pull myself away where my nose is not in everything and just concentrate on what – I really don’t know but it’s a good question. I should probably find out. [laughs]
Andrew: Alright. And that’s because you get paid on a CPM, right? You get paid when you show the ads, not when people click on them?
Interviewee: Some CPM’s and some click-through rates. It’s kind of a mesh of both, and some are, I think, cost per or click, like actually when a user clicks on an ads and does the action afterward, you know. So, it’s a mix of everything.
Andrew: And Ryanoutloud in the chat room is saying that he remembers that blog post and he says that the guy or the kid who wrote it didn’t realize that he hovered over the ad and that’s why it opened it.
Interviewee: Oh, yeah. There’s an issue with a certain browser where the way the ad’s supposed to function is you hover the ad. If you hover over it for three seconds, it shows you a countdown it will show up. There’s actually a bug with Flashplayer in a certain browser that when you hover over it, it popped up immediately. And I think it was with Chrome and a certain version of Flash. I don’t know if it got fixed or not. But, I think that was the cause of it. Thanks Ryan. It’s a boy from back home in Oklahoma.
Andrew: I love the people who picked that up. Ryanoutloud, I’d love to know what your website is or who you are. Let us know. Alright. Let’s talk about revenues.
Andrew: You’re the only investor in the business. How much money did you put in the business?
Interviewee: So, early on, like I was working a full time job. I worked at Triptick [spelling] online the weekends. I would just, you know, whatever money I had in the bank and whatever costs we had, I would just pay for it out of pocket. So early on, it was like $50 bucks a month for servers, you know. My time was the only big investment, you know. I don’t have to pay myself for the design and [inaudible] work. I think total, all the money I invested into it myself is probably about $5,000. And, yeah, that’s about it cause from the time we were running ads, and the company was basically self sustainable by the time we started running ads.
Andrew: Wow. So, $5,000 — we’re talking about a really scrappy start-up here?
Andrew: What kind of advice do you have for other scrappy entrepreneurs who want to build businesses the way that you did?
Interviewee: I think the thing is: build a product first and get the core features out there and don’t worry about funding.
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Interviewee: I think the main thing is though the corporate product 1st and get the _ out there. And don’t worry about funding. When I 1st started _, I had 5 or 6 investors commonly trying to throw some money at us. It was flattering. The thing to remember is some entrepreneurs try to use funding as a badge. O I got funding for my start-up. And some start-ups do need funding. In our case, we didn’t it. I didn’t want to build an asset worrying about that. Because there is divergence between VC and entrepreneurs. It is easier than ever to start a start-up now especially online with cloud services. I think I was online, I have a cheap staff. It is very easy now to dip an idea, to go to a website and get it out there. And may be only spend a few hundred bucks a month and not worry about VC.
Andrew: So you were actually getting VC calls, so can you say which companies were talking to you?
Interviewee: I can’t because of NDAs but there were 2 large ones I can’t.
Andrew: They are making you sign NDAs to make sure that you do not tell people that you are talking to them.
Interviewee: In certain cases, depending on how far the talks got. NDAs are kind of initiatives which is good which helps people protect information. But we have some large VCs, some large ones from the industry wanted to invest in the company.
Andrew: Did they ask you to sign NDAS?
Interviewee: Some did, some didn’t.
Andrew: OK. How far did you get in the conversation with them?
Interviewee: To the point, where I figured how much they would give me and how much the company wanted. They stopped talking about there.
Andrew: And what did they say, you should do with money ?
Interviewee: I think early on. I don’t remember __. But higher up to get someone to build more features.
Andrew: What vision they have for you? What more they did they want? Did they want you to become a social network yourself around photos? Did they want you to become photo album, Flickr of the new world?
Interviewee: They didn’t put an actual agenda of like what they wanted it to be other than just a good media hub to Twitter. Some of the guys I talked to had started previous sites, some photo sites. They gave me advice. Thank you. I was just a kid doing websites, threatened I was talking to VCs. So I was very thankful that they took time to talk to me, gave me free advice and helped me.
Andrew: _ in the chat-room says that he is with _ company.
Interviewee: Me and _, together back in the days. Yeah.
Andrew: I see. Cool. What kind of music you guys played?
Interviewee: Actually I played in the church band.
Andrew: Get out!
Andrew: Wow! Was it like christian Rock?
Interviewee: Yes. Pretty much.
Andrew: What was your part in the band?
Interviewee: I played keyboard. I played piano, played guitar. Didn’t have time recently.
Andrew: Yes. Cool. Thanks for telling us that. Let’s see what else we have here. More and more advice here. So 1st thing you are saying is. Build the product. Just get it out there. What about core features? Just launch the core. How did you know what the core features are?
Interviewee: That’s a good question. Because once your 5 dollars invested, do everything. So one of the things people wanted, being was to post on multiple networks. People pushed a score, but in the end I had to say no to. Because I just wanted to focus on Twitter. I wanted to be the best possible just on Twitter. So that was one things that we had to focus on. And be good-natured about it and not get too greedy on using many features. Not saying we won’t do that in future. So I wanted at the time, wanted them to stay with me on that. So originally on, so like I said, _ practical core functionality. Figured the problem, you are trying to solve. The problem I was trying to solve, I wanted to get my photo on Twitter and wanted the people to see it and comment on it. That was the core functionality that I was trying to get out there. So when you have the company you want to build. Try to identify the problem you want to solve. My advice is to try to solve one of your own problems. You build a product that fixes your own needs. Chances are that, the product which helps to fix your own needs, chances are I am guessing it will be a better product. What you build to fix your own needs, will help fix other people as well, you are not that uncommon and the relations that you have is not that it will not help someone else.
Andrew: I realized when I asked you will the 1 st version of Twitpic looked like, you gave I think it was a groan. And are you are not the only entrepreneur to do that.
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Andrew: And you’re not the first or only, you’re not nearly the only entrepreneur to ever do that. I keep noticing that, in fact, if anyone is watching this, when you replay it, listen for that spot and if you listen to my interview with the founder of Thrillist, a site that is known for being beautiful & delivering style to its audience, notice how his reactions is similar to Noah’s reaction. In all that Noah is to ask you…. it feels a little painful to launch a site that doesn’t look great, that doesn’t look as beautiful as you have in mind. Did it feel that way to you?
Interviewee: Yeah, and it comes down to a lot of, you know, your skills evolve all the time, you know, my skills run away up the bar and the design stuff and also when you stick something out you make, that you design, you know, that’s a part of you and so when people have an opinion about something you made that can cut deep, you know, because that’s … like an artist and someone makes a painting and someone gives a bad review on it, it may hurt the artist, cuz they may be exposing something inside of them is pretty deep to make that painting that thing. It’s kinda the same thing with website stuff, building a website, you know, that was my best skilled time
Andrew: What kind of negative reviews did you get about your design? Or feedback?
Interviewee: I don’t remember of negative feedback on the design, most of the negative feedback came from when the site wasn’t scaling properly and kind of the same thing, you know. I’ve always wanted to provide the best I can so when you feel like you’re failing, your users are failing and you’re not able to keep up with the traf and the exposure getting, you know, you’re way on hell a lot.
Andrew: So, alright, what else? What other advice do we have for entrepreneurs who are listening and who want to start their own business?
Interviewee: Man, just have fun, you know, there are times when I just need to stop being fun, you know, and kinda sit myself down and take a two month break, two or three months of break from Twitter, some things could happen in my life, some personal things, and just kinda took a step back, regrouped and figure out, you know, why are you doing this, you know, and entrepreneurs sometimes think that selling is the end result, you know, and I’m not saying [?] won’t be sold one day, not right now, I’m having to much fun with it. But, you know, it really is, is the part of having an idea, building it, nurturing it and watching it grow, that’s the fun part, you know, and getting it interact with the users and getting to see how they use the site and seeing all the wonderful people out there that come to me on a daily basis, that’s the fun part, you know. And to be absolutely honest if I sold [?] any time soon I’d probably be kind of depressed, you know, coz that’s a big part of my life and I love it and it’s like a baby, it’s like a child, you know, you wanna see if they do well so, yeah.
Andrew: You know, it’s funny you should say that. I’ve spoken to several entrepreneurs who after they’ve sold their business said that they were depressed and that they are tossing out numbers like it’s, like it’s nothing, they’re saying we sold for ten million, twenty million dollars and so on. And still they’re depressed and it’s hard for outsiders to understand it, but there is a sense of a loss and I can see you are having so much fun here, I can see what the loss would be. It would be a loss of contact with the community, a loss of creativity, a loss of connection.
Interviewee: Doesn’t matter how much money you are making, doesn’t matter how much you sell for, you know, in the end it matters how do you feel about yourself as a person and when it’s time, you know, for you to, you know, go, leave the rest and time to die, how are you gonna feel about yourself in that day? The decisions that you made in your life with your business, were you onorable about the things you do and so we’ve had issues with [?], you’ve had opportunities to make non-honorable decisions, you know
Andrew: Like what?
Interviewee: Maybe on displaying ads that weren’t very high quality, we could make more money. Or just, I’m trying to think of an incentive , some things I can’t talk about for legal reasons but, in the end you just hatch yourself when you make a decision, does it, is it clash with what you want inside, you know? By the end of the day, the decissions have you made you still feel good about yourself, and in the end that’s what matters when you run your business. And to run your business with honor and integrity you make sure you’re doing the best you can
Andrew: Let’s see, let’s see what else we’ve got here. Oh, you’ve mentiond earlier something happening in your life, this is a loss of a friend we’re talking about, in an accident, right?
Interviewee: Yeah, so where was back in September this year and my best friend was killed in a car accident and it was very, very sad. He had just recently come out to visit me here, he was a friend from Oklahoma, and so, five weeks later I got the phone call that he was killed in a car accident. It shocked me, it shook me to the core and I took that time to kinda step back from Twitter for a few months, step back from TwitPic actually too, I, you know, the time stamp on board, the concept care of the stuff and the parents, not just, it was kinda too a full thing, you know, loosing a loved one and figuring out what it is that might get you happy and it kinda made me realise,you know, with TwitPic, make sure it’s always fun and it’s not about numbers or revenue, or selling, it’s just about the journey and about who is there that loves you and who is gonna be there in the end, you know, that loves you, so, you know
Andrew: Why did you move from Oklahoma to South Carolina?
Interviewee: I actually graduated from North Carolina, I was born in North Carolina, I moved out to mid East
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Interviewee: I’m originally from North Carolina. I was born in North Carolina. I moved out to the Midwest when I was younger and I lived there for about eighteen years. I actually saw the movie “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson, it was filmed here in South Carolina and, at the time, I had nothing to hold me back home. I got the idea ‘Why not move back out there?’ I wanted to be close to the beach and the warmer weather and so I took a trip out here in March, the end of March and two weeks later, I was moved out and here I am.
Andrew : OK, let’s see. I’m going to go through more of Merck’s questions here. He’s saying that you took a trip to San Francisco to present to Twitter last February, how did it go?
Interviewee: Oh man, horrible because I was so nervous. Well [XX], I got an email from [XX] one day, actually they invited me out because I was actually going to be out in San Francisco to speak at a mobile conference and he invited me to come by and see the Twitter office. I was thrilled, man, I was like a teenage schoolgirl- all excited. I got the chance to meet the team at the time and present on TwitPic. I was so nervous, I fumbled my presentation horribly. But they are a great group of people and they built an amazing product. I was so thankful for how much work they put in because they dealt with tremendous growth as well. I can empathize with them, they are a great group of people.
Andrew : What were you presenting for?
Interviewee: Just showing them TwitPic at the time, I was showing them some new features about the new version that was coming out, that is out now. And, just saying “hey” and stuff. I actually walked from my hotel in downtown San Francisco to their offices, which was about three-fourths of a mile. I didn’t know how far it was away and I walked through some kind of rough areas. I’m just trudging through with my laptop, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Andrew : Everyone wants to know, did they make you an offer?
Interviewee: I can’t really talk about that, but yeah.
Andrew : But they did.
Interviewee: No, they didn’t. I can’t go into details about that, I can’t really talk about that.
Andrew : I see. All right, Ev,for a long time, was using TwitPic and then at one point, when you guys were having some trouble, he publically asked for alternatives to TwitPic. How did that feel? How did you feel at that time about your business?
Interviewee: I just compared it to other things. In ways, you are unhappy when you are not able to provide the service, the level of service you want, for your users, you know? Of course, with anything, when someone is talking about something you built personally, it hurt. Again, you just learn to have thick skin and push through, you know? He had every right to say that and every other user had every right to say that, too. To find something else they can use.
Andrew : But to push through, you didn’t just say maybe that’s it, maybe that’s not going to work for me? I was just a kid playing around with a server and this isn’t it. This is too big for me.
Interviewee: Oh, Lord knows I wanted too. There was a couple of days where I was like, screw this, I’m done, it’s too hard. And I almost did, just because I didn’t want to provide a crappy service. I didn’t want to provide a service that was broken. It was for about a month period, off and on. But I pushed through and I’m so glad I did. In the end, it just makes you stronger as a person to know what you came through, what you pushed through. That’s one thing you need to learn when running a business, is that you are going to push yourself at the point where you don’t think you can push anymore and you’ve got to push even harder. That’s where you learn about yourself.
Andrew : I noticed that Ev, the founder of Twitter, the CEO of Twitter, is back using your service and he is also using some of your competitors’ services too. Actually, can you talk about some of the celebrities that are on your site? I think I saw Demi Moore on there, Ashton Kutcher took a picture of her in a bathing suit that was passed all over the internet, am I right?
Interviewee: Yeah, that was one. Demi Moore uses the site, she posted something the other day. Who else? Miley used it for awhile when she was on Twitter, Tara Swift uses TwitPic, Lady GaGa, there’s a bunch of others. It’s great to feel, to see that they are using the site. It means a lot that they would choose to share, you know, intimate photos on TwitPic and Twitter. Because they get to choose what they want to put out there and not what the paparazzi wants, you know.
Andrew : Am I reading the chat room right here? I think that Ross is saying that the White House used TwitPic?
Interviewee: I think the White House did use TwitPic, I’m not quite for sure, but yeah.
Andrew : Tony Hawk, America is telling me, Jimmy Fallon from “The Late Show” used TwitPic.
Interviewee: Right, yeah, he actually put up some photos from the show when he was taping it. I actually did watch the show that night, so it was weird to see his perspective and then I’m watching the show on TV, so it was cool.
Andrew : Wow, wow. There’s no way, as a startup, to have enough money to get this kind of, any kind of, endorsement. And this is the best endorsement there is, they are actual users. They are not just standing with your products, saying to everyone else that they should be using it. They are using it themselves.
Andrew : You grew last year from one million users to four million users, are those numbers right?
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Interviewee: Yeah. So at our peak- we were growing at our peak at around 30000 users a day. So we would grow anywhere from 600,000 to just over 1,000,000 users in a month. I think it took us like 15 months to hit our first million and so from that point on now we’re at 6 1/2 million. So our velocity of growth picked up a lot.
Andrew: Why are you doing so well considering all the competitors that came into the market last year?
Interviewee: You know, that’s a good question. Users have a choice to use whatever service they want. We’re very thankful that they choose us.
Andrew: What are you doing to get them to choose you?
Interviewee: Try to provide the best service possible, you know? People sometimes get caught up on the whole competitor thing you know. I mean the fact is that any market you’re in, if you’re in a good market, they’re gonna be competitors and if you don’t have any competitors you need to question your product, like where are you at? And that’s just business. What it is, my philosophy is you just run your race, you know? You just look forward and you run your race. And you worry about providing the best product you can to your users, you know? And you let everything else take care of itself.
Andrew: Red Palmetto is asking, “Is there an iphone app that natively uses Twitpic?” and yeah there are tons of them that use Twitpic. The one I use, Tweetie, uses Twitpic, right?
Interviewee: Yeah Tweetie and Echofon which used to be Twitterfon or Twitterfon. Twitterfon uses it. We’re integrated in pretty much all the Twitter clients out there. Some of them you may need to change your default service to Twitpic but you can do that on the Settings.
Andrew: And that, by the way, is because now those guys- the app creators- are charging services like you to make them the default, right?
Interviewee: Right, yeah. So what happened is some App developers will try to see who they can get the best bid from from services to get the most money to make their service the default. I’ve kind of been iffy about that because my philosophy is you should provide the best service you can for your users and what they want and not how much you can pad your pockets with, you know? And you know, they’re free to do whatever they want as with anybody is, but that’s just my personal opinion on it. Because sometimes users were using Twitpic or an app and then the app developer changed the default service without letting their users know and the users didn’t realize they were posting to another service and it created a broken experience for the user and didn’t have the user’s experience in mind with that or their best outcome in mind, so…
Andrew: I gotta say, I’m pissed off that that happened to me with Tweetie. I must have upgraded from one version of Tweetie to another and suddenly I’m using Wifrog which is an ugly freekin service. I don’t want to use Wifrog even if it was a beautiful service, I’ve got all my stuff with you and with [?]. I don’t want to have it all over the Internet. At the same time, I understand, they want to bring in some revenue over at Tweetie.
Interviewee: Right. I understand you know, bringing in revenue is great and you do what you need to do to survive. But what we’ve decided to do – I don’t want to speak for anyone else, I only speak for us and so at Twitpic- what we decided is we always want to make sure the user’s experience is first and foremost and so we try to do that with our adds and doing the highest quality adds we can, you know? And what ends up happening with apps that do that is that it creates a broken experience for the user because some of their photos are here…
Andrew: How many apps are you paying for placement in?
Interviewee: We don’t pay any of them.
Andrew: None of them.
Interviewee: Right. We decided not to do that because we don’t really want to get in that ballgame where we’ve got to convince people that you want to use us based on the amount of money that we give them, you know? The user should be first and foremost and that’s what we believe in. We’ve had some situations where some competitors have spoken out against us publicly whether it be on their blog or things like that, but we’ve always made a decision at Twipic that we’re just gonna run our race and we’re not gonna talk bad about anyone else or speak about anyone else. We’re gonna honor and respect our competitors just like you would honor and respect any opponent you have in a soccer game, you know? That’s what we want to do.
Andrew: Let’s see. Ropaco in the chartroom is saying you have a line in your bio that says, “Nice guys finish first.” Why?
Andrew: My question is why?
Interviewee: Yeah I put that up…
Andrew: Actually, I’m sorry. We were stepping over each other and Skype cut out so could you say what the bio line is?
Interviewee: My bio on Twitter says “The nice guy that finished first” because there’s this whole mentality that you know, nice guys finish last and I do some public speaking every now and then about Twitpic and what I try to end every talk with is that, you know: Just be good. Be nice. And like I said, at the end of the day if you feel good about yourself and what you’ve done and also the grander scheme is when you’re time is up on this earth, are you gonna feel good about the decisions you made in life personally? And also business-wise. And so that’s more important to me than making a buck.
Andrew: Are you still a practicing Christian?
Andrew: You are. Still going to church?
Interviewee: Not regularly. I haven’t been in a while, but yes. [laughs]
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Andrew: Still listening to Christian music? If I look at your i-Pod, will there be Christian rock on there now?
Interviewee: Ah, actually, probably not. I listen to a lot of things. Dave Matthews, TechNow, John Mayer, a lot of everything. Right now, I’m listening to Timberland’s new album, “Shock Value”, so I don’t know if that’s what you call Christian music, but, you know? [laughs]
Andrew: By the way, I’m noticing, and anyone who’s watching us on video is noticing, that you keep reaching forward every once in a while. That’s because you’re on a Mac, right? And on a Mac,…
Andrew: The screen goes dim if you don’t touch it for a while.
Interviewee: Right, sorry I keep doing that. It’s not like some kind of ADD issue. But now, my screen keeps dimming, so I can’t see you, so I got to test my mouse pad. So… [laughs]
Andrew: I know, that’s just a quirk with Macs. I actually installed a program called, “Caffeine”, that stopped it from doing it on my system. But it’s one of those little quirks with a Mac. You can’t [neatly] stop the screen from dimming.
Interviewee: I’ve got to get that. That’s a good idea.
Andrew: All right, let’s talk about legacy here. We brought it up, we touched on this, we gotten to the edges of this subject in this interview. But, let’s dig deeper into it. We talked in the pre-interview about what happened with the protestors in Iran. Your site is being used for… Actually, I’m going to shut up right now, and I’m going to turn the subject over to you. And talk to us a little bit about the impact. It seems like it’s just about posting pictures of your girlfriend in her bathing suit, but it’s bigger than that, what’s happening in TwitPic.
Interviewee: Um, when I first started TwitPic, it was just a thought of sharing a site, to me, or a product. And I thought, oh, it is great, we could share photos with each other. There was, the plane that crashed near the Hudson River, it was in January 2009, one of our images on there, [Yamis Traunis] posted a photo, because he was on one of the first ferries that came to the flight, and posted the photo of the plane. And I thought it was actually what you saw on the news, and on the newspapers, and on the magazines. And it got sent around the world in a matter of hours. And it actually brought our site down for about an hour, all the traffic coming to it. And when that happened, it made me realize, what we have with Twitter and TwitPic. So, media companies out there can’t have millions of journalists across the world, but there are millions of social network users on Twitter and TwitPic. So, they can snap a photo, or something, seeing it out there, and people are getting news in real time. So, we saw it happen with that. And that wasn’t actually the first plane crash that we saw on TwitPic. There was one in December, I think, the plane that went off the runway in Colorado, I believe. So, that was the first incident. The Iranian issue that happened; with the conflict there, I think, from what I understood, I guess, don’t quote me on this, I’m not 100% sure this is true. But what I heard was, Twitter and TwitPic, and the other websites that were blocked by the ISPs in that country. So, the users were using proxies to get out and post this stuff on Twitter and posting photos in TwitPic to help them get their side of the story out. And so, it was amazing to see that, and see how people use the site. And then it’s also amazing to see too, I had a gentleman come to me and say, “thank you for TwitPic”, and he was using it to share photos with his daughter who was off to college. And they were able to keep in contact with that, and that meant a lot to
me as well.
Andrew: Wow, I got to build something that has that kind of an impact. All I’ve done is greeting cards online and contests. I got to have something that builds that, that has that kind of an impact. I can’t imagine what it must be like. You’re watching world events unfolding, know that something you created yourself is touching those world events. It’s shaping them, it’s allowing people to be active participants in what’s going on in the world.
Interviewee: It’s also a humbling experience, too, because, in the end, it’s nothing that I’ve done really to make it what it is. TwitPic is a blessing in itself, and I’m very thankful to be able to have the opportunity to do it. And it’s also a great responsibility when you know your site’s being used for these things, and I don’t take it lightly at all. And I want to allow the best thing that I can.
Andrew: All right. In the comments too, V. Lucas is pointing to a blog post on your competitor’s site that says, “thousands of angry TwitPic users”. I’m not even going to talk about which one it is. And he’s saying, that’s what you meant when you said that you’re going to keep taking the high road and not attack your competitors.
Interviewee: Yeah, and that’s been said several times from multiple people, and like I said, we only want to speak for ourselves, and we choose to do this our way. And I’ve heard other people, too. There’s always going to be competitors in anything you do. And in the end, we’re only human at the end of the day. And we need to be, still. And that’s just the road we choose to go.
Andrew: And by the way, I want to make clear, that I’m not necessarily condeming attacking your competitors. My point here is to just see how entrepreneurs like you are doing it, to give you a forum to do it without saying you should be or you shouldn’t be attacking. And also Merrick, earlier, in a private message to me, when I was asking why is it that TwitPic keeps getting used when there’s…
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Andrew: Why is it that TwitPic keeps getting used, when there’s so many new competitors? And you said that that same competitor’s site is very cluttered, where TwitPic is just really clean. There’s not a lot of clutter. Not a lot around the pictures.
Andrew: All right. Let me go through my notes. Let’s see if I’ve asked everything. How much revenue? Yes, we talked around the phone. We talked about user experience. Somebody in the comments earlier asked what kind of research you do around user experience. What do you do?
Interviewee: Mostly what we do is we just get feedback from the users. We just get the word from Twitter, you know. And sometimes I’ll randomly find random users on Twitter that use TwitPic, and I’ll start following them. Maybe DMing them, then asking them, you know, “Hey, what do you like about TwitPic?” Or, “What are some things that you’d like to see.” You know, to just kind of get a random polling. And just stuff like that. No traditional user experience stuff, you know. That’s how I do it.
Andrew: Oh, we talked about advertising. We talked about… Oh, what else helps your growth? The APIs, they helped growth tremendously, right?
Interviewee: Yeah, so when I first started TwitPic, there was no API. And one of the first acts to come on board, I think, was Twirl. And he said he asked if there was an API, and there wasn’t. And so actually there isn’t, but I can build one. And so I spent that night and the next day building one, and I gave it to him. And he was the first one to integrate. So yeah, API’s been a great help. And just everybody as a whole has basically made TwitPic what it is now.
Andrew: What kind of integration did you allow apps like his in the beginning, with the original APIs?
Interviewee: Basically, the original API allowed photos to be posted in their API. And one of the new editions, not that new, we had it last year, was a thumbnail API. So you can view a thumbnail, multiple sizes of the photo, inline, in the app, with our thumbnail API.
Andrew: OK, let me see if I can take a question or two from the audience here. Newt is asking, “Why isn’t there a user gallery or a search on TwitPic?” He’s wondering if it’s because of privacy issues.
Interviewee: It’s one of the things we asked. Twitter has a great search too, and so kind of use that inline. We toyed around with the idea of adding search, and we’re still kind of up in the air about it. And it’s one of those things, that if we can’t do it good, we don’t want to do it. But if we can, we might add it.
Andrew: And search is just tough, right? It’s very processor intensive, isn’t it?
Interviewee: Yeah, search can be, especially if you want to get good results, you know. It’s a whole scaling issue on its own. And the guys from Surmise, who originally built Twitter, did a great job with it. Obviously Twitter acquired them. I think it’s been a great addition for the company. It works fantastic.
Andrew: I’ve been talking to the guys from Surmise about having them on here, doing an interview with them. Apparently they’ve got a new project that’s keeping them from coming here, but we’ve got to get an interview with them soon.
Interviewee: Yeah, they’re some great guys. I met a few of them when I was at the Twitter office. And they’ve got a great team, great people.
Andrew: And cool. I think I went through all my notes here. Let me just make sure that I went through all of Merrick’s notes that, or as many as I can. I think so. I think so. I don’t think that I could ever go through all of his notes completely here, but thank you, Merrick, for doing it. Is there anything that I missed? Is there anything that you know that you think people need to know about? About your work, about what’s coming up, maybe?
Interviewee: Let’s see. We’re working on a lot. And we’ll be putting some new features to the site here soon. And we’re just constantly trying to make it the best app possible. We want new users’ feedback all the time. Let us know what they’d like to see. What they’d like to see fixed, or what could be better, you know. Like TwitPic, in the end, is nothing without our users. And also it’s nothing without their input, so.
Andrew: And how about this? How about swerving your camera around? Can you show us where you’re working?
Interviewee: OK, so this is, that’s kind of my work area. I don’t know if you guys can see that.
Interviewee: I’ve got the new 27-inch I-Mac right there. And it’s kind of bright outside, the TV, etc., so not a whole, whole lot going on, but yeah.
Andrew: I see the keyboard over there.
Interviewee: Yeah. [Laughs]
Andrew: What kind of view do you have outside your window?
Interviewee: I’ve got a palm tree and a live oak tree, and a little pond out there. Yeah.
Andrew: Cool. Hank Rogers, the guy behind Tetris, showed us around his place. And I thought it was kind of cool. I figured I’d ask you the same thing.
Interviewee: Yeah, I’d show you more, but it’s actually a mess right now. I’ve got clothes all over my bedroom. I’ve got trash in the kitchen. It’s embarrassing. And I don’t want my mom to see it.
Andrew: [Laughs] All right. Well, let’s leave it there. Thank you for doing the interview with me, Noah. Thanks for coming on Mixergy. Thank you, Merrick, for all the research and for putting this thing together. And thank you all for watching. I’m Andrew Warner. And, by the way, this is, this is like manna from heaven for entrepreneurs. This is a guy who really built a business from nothing. We’re talking about a five thousand dollar business. And that’s five thousand over months. And look at how far he got. Impact financially. Impact politically. Impact emotionally. The excitement. The satisfaction that comes from entrepreneurship. I think this story… I was so excited to do this interview with you. And I know that I got a lot of excitement for this interview because of that. This is the kind of story that a lot of entrepreneurs dream of. And thanks for being so open about it. Right down to the numbers. Right down to the fact that your mom’s in the business. And what it’s like to work with your mom.
Interviewee: Thank you very much for having me on. It’s been an honor, and I appreciate it.
Andrew: All right. Thank you. Thank you all for watching. And I’m looking forward to your comments.
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Update, a previous version of this post accidentally said that Noah was offered 10 figures for the business. It should have said 8 figures. Thank you Hacker News for pointing it out.]