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Andrew: Hey everyone I am Andrew Warner the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, I’ve got an entrepreneur here that you guys have been requesting, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for you Rashmi. Her name is Rashmi Sinhar she is the founder of Slide Share which is the world’s largest community for sharing presentations. And Rashmi there are a couple of reasons why people have asked me to have you on. First of all you keep growing you’ve 32.7 million unique users worldwide who are hitting your site, numbers right?
Interviewee: Yes that’s right.
Andrew: 32.7 million unique, it looks like 52% of them come from offsite from the widgets on other people’s sites?
Interviewee: You know we get different proportions in different, from different matrix so that’s something that I don’t know; I am not able to give you a specific answer for it. We have like three methods of measuring and all of them give a different percentage.
Andrew: Okay, alright. So overall every month or at least last month, 32.7 million unique people hit the site. That’s one of the reasons, people want to know how you built this thing and how you keep growing it. The other reason and I think I might have said this to you in an email is I get a lot of requests for female entrepreneurs. When it comes to female entrepreneurs for some reason your name is at the top of the list. And so I’ve been trying to get more female entrepreneurs on here and I said I got to go to the woman who is at the top. You’re either people’s first choice or you’re somewhere within their top five so welcome to Mixergy.com
Interviewee: Well thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Andrew: Let me ask you this,
Interviewee: We’re talking…
Andrew: I am sorry?
Interviewee: Yes, no, no go ahead.
Andrew: Before we get into even how you built up this company, I saw a quote on your website where you said men and women have different leadership styles and female leadership styles are underestimated, undervalued. I thought may be we could talk a little bit about the issue that I am having getting more women on Mixergy. Do you think it’s that we’re overlooking female entrepreneurs because they don’t have what we expect to have? The characteristics we expect to have, the characteristics we expect to have in founders?
Interviewee: I think there’s a little bit of that going on but I mean as I said in my blog post, I don’t think it has to do with just women. I think it has to do just with the particular style of entrepreneurs that we look out for. And it also, but I also think that those stereotypes that definitely breaking them and with this article last week in the daily [biz] I don’t know if you looked at it, about a number of women running social sites. So I think that as technology moves more into main stream and into the hands of you know users who are not just, you know tech geeks, you will see more and more of different, a wide range of profiles of entrepreneurs and I think that’s happening.
Andrew: What’s the profile that we expect? What’s that typical profile can you describe it?
Interviewee: Though I would say, you know I don’t want to stereotype and I will when I say this. But that’s caveat is young techy geek. You know typically from a few universities which we think they’re very familiar with so.
Andrew: So young techy geeky, women can be young, they can be geeky, they could be techy, what about, what about, what are we missing? What about female leadership style is different here?
Interviewee: You know what, I would want to, I would prefer not tot talk about what these stereotypes are and prefer to focus in general, let me tell you, that was the only blog post I have ever written about being a woman entrepreneur. And I think there’s a lot, and I actually kind of regret writing the blog post because ever since that, what has happened is that everybody just talks to me about that blog post. Which I think is not I want to focus on. I want to focus on Slide Share.
And how I felt it. And I think the first ever since writing that blog it was decided that the first true love of an entrepreneurship is that you don’t talk about it, you just do it. I do it with the style that I have you know and I’m successful in doing it and I’d love to share that but I think I’m not…I don’t want to reflect on that too much instead I just want to lead by example you know I do it a certain way, watch that .I think discussing it at length is not what I bring to the picture. I bring to the picture doing it.
Andrew: You know what, I agree with you a hundred percent. And I love that attitude and I would never have a male entrepreneur on here and say today can you tell me what it’s like to be a male entrepreneur versus female entrepreneur. I would never even address it. And it’s unfair for me frankly to put on your shoulders an issue that I’ve been wrestling with here on Mixergy which is how to get more female entrepreneurs on. But I had to do it because it’s an issue that I’ve been facing, that my audience keeps trying to get me to correct and I’m up for it and I thought you know what I’ve got an opportunity so I’ll jump on it. One…Let’s move on and I’ll ask you about your personal leadership style. What is yours?
Interviewee: Sure, through my leadership style, you know you’d have to ask you know my team about it. But I think it’s fast. I’m impatient. As a person I’m impatient, I’m fast, I’m always dreaming of different things. I think I’m nurturing as a leader. You know I try to really look out for my team and what they are doing and how to best help them grow. In terms of the…I’m really a…you know in terms of C.E.O styles and founder styles, I see people who fall into different camps. Some people are sales C.E.Os, some people are marketing C.E.Os, they are excellent at marketing the product. I’m probably a product C.E.O. You know I get the product, I like…I live, breathe, think about it all day long. And I live with my British vision for the product. So that’s I guess is in a nutshell what my leadership style is.
Andrew: Ok, I want to go through your biography here, starting a little bit with what you did before slide share and spending a lot of time on slide share then I’d like to come back through out the interview and ask you about how being fast has played a role or how you’ve developed the product so that we can see these characteristics within the context of the business. So from what I saw, before you launched slide share you were really into user experience. Am I right there?
Interviewee: Yes, absolutely right.
Andrew: How did you come to get interested in user experience?
Interviewee: Through…I have an unusual pact to slide share. I was…I actually had a PhD so I’m you know highly educated…overeducated as I often say and my PhD is in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuro-psychology to be specific. So it’s very interesting…I’ve always been very interested in how people think, how people respond to things, you know. What are the cognitive processes going on and from that I jumped into human computer interaction and that Brooklyn working on such system recommender interfaces and kind of taking the approach of a near building great products or great systems like this. You really need to think about the user at the other end. So I did that U.C Brooklyn for a little while and worked you know with people like Marty [harts],__ at the school of information. I loved the work, I hated the pace. And I suck at writing academic papers and I don’t like the slow pace of research. So I decided that, you know, I’m going to do this but in a different context. So I started consulting. I left U.C Brooklyn and started consulting. And I’ve worked with companies like eBay, you know Blue shield, helping them with the user experience. So I kind of got started with that, enjoyed the work and then we founded our first company Mind Canvas you thought that’s the name of the company and Mind Canvas that’s the name of the product and the product had to do with game like surveys. The essential idea was like survey technology leads to a very boring html form filling experience and why can’t you make it more like a game? And if you look at lot of today’s software has to it also has to basically re-emerge in more [prosaic] software as games. So that’s what we were doing with Mind Canvas. We launched it, we had some success with it. You know we were doing quite well. We were selling it to companies like Microsoft and the Apple, it’s a B2B product. And then the same team came up with the idea for Slide share. My co-founder John [Vortel], who I don’t know if you know is also my husband, so we founded Slide share together…
Andrew: Oh, I didn’t realize he was your husband. I saw a lot of links from your tweets and blogs; I just didn’t realize you guys were married. Okay…
Interviewee: Yeah, we don’t…you know. If people know us they know about it. We don’t make a big deal of…
Abandoned you know people don’t find out till they try to look closely and so we founded user entity together for three well and then John came up with the idea called slide share and
Andrew: Actually before we go into slide share, let’s just stop right here I want to dig into what we have said so far. My curiosity is, Rashmi why user experience? If you would have told me sales I would want to know what, what about the sales process you love and I could tell you it’s a validating experience, every time somebody is buys from you’d it’s almost like they are buying you. I’d love to know what personally, can you get that personal about user experience and tell me why you care about it, why are you so passionate.
Interviewee: Because I think it has to do with both I general but you know with technology and the stage it’s act. I truly believe technology is at a stage where it is going to this masses and that’s what’s happening and look at the numbers for Facebook, and when you imagine what this great products can be, how they can be used by people who are not techies at all, then I think you do have to think about the design, the user experience, the people behind what they would expect and a lot of like I think the social start ups in the last few years have essentially, you know they’ve taken technology which were already there, I mean YouTube in terms of technology was not that new, what was new about it was that made that experience something that would virally grow and everybody would find enjoyable and everybody would love, so I really see this as a stage in what’s happening in terms of you know the web and that’s the reason why I think having a design background and thinking about design is useful. It’s not just me by the way, go back and look at some of the social start ups, one of the people that started YouTube was [chad holy] and am pretty sure that [chad holy] was, did design at PayPal, at eBay if am not wrong that was a background , look at Flickr they had a very strong design yesterday and you know the founders cared about design, so I think this is the, many of the largest social sites some of their founders , some of the , you know some of the few people have cared about design and that’s pretty important.
Andrew: Okay, you brought up a couple of names of companies that you have worked with before, you said eBay, can you give me an example of how you helped eBay or may be how you helped one other company.
Interviewee: Sure, so you know the budget __ for you to be able actually really interest change, we worked on them on information architecture of the entire site, so they’d never had someone come and think about how we have this, you know this millions of pages literally and how you organize the data to get, they can grow in a very, you know just different parts of the site are grown organically and we were helping them and if they were looking for a new user who would come in to find the way around the site and to know where to go next, so we did some mentor models user research to really what, how users of different types saw eBay and then how do you marry that with the business needs and how put together an architecture that works for both, an information architecture am not talking of technical architecture.
Andrew: I see.
Interviewee: So that was one of the projects we did for eBay, for BlueShield I worked for seven project which was really about making health insurance information understandable by each consumer and it is really tough and we also take about it the health insurance industry is in general it needs a lot of help and changes and the project we did work with them on was really about making that information easy findable, knowing what applies to you and how you can navigate it, find it and get done.
Andrew: How did you do that? Can you be specific about that, am curious and I can only understand things I think in concrete examples unfortunately.
Interviewee: Absolutely, glad to, so we did that by doing some user test, so we would watch people, we would create a bunch of tasks and watch people try to use that, you know so what I think I do nowadays with userdestiny.com for slide share where I just create tasks and watch people, we were doing that in person and trying to understand that, and from that really using that information that we got from users themselves to come back and say this is the way the information needs to reassigned.
Andrew: I see, so you bring people into the office and you say “here’s one job that somebody might want to do on our website, can you do it for me?” so I can watch you and then you watch as they interact with and you see where they stumble and where they stumble is where you need improve the design.
Andrew: And is that essentially what you are doing now at slide share? Or have you changed it?
Interviewee: So you know it is interesting, we just started doing user test for the first time in three years at slide share, it just like you now last month that we did our first user test, and I talk about the fact I did this for a living before slide share and I hadn’t done it till now for slide share, I think the reason being that
Social sites. Once again you know they have a very different, a very close relationship with their users in a way that these large organizations that I worked with do not. You know, Slide Share, I know a lot of the top the users personally. I email with them, if they have a problem they don’t write to tech support, they write to me or they tweet, you know message at me saying “hey I can’t get to work” so we have a very, and that really helps us getting feedback in a very direct manner that we can react to. And we’ve done this from day one. Is that the founders and the team members, everybody was on the web and we were talking to people, we understood what we want and we built it. What happens I think as companies grow is that there’s too much information. And everybody in the team is getting all these different sources of information and at that point allow you to structure that information and get it in a form that you can, you know immediately digest and start acting, making recommendations on. So I think it’s been an interesting kind of fact for us but three years we didn’t do any user test and now we’re starting with them.
Andrew: And when you say user test, are you still bringing people into the office and having them perform tasks so that you can watch how they do it?
Interviewee: We’ve actually been, we’ve done that a few times, but we’ve mostly been doing using usertesting.com. Where you just input you know, a task and your URL and people go and try to do that and you can watch a video of them trying to do that. So it’s fast simple, you know and we might build a [feature] one day and then we do, we write up a test and we watch next day what happens. The dean watches. So I find it a great way to get immediate feedback for things we’re doing.
Andrew: I keep on hearing about usertesting.com here at Mixergy interviews. I think they’ve, I think the founder of the company is one of my viewer because at one point he sent me his website and asked me to take a look at it, but its amazing to just keep hearing it over and over and over and its pretty unexpensive too right?
Interviewee: It is, it is pretty unexpensive and I think it’s great for the kind of direct feedback it gives you because you literally, you build something. And then you sit and cringe when people can’t use it. And no amount of what feedback I can give to the team, can replace that. You know that experience, like we all sit and watch it together, and like when you sit and watch it together and you see and you’re like “Oh God, we need to fix this” so its awesome.
Andrew: Okay, let’s continue then with the story. I want to spend a little bit of time on Mind Canvas. You’re right, I keep hearing about the value of surveys but I also don’t fill a lot of them out. Personally because they take a lot of time. How did you re-invent, or how did you change the survey taking process to get more people engaged?
Interviewee: __ mind Canvas was really about what be called game like methods. And it was more about, it was less about the kind of survey that you typically see but you’re like what is the agenda and what is the age, and you know five demographic ration and things like that, it was more about how do you think. For example, let me give you an example of the type of type of things we did with Mind Canvas. So if you won’t suppose eBay is re-designing gets a site you could take a series of say hundred tasks that people can do on eBay. And then ask people to sort them into groups. And through that sorting, you can understand the mental models that people have about a website domain. And then use that to design something. So that’s, those were the type of methods we were using with Mind Canvas and it was both the nature of the task, we’re not really trying to replace paper technology. The kinds of task that we addressed with Mind Canvas have never done on the web. Because they’re really, their inter-phase, now I am starting to see a few like that. But the inter-phase is really complex. So you really want these people like ease of experience where you can sit and sort, and group and name. So those are the type of things we were doing with Mind Canvas.
Andrew: I see, so instead of check boxes and putting numbers items, you might have them be a little more interactive and move items around on the list and adjust that way. How did the games mechanics fit into it?
Interviewee: We looked at a lot of popcap games; I don’t know if you’ve played popcap games, I love them. We would look at them, you know [be drilled to] the popcap game, so we would look at…
Andrew: Oh, but you would __…then I had played them.
Interviewee: I don’t play a lot of games but they’re the few I play and they’ve had a tremendous influence on the way I think. So we looked at a lot of them, you know how you give consant feedback to people in a very low, ambient fashion that they can just know what to do next. How to keep them engaged, how to keep them reinforcement for completing the task, how to…
Andrew: So how did you do that? How did you give them reinforcement?
Interviewee: You know we had some positive game mechanics built into Mind Canvas various people you know we would say that “oh, great! Well done. Now you can move on to the next”. So you know your typical thing if you’re interested read Amy Joe…
Theme presentation on slide share, she does just a brilliant job of dissecting that.
Andrew: Not only did I look that and link to it from her interview but when I interviewed her and she talked about it, she was one of the best interviews people keep thanking me for having and want her back on, she’s phenomenon, you are right.
Interviewee: She is really a __ like I refer to her presentation very often.
Andrew: Okay, so let’s move on then, you said that it was your co-founder, your husband who had the idea for the business, what was the original germ of an idea?
Interviewee: The original germ of an idea was at a bar camp.
Andrew: A bar camp?
Interviewee: Yeah, correct. Slide share so it was, you know the way it works was really interesting viewers had a bar camp and he was watching, he was kind of the organizers the bar camp, so people were coming to him with all the media and he was watching while, you know people that are uploading to Flickr, pictures to Flickr and the videos to YouTube and for embedding into the wiki. The bar camp wiki, so he’s like well you know let’s find the site for uploading PowerPoint and then we will embed the PowerPoint into the wiki and we kept on searching and we could not find it. So he came back and he told me and I told co-founder and he’s like you know what, there is nothing of this sort and this is April 2006, somebody is going to do this and it makes a lot of sense and he used to keep on pushing this idea, this is an ideas guy, am not the ideas person here, I sat down and take an idea and then I make it you know come alive, but am not, I don’t have all the different ideas like he does. And he used to keep on pitching this idea but this was the first idea that we immediately agreed that this made sense, you know that somebody was going to do it, there was no way to sharing office files on the web so far and that it just like it’s time had come it made sense, so we immediately started executing __ our business matched, on April 2006 actually, we, over the summer he along with an intern at slide edge, you know what was then known then as slide share, wrote the first version , we started giving it out to a few friends like by like say July August and it was fascinating how people would use it in a slightly broader way than we had expected, people were uploading artistic power point, you know all sort of different things, we just thought of conferences so far and you know we found source to [market] our intent through __ Ross Mayfield and Michael wrote about us on October 4th 2006, that was the launch we didn’t do any thing else that’s all we did and the site just took off. Pretty much they took immediately off, you know and after that we just as I like to say in a sense we follow slide share you know, it just had a mind of it’s own and it keeps growing, so.
Andrew: I’ll write down so that I can come back to that line, we follow slide share, I want make sure, I have a few follow ups on that. But let’s go back to something you said earlier, you said that you guys used to have a lot of ideas and you thought that this one was the one with legs, can you describe some of the ideas that you had before, I was thinking that’s fascinating.
Interviewee: So we had a team in Indian that pointed off and you would think about , you know we had thought about a [crag’s] list in India, we felt that you know there was somebody who was going to build that, it turned out that, you know hundreds of people tried to build that and the market just became kind of [saturated], what might be other ideas is you know we got some B2B software which was like, but what we really wanted to do was something large, something on the web of course, but offer social kind of take advantage of what we had learned. We thought of different, we thought of taking ourselves [e-monkey] because we had a background on selling software and we felt that would be another thing that we could do but we just weren’t exited about building a software like survey monkey, I mean don’t get me wrong I think survey monkey is awesome but that didn’t make the team want to really work on it, so those were the kind of idea that we were thinking about.
Andrew: I see, so you were looking to see where the market opportunity was and what got you exited and here you saw an opportunity because nobody created away to share office documents and it was something exiting for you, because it was something you needed. Now, you said something earlier too, you said there is nobody who is allowing sharing office documents online but you specifically started out focusing on Power Point and slides that Michael __ article you talked about said that it was four slides and the company is called slide share, why limit your self to Power Point in the earlier days?
Interviewee: There are a few reason, A, I think it’s really, really important for a company to be definable in one sentence and I mean office documents are united in this creation software and this how to edit office documents but the way they get used and who gets to use it’s very different, excel is used by different class of people than Power Point is, I mean there are some overlap, but am just saying it would be all like they have very different user package.
And really source light share at that point, as being four conferences. You know so we thought that the reason that people would want to share is because they want to share the PowerPoint with the world in a way that they didn’t not want to share Word files or Excel files. So, and we wanted to define ourourselves in a -specific manner. So that’s what we wanted to focus on to start off with. And now even though we accept word files and they’ve become much broader I think its easy for people to know what slide share is. And this is an interview; your audience is entrepreneurs so I’d focus on that. Is that it’s really important to be able to define yourself even if that makes it narrow because you need to occupy a space in people’s minds. People need to know what you’re about and be able to differentiate you from everybody else. And people can do that with Slide Share. And we didn’t, I mean I’d love to say that we were brilliant enough to know this right from the beginning but we were not. We had that concept but it was really like [Michael Larington] called us the YouTube of PowerPoint. And he used to cringe at that. We were like “we’re not so derivative. Like we have our own ideas” but we would watch how people’s faces would immediately have this recognition if we ever heard anybody else describing it. And so we started saying it too, because it was the easiest, fastest way to get the point across. And that’s what we care about.
Andrew: I, you know what, I feel, I keep on hearing about how Michael Larington while he’s, what I was going to say is I feel like somebody in the tech industry I am supposed to dislike Mike Larington. But more I do interviews here, the more I see that he can sum up and idea quickly. The, he was not involved in your business the way you guys were but here you are summing it up in a couple of words that helped other people understand it. He could do that, and he’s done it so many times for the companies that I have interviewed here. What was your original way of describing what Slide Share was ? Today we use the phrase ‘world’s largest community for sharing presentation’. What was it back then?
Interviewee: It was about sharing PowerPoint. Yeah, like the Slide Share. Think about the words ‘Slide Share’.
Andrew: But remember did you have a quick sentence that explained it perfectly like that?
Andrew: No. it took a while.
Interviewee: We had, we probably had this long awkward way of describing what we were trying to do, how big that idea was in our heads you know. I mean, that’s the thing about entrepreneurs you know. They’re sitting there, they’re dreaming up things, and they, you know there are ideas in their heads they’re trying to get it across and it often takes somebody else to describe that in a distinct manner that everybody will get. So I am not going to say we had a great way of describing it before that.
Andrew: What about the first version of the product? I am always fascinated by what that first version looked like. What did yours look like?
Interviewee: So our first version was really, really basic. Our first version basically allowed you to upload a file, and to get and embed code and to use that embed code. That’s really all it was. A lot of the social hooks weren’t there, a lot of what you see now slide casting all those things weren’t there. And in fact when we were first building it thought of making it even more basic and then as we start having people upload and test it out in the alpha phase we realized that we have to make it embeddable so we had to did all that. So when it launched Slide Share allowed, it served our real need. So I would say that the evolution of Slide Share has been really interesting, is that right at the beginning, the normal people use it. People use it because it gets them a lot of traffic to their content and it’s a way of getting ideas out into the world. That wasn’t the case when we started. When we started, it was a utility for uploading and sharing your PowerPoint. So people that upload their presentation take it back with the blog, they didn’t even care that it was on Slide Share. They just cared about it being on their blogs. But then after we had like a critical mass of, you know presentations in the first few months, what started happening was that __ people started noticing that they were getting a lot more traffic on Slide Share than on their blogs. Be when they came there and they browsed and they searched, they would find a lot of relevant content. So those were the two ways that we really started growing towards what Slide Share has become.
Andrew: Did you have a user account back then? Did you require one in order to upload?
Interviewee: We didn’t just require a user account to do upload, I mean we were, I mean I would say like we made the mistake of actually requiring an invitation. So if you go back and you think about the mistakes you made you know, that was the first and biggest mistake that we made. But then when we launched we were watching how this, effect of like tech crunch effect may be with sites would be like basically collapse under the weight. And we were nervous about it, so we put together
We had an invitation system. And I think looking back at the traffic charts, that’s what retarded our growth. I mean we grew fast, but we would have grown faster if it was not for the invitation system. So we required a lot of things, in fact that when we launched, they’d be launched, they’d be launched at you know four in the morning on October 4th 2006. We’d been told it’d be 6.00 am of course we coded with PST not realizing that press people talk and all these talks in EST so it launched 2 hours earlier than we thought it would be so we were all scrambling and the first thing we had to bulge was that we had these invitation screens, which would show us all the people that were trying to get in, and we had to build a check all so that we could invite them all, because essentially the whole team is sitting there trying to let people in. because we have invitation system. And that was my idea. So I take full ownership of that, you know that stupid thing we did right in the beginning.
Andrew: So let me see if I understand it, somebody would have come from that Michael Larington post to your website to, and want to try uploading a file, instead of being able to upload they would see an “enter your email address to request an invitation” form then you would have to, but that seems okay? I guess, I’ve seen it work for some people. You end capturing email addresses, you end up being able to reach out to people who don’t sign up and asking them why they didn’t sign up but in your case it slowed you down, and in your case I guess it was redundant because you already had an account. So when somebody needed to upload, they needed an account anyway and that’s why they would give you the email address.
Interviewee: I mean we had a working site. Yeah we didn’t launch with just a demo or a [paid out] where you know you have to get it, the site isn’t working. We had a working site. And looking back, what is the worst thing that could have happened? The worst thing that could have happened would be, we would have been down for a few hours, and then we would have scrambled back up and got right back up and taken all these people and the people would be like “oh the site launched and it was doing so well that it collapsed”. I mean so the fear was completely misplaced. So, I would say that any of the stupid things that I have done in the course, a lot of them have been for not being afraid. And that’s one thing that I have learned, is that ‘never be afraid’. Just you know, just go ahead and do it, and if it’s incorrect, if it’s wrong, you’ll just draw from it, you’ll change it, if you move fast enough you’ll have time to change.
Andrew: You said that’s a great statement. You’ve said earlier that we follow Slide Share. But you didn’t have the social hooks in place at the time for people to go from Slide Share viewers to Slide Share creators, how? How did the site take off after that initial post?
Interviewee: It took off because it was coming back to what I was saying about it being a utility. Yes, we did not have the social hooks, we did not have virility in place that point, but Slide Share was the best and the only way at that point to get a PowerPoint on the web. And we hit a real market. The, so right on day one all these people are uploading and you know that they’re going back immediately to their blogs. On their blogs the one thing we do have working is the small link at the bottom right which says ‘view on Slide Share’. Which brings them back to Slide Share, which is kind of these advertisements of Slide Share the whole web over. And the funny thing is on day one we had, you know just a wide variety of content uploaded. We had some [salmons] uploaded. We’d never knew before that that there were PowerPoint [salmon] that was I learnt something. We even got some porn uploaded which we promptly deleted, so it turns out there’s PowerPoint porn, and we even had like one person upload like confidential company document, not realizing that it was pubic, and we immediately emailed him and we were like “hey, did you not realize this is public?” so, it was fascinating, the kind of content that immediately got on the system. So I think that the utility part of it was so strong that’s why we grew in spite of not being set up for right another thing.
Andrew: I see. What are some of the early social hooks that you put in place to bring even other people to the site?
Interviewee: So the social hooks that we started putting in place were the sharing, you know the sharing by email which is still very strong in spite of you know, now it’s more about Twitter and Facebook, but email sharing is still really, really, large. So the two ways we’re really about the embed and people coming back from the embed to the site. And the other way is through email that they were sharing with each other.
Andrew: What share of social comes from email versus Twitter and Facebook?
Interviewee: So, I guess social right now probably about 25% still comes from email.
Andrew: Twenty five from email wow! Okay, it’s still strong but I would have expected even stronger. And then seventy five is Facebook, Twitter and the other the social sites?
Interviewee: Yes, and remember for us the embeds also play a big role. There’s still big, yeah a big role. So that’s
That’s the social strata that we have.
Andrew: Did you have an embed button on the original, the original widget that people could embed don their website?
Interviewee: Yes, we did so embedding __ was that, I mean we built it for people to embed it, yeah so the basic use case that we built for was someone who wanted to, you know instead of putting a link to a Power Point file on your blog you embed it on your blog, that was the basic use case.
Andrew: But if I saw it on someone else’s blog can I click a button to grab the embed code and then add it to my site or do I need to go to slide share and then grab it from there.
Interviewee: You know am not hundred percent sure but I don’t think it was that easy to grab it there right there at that point, so you are not smart enough. So somebody is smart enough.
Andrew: Excuse me, in the launch time slideshare.net, right?.
Interviewee: Yes, we did launch it on slideshare.net.
Interviewee: Because we did not, we love the name and the dot com was taken by some other company and remember we were doing this on a lie, we had two or three months of the allotment time, we already had our product, so we were kind of testing our idea, so we said you know what we love the name we just go for it and then at, then we had to buy dot com that was still the big single largest purchase that we have made and it still makes me you know think go back and think about it we had to spend so much money to get the dot com.
Andrew: Because you did it after you got funding and after you got a higher profile.
Interviewee: We did it after we got a higher profile, but we, and we did it after got funding but we very carefully hid the fact that we had gotten funding while we were negotiating for the domain because we knew the price would go up, so we had like this whole you know process of trying to get the domain and not to be linked that we were already funded. So it’s like we had to delay the announcement of the funding because we had to accomplish this one thing before we could talk about it.
Andrew: And someone Scott [hall] in the audience is saying dot com still goes to dot net it gets redirected that‘s because of SEO reasons, right, you don’t want, actually why is that?
Interviewee: So dot com worked any URL work so both worked, you know the funny thing is that when we got dot com we had thought that our users would care and they didn’t care, a lot of people said “you know, it thought from the dot net that you guys are about really being a community “you know that’s what the community dot not implied to them, so we were like you know what, this is a alright at this point and time and if people say dot com we fine with that but the core site we will not change anything, so we just kept it that way.
Andrew: At what point did you get funding?
Interviewee: We got funding about a year and a half into slide share, coming back to the history of slide share remember we were another company that had launched this signed project that took off, and it took us about six months to decide and to see the fast pace of this slide share, at first we could just fund it ourselves, we could seize of the profit of the other company, but then slide share started growing too fast for us to keep up, secondly although you know Mind Canvas was a great product and a lot of people loved and found it to be very useful. Mind Canvas did not have the reach of slide share, it was never going to have the reach of slide share and we all basically fell in love with slide share, you know the whole team and it became kind of a fame as to who was going to work on Mind Canvas because we all wanted to work on slide share. So it was at that point, it was in May of 2007 that we actually went and formed the company. So we didn’t even have you know an entity called slide share, so we made that entity and make almost a year after slide share been founded, it’s been launched and then we got some angels on board, angels like Dave McLeod, Mark Cuban, Hall Beria, Jonathan Abraham and pretty much all of the angels were people who were using slide share, so that’s how we met Mark Cuban he was using slide share , Dave McLeod because he was using slide share and evident two or three months of that we closed series A.
Andrew: How did Dave, actually why don’t we talk about Mark Cuban, how did Mark Cuban go from becoming a user to being an investor.
Andrew: I’d say it was really interesting, so he’d been using slide share pretty much from the beginning if I remember correctly and I think at one point we just e-mailed with him and he said “Yeah I like the site” etcetera, and when he started thinking doing the [inter round] we e-mailed him and we said “you know what, this is what we are doing, this what our plans are, are you interested?”. I don’t think he even replied to us, we just next heard from his funding guy, you know he’s got a guy who manages his investment and then he made the investment basically, so it was very simple.
Andrew: And you knew then that he was using the site? When you e-mailed him?
Interviewee: Yeah, he was e-mailing the site for the
Saying that “hey we’ve noticed that you’re on the site and you know and we’re also looking to, you know now grow bigger and get really some funding and he was like “yeah, that’s interesting” you know but he didn’t really ever talk to us, he just had his investor management guy come and talk to us.
Andrew: To this day have you talked to him?
Interviewee: Not me, John is the main contact with him. Yeah.
Andrew: [Guy Kovasacki] I noticed was an invest, an advisor not an investor. How did you get him on board?
Interviewee: The, I met Guy at a conference pretty soon after the launch of Slide Share, and he, you know how he’s a big person you know in presentation goal, he’s like big into PowerPoint, he’s wrote many articles about it, critiquing it too but like I you know I say user. And he does walk to me and he said you know what, “I’ve always wanted to do a PowerPoint contest”. So that’s how he got involved, is that he gave the idea of the PowerPoint contest which is we what we ended up building into the world’s largest presentation contest which we do every year which is up coming in a few months. That kind of became a flagship event, it defined us, you know all the presentation created, participate in it and then a few months after he’ been, so he was the judge for the contest, he helped me line up more judges for the contest, and the next day you know you want to be an advisor so, he said yes thankfully.
Andrew: I see so, so you reached out to him and asked if he wanted to help out or he reached out to him? I didn’t catch that part.
Interviewee: I, I met him at a conference.
Andrew: I see right okay. And then he said in have for this idea for a contest do you want to participate? You guys put the contest on together, when you asked him to be an advisor, what was your vision for him in the company?
Interviewee: So t were a few things. A, I think Guy is just brilliant at marketing you know. And when you speak to him, and something I love about him is [for Slide Share we were always] thinking about ‘are we for this explode presentation creatives or are we for the masses’? And Guy is a man who understands the masses. How to appeal to large, you know groups of users and really he had to focus it in a way that it was much more for the masses I think which was what we wanted anyway. So I loved that kind of idea and working on the contest with him, I clearly saw, I mean he’s brilliant at coming up with marketing ideas. And especially in the field of presentations he’s really build on. People respect what he has to say. Starting from the world perspective he fit __ like chair very well.
Andrew: Do you have an example of how he helped you market to the masses? One of his ideas that you’ve used?
Interviewee: I would say in the contest which he had a very big role to play, with in how we made the contest and the contest has been pretty important to Slide Share in terms of defining what the site is about, is that we were thinking about what the topics for the contest would be. And we had some pretty narrow ideas, you know we would specifically, and he was the one who convinced us to just open it up. Any topic, any one can participate. The rules, the way that the voting happened, anybody can vote. Just like have a really broad open contest. So I think that particular kind of way of appealing to you that is very open way was, Guy helped me came through it. And even now…
Andrew: And how did you…I am sorry even now?
Interviewee: I think even now if I have a question I like, you know email him and his perspective is always very interesting.
Andrew: How did you get people to participate in that first one?
Interviewee: How did we get people to participate in that one? It was, by that time we understood virility and you know when we launched it, I think the launch announcement itself, we had the top judges in the presentation field you know Guy Kavasocki, Nancy Dowardee of Georgia Designs, we had the presentations in __ and there was some presentation in all these people are extremely well known in the presentation field so when we announced the contest people were already impressed by that. You know they were like “this is some very, very, I will get my slides to be looked at by Guy Renos” you know that’s a big deal in the presentation field. So that was helpful and then also the contest awarding was very viral when people would vote others to find out and join, so over all I think we ended up the first time with about three thousand entries. And not only that, the top entries were absolutely brilliant. And even today, I think a lot of the people who were the big ones have ended up making their careers out of you know, the big kind of recognition they got and built businesses, you know at least it helped their business a lot.
Andrew: So I’ve got a few list of characteristics that we talked about in the beginning of the interview.
Andrew: You said that you were the products person and I see that throughout the interview. But you also said that you’re fast and impatient. I haven’t seen an example of that. How did that come into play?
Interviewee: Well I am first and impatient by nature you know, when I speak I speak so fast that people tell me to slow down. If I give talks the biggest feedback I get is slow down, slow down…
Of, so I think in terms of the speed at which we move and you know just in the way that we started slide share and actually sometime am slower than some of the other members of my team, so am fast but may be not fast enough. I’ve really learned to value the importance of speech, because if you , you can do the same thing in three week or three months or may be in three years and if you get the product out in the hands of users and you start getting feedback and learning to iterate on it, you move, you learn so much more, you don’t waste technology, so actually the biggest lesson we had, the first product we had Mind Canvas, we built it in a year and a half. And we took it to market and realized only about twenty percent of the features we really being used, so it was successful but we based it on sixty percent of what we struggle to built, and you know getting the details right everything we did, that was a real lesson to us and you know when we started with slide share we launched it in three four months, we built it, we launched it, we learnt from it, we kept __ on it and that has come to define the way that we work at slide share, it’s that we don’t sit on an idea for a long time, we take an idea, we decide Okay are we going with it or not going with it, we decide what you know now what we would call a minimum viable product is and then put it out in the market and see how people react to it and the hardest part throwing it away if not working and it does really hard, there are team members who you know work hard there, love it but you have to throw it away if it is not working and you know keep iterating if it is.
Andrew: Do you have an example of something that you threw away?
Interviewee: What did we throw away?, so we had this way of what we called zing, which was really you know which was derived from the [dig] model of voting things up and down, and we had that for a while and it was clearly not working, on slide share the isn’t an element of working but the vote occur through social sharing, through you know how much `graphic some thing get, how many favorites, how many comments, so we already had that on the site and we are trying to create this artificial way of doing that, we had that in the site for a while, nobody got it, nobody used it, we threw it out and you know and removed the code, so that’s an example.
Andrew: Let’s see what else I’ve got here, I want to come back and talk to you about never be afraid, that has been coming out a lot, was there a time where you had to say hey stop being afraid go for it, or it is an example of how you conquered it that you can share with us?
Interviewee: So I was giving you the thought example, you know the first fear we had was that of scalability, you know that we thought that if our site gets to many hits it will go down and I mean in retrospect you hind sight this by twenty and you look back and you are like well so what if we had gone down for a few hours we would have scrambled, we would have built an Amazon services, we would have just you know fired up more computers and we would have handled it. As opposed to returning the piece of code, you know what’s worse, so and I realized this you know it is not all the decisions I can share publicly but there has been times when we’ve made a decision and when we make a decision based on fear it’s the wrong one, that’s just something that I have learnt in such a clear fashion, that you cannot make __ you know entrepreneurships building start ups is about you know doing the [borders] you know the hard things what you think might fail and just not being afraid and going and doing it anyway and, am not saying do it, not in a thoughtful way, but you really have to let go off the fear, this is not like a job.
Andrew: Do you have an example of a time when you were going to get stalled by it but you overcame it?
Interviewee: Let me think about it, Okay so I can’t, this is about the future that we, a future that we are building right now so it on the top of my mind, but I can’t tell you what it is but I will describe it and I know it is going to be a little bit unsatisfactory because I can’t tell you what it is. But we are working on a big feature right now and it’s really hard not to release it in a real [MVP] fashion, it is you know Eric Ritz who we are very inspired by talks a lot about [MVP] and I believe in it, but it is does actually take a lot of discipline to release things when they are completely untested and that they embarrass you and that it so much easier to release things when they are refined and you are not embarrassed and you know that people would not write e-mails to you and tell you “Hey, this is completely [ass baked]”. So letting go that off that fear of those e-mails and people telling you that you know this is happening
[I begged and] saying that yes half baked is the strategy. You know not half baked in a way, in that you know is going to be terrible product but I mean like, its you’re deliberately putting things out when its not completely fleshed out. So letting go of that fear had been a big deal and helpful I think.
Andrew: ‘Half baked is a strategy’ is a great line. Social hooks, what are some of the most effective social hooks that you’ve had? We’ve talked about embed; we’ve talked about email, what else is work really well?
Interviewee: So you know the thing that goes really, really well on Slide Share is [favouriting]. So and the reason that I really like favouriting, even though it’s not about, its less about virility, its more about engagement within the site. The reason I like about it is that it’s a genuine social gesture. It’s never used for spasm. So people will write, there are spasmers who will come to the site and write a hundred comments just to get links back to their site, but nobody ever spasms favouriting. You know Its like if you go and favourite somebody’s presentations, you genuinely mean it as like you know I like this, I enjoyed this, thank you for sharing this. And it’s a very, it basically gives positive reinforcement to the content uploaders, and makes them feel more attached to Slide Share. So over all it’s a feature that has helped us really you know grow into a community. The Slide Share community is not built on top of comments, the way that some other communities are. It’s built on top of these engagements with each other, favouriting being one of them. So that’s one of, one feature that I really like. I think that the Twitter integration which by now is common place but we started doing it pretty early on. We got our Twittering decoration exactly right, that we tried to keep abreast…
Andrew: How? How did you get it exactly right at the beginning? What was it like at the beginning?
Interviewee: So, I mean this was about a year ago, a year and a half ago. So I mean the whole venue say tweet this and you come up with, you know you’ve done the Twitter integration so you come up with a Twitter window with your, with a message that says that “check out these Slide Share presentation” each word in that message is very carefully thought through and we watch, you know what we want is for people to engage with each other, we also want Slide Share name in there. So we think carefully about every element of that and by now its common place, so it’s nothing innovative about it at this point and time, but when we did it, hardly anyone else doing it in that way and a lot of people thought we copied from that. .
Andrew: Alright let’s just finish up by talking about tools. You mentioned that, you mentioned I think one tool for product design. Do you have a couple of others that you recommend or tools or books, resources for getting products right?
Interviewee: So I think I talked about search presentation and Slide Share. That’s what I heard before and that’s what I do. I honestly go to Slide Share and get inspired by it, and look at there’s so many great designers we’ve put up. If you’re interested in game design that you need to game and there’s some other great game designs presentations, what do I, what do I read in terms or design? You know design is something that to me at this point and time really comes from deeply within. I don’t, I read the game stop, I read directory stuff which I don’t know but I don’t read a whole lot about designs. I am not the right person to recommend design resources to you. Sales, you know you talked about sales so that’s something I have learnt and I have come to really enjoy. And I could…
Andrew: Oh how? What have you learned?
Interviewee: What have I learned? I have learned that it is, if somebody is paying money for the thing that you have built, it’s really the ultimate compliment for your product, you know. People will [sit in] use your product for free, but if people are paying for it, that’s really saying that we have succeeded. So I’ve really learnt to value that and to build for that. And I would say that that’s the thing that I have enjoyed getting into the most in the past year.
Andrew: And you’ve got two different products where people can pay for them right? You’ve…
Interviewee: Well actually we have more but some of them are under very close radar so you don’t know about.
Andrew: I see okay. So this has now become a bigger portion on the business to move towards selling premium services?
Interviewee: Yes, and also, we don’t, we don’t just have that by the way. We also have, we also work on these large social campaigns and advertising so we have done large campaigns with Microsoft with Adobe, so I am not the direct person selling that but I manage that whole thing, so you know that’s another part of the selling that is interesting and fun.
Andrew: I see, selling them within a sponsorship within the sight?
Interviewee: So basically you know Slideshare is used by individuals and small companies. And like every other site on the web there’s a lot of large brands that want to also engage with the community on Slideshare. And we are slowly with help built this up for a few brands in different ways, you know how to make them an integral part of the site so that they can engage with the community at the same time it’s an authentic experience for the end-users and those projects have been really fun to work on.
Andrew: What about this? You mentioned Eric [Ritz]a few times in this interview. I saw that he had his first conference; he had his video up on slide share. Why would somebody have a video up on Slideshare instead of a slide or instead of a…instead of using just slides or instead of using YouTube or another service for videos or a __?
Interviewee: Absolutely a great question to ask. Why did we enable video? For a few reasons. First of all there’s a lot of presentations…so we define ourselves not by PowerPoint but by presentations. And presentations at this point in time we are either presenting yourself on the web , so we really That’s how we define ourselves. There’s a lot of presentations that are videos. I mean all the __ videos. There’s so much key presentations a lot like you know sure if you’ve given a talk if there’s a slide and a video. And a lot of our users kept asking us where should I put the videos because everybody is consolidated their slides on Slideshare but their videos they are spread all across the web. And what we want to…when we started doing this is we had this branded channels and we want to give them one place to put it all together then you can ask other people to visit you. So the idea is not that Eric [Ritz] will only have his videos up there but that he will have both together in one place. So that’s straight to the point.
Andrew: Ok. Alright…well let’s leave it there. I’ve got other questions, but I always have other questions. Hopefully you’ll come back and we’ll do another interview in the future.
Interviewee: Absolutely. Thank you. This has been a lot of fun.
Andrew: Thank you. Thanks for coming here and doing this interview. Thank you guys all for watching and I’ll see you on the site.