Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Healthy Disregard for the Impossible

Two weeks ago, I quit my job at Google. Later this year, I will join Xobni ("inbox backwards") in San Francisco, California!

Why leave Google? It's a fantastic company: They have the smartest people, enlightened management, great projects and pamper employees to no end. But most importantly, they're one of the few companies that stick to their values: When they say "don’t be evil", they actually mean it. I can only recommend working there.

But what I really wanted to do after school is to do a startup.

When I visited Adam and Matt in August last year, I was impressed: They were also interested in email, they seemed wicked smart, and had all the right connections. But above all, they had a healthy disregard for the impossible. These guys are willing to do what it takes to succeed.

Back then, it was hard to lure me away from my Google offer, and they didn't succeed. Since then, the company, software, and goal have evolved and they've recently received significant VC funding (as the media found out today).

Matt and Adam don't take no for an answer. After another offer earlier this year, it took me quite a while to make up my mind and actually quit. Back at Google Zurich, I was working on an awesome project with great people. The office was growing fast. Google had just won another award for being the best place to work, ever. It didn’t seem like a smart, mainstream move at the time.

What pulled the trigger was reading Jessica Livingston's Founders at Work on a plane ride back from the States. If all of these guys had done it, so could I. Around the same time, I got an email from Paul Buchheit who wrote: "The great thing about a good startup is that even if it doesn't work out, you still end up learning a lot more and meeting more interesting people than you otherwise would." That's true: The learning curve will be much steeper at Xobni than at Google; my impact will be much larger. That's the kind of environment I enjoy.

As one of Xobni's earliest employees, I'll be heading up their engineering effort. We're looking for a few superstars. If you're one of them, let me know.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

BlogCampSwitzerland Roundup

I went to BlogCampSwitzerland today, a BarCamp-like unconference about blogs. It was really crowded! I guess I underestimated the number of Swiss bloggers who would show up at an event like this.

One interesting session was Bruno Giussani's talk about BondyBlog. During the French riots in the banlieues, a group of Swiss journalists went to one of these suburbs and blogged about the daily lives of people there. Eventually, they handed over the blog to some locals they trained in blogging. The blog has since become the voice of the 'other France'. A great story about the citizen media.

Bruno had a couple of interesting anecdotes about how the site came to be: One incident involved one of the banlieue kids asking Nicolas Sarkozy for his phone number and through outright brashness, getting it.

As at BarCampZurich, I once again tried to ignite a discussion, this time about the future of blogging technology. The slides I used as an intro for the brainstorm are here. Stephanie Booth has a great summary of the session. And yes, we spent a lot of time talking about Twitter, which for some reason has become insanely popular. (I've also chatted about it with the Bits und so guys.) Great discussions ensued. Some people felt that we missed an authoritative conclusion of where blogging is going to go, but you wouldn't really expect such a thing from a group discussion, would you?

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Weekend in Munich

I spend the weekend visiting my friend Fabian in Munich, Germany.

We revisit some of the places that I'd frequented when I was interning at Yahoo, 6 years ago, working my ass off. The building where Yahoo used to be looks derelict, and now sports a for-rent sign with spelling errors in the window.

We drop by Munich's "Pinakothek der Moderne" in a modern, completely white building. We make fun of Dan Flavin's light installations.

Off to a coffee shop named "San Francisco Coffee Company" where we meet Timo plus Nadine and her mysterious boyfriend. I break The News. The crowd is mildly shocked.

I get the feeling that my life is in upheaval, while everything around me is completely constant.

We go out later that night, searching for my friend's future "temporary girlfriend" (as suggested in the coffee shop - he's too picky to settle on any permanent one), but we only meet 35-year olds in a weird bar-slash-coffee-place with awesome music.

The next morning we have brunch at News Bar and walk around in the park. We head home and play Age of Empires against each other for hours.

I return on the direct train to Zurich. In the seats next to mine, a bunch of kids from the prestigious Salem private school talk about their lives in high society. And their life plans after graduation.