AMAs November 15, 2019

Hi, I am Kirill. A YC alumn, currently building a new company. AMA about startups, and I promise to give you an unfiltered answer.

Kirill Zubovsky @kirill

I am an entrepreneur, engineer, and a self-taught designer and developer. Previously founded a marketplace for design talent, I turned to podcasting after the birth of our first daughter. I wanted to hear stories of how other dads were doing it, and unable to find them, started RadDadShow.com to learn, and to help other parents.

With more and more podcasts coming online, and each hour containing a throve of information, it became obvious to me that the only way to consume more shows, and to learn from this vast content, was to have a place with short and snackable bits of podcasts, thus SmashNotes.com was born.

I'll be here on Thursday 21st of November at 10 am Pacific Time.

Ask me anything!

  1. 3

    What’s your best advice for marketing a startup with little funding (as in, self-funded). My startup is called StoreitSpace and is basically like Airbnb, but for storage. I’d appreciate any and all feedback -> storeitspace.com

    1. 2

      Use the channels that big competitors with a lot of funding aren't going to use. Being small is a tactical advantage, where you are able to do things big companies won't. Put some posters in your neighborhood. Write a thoughtful Reddit post about the problems with self-storage. Offer 1 year of free storage to anyone who'd sign up for your newsletter, but only when you get 10,000 signups.... You can do all the unsexy outreach, and there will be no downside to it.

      In general, if you are an early startup with no funding, your business problem isn't marketing, it's lack of users. Instead of thinking of how to market to them, ask yourself how you would find the users, then go there and get them. If you have to, literally go to a place, and the A user. You have to start somewhere.

      1. 1

        Thank you for taking the time to give some feedback, I really appreciate the help!

  2. 2

    Hello Kirill,

    Could you share your insights into how to get into YC? When did you get in?

    1. 1

      I got in when my product got a lot of traction. We had press coverage from the tech blogs, thousands of users waiting to join the beta, and VC cold-emailing me asking to invest.

      Justin Kan, a YC alum and partner, has a great podcast guide on how to excel in Y Combinator interview. Now that I listen to it, I realized that at the time of getting into YC we had everything.

      We had traction, we had buzz, and we had big plans on how to take a niche product and take it to market.

      The key to getting in, in my case, was having a working product and users who wanted it, as well as having a pretty good ideas of what I wanted to do for them.

      It also helped that Yuri was a friend from University of Toronto, and he encouraged me to apply. I thought Y Combinator was for really brilliant coders, which I was definitely not one, but he was supportive. Without Yuri, the history would be very different today.

  3. 2

    👋 Hey Kirill, love this idea! Seems like a great way to discover new podcasts. How has usage been? Are you seeing a lot of people creating new segments or is it mostly you handling that now?

    1. 1

      I'd say 80% of the segments are made by me right now. The best notes are made by people who simply found something peculiar and would like to share that with the world.

      Anyone can sign up for Smash Notes and start contributing. Just hit "sign up" and then find an episode that you like. I've loaded a bunch of podcasts into the system but if there's something you like and it's not on the list, just let me know [email protected] and I'll add it to the library.

      Right now, I am torn between turning Smash Notes into more user-centric system, where everyone gets a profile and can have a following, and to really show what they've got. VS. A user-agnostic system that exists for the benefit of the content, the knowledge within it. It's the difference between IH community, and the Wiki community. Still don't know what the right answer is, but probably whichever resonates with Smash users is what is going to win.

      I have a group of friends that I share my learnings with, and we've floated the idea of having Business-centric offering, which will both growth the library and help to pay for more content. I'll experiment with that soon too.

  4. 2

    How do you know when it's a good time to start working on an idea?

    1. 1

      Do you ever know? The obvious answer is when someone's willing to pay you to solve the problem. That's probably the best time to work on something. On the other hand, there are projects of passion, where you might want to work on regardless of outcome. You might have to decide what you're trying to achieve, and work on the idea when the prospective outcome matches your desires.

      In case of Smash Notes, I knew it would be an uphill battle. In fact, there's been multiple founders who tried it before and failed. But I like the idea of having more knowledge accessible to me, and the world, so it almost doesn't matter how long it would take to make it work.

      In case of Clipgain.io, a product that we started with Brad, a sound engineer that I met via Smash Notes, we knew right away there was a business in there. Sound editing is something all podcasters already need, big or small.

      B2B businesses are easier to validate, consumer is harder. If you read into the history of Twitter, for example, it had barely any users for a long while. Now we can't live without it.

      There are a lot of people who'd claim to know exactly what is and isn't a good business. If they knew, they'd be working on the goods ones; so I'd be skeptical about anyone claiming to know it all.

  5. 2

    What product did you work on at YC and what happened to it after you graduated?

    1. 1

      The product was called Scoutzie, which was a curated marketplace for designers.

      I originally started it with Kelly Smith, a designer/entrepreneur from Seattle, who was my first angel investor (Kelly's awesome!), and then brought my (now) wife on board when we got into YC, and added Jai as a tech cofounder.

      It was 2012 and the market for mobile-everything was exploding. There was no service that offered Dribbble-like experience, dedicated solely to mobile. We created one.

      Raising money was because we had traction and did not need to raise money. We raised ~300k for it at the same time that we got into YC, and we got into YC because there were investors willing and able to invest in us. It was rather fantastic how it all worked out.

      For the next three years we kept trying to turn the company into a $1B business, but in the process got very far away from our original users, and what they really wanted from the platform. We built various communication tools, helped designers process payments ... you name it, we probably had it. We we failed to realize that all our users really wanted was exposure. If we could simply drive 100x more customers/designers to each other, all else would have fallen in place.

      3 years in, out of money and out of energy, the market had shifted away from mobile. We got to a point where the space got much less desirable, and did not see a way out. There were certainly 10 diff ways we could have pivoted and productized what we had, but we shut the company down instead.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the detailed answer. Sounds like quite the ride.

        Can I ask what you meant by "the market had shifted away from mobile"? Where did the market go then?

        1. 1

          In 2012 mobile was a goldmine. Everyone wanted an app. There were 3-people consulting shops charging 150K - 500K for apps, and clients willing to pay.

          By 2015 the boom ended. A lot of people realized that mobile was complicated, overpriced, and just unnecessary. iOS ecosystem was hard to break through, users barely installed any new apps, and you couldn't justify crazy high spent unless you had a clear idea of how an app was going to grow your business.

          Rising tide floats all boats, they say, but when the tide's gone, you're left stranded in the sand.

  6. 2

    I love the website and was particularly intrigued when I read that 1M podcasts have been summarized. Time is obviously an important asset for a founder.

    What is your process for summarizing so much while still maintaining high quality output?

    Also, any tips on building an awesome website quickly?

  7. 1

    What does the practical process of taking notes for SmashNotes look like?
    Is it volunteer led?
    And how hard is it to actually get people to contribute?

    1. 1

      Every segment that you see on Smash Notes is hand-curated, summarized to fit a particular
      question.

      The practical process is rather tedious, to be honest. It requires listening to a podcast and then marking down points in the conversation that seem interesting. Sometimes, 10 minutes of an interview could contain 10 questions, and sometimes it's just one.

      For example, here's an interview with Paul Graham from 2009, before Y Combinator got very popular. As I was listening to that podcast, I was marking key points that I thought would resonate with others, then I turned them into questions and answers.

      The service has been around for about 6 months and in this time I've experimenting with running episodes through transcription, paying others to make notes, having volunteers add their own, and signing up podcast hosts themselves to make notes for their episodes.

      The best notes comes from listeners who are passionate about a particular episode, but the most scalable way is to have podcasters add the notes on their own.

      It's pretty hard to get people to contribute because the process isn't easy. It's worth it though. At the end of the day, Smash Notes end up being a collection of useful bits, like Nir Eyal's 4 Steps to get Hooked, or how Rahul Vohra validated the idea for Superhuman, or The single best way to set your kids for success in life ... and many more like these.

      I am still experimenting with the methods, but the end goal is to end up with a Wikipedia style knowledge base where you would be able to find anything ever said on a podcast, in context.

  8. 2

    This comment was deleted 9 months ago.

    1. 1

      YC was a fantastic experience and I would do it again in a blink. We made lots of great friends and were pushed to work hard and fast. There were a lot of lessons, about our company and ourselves. Some lessons were swift, and some were learned over the years after.

      As far as the most surprising discovery, it was the realization of how much relationships/politics play a role in Silicon Valley. As a naive college graduate I believed that the best software wins, and SV was the only place where meritocracy was king. Now, I joke that Silicon Valley HBO is pretty much a documentary.

      1. 1

        This comment was deleted 9 months ago.

    2. 1

      Hey Alex, I think you are spot on with #1. I think VC funding is able to do marvelous things for companies that should use it, but it's definitely not for everyone.

      VC are looking for outsized returns, and frankly, they don't care if most of the startups fail along the way, as long as the ones that succeed end up creating 10,000X returns that pay for all the failures, and then some. That's a great thing if you want to take a chance at building an empire, really-really fast, but not so good if you want to create a sustainable business.

      In case of Scoutzie, my first company, we were never aiming to be a billion dollar business at the start, but once we took on the VC funding, we started looking for opportunities to become one, making poor business decisions along the way. Having access to capital shifted our focus in a way that I now regret.

      Meanwhile, I am very happy there are funds like Indie.vc which are helping companies to achieve scale at a more reasonable pace. Funds like them are going to get really popular and will drastically improve the survival rates for companies that go big, slowly.

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