Yesterday the Lean Startup Lunch in Silicon Valley was held at Vaso Azzurro in Mountain View. Excellent food, great ambience, and a fun owner who would not let us leave without trying his prized baklava, a la mode no less.
Two interesting discussions emerged over lunch. The first was on how a startup deals with the challenges (and responsibilities) of a business model predicated on some level of trust or credibility between strangers (think of AirBnB, TaskRabbit, Craigslist, eBay, dating sites). The second topic was on the abundance of startups looking for a technical cofounder, with the discussion focused on ways those startups might be able to generate MVPs and get things moving while they try to attract the right person.
For the first topic, the specific question yesterday was how cofounders should determine and then create the necessary level of trust? Interestingly this discussion was not about the AirBnB story (although it was referenced a few times). It came up because of the number of startups (and startup ideas) around SF and the Valley that are focused on better ways for two (or more) people who share an interest to connect online and then take it offline and go do their thing – like go mountain biking or whatever. There are some compelling examples that I won’t share here as they relate to the specifics of each startup’s vision.
One of the cofounders from Wednesdays.com – the startup that arranged the Lean Startup Lunch – offered that they get around the challenge of establishing trust between strangers by focusing on lunch events that are by definition encounters occuring in groups (as opposed to 1 on 1) in known public places (pre-selected restaurants they partner with). Someone else offered the idea of requiring a FaceBook login – as it has certainly cleaned up the comment threads in a a number of popular blogs. There were real reservations expressed; however, as to whether a FB link would (or should) be sufficient for an offline encounter, and under what scenarios. Not to mention the possible business dilemmas of requiring everyone to use FB.
The second topic was just as interesting as the first as we discussed the pros and cons of outsourcing initial development of an MVP, let alone the initial product itself. There are indeed great resources out there like Pivotal Labs along with a host of individuals who do great work like Alvin Wang who attended the lunch. Unfortunately there are way too many others that don’t deliver. (Offshore outsourcing for an early stage startup without a technical cofounder was definitely considered a no-no.) Alvin had an interesting idea of how to perhaps help with this problem, and since its his idea, I will leave that story to him.