Decide Co-founder Hsu Ken Ooi sat down to discuss his startup journey – from creating Decide.com in brother’s basement to selling it to eBay in September of last year.
Q: What was the highest and lowest point from your Decide experience?
A: Highest: Getting a notice from Amazon to remove their prices from our mobile app or they were going to stop our affiliate account (responsible for most of our revenue at the time) and not doing it. We felt it was too valuable to our users so revenue be damned! Lowest: During the first two years where we were building lots of stuff. There was one product we built that didn’t get a single sign-up. Not one! We couldn’t even get our friends to use it!
Q: What was emotionally the most difficult decision you had to make while on your journey from quitting your job to selling decide?
A: Actually quitting my job was really easy. I think the toughest thing emotionally is weathering the roller coaster and showing up every day. There are some days where you’re sure you’re the next Facebook and days where you’re sure it’s over. Most of the time it’s the latter. Those swings can really take it out of you. I learned that it’s never as good or as bad as it seems. That helped. Also, you constantly have no idea what you’re doing or whether you can do what you just told everyone you were gonna do. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can do simply because you have to.
Q: What problem have you solved that was the most satisfying?
A: Two things we were trying to accomplish at Decide that I was always very proud of: 1) Buying without regrets – Often people are worried about not getting ripped off, buying the wrong product or it being obsolete in a week. If we could remove that worry and possible regret we’d make buying fun again. 2) Consumers deserve a level playing field – Amazon and others have teams of very smart people working on pricing algorithms to increase their revenue. We can’t stop them from doing that but we thought consumers deserve a team of their own.
Q: If you could turn back time 6 years to just before you quit your consultant job, what three key decisions would you do differently over the ensuing 6 years?
A: Great question. I’m not sure I’d do anything different. I’m pretty happy with how things turned out and what I learned from the experience. If you’re forcing me: 1) Get to market faster – We spent 9 months coding our first product (not decide) without releasing. I like to say we made a v8 version of a product nobody wanted. 2) Invest in a deep experience instead of a broad one – We had a choice to either invest in existing categories or expand into new ones. We decided to do the latter. Good reasons to do both, tough call. 3) Know what kind of culture you want before you go on a hiring spree – Are you a “move fast and break things” (Facebook) or an “everything needs to be perfect” (Apple) kind of culture? Are you a “make decisions by committee or one person makes the call kind of company?” etc. There aren’t right answers to these questions but knowing what your answer is early on helps you find the right people and get them to work together in the right way. It’s painful to figure that out after the fact.
Q: How would you compare the Seattle to San Fran startup scene?
A: Startups permeate through everything in SF – Most of my social interactions here revolve around startups. Most coffee shops here don’t have Wi-Fi because so many people will turn them into their office. I live in between Twitter, Square, and Uber. I literally look into Square’s office. Funding seems simultaneously easier and harder – Easier because there’s so much money. I felt like the only people who did angel investments in Seattle were very wealthy. Here there are people making investments that I’m not sure can afford to! Harder because there are so many startups. Work is everything attitude – In Seattle, I used to get asked why I was working so hard on a Friday night. In SF, I get asked why I’m not working on Friday night. It’s like peer pressure to work harder because everyone else is. Maybe it’s just a function of there being so many more startups here. Everyone is one degree of separation away from someone who’s startup was successful – This was really rare in Seattle. Here it’s common and has this weird effect of making you think that it’s more doable. If that person can do it so can I! I could go on but I should get to other questions. I’ll add more if people find this question interesting.
Q: Now that you’ve gone through the founding-to-exit experience, is there anything that you have learned to avoid/limit spending time on with your new company?
A: In the very early stages: business cards, name, logo, visual design, what to incorporate as, incorporating at all, funding, whether this is a “big” idea, market size, patents, NDA’s, pretty much any legal stuff, defensibility, etc. The only thing you should focus on is building something people want and finding the cheapest way (time and money) to test your hypothesis.
This Q&A originally appeared on Yabbly and has been edited for length and clarity.