When I was eight, we got a computer. An IBM PS/2 with an 8086 processor and a 20MB hard drive. That was 1987—twenty years ago. My only experience with coding, however, was the C-logo class I took in school that year. Man, could I make that turtle rock and roll… I was the C-logo master. But, I never followed up on it at home, because our home computer wasn’t for hacking. It was for my dad’s business. Quite a few times, I got lectured for not reading the MS-DOS manual first before just playing around on it. That was pretty much the end of my coding career, which means that, today, now that I want to build Path101, I need someone’s help.
I can always go outsourced--to some team of Uzbekistanians (Uzbeks?), but I want to do more than just get something up. I want to be able to break out of the echo chamber and work with a true partner—not someone who may be gone from this project in three months. There’s no substitute for a real live human in the same room as you who has his or her own dry erase marker at the whiteboard. Even virtual teams will tell you that the most productive sessions are the ones they have in person.
So, in the spirit of uber anti-stealth, I’ll put my conceptual thinking for the build and the structure, as well as what I’m looking for in a partner relationship, in the hopes that there’s someone out there who not only sees the value, but has the same philsophy on how to create this.
First of all, whoever takes this project on has to be a data jockey. The real value of a Web 2.0 app is the leverage it can get out of its data—the data it pulls in, the data it pushes out and the mashup of data in the middle. Every piece of data that comes in or out of this thing needs to get used 8 different ways if we’re really going to knock socks off.
Example: Imagine a student is using a resume building tool. You shouldn’t have to create a resume for paper and a resume for LinkedIn and a resume for Facebook. Using standards like hResume, they should be able to use the resume wizard once, then populate a LinkedIn profile with the same structured information that we popped out a fancy PDF version to send out by e-mail. But let’s go a step further... Let’s say that a student participated in a special summer program related to their major at a local college—a two week immersion course on financial modeling, for example. The enter it in the resume wizard. However, our structure means that we know the dates, we know the location, and we can ask what this thing was—a course? A scholarship program? An internship? We should allow the student to be able to publish that information to other students with similar interests. That’s how I found out about the mentoring program at my local financial professional society. Someone a year ahead of me went through it the previous summer and suggested I participate. The information about that course was on her resume, but for it to get into my head, she had to bump into me randomly in the cafeteria—a lucky break for me. Efficient use of data structures and matching would have put that program and the 8 other summer programs just like it in front of me when I was thinking about my summer.
You might ask why would students allow that to happen? Aren’t they competing with me for the same jobs? Not if they’re a year ahead of me in a different recruiting class. Plus, perhaps they understand (or we can teach them) the value that sharing a summer program with me this year means that I might send a job opportunity their way at my company next year.
Just as an aside, one thing that also seperates Path101 as a business from what’s out there is our philosophy of giving as much value back to the students as possible. Think about that aggregated dataset—all those college resumes with all those positions. Monster has them. They know where almost every college student interned last summer. That’s about as close to the total universe of available opportunities as you can get, but do they expose it to students? No. They show those resumes to recruiters who pay for the access to the students and they show you the jobs that people pay to list, leaving the larger universe of opportunities to rot. That’s their business. All those random little companies that you’ve never heard of that provided some really interesting internship opportunities—ones that never get posted at $250 a pop because the company can’t afford it—are being wasted by Monster and not shown to students in order to protect their own bottom line. Millions of students worked their butt off to research and network their way to internships they couldn’t find on Monster, especially in the non-business areas. Monster sits on that useful data, leaving next year’s students on their own to recreate that whole research process all over again. No wonder it’s so hard to find a great internship. That’s not the way Path101 is going to create value for students.
In addition to trying to get the maximum value creating leverage for every piece of data, whoever works on this build needs to believe in portabilty of the application. Its not just about Facebook either, which obviously a student needs to be able to access all of our services on. One day, before they buy us, Monster may want our whole application to appear on the Monster site, or the NYTimes, or the PR Society of America. Schools may want this to appear on their sites and we can’t afford extensive enterprise integrations with every school. Integration needs to be a matter of skinning, cutting and pasting iFrames and code, and incredibly robust APIs—caveman style easy…but I’ve been beating that horse to a pulp lately.
Also of major importance to me, and maybe this is most important, is the platform this is being build on. No, its not Java or LAMP or Ruby on Rails—it’s TRUST and RESPECT. I need to be able to trust and respect the insights of someone who has built a scalable application before and that person needs to trust me that I’ve actually been in the classroom with college students, mentored them, and talked to them about their career aspirations. But it goes deeper than that, right? It goes far beyond the 1’s and the 0’s. I had a VC ask me what I would do if Facebook offered me $10 million for this site in a year once its up in 25 schools and growing. As a co-founder, perhaps that nets me $2-3 million after tax—not too shabby for a year’s work. You know what, though? That doesn’t really change my life much. Plus, I honestly don’t consider myself a serial entrepreneur. This is my idea. Will I have another one? Maybe. Maybe not, and if I don’t, $2 million basically gets me a nice apartment in the city. I’m not really about to trade in my big idea for a nicer apartment—that’s not enough for me. What I really want to do is to be able to tour the country talking to college students because I’m the guy who started the service they use day in and day out to pursue their passions. I want to hear about the paths they uncovered and the people they met. I want to get a letter from some successful entrepreneur ten years from now who tells me that they didn’t even know what entrepreneurship was until they logged on to Path101 and started exploring. That’s what value is to me. If I was just in this for as quick money, I would have spent the first two years of my career burning myself out as an investment banker.
So, in a since, what I’m building… well… This is going to be BIG. At least I want it to be anyway…and perhaps one day we’ll capture the even larger opportunity of career changers, moms returning to work, people laid off at 50… even goals that aren’t necessarily about career stuff.
Whoever joins will be a signficant equity partner, be able to get his hands dirty in the build and also manage a tech team. I’ll be honest—there’s been some strong angel/VC interest in this (over and above folks you might guess on your own) and so it seems likely the team will be able to be focused and fulltime for six to nine months.
So that’s me and that’s a little bit about what Path101 is looking for. Maybe you’re sitting in a big media company twiddling your thumbs itching to get back in the startup game. Maybe you just had a successful exit or a big blowup and you’re looking for the next thing. Maybe you’re at an early Web 2.0 startup and the writing’s on the wall that it isn’t going to wind up inside Google anytime soon. Let’s talk.