Beta List Founder Marc Köhlbrugge On Exciting New Startups And Lunch With A Time Traveler
If you’re remotely interested in finding out about new startups, whether you’re an investor or a startup newbie, Beta List is probably one of the best sites to check out (Killerstartups is also an excellent resource…but I digress). We caught up with founder Marc Köhlbrugge to find out what inspired Beta List, app he can’t live without and why he wants to have lunch with a time traveler.
Tell us a little more about what inspired Beta List?
November 2010 I was working on *openmargin, one of the startups I co-founded, and we had set this internal goal to reach 200 subscribers for our waiting list before the end of month. It was kind of an arbitrary goal, but we realized we didn’t get much done without setting goals so that’s what we did.
Nearing the end of the month however we still weren’t close to 200 subscribers which got me thinking how we could convince a major publication such as TechCrunch to write about us. I realized that TechCrunch generally doesn’t write about startups that only have a coming soon page up which sparked the idea of Beta List: a blog dedicated to covering pre-launch startups. Not just because I really liked the idea of discovering those pre-launch startups, but also because I thought TechCrunch might actually write about a site such as that and when they would I could simply put *openmargin on the front page so all visitors coming from TechCrunch would click through to *openmargin, basically tricking TechCrunch to write about *openmargin anyway.
It was a long shot, but it didn’t require too much time investment and I liked the idea of Beta List by itself so it was worth a shot. On a Friday night I created a simple Tumblr site, added about five pre-launch startups and sent TechCrunch a mail about stating it might be relevant for their audience of early adopters.
Two days later when I got on the bus after meeting a friend I noticed the mail badge on my iPhone showed I got hundreds of new emails. I thought I got spammed, but when I opened my email it was a long list of ‘New follower’ emails from Twitter. I browsed to the TechCrunch webpage and noticed they did indeed publish an article about Beta List resulting in a massive traffic spike. First thing I did is publish the *openmargin post and then I added a bunch of small features and widgets to turn those TechCrunch visitors into repeat visitors. Adding a mailing list, Twitter follow button, RSS feeds, those kind of things.
When I saw people actually coming back to Beta List I decided to keep developing it as a side project and now, about one-and-a-half year later I left my previous two startups to focus full-time on Beta List. Oh and yes, we reached the 200 subscriber goal!
How do you motivate yourself?
I think motivation is all about being aware of the reasons why you do something in the first place. If you don’t feel motivated it’s either because you forgot those reasons or those reason’s simply don’t apply anymore. So to answer your question I try to be aware of why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I also think it’s important to spend time away from work. In the startup scene you’re somehow supposed to work long hours and while I do think it’s important to put the necessary time in it’s also important to take some rest, spend time with friends, etc. My most productive weeks aren’t necessarily the weeks I spent the most time working.
Apart from internal motivation I also enjoying hearing from entrepreneurs who are grateful for being listed on Beta List. For me it has become routine posting a couple of startups each day, but for a lot of startups it’s the first time they get some real exposure and feedback on their idea. It reminds me of how Beta List started being featured on TechCrunch. (Not that we’re THAT big yet, but we’re getting there.)
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Well first of all if you call yourself a lean startup make sure you know what it means. A lot of entrepreneurs think lean means spending as little as possible, or your product having a minimal feature set. Although these can definitely be traits of a lean startup within the right context, they don’t tell the whole story. I’d definitely suggest to really dig into the Lean Startup methodology, read the books, attend a workshop, etc. It’s a great methodology. Also, the question suggests being lean equals bootstrapping. I don’t think that has to be the case. You can take outside funding and still be lean. It’s all about eliminating waste and learning what the next step should be, before you take the step.
As for tips, I’d say be conscious about the constraints of bootstrapping. Bootstrapping any business without a clear revenue model from day one is probably not a good idea as you have limited runway and you need to get to profitability as soon as possible. Instead of building yet another social network or photo sharing app try building a product you can charge for from day one. Building a B2B product is a great way to do is. It may be less sexy and you’re friends and family might not be able to use it, but it does increase your chances of success a lot I believe.
We want to know about where you spend your day! What’s on your desk right now?
I work at my home office which is, well… at home. It’s in a city called Eindhoven which is in the south of the Netherlands.
Here are some photos of my view and desk:
I’ll let you figure out what’s on my desk. Nothing fancy.
What entrepreneur do you admire?
Kevin Systrom from Instagram. Not because of the $1B deal with Facebook, but because of his relentless focus and attention to detail and having a great long-term vision at the same time. If you watch this interview Kevin Rose did with him you’ll notice his vision is much bigger than just having a simple photo sharing app. I’m not sure what to think of the Facebook acquisition though. I understand it’s hard to reject that kind of cash–both for yourself and shareholders–and I guess working with Zuckerberg is a great opportunity as well, but I really hope we get to see Kevin Systrom being a CEO again one day.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually put your life on hold and realize yours?
I’ve been ‘self-employed’ since I was in high school and I’ve never worked for a boss, so I don’t have a clue what it is to quit your job to start your own company.
So with that disclaimer out of the way I’d suggest starting out small. If you have a ‘big idea’ maybe test the water a bit before you jump right in. Ask yourself what the smallest step is you can take right now and do that. Then again, and again. Before you know it you’re actually doing, and realizing your idea.
Any exciting new startups on Beta List we should know about?
I recently got a chance to talk with the founders of Hubbl which is a new discovery platform for finding mobile apps. Here’s how they describe it:
“Hubbl is your smart telescope to accurately spot apps. With thousands of apps added to the app store everyday, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discover new apps. Hubbl solves this by introducing the world’s first community curated app engine and helps users accurately discover apps based on their personal interests and timely needs.”
I’m impressed by some of the stuff they showed me and I’m looking forward trying out the upcoming beta.
More info here.
Who would you most want to have lunch with (dead or alive)? What questions would you ask?
Do unborn people qualify as well? I would love to have lunch with a time traveler from the 30th century as I’m always intrigued what the future brings. Apart from obvious questions such as what the latest iPhone looks like and what happened to Facebook’s stock I’d ask how they look back at the 21st century, how they solved the energy crisis, if they eradicated poverty, etc. There’s too much to ask.
Web App or site you couldn’t live without and why.
I’m going to cheat a bit and mention a desktop app called TextExpander just because I think more people should know about it and it’s a really helpful tool for entrepeneurs.
TextExpander can save you a lot of time by having keyboard shortcuts to insert re-usable text snippets. To give you an example whenever someone emails me to ask about our advertising rates I simply type blads (short for “Beta List ads”) and it’s automatically expanded to a full email greeting the sender and a list of our current rates. Something which used to take me a couple of minutes now takes me less than a second.
I do the same thing for smaller bits of text as well such as email addresses (eemail expands to my full email addres), telephone numbers, addresses, tax numbers, etc. It’s a simple tool, but having those shortcuts really saves you time in the long run making it much faster to go through your email for example.
Although TextExpander is only available for the Mac and iOS there some alternatives for Windows as well.
More info here.
Where can our readers reach out to you?
I’m @marckohlbrugge and @betalist on Twitter. I’m also on AngelList ( /marc and /betalist ). Readers can check out Beta List and submit their own startup for review here. I’m available via email as well ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). I prefer short emails.
Thanks, Marc! It would definitely be awesome to chat with a 30th Century time traveler. Hopefully, Earth hasn’t imploded yet…that would not be awesome.