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Realizing Your Big Ideas: Popset Founder Jan Senderek Shares His Story And Advice

Jan Senderek is the founder/CEO of Popset, a growing, collaborative photo album application launched earlier this year and a proud part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2012 batch. Senderek and his friends were tired of wasting time trying to track down photos from each other, so they created Popset, a free iPhone app that makes it easy for friends to edit photos and created shared albums. No more texting or emailing photos to each other. Senderek shared with his own inspiration and advice for other entrepreneurs just kicking off their business.




How long have you been involved with the Internet? What were your first steps? What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got one the World Wide Web?

My first computer was a C64, then my dad’s 386 PC. I built my next computer myself—I loved the idea of having full control of which parts my computer would have while at the same time saving some money on it. It was exciting! I got my first taste of the Internet probably sometime around 1997. At the beginning I mostly used it to chat with random people via AOL, Yahoo or (later) things like mIRC. It was really fascinating to me, the ability to be in touch with someone on the other side of the planet in real time through text.



What time do you usually start work each day? Do you have an office or do you work at home?

The simplest answer is that there is no “usually.” Even though I try hard to have a regular cycle, it’s nearly impossible as a startup founder. There are times when you simply have to stay awake until early morning because something is broken and you need to fix it before you can call it a day.



What’s the first thing you do when you leave the office at the end of the day?

Normally, I go for a run or work out or do things that need to get done, like grocery shopping. Afterwards I go home and continue to work. My real “time off” is mostly during Friday or Saturday evening, where I meet friends and chat over a drink, or go to a party.


When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? After working for 16 hours? While out jogging? On your third beer?

In fact, a lot of my best ideas come in the shower in the morning or while I’m on a run. For me, I’m much more likely to be creative and come to reasonable conclusions when I have no distractions and there’s no other option but to think about what’s going on. It seems that for me the best time to come up with new things is when I’m fully off the grid. It’s hard to reflect when you’re sitting for 12 hours straight in front of a display.



We want to know about where you spend your day! What’s on your desk right now?

Two iPhones, a Moleskine and my Macbook. I am notoriously tidy and minimalistic. I like to have only what I really need. The iPhones and Macbook are obvious, the Moleskine is for scribbling new concepts, designs and features.



Favorite book? Author?

There are a ton of books I really liked reading, but the one that comes back to me over and over again is “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind” by Geert Hofstede. A professor of mine in Germany recommended it to me and it’s stuck with me ever since. It uses a statistical experiment to look at the way people from different cultures behave in predictably different and telling ways. Reading it helped me understand my own behavior a lot, and it’s also been really valuable over the last few years as I’ve traveled between Germany, Japan, the UK and the US.


Know any other cool startups or founders we should talk to? (Got any friends in the biz?)

Absolutely, at this point basically all of my friends are founders. You should speak to James Beshara, the founder of Crowdtilt, a group-funding platform. I met James during our Y Combinator batch, and we’ve been friends ever since.



A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually put your life on hold and realize yours?

I never really cared too much for ideas—for me, it’s the passion for creating something meaningful on my own that made me quit my day job. During the past year and a half, we iterated through several ideas until we arrived at Popset. Just getting started with something and going through the process of validating assumptions, building prototypes, and learning from your mistakes is what makes you feel like realizing something.


What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get their business off the ground?

One thing I’ve learned over the past year is to eliminate noise and focus on what’s important. At Y Combinator, we say there are only two things that you’re supposed to do when you want to get something off the ground:  talking to users and writing code. Forget everything else, avoid meet ups, competitions or conferences, just build something people actually want and everything you really need will come your way.



Who has been your biggest cheerleader throughout this process?

Our earliest superusers. Most of them were our friends but it has been so valuable to have them actually try and use your product, believe in you and cheer you up every time you improve your product (or even just change ideas).    


Three people you recommend we follow on Twitter, and why?

I mostly follow friends on Twitter. Check them out! @david, evangelist at Soundcloud and a great entrepreneur who knows how to drive a community. @pmoe, associate at Seedcamp, the leading microfund in Europe, always has great advice on startups, especially in Europe. @yukari77, tech writer from Japan and one of our favorite users


We also love to know the fact and figures: how have you grown, number of employees, etc.

We started as a team of three in January 2011 and became what is now Popset in early 2012, just after Y Combinator accepted us for its winter batch. Ever since we’ve been raising more seed capital and will announce our round shortly. By now we are a team of seven and still growing!


Where can our readers get ahold of you?

I probably have a profile on every platform, plus my own blog, but ever since I dove into startup mode the main thing I use is Facebook, so that’s probably the best place to get in touch with me, besides Popset of course!


What do you wish we would have asked you?

I like being asked what I am most excited about. Obviously, that’s building Popset, but to be specific I am excited to have an extremely talented team with a long and wide-open road ahead of us. Like I said, it’s really exciting to not know what we’re going to be building in the next three months. There are a ton of opportunities for us to improve our product and expand our portfolio.


Jan Senderek is the founder and CEO of Popset. Senderek began his journey with Popset in Germany, venturing to London and finally landing his business in sunny Mountain View, California. His interest in photography began at age 16, while studying abroad in Japan. Before the creation of Popset, Senderek was a product manager at GreenPocket, an energy management software company, as well as a product manger at betafabrik, a company invested in inventing new online businesses. Senderek holds a Master of Science in Technology Entrepreneurship from the University College London and a Bachelor of Arts in Media Economics from Fresenius University Cologne. 


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