Startups: Stories from and about cool genius
Those of you who read my (Rüdiger Gros) posts and tweets about startups, leadership, innovation and disruption know already about my passion for Internet of Things, Robotics and Artifical Intelligence (AI). And of course about my passion for startup builders.
Most of my readers are interested in startup stories and want to know about the background stories behind great products. Today I am happy to present an Interview with Borui Wang AngelList, the CEO and Cofounder of Polarr, the popular ‘Pro Photo Editor Made For Everyone’ that downloaded 250.000 times within the first 48 hours.
In case you haven`t downloaded Polarr yet, you might want to read some more details about the app, the technology and the positioning of Polarr against the classic market dominator Photoshop Business Insider about Polarr.
In my interview, I am focussing on entrepreneurial questions as Polarr is already a fact in the app market. Still, I heavily recommend to read more about the unique technical approach Technical details about Polarr.:
Interview with Borui Wang, CEO of Polarr
Rüdiger: Hi Borui, thank you that you dedicate some time for our interview. You graduated computer science in Stanford and started into your app development for Polarr very successfully. How far did Stanford prepare you for entrepreurship?
Borui: Tight and challenging deadlines. The CS classes are challenging and deadlines in Stanford are extremely tight. There are a few HCI (human computer interaction) classes where you have 10 weeks to put together an idea, run through development and iterations, and present a demo with a poster at the end. These are little simulations of “startup projects”, and usually through this process you learn how to prioritize your time and perform toward to your goal. I still couldn’t believe that some of my projects were finished in 10 weeks when looking back at them. I think the life style and work attitude as a graduate student is quite similar to what it feels to me like now, or I probably should say that Stanford graduate student life is even busier and more chaotic because I was taking multiple classes running multiple projects.
Rüdiger: Looks like Stanford is a good choice for entrepreneurs. So, when you started developing the idea with your team mates, how soon did you start discussing about the company and not the product?
Borui: My cofounder (Enhao Gong) and I formed the company the 2nd week after we committed to work on the “idea”. At that time we don’t even have a clear product concept yet but we believe it is the best to formalize the company earlier to smooth out all the IP issues and ownership issues.
Rüdiger: I agree, it is easier if you clarify these points before the start. How difficult was the discussion about the ratio of shares each team member should hold – and how did you finally decide?
Borui: It wasn’t difficult. It is a little awkward as we didn’t have much clue about the amount of shares would imply at the moment. We break down the type of tasks we will own and settle down on a number quite quickly. However, we eventually had to re-adjusted the share structure when raising seed $ as the roles of us are shifting, and we’re both happy for the adjustment (just extra legal work is time consuming). It’s hard to come up with a number up front, but my cofounder and I had a mutual understanding that we will do a calibration if necessary upon raising capital. So I think it is easier to work together for a while to see the real role and responsibility each of the founder truly feels the most comfortable with, and calibrate the ownership when that’s been figured out. It’s much more important to agree on what role each person wants to take and own though.
Rüdiger: It seems to work at least for you. When you started your business, how did you finance your project and when did you start to talk about external funding the first time, if at all?
Borui: We formed the company in August 2014 and we talked about raising money in day 1. I said we wanted to close the seed round in October 2014 (ended up closing in January 2015 because I was naive about how long this process could run). And I promised to reimburse server fees and marketing/ad fees when we raise money. Before we raise money, the biggest cost would just be rent. We both had some saving so paying 2 months of rent wasn’t an issue.
Rüdiger: Sounds pretty easy to go for a seed round in your place. Looking back, what would you do better today if you had known before?
Borui: Communicating ideas and details of the idea with the team more. The biggest mistake I made for the launch of the editor is deciding to target iOS 8.3 (and it is still painful to think about this). Our app works great on iOS 8.1 and 8.2 and I was thinking to target the latest device. Targeting iOS 8.3 probably halved the downloads as I eventually realize lots of the iPhone 6 and 6+ users are still on 8.1 and 8.2. I didn’t communicate about the 8.3 requirement with our iOS dev person but I’m managing app submissions and code release to the store. If I talked to our iOS dev or distribute the app store release role to the entire team, this mistake would not happen.
Rüdiger: This is very valuable advice! On top of that, what are the most important things you and your team are proud of?
Borui: We don’t work long hours and we don’t work on weekends. Our team usually calls a day at around 6-7PM and begin work at 10AM everyday and we’re very productive in this way. I believe stealing weekends and nights away from people do a lot damage to our team, product and code.
Rüdiger: This is unusual in startups but you obviously made a good job in that point, too! What kind of people would your team hire today for further growth? Are there any concrete jobs you hire now?
Borui: Ideally those who feel compulsive to craft something, care a lot about their craftsmanship , and willing to take whatever step to create what they want. All our existing engineers are very hardcore design/code cross-platform generalist (meaning, from reading linux kernel source to revising Sketch UI mockups ), and we’re constantly looking for another such generalist to join us.
Rüdiger: Folks..if you have a profile like that…klick apply at Polarr. Now, what is your most important ‘DON´T DO THIS‘ advice for other startup founders ?
Borui: Don’t ever restrain your ambition.
Rüdiger: Thank you. Are there any questions you want to ask me finally?
Borui: If you were to begin a new Startup, would you go solo or have a cofounder and why?
Rüdiger: If you haven´t build any company before, I would recommend to start a new company with adequate cofounders to gather as much knowledge and experience as you can and you did a great job with this strategy.
Still, it is not always as easy to find the right split with shares and responsibilities as you described it at Polarr. If cofounders don`t feel treated right from the beginning on in these points I would either found solo or I would not start.
Borui: Thank you.
Rüdiger: Borui, thanks for giving us these great insights about Polarr and your team. I cross fingers for your next steps and recommend a trial of Polarr to anybody that is able to take a photo with his smartphone.”