Cofounder and CEO, Jotspot
After graduating from Stanford in 1993, Joe Kraus joined with five engineer friends to create Excite, an Internet portal company that in 1996 became one of the biggest tech IPOs ever. Now 33, he’s starting Jotspot, a hosted Internet service that allows anyone to create and edit Web pages. Here, Kraus talks about doing it all over again, the incredible importance of hiring, and why champion surfers need not fear him.
On some level, starting companies is an addiction. It puts me in what [psychologist and author] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as the “flow state.”
When I was a freshman in college, I had a scarring experience. It was a summer job duplicating microfiche in a department with three 70-year-old women. I was 19, and it wasn’t fun. After three weeks, I quit and went to work bagging groceries. From that point forward, I wasn’t going to work for anyone again. The next year, I started a T-shirt design company with a friend, and we made $25,000 in one summer. That was awesome. I liked this working-for-yourself thing. I had the entrepreneurial bug.
A startup is always a combination of things that are going extraordinarily well and things that are just terrifying simultaneously.
I take every complaint to heart. When somebody doesn’t like the service, it pains me. I want to know why.
One of the most underappreciated things about startups is the role of luck. Think about what you are up against. Why should you be the one so special as to identify a need nobody’s filling? What makes it likely that you’re going to get money to pursue that idea? And what makes it likely you’re going to build a team to execute on that idea? Truthfully, startups shouldn’t really be possible.
Vinod Khosla, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, is a mentor. He never wants to focus on what’s going well. He only focuses on things that are going poorly. He has drilled the importance of that into my head, which has caused me to lose a lot of sleep.
Never compromise on hiring. Every time I’ve compromised, I’ve come to regret it. You have to be tough, even if that means not hiring people who could turn out to be great, because of the damage one person who isn’t great can do.
Nothing demotivates people like the equal treatment of unequals. When you hire a bozo and treat him the same as a rock star, it deflates the rock star.
Very early on, the founders of startups make an important choice. Do they want success or control? Neither is bad so long as the choice is explicit. I’ve picked success. And success implies giving up control — hiring people who are much better than you, or being willing to be the janitor if that’s what’s required.
The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is the power of persistence. Never give up.
I wish I could surf like Kelly Slater. He’s a six-time world champion, the Michael Jordan of surfing. I wish I just shredded as a surfer. I’ve surfed for years, and I still suck.
I’ve never done a startup when I’ve been married and had a baby. I have a 2-year-old who I don’t see as much as I’d like. So my biggest personal challenge is, how do I juggle?