Building an Ubuntu LAMP Web Server

Recently I was setting up my Mac OS X with a kick ass development environment and jotted down all the cool steps I took to build an Ubuntu LAMP web server in a virtual machine environment. Here is this in-depth guide translated from paper to this digital copy. Hope you find this guide valuable and it saves you time when you need to do the same.

LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP)
LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP)

Ubuntu Server

The flavor of Linux I like to use as a Web Server is Ubuntu.

What is Ubuntu

Ubuntu , is a secure, intuitive operating system that powers desktops, servers, netbooks and laptops. It is based on the Debian GNU/Linux distribution. Ubuntu is also named after the Southern African ethical ideology Ubuntu (“humanity towards others”) and is distributed as free and open source software with additional proprietary software available.

Why Ubuntu

  1. Reduce costs – free to use with no licensing fees.
  2. Visualization – it runs beautifully & fast in any VM environment (esp. Mac OS X)
  3. Build-in security – tight security, inbuilt firewall and encryption.
  4. It based on a Debian Distribution. A computer operating system composed of software packages released as free and open source software especially under the GNU General Public License and other free software licenses. Debian distributions are slower to release but this means they are extremely thorough.
  5. A lot of the big boys use Ubuntu. See case studies here: http://www.ubuntu.com/business/case-studies

Step by Step – your 1st web server

This guide assumes you have already installed Ubuntu Server. If not, go here and do it first. I recommend you install Ubuntu Server in a VM. I use VMware Fusion to run my instances when developing and Amazon EC2 for production. This guarantees that whatever I do locally in a VM will be compatible when pushed into production.

Ubuntu Server in a VMware Fusion
Ubuntu Server in a VMware Fusion

Goal:

  • Install LAMP – Linux (already done), Apache (web server), MySQL (mysql) and PHP (code compiler).
  • Install Webmin – a web-based interface for system administration for Unix.
  • Allow WWW for sFTP so you can remotely manage your website using a GUI.
  • Setup access to MySQL using MySQL Workbench.

1. Install LAMP

  • SSH into your box as root on Port 22 (default post install).
  • Update your OS software (just in case you are missing some dependencies):
    sudo apt-get update
  • From the terminal window, install LAMP using this 1 line of code (the caret (^) must be included):
    sudo apt-get install lamp-server^
  • The apt package manager will display what it is installing and ask you a bunch of standard questions. Just say yes to all. You will also be asked for a password for your new MySQL database. Type that in and note this down for future.
  • When this finishes you are done. Easy hey! Port 80 (default web server port) is now enabled and pointing to ‘/var/www’. ‘/var/www’ is where your site(s) should be placed.
  • Hit the Public DNS URL of your server (typically your IP) to verify that it’s up. It should show up a page with “It works!” If you are not sure what your box’s IP is, type this in and hit enter (similar to ipconfig on a Windows box).
    ip route
  • Before moving to the next step, you may want to know information about PHP’s configuration inc. installed extensions. You can grab this by creating a PHP file from your terminal window like this:
     sudo nano /var/www/phpinfo.php

    then adding this into it, save it, and quit nano (the editor your in):

    <?php phpinfo(); ?>

    restart Apache:

    sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart

    Hit the IP in your browser again with this new file name appended to the end eg. http://170.10.105.110/phpinfo.php – it should show you what is running.

2. Install Webmin

  • Edit “/etc/apt/sources.list” to add 2 new source:
    sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
  • … add these 2 new lines to the end, save and exit:
    deb http://download.webmin.com/download/repository sarge contrib
    deb http://webmin.mirror.somersettechsolutions.co.uk/repository sarge contrib
  • Now you can run this in your terminal window to install Webmin.
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install webmin
  • Webmin should now be accessible from your browser using the server’s ip address followed by port 10,000 eg. https://170.10.105.110:10000
    Note that you do not have HTTPS cert so your browser will throw a warning since https is (and has to be) the protocol. Ignore it and move forward.
  • If you cannot login with your sudo account you may need to enable root. Follow the steps outlined here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WebminWithoutARootAccount
  • Or you can change the password of the root user in your terminal window. Then restart webmin.
    sudo /usr/share/webmin/changepass.pl /etc/webmin/ root foo
    sudo /etc/init.d/webmin restart
    
  • If you need to restart webmin run this:
    sudo /etc/init.d/webmin restart

3. Allow WWW for sFTP

  • You need to make sure the group www-data is added to “/var/www”. Run this in your terminal window:
    sudo chgrp www-data /var/www
  • Make “/var/www” writable for the group.
    sudo chmod 775 /var/www
  • Set the GID for www-data for all sub-folders.
    sudo chmod g+s /var/www
  • Your directory should look like this on an ‘ls -l’ output.
    drwxrwsr-x    root www-data
  • Last, add your user name to the www-data group (secondary group) where USERNAME is the “new” username you will use to sFTP. Note that we follow it by “passwd” to give new account a password.
    sudo useradd -G www-data NEW_USERNAME
    sudo passwd NEW_USER

    OR if the username is “existing” one use the command below. Also don’t forget to add “ubuntu” user if you have set this up on an EC2:

    sudo usermod -a -G www-data EXISTING_USERNAME
  • You should now be able to SFTP to your server using this USERNAME and upload data to “/var/www” with no problems.

4. Access to MySQL using MySQL Workbench

  • MySQL Workbench is a nice free GUI tool by the folks at mysql.com to manage your MySQL database. It can be downloaded from here: http://wb.mysql.com/
  • By default MySQL listens on localhost (127.0.0.1) so if you are going to manage your Ubuntu VM instance from say OS X, MySQL wont allow you entry. Here’s what to do to grant remote management of MySQL.
    1. Go to Webmin and login.
    2. In Webmin, navigate here: Servers > MySQL Database Server > MySQL Server Configuration
    3. Change “MySQL server listening address” to “Any”. By default it is 127.0.0.1. Save this.
    4. Now navigate here: Servers > MySQL Database Server > User Permissions
    5. Click on User “root” on the line where it says 127.0.0.1. And under Hosts change it to “Any”. This set the permissions on your db access.
    6. Save & Restart MySQL and you are done.
  • Remember that this is for “development” purposes only. You would not be allowing “Any” to your DB rather a specific static address and username.

5. Bonus – running multiple web applications on the LAMP instance

To save on time, money and managing multiple boxes, you may want to run multiple websites from this same box. I like to do this using ports as the separator. The following can be done in Webmin:

  1. Upload code to /var/www/mynewsite/
  2. Create a Virtual host for your new web application by navigating to:
    Servers > Apache Webserver > Create virtual host
  3. Fill out the form pointing ‘Document Root’ to the location of your code and assign a ‘Port’ number eg. 81, to this new host. Remember port 80 is your default.
  4. Save and click on ‘Apply Settings’ (link top right of the Webmin interface).
  5. Finally you need to tell Apache to listen to this new port. Navigate here:
    Servers > Apache Webserver > Global configuration > Networking and Addresses
  6. Add port 81 (where your new host is configured on) to ‘Listen on addresses and ports’.
  7. Save, apply changes and restart Apache.
  8. Done. You can now access your website via http://IP_DNS:81

Now go and build kick ass products!

There you have it folks. How simple is that. That’s why I love Ubuntu so much. It’s simple and powerful all under the 1 umbrella. That’s how software should be. All the complexities removed so us engineers can get to work and build kick ass products!

If you found this post useful let me know in comments section below. Super!!

~ Ernest

Making the switch from Windows to Kubuntu

I finally made the switch from Windows Vista to Linux Free Operating System. I moved to the Kubuntu version of Ubuntu 10.10 (a Linux flavour) as my development box and haven’t looked back. Well I lied, since I did look back a bit at the beginning lol. It has been a an interesting challenge mentally adjusting to new way of doing things, new tools (applications) and driver support. In the end it was definitely worth it.

And why Kubuntu? since it’s basically Ubuntu a Debian-derived Linux distribution with KDE (a prettier desktop) on-top. Ubuntu brings your slower machines to life. While Windows keeps on slowing them down. Ubuntu is a secure, intuitive operating system that powers desktops, servers, netbooks and laptops. Ubuntu is, and always will be, absolutely free. More about it here.

Why I switched

Today all my development is open source. This means I run what I create on a LAMP stack – L stands for Linux Server. Doing development on a Windows box and pushing to a LAMP stack is like clawing your way through quick sand instead of using a ninja sword to slice through your tasks.

One day, I asked myself. Wouldn’t it be kick ass if my dev box would be close to identical to my production boxes. Knowing that whatever I do on my dev box will work in production with high certainty. Yes yes, Ubuntu popped into my mind. Which later after speaking with a fellow Linux hacker changed to Kubuntu.

As you may already know, Kubuntu is highly configurable. You even have access to the source code if you wish to venture that deep. It also has a great X window called KDE. Check out these top the winners from a 5-day competition on Facebook where fans were invited to submit a screenshot of their pimped Ubuntu desktop. No excuses about Ubuntu’s poor UI.

My customized Ubuntu desktop
My customized Ubuntu desktop
My customized Kubuntu desktop
My customized Kubuntu desktop

Linux apps to replace your Windows apps

Here is a comprehensive list of apps to replace your Windows versions.

Note: Most applications & games on Linux are open source. This mostly means free. Thus, the ones I listed below as alternatives in the Linux world are all free and can be downloaded from your package manager. I use Synaptic Package Manager (SPM). All the software here is verified and malicious free – it’s safe to get all your apps from here. To install SPM, in your terminal window type this in and your done. Simple eh.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install synaptic

Securitythis one just kills windows. Ubuntu comes with a firewall built in and windows viruses – what are they on Ubuntu – non existent. All you need is software like Gufw to help you “manage” your firewall else you can do it via the terminal / konsole window.
In your terminal window type this in and your done. This cannot get any harder 😉

sudo apt-get install gufw

And if you want hard-core detail on securing Ubuntu, read this post covers the process of securing and hardening the default Debian GNU/Linux distribution installation.

Applications… the following let’s use “Synaptic Package Manager”.

Purpose Windows Linux
Development
Code editor Notepad++ gedit
SFTP, FTP and SCP client WinSCP FileZilla
Telnet/SSH Putty OS Konsole /
terminal window
Code compare Beyond Compare Kompare
MySQL manager and admin tool SQLyog MySQL Workbench
Virtualization VMWare VirtualBox
Multimedia
Video player Windows Media Player VLC
Video editor Sony Vegas Kdenlive
Organize, share & edit your photos Picasa Picasa /
Gwenview
Photo editor Photoshop GIMP
Audio player Windows Media Player Amarok
CD/DVD burner Nero K3b
Other
Office (word, excel, powerpoint etc) Windows Office OpenOffice /
Google Docs
File browser Windows Explorer Dolphin
Internet browsers Chrome Chromium
Antivirus & Firewall Take a pick lol Gufw to manage your Firewall
Silverlight MS Silverlight Moonlight

Additional stuff you can install to make your Kubuntu experience pleasing:

Don’t forget to use your Synaptic Package Manager to look for these apps first. Only when you cannot find them there click on the title of each app below to take you to the website hosting the app and instructions.

  • Docky – shortcut bar that sits at the bottom, top, and/or sides of your screen. You can make it look and behave like mac’s bar.
  • KSnapshot – simple & powerful easy to use screen capture program.
  • Ubuntu Tweak – tweak Ubuntu’s desktop and system options that the default desktop environment doesn’t provide.
  • Beagle – advanced desktop search.
  • FreeMind – premier free mind mapping software written in Java.
  • Etherape – graphical network monitor.
  • Other code editors:
    • JetBrain. Their professional developer tools are kickass! I have trialled their PHPStorm & ReSharper with positive results. They also have editors for Ruby & Python (shakes of excitement). It’s not free but they do have trial versions available for download.
    • Eclipse. Open source IDE editors written in Java.
  • Dropbox – Online backup, file sync, and sharing made easy. Get it here: http://db.tt/QDC0nvU
  • ubuntu-restricted-extras – Essential software which is not already included due to legal or copyright reasons. Gives support for MP3 playback and decoding, Java runtime environment, Microsoft fonts, Flash plugin, DVD playback, and LAME (to create compressed audio files).
  • Adobe Flash & Adobe Air so you can run web applications like TweetDeck.

Missing Windows app/s?

If you still miss or cannot find your favorite Windows applications on Kubuntu, you install Wine to run them on Kubuntu. Wine is a program that offers a compatibility layer allowing Linux users to run some Windows-native applications inside of Linux. You can get Wine from Synaptic Package Manager / package manager or by following the instructions here.

Stuff I still need my Windows box for

  • Photo editing – Photoshop and Lightroom and
  • Video editing – Sony Vegas (goes with my Sony HD cam). The Linux alternative Kdenlive just dosent cut it.

With time I’m sure a super duper speced up Mac (with Dual boot for Kubuntu) will replace both my laptops. Now I need to sell myself why I should move to a Mac and pay double the price for hardware.

PS. If you have suggestions or additions to this post please comment below or contact me.

Happy hacking!

~ Ernest

Instapaper – A simple tool to save web pages for reading later

Jim Rohn said “All Leaders Are Readers”. There is definately something in that famous quote which rings a bell with those who are frequent readers. Reading stimulates the cortex and also brings a sense of pleasure of attaining more knowledge. Well to me anyways. If you have read my personal blog on experiments in Personal Development, Productivity & Inner Peace then you will know where I am coming from.

The problem

I read alot. Books and online – daily! Plenty of tech news, blogs, science & psychology sites and other places which bring value to me. So this leaves my Firefox browser looking like this:

A total mess with dozen of tabs open. Since there is no way I will get through all the articles within the same gap of time that these are open in, I will need to either close the browser (saving the tabs) or leave it running letting Firefox chew up my computer’s memory. Not to mention this method is “Anti” David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) time management for productivity success and increased focus. Yes, I’m a GTD fan. So, what to do. As per the GTD teachings, offload the stuff that I cannot read in the near future for later processing (reading). But with what?

The solution

Instapaper – A simple tool to save web pages for reading later

How it works

Instapaper gives you a Read Later bookmark (see Firefox screenshot above).
1. When you find something you want to read, but you don’t have time, click Read Later.
2. Then when you have time use any of the following devices Computer, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Kindle and ePub readers to read those articles nicely formatted and filtered for pure content.

Read Later - list of saved articles
Read Later - list of saved articles

Article - on a black backdrop
Article - on a black backdrop

As shown above, the iPhone (and iPad) Instapaper application downloads all the articles onto your device so that you can read those articles where internet is not available.

Simple and my reading habits now follow the GTD teachings. Cool hey.

Examples of how I use it

  • Sometimes at night in bed I read through 1 or 2 articles before falling asleep. The alternative to reading a book in bed before bedtime. Tools: Kindle / iPad.
  • Walking to work. My walk is 15 minutes and I can squizz in 2-3 articles and catchup on the latest tech trends. Also gives me some topics to discuss at work over that water-cooler or share tech info with my engineering team. Tool: iPhone.
  • Fill in time – anything from when I’m taking a break from coding to waiting for someone. Why burn time on unproductive thoughts when you can learn something new. Tools: Computer / iPhone.

Where to get Instapaper

Go here: http://www.instapaper.com/ to register with Instapaper and try it out for free.
The iPhone version you can get from here:
Instapaper - Marco Arment

Instapaper reading time!
Instapaper reading time! - Sì! Conando!

Ok I’m off to catchup on the 200 articles on my Instapaper.

Happy reading!

~ Ernest

Startup School 2010 – the recap, highlights & lessons

Startup School 2010 was a success! both on the quality of the turn out of entrepreneurs, speakers and the organizers – Y Combinator and Stanford BASES.

The day started on a nice crispy Saturday morning 16th October 2010. Breakfast was provided to all those that attended while the Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford University was prepared.

Startup School 2010 - at Stanford, Dinkelspiel Auditorium
The morning of Startup School 2010 - at Stanford, Dinkelspiel Auditorium

Startup School 2010
Startup School 2010

Schedule

The theater got packed out with many great minds of all ages – even entrepreneurs 12 years of age eager to start changing the world. The following are notes I took during each of the speeches + video. Hope you enjoy the content and find it as valuable and inspiring as I did.

Brian Chesky (Founder of Airbnb) speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs. Spot me in the 3rd row! :-) Photo by Robert Scoble
Brian Chesky (Founder of Airbnb) speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs. Spot me in the 3rd row! 🙂 Photo by Robert Scoble

09:30
Andy Bechtolsheim
Founder Arista Networks; Founder, Sun Microsystems

Andy Bechtolsheim - Founder of Arista Networks & Founder of Sun Microsystems
Andy Bechtolsheim - Founder of Arista Networks & Founder of Sun Microsystems

Wow, what a great start to this day. Andy went over how Silicon Valley got to where it is today and then touched up on the following interesting topics:

  • The process in creating a business is in 3 steps: Discover –> Design –> Deliver
  • “Discover” phase has more value but typically less money is spent while moving to the right to “Deliver” has less value but more money is spent on it.
  • The Horizon Effect”, also a topic in psychology, outlines how the majority of humans only purse goals which are in our horizon, stuff we can see, instead of stuff we cannot see. Aim past the horizon like Christopher Columbus did when he sailed past to the horizon only to find that he would not fall off the edge of the world.
  • Great companies:
    • Apple – spends the least on R&D ($1.2b) and consumer research. They trust their gut instinct to deliver super products. They also have less products to maintain than most companies.
    • Google – expects to solve the impossible. Most of their success today is attributed to the 1 day per week given to their employees to brain storm & prototype new ideas.
  • Innovation is the never-ending search for better solutions.
  • Most successful companies have more than 1 founder.

10:00
Paul Graham
Partner, Y Combinator; Founder, Viaweb

Paul Graham - Partner of Y Combinator & Founder of Viaweb
Paul Graham - Partner of Y Combinator & Founder of Viaweb

Paul spoke of Super-angels vs. VCs and how the landscape has changed. I didn’t take notes during Paul’s speech since Paul made it available online here.

The New Funding Landscapehttp://www.paulgraham.com/superangels.html

10:30
Andrew Mason
Founder, Groupon

Andrew Mason - Founder of Groupon
Andrew Mason - Founder of Groupon
  • Initial site was a WordPress blog where Andrew would copy and paste group buy requests from ThePoint.
  • Early hiring advise:
    • Avoid titles (unless required for hiring purpose) and
    • Don’t create too much structure.
  • How to defend yourself against competition:
    • Build an awesome product and
    • Never get out-innovated.
  • Lessons from Groupon’s journey:
    1. You’re building a tool, not a piece of art. Don’t be blinded by the vision.
    2. Recognise and Embrace your constraints.
    3. Have a Growth plan.
    4. The best tools aren’t always that cool – email is worth 10x more to Groupon than Facebook/Twitter followers.
    5. You will probably fail – failure is real but you don’t have to fail.
    6. Quit now – signs are always pointing but you get to decide.

I highly recommend you watch the videos below of Andrew talking about Groupon since it’s both educational and entertaining (plenty of humor).

Video part 1 of 2Andrew Mason – Founder of Groupon @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw6GxABcdy4
Video part 2 of 2Andrew Mason – Founder of Groupon @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIUlweek0FM

11:00
Break

11:30
Tom Preston-Werner
Founder, GitHub

Tom Preston-Werner - Founder of GitHub
Tom Preston-Werner - Founder of GitHub

12:00
Greg McAdoo

Partner, Sequoia Capital

Greg McAdoo - Partner of Sequoia Capital
Greg McAdoo - Partner of Sequoia Capital
  • “Leverage” is very important to demonstrate value in attaining VC funding.
  • Read about Achates Power “Fundamentally Better Engines” and how they did what GM couldn’t do in 20 years with half the staff.
  • Key points on the success of startups getting VC funding:
    1. They thought differently.
    2. They don’t throw money at problems, but ideas.
    3. They built simple easy to use products.
    4. They stay closer to the customers.
    5. They do more with less.
    6. They ship something early.
    7. They put a price on it early.

12:30
Reid Hoffman
Partner, Greylock; Founder, LinkedIn

Reid Hoffman - Partner of Greylock & Founder of LinkedIn
Reid Hoffman - Partner of Greylock & Founder of LinkedIn
  • There is around 7 +/- 2 of sites people have in their mind. Your goal is to be one of those 7. Search is in the 7.
  • Competition is the noise you need to get above. One way to do this is to make sure they sux and you don’t.
  • Release version 1 of your product asap to test your hypothesis early and to prove your ideas. If you are not embarrassed by version 1 you have released too late.
  • Build an intelligence network early, from investors, co-founders etc to help with testing your hypothesis (pivot).
  • Make social features available for when new customers ask – “who else is here that I know”.
  • Don’t plan for more than 6 months forward since the consumer internet changes rapidly.
  • Hire people who cohere as a group and learn quickly.
  • Solve your venture’s hardest problem of distribution e.g. how to get to massive size. And then you are on your way to success.

If you are on LinkedIn let’s connect. Just let me know who you are.
My LinkedIn profile is located here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/semerda

12:55
Lunch

Ron Conway
Partner, SV Angel and former co-founder of Altos Computers

Ron Conway - Partner of SV Angel + Ron's good friend McHammer
Ron Conway - Partner of SV Angel + Ron's good friend MC Hammer
  • Provide a service where users are happy and then monetize.
  • Entrepreneurs build and innovate companies and investors should be lucky to be a part of it.
  • Never forget its your company, the founder’s company.
  • Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.
  • It takes guts but anyone can do it.
  • It’s crazy to start a company with 1 founder. It’s all about building a great team. And if you are a founder you have to build a great team some day so why not build it the day you start the company – the 1st hurdles to get over.

There is more in the videos below where Ron outlines his journey and the journey of great friends from Napster, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Video part 1 of 2Ron Conway – Partner of SV Angel @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvmYGK2Jhck
Video part 2 of 2Ron Conway – Partner of SV Angel @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjaI43_u3dk

Adam D’Angelo
Founder, Quora and ex-CTO of Facebook

Adam D'Angelo - Founder of Quora
Adam D'Angelo - Founder of Quora
  • It’s ok if something doesn’t scale as long as it strengthens your position.
  • Facebook leanings:
    • Good infrastructure early on saves future development time to correct it.
    • Get as much start-up experience as an employee so that later you can climb your own mountain with this knowledge behind you.

Quora is a great Q&A product with quality content.
You can find me on Quora here: http://www.quora.com/Ernest-Semerda

Dalton Caldwell
Founder, Picplz; Founder, Imeem

Dalton Caldwell - Founder of Picplz & Imeem
Dalton Caldwell - Founder of Picplz & Imeem
  • Don’t be a cannon fodder. Work on things you love. Life is too short.
  • Key before you start your own music startup:
    • Artists are poor so they won’t pay you,
    • The market is totally saturated,
    • The economies are challenging with required payments to labels every quarter and lawyers waiting for you to become big so they can sue you.

If you want a good laugh and learn heaps about the risks of starting up a music venture then you should watch Dalton’s music business review (videos below) of his 6 years of building Imeem, what worked and what didn’t.

Video part 1 of 2 – Dalton Caldwell – Founder of Picplz & Imeem @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pshTi9dk7Bw
Video part 2 of 2Dalton Caldwell – Founder of Picplz & Imeem @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TphryAOyY40

15:55
Break

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg - Founder of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg - Founder of Facebook speaking with Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator partner)
  • Facebook’s mission is: Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
  • Mark stated that he acquires companies primarily for the excellent people. “Past handful acquires were a success so why not more.”
  • The goal is to build Facebook as the McKinsey of Entrepreneurship.

In the video below Mark speaks with Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator partner) on the initial days at Facebook, about the new movie Social Network and answers popular questions about Facebook.

Video part 1 of 2 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjVACXklxJk
Video part 2 of 2 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjuMARuv5sg

Brian Chesky
Founder, Airbnb

Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb
Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb
  • If you have an idea put it up there online, no matter what it looks like. You need the feedback early on.
  • Inventors of Obama O’s: Hope in every bowl! and Cap’n McCain’s: Put a maverick in your morning cereals – when the times were tough and money was required.
  • Had many unsuccessful launches but persistence got them through. Paul Graham stated “you guys won’t die, your like cockroaches”.
  • Michael Seibel from Justin.tv introduced Brian and his co-founder to the Y Combinator methodology and eventually to Paul Graham. Initially, Paul didn’t like the business idea. That changed quickly.
  • Brian used a classic motivation / psychology approach that Anthony Robbins teaches: “Whatever you focus on expands (you get)”. So he decided to focus on revenue by printing a positively inclined graph depicting revenue and pasting it on the bathroom mirror. This way it was the 1st thing he saw every morning and the last before going to bed to dream. It worked!
  • Paul Graham advised: “Go to your users”. So Brian and his co-founder flew to NYC, Washington DC and Denver and knocked on people’s doors to sell their service – “do you know how much your bedroom is worth?!”.
  • Then, David, Barry Manilow’s drummer posted his apartment for rent while he toured with Barry Manilow. This changed the direction of AirBnB and the 1st “wiggles of hope ~ PG” appeared. AirBnB launched version 5 of their product and started to be Ramen Profitable.
  • Today, AirBnB is in 8200 cities, 166 countries and traffic has started booming in the last 5 months.
  • AirBnB is now a “Community market place for space”.
  • All this started with an airbed in a living room to solve an accommodation problem.

The following videos are titled “Powerless and obscure” – 1,000 days ago (October 2007). How Brian started AirBnB and it nearly fell apart only to survive after the 5th launch. Very inspiring and educational.

Video part 1 of 2 – Brian Chesky – Founder of Airbnb @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOytubycHOg
Video part 2 of 2 – Brian Chesky – Founder of Airbnb @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ1fC6kAg5k

I also got to meet Brian the following day during Y Combinator Open-Day at AirBnB headquarters in SF.

Me with Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF
Me with Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF

In Conclusion

And that wrapped up an amazing, day at Startup School 2010.

My top 3 take away (learnings) from Startup School 2010 were:

  1. Find a solution to something people are hurting (strongly need) and they will pay you for it.
  2. It’s all about the “Experience”, not the technology. You are selling the experience not the technology.
  3. Build an awesome product that makes your competitor’s version sux.

Now it’s time for action!

Ernest

I’m going to Y Combinator’s Startup School 2010

Yippee!! I have been accepted into Y Combinator’s Startup School 2010!

Email with the good news - perfect b'day present!

I stretched in bed as my eyes opened up to be greeted by another beautiful Californian Saturday morning. I reached for my smart phone to check email to see what has happened in the last 5 hours that I was asleep. And there it was. An email from Y Combinator informing me that I have been accepted into Startup School 2010. It couldn’t have come at a better time, only 3 days after my birthday – what a great birthday present. 3 also being my lucky number.

Startup School is an annual event sponsored by both Standford BASES and Y Combinator. To put it simply, Startup School teaches technical people about startups. It is said that “the atmosphere of energy in the room at startup school is something you have to experience to believe” – now I get the opportunity to experience this first hand. I’m thrilled and excited! Thank you Y Combinator for this amazing opportunity.

Who is Y Combinator

Y Combinator is an American seed-stage startup funding firm, started in 2005 by Paul Graham, Robert Morris, Trevor Blackwell, and Jessica Livingston.

“Y Combinator is a new kind of venture firm specializing in funding early stage startups. We help startups through what is for many the hardest step, from idea to company.

We invest mostly in software and web services. And because we are ourselves technology people, we prefer groups with a lot of technical depth. We care more about how smart you are than how old you are, and more about the quality of your ideas than whether you have a formal business plan.” Source: http://ycombinator.com/about.html

Hacker News

Y Combinator is also responsible for the very popular Hacker News. Hacker News is a social news website about computer hacking and startup companies. It is my daily source nutritional intake of mind stimulating content and discussions. I highly recommend this site for anyone interested in startups – http://news.ycombinator.com/

Startup School lineup

The line up of speakers for this day is exhilarating. They include:

Andy Bechtolsheim
Founder Arista Networks; Founder, Sun Microsystems

Dalton Caldwell
Founder, Picplz; Founder, Imeem

Brian Chesky
Founder, Airbnb

Ron Conway
Partner, SV Angel

Adam D’Angelo
Founder, Quora

Paul Graham
Partner, Y Combinator; Founder, Viaweb

Reid Hoffman
Partner, Greylock; Founder, LinkedIn

Andrew Mason
Founder, Groupon

Greg McAdoo
Partner, Sequoia Capital

Tom Preston-Werner
Founder, GitHub

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook

WOW!! What a line up.
All this will take place @

Where: Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University.
When: 16 October 2010, 9:00 am.
More info: http://startupschool.org/

I’ll be Tweeting & Facebooking “live” from this event. If you haven’t already connected with me, please do. Just tell me who you are when you do so I know you’re a fellow hacker. If you are going to Startup School 2010 I would be delighted to meet you there and/or via the social links below. Come and say G’day to this Aussie.

Catch me online:

This is me being me:

Yap, I'm from down under
Yap, I'm from down under. Ernest Semerda doing a baby freeze.

About Ernest Semerda

Ernest Semerda is an experienced Engineering Leader formerly a hacker from Sydney (Australia) and now a Mountain View (CA, Silicon Valley) resident. Ernest holds 2 degrees; a Bachelor in Computer Science from University of Western Sydney and a Executive MBA from Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). Ernest has experience helping build & grown startup companies with a few years stint in the corporate world. Startups are his specialty and also his passion.

More about Ernest Semerda here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/about/

Ernest

Meet & connect with like minded people in Silicon Valley

This is what I love about Silicon Valley. It has the resources, people and culture to give you the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, get involved in engaging conversations and even bounce ideas off each other.

The high-tech industry back in Sydney is nothing compared to what is available in Silicon Valley. There has been a recent shift in greater awareness and acceptance of the value that can be gained by investing in high-tech ecosystems but it’s still a slow process and is a decade behind what Silicon Valley has to offer today. It isn’t happening fast enough and let’s face it, there is no place in the world like Silicon Valley. Bradford Cross discussed historical perspective and challenges of the widespread efforts to reproduce Silicon Valley in cities across the world. In a nutshell it’s too hard to compete with culture and century of history in Silicon Valley. Bradford’s article is worth a read to understand the history and value Silicon Valley has brought to the world and which it will continue into this century.

Where to connect with like-minded people

So you are in Silicon Valley and want to connect with like-minded people. Here is a breakdown list of where you can start. At first attend as many of these as possible until such time when you have tuned to those that add value to your needs.

The no.1 best place to start is meetup.com. Meetup.com (also called Meetup) is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. The site has the tools to allow facilitators and people interested in meeting up to make this connection seamless and pain-free.

Meetup.com believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference. Thus you will see a huge pool of meetups in the bay area (Silicon Valley). Everything from:

  • Stanford Bases: Stanford University’s entrepreneurship group with one of the largest student entrepreneurship groups in the world dedicated to cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond.
  • Hacker Dojo: Located around the corner from my place (in Mountain View) is a place for hackers to hang out and code. Also the home of Android weekly developer meetings and monthly presentations from cloud companies.
  • Googleplex: Hosting Silicon Valley Google Technology Users offers members who develop applications using Google technology to connect and present their projects.
SV-GTUG members
SV-GTUG members
  • Jewish High Tech Community: Helps improve the quality of life in the Silicon Valley for Jewish people working in and around technology by educating them about important trends and issues in technology.
  • Yahoo’s LAMP meetup every month to share Yahoo’s experience and provide an environment to learn from each other.
  • Facebook also recently started hosting events.
  • Not to mention a host of others at Facebook Fund, Nokia, Adobe et al. Visit meetup.com and find a group which interests you.
  • Yahoo’s Upcoming has a number of events too – http://upcoming.yahoo.com/
Jerad Hill from http://dailyappshow.com/
@ iPhone meetup - Jerad Hill from http://dailyappshow.com/

And yes, most of these places provide budding explorers with pizza & drink to keep the bellies full.

@ a Twitter meetup
@ Twitter meetup - OneRiot http://www.oneriot.com/ presenting

If you see me at one of these meetings please say hi! I love meeting and connecting with like-minded individuals. I like to look at people I don’t know yet as friends I haven’t met yet. Say g’day to this Aussie 🙂

Ernest

Links mentioned in this post:

The Next Silicon Valley
http://measuringmeasures.com/blog/2010/8/9/the-next-silicon-valley.html

Stanford Bases
http://bases.stanford.edu/

Meetup.com
http://meetup.com/

Jewish High Tech Community
http://www.jhtc.org/

Google Voice – how to protect your privacy

Teach your phone new tricks – Google Voice enhances the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of which phone or carrier you have – for free. In my view, Google Voice is the 2nd most useful product offered from a set of Google apps. Here’s why.

What is Google Voice

Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail as easy as email, free US long distance, low rates on international calls, and many calling features like transcripts, call blocking, call screening, conference calling, SMS, and more. Google Voice allows me to select any of my phones (fixed line and/or mobile) to connect me with the caller.

Google Voice interface
Google Voice interface

What features work for me

  • One Number – I have set up a nice network of phones closest to me for Google Voice to call. So I am no longer limited by a handset or carrier and I can always give just the 1 number to people.
  • Online voicemail – Should I miss a call or choose to not accept a call Google Voice will divert the user to my online voicemail (which can be customized to each caller) and record it. No big deal here right. But here is where it gets better. I also receive via email and SMS a transcribed version of the voice mail and if I log in to Google Voice there it is again, the transcribed version.
  • Call screening – Everytime someone calls me on my Google Voice you go through my virtual secretary who asks you your name and then tries to connect with me. I can choose to decline the call if I’m busy or am getting spammed and it goes directly to my voicemail.
  • Do not call block – In Google Voice online interface I can “Block” callers from ever calling me again. This is great since in Australia we have the “Do Not Call Register”. A government ran website protects individuals privacy by stopping certain telemarketing calls to fixed line and mobile telephone numbers. In the USA (as far as I’m aware) there is nothing like this. This is where Google Voice helps.
Blocking a caller
Blocking a caller

Protecting my privacy

This means that I can still keep my fixed land line and mobile (cell) numbers but now I give out my Google Voice number to people I meet at meetups, real estate agents, car dealers etc… if one of them abuses my number or passes it to a telemarketing agency I just block them in Google Voice and Google Voice will no longer connect me with those callers. Simple.

Also, since there is a screening feature which allows Google Voice to 1st call me and ask me whether I want to speak with the individual trying to connect with me I always know who is calling me before I say g’day. Should I wish not to speak to them, Google Voice will tell the caller I am not available and they can leave a message for me. Talk about a personal assistant!

Business cards

When Google Voice launched into Beta I was one of the lucky few American’s to get access to it. Google also gave out a bunch of free 25 business cards with the Google Voice number. Since then I have paid to have a lot more printed since I love the simplicity of these cards and the fact that I can hand these to people I meet.

Here’s my Google Voice business card:

Call me!
Call me!

URL’s mentioned in this post:

Do Not Call Register – https://www.donotcall.gov.au/
Google Voice – http://google.com/voice

Ernest