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Save money using coupons

Americans love coupons. Coupons are sexy. Coupons save you money.

It has always been an American Sunday paper tradition to clip coupons out for the week ahead. With the maturity of technology this landscape evolved and now most coupons are located online as the newspaper industry declines. So before you head out to shop in Silicon Valley, visit one of the following coupon sites to grab a bargain and save more of your money using coupons.

You might have already noticed that in the header navigation (above) of this site (The Road to Silicon Valley) I have already hooked up a “Save money” section to provide you with quick access to FREE at home printable grocery coupons and internet coupon codes. Those are powered by the no.1 coupon provider in America, Keep on reading below to learn more about the best options to save money.


A coupon is a ticket or document that can be exchanged for a financial discount or rebate when purchasing a product. Customarily, coupons are issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or by retailers, to be used in retail stores as a part of sales promotions. Basically printing a coupon is like printing money without any commitment to purchase required (unlike group buying below which is the opposite).

Top 2 sites in the USA for printable coupons are:

  • – Top 50 U.S. web property and No. 1 in the Coupons/Rewards category*—as well as Grocery iQ® and mobile applications for iPhone® devices and the Android operating system. Free GroceryIQ mobile application is superb and does all the hardwork for you by connecting coupons and your SafeWay loyalty card program to your shopping list. It couldn’t get easier to plan your shopping and load coupons!
  • Coupon Mom – Stephanie Nelson is The Savings Mom on ABC News’ Good Morning America, where she has been a regular contributor since 2004. Her Good Morning America segments have taught viewers how to save in many areas, including travel, clothing, restaurants, groceries, gifts, theme parks, gardening and entertainment.

Group buying

Group buying works that if a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal becomes available to all; if the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day. Basically you have to “purchase” the deal in order to save X amount eg. buy for $10 and get $20 worth of goods. So there is a level of commitment required. Unlike coupons where no purchase commitment is required.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to participate in group daily deals are:

  • Groupon – the big boy in group buying. No doubt you would have heard of them. Easy to use and always great products & services to buy. I’m a regular user of their simple, easy to use and efficient service.
  • Living Social – this is a Groupon competitor. Not as popular as Groupon but they do feature some good deals. The beauty of using these 2 sites is if a limited (1 per purchase) deal appears on Groupon you can go to Living Social and purchase it here too.

Coupon codes

Also known as internet coupons since you need to be making an online purchase to take advantage of these – think godaddy codes. Internet coupons typically provide for reduced cost or free shipping, a specific dollar or percentage discount, or some other offer to encourage consumers to purchase specific products or to purchase from specific retailers. Nearly every online retailer or website has a place within its shopping cart or checkout process for promo codes or coupon codes. Use the sites below to get your discount codes when making any online purchase.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to get internet coupon codes are:

  • RetailMeNot – offers discount coupons for more than 65,000 stores around the world. They have been around for a long time and always provide quality active coupon codes.
  • – a one-stop shop provider for printable grocery coupons, local coupon, coupon codes and daily deals. Don’t forget to sign up to their free newsletter so you never miss a great deal.

Other specials to watch out for

Finally, regularly visit your favorite store’s website. They will always feature one-off limited time discounts especially around holidays. Any holiday in the USA is a good reason for these companies to lure you into their store via a great deal – some even up to 50% off during Thanksgiving festive season. I find subscribing to their newsletter always keeps me in the loop.

Best deals can be found during the following times of the year:

  1. Black Friday (3rd Friday of November) – the day after Thanksgiving (3rd Thursday of November).
  2. Christmas sales (before and after 25th of December).
  3. Half year sales and other random public holidays. Get to know American public holidays.

So next time you plan on shopping don’t forget to check the above websites and save anywhere from 10-30% on your shopping bill. While your there, sign up to their newsletters / daily alerts so you never miss that deal. The money saved from this simple habit can be used for your education, your start-up or directed toward a number of other investment vehicles.

Here’s to happy savings!

~ Ernest

Links mentioned in this post

  • Coupons – Coupons, Grocery Coupons, Printable Coupons, Restaurant Coupons, Coupon Codes
  • CouponMom – Cut your grocery bill in half!
  • Groupon – local daily deals
  • LivingSocial – local daily deals
  • RetailMeNot – Coupon codes and discounts for 65000 online stores!

Musichouse – express yourself

Musichouse was a music ecosystem compromising of an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for artists & producers with exclusive access to online & offline (radio) broadcasting channels via RockinTheShed. We developed a number of monetization models to appeal to our target market and even put out some exciting Pantages events when we first started touring. RockinTheShed served as an initial hook to get leverage for Musichouse. We had a great team of smart entrepreneurs like Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host) and Denis who is today the co-founder of (Y Combinator 2010 Alumni).

The most complete music ecosystem

This consisted of three key components:

1)  Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for bands / artists – a way for an artist to professionally express themselves online by providing information about the band and events in an electronic equivalent of a press kit. Some of the parts of this EPK include biographical & contact information, music clips with accompanying lyrics, videos from events, media information, calendar of upcoming events linked to eTicks system etc… Each EPK is monitored using custom internal analytics analyzing the “groove in your music” to help the artist profit from the distribution and monetization model linked up to their EPK.

To help with the distribution of EPK content, an array of specific social network applications and widgets “spread the word” and allow users on other networks to interact and explore artist content.

2)  Digital distribution and unique online monetization model for Music – an artist shouldn’t be locked into the 1 monetization model rather have an array of options to choose from when it comes to distributing their assets like audio, photos and merchandise. MusicHouse will have 3 monetization models for an artist to use. Therefore being able to mix and match to see what works. Because we believe in giving the artist control, we are providing 3 monetization models (to start with) for an artist to use to distribute their music.

3)  Online and Offline broadcast on radio stations world-wide through RockinTheShed (marketing arm of MusicHouse) and other planned shows. Essentially giving artists a fair go to get heard by millions of radio listeners, and thousands of ardent readers. If you were to click here, you’d be cleared of any skepticism you’d have had of a magazine’s ability to proliferate. To get heard an artist has to build “credit” through a web of interconnected and aggregated fan voting systems, fair-share inbounds back to MusicHouse and other algorithms that we have planned under the bonnet.

Vision: “To be the one stop shop for artists / bands when they want to express themselves and reach new consumer markets by getting heard internationally both online and offline”

MusicHouse would help artists and bands to promote their music by creating their very own Electronic Press Kit (EPK) which enables a connection with musicians, promoters, fans and radio stations around the world. It is differentiated through a multitude of music services to enable a richer online experience, better monetization model, and unique, powerful, integrated offline exposure channel for member bands to achieve airtime at radio stations world-wide.

What the site looked like (in development)

EPK (Electronic Press Kit) – Audio player
EPK (Electronic Press Kit) – Other sections

Musichouse Business Architecture

How we planned to monetize

The site never saw day light (production launch) since RockinTheShed (its partner & complementary business) fell apart and we decided to wrap it up. Although the technical skills learnt building this site proved (and prove) to be extremely valuable assets today.


RockinTheShed – signed or unsigned if it sounds good we wanna hear it

RockinTheShed was a weekly 2 hour Rock and Alternative radio station show delivering sounds from local and international artists blended with current news and happenings in the Rock and Alternative scene around the world. The show played across 12 radio stations geographically in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. We got to meet and interview many interesting and famous bands while expanding our broadcasting range.

Goal: “We wanted to help artists get heard on the radio.”
Mantra: “Signed or unsigned, if it sounds good we wanna hear it.” – and so breathed & worked towards that vision.

There was 4 of us. All long-time friends. Two of the co-founders were deep into the Australian rock scene with one already managing an Australian rock band called Viperose. We saw this as an opportunity help Viperose and like bands get heard on the radio and explode onto the music scene. We all love music and this was passion married with business.

Our online services

We provided online tools for artists, broadcasters & listeners of Those included:

  • Artists/bands: “Get heard” upload tools for artists to upload their songs and band information. We also provided Marketing banners to get artists to help spread the good deed of RockinTheShed and get fans voting for their songs to get heard on RockinTheShed.
  • Radio Stations: A secure login facility to download the weekly edited 2 hr RockinTheShed show including a playlist. There they could also find few marketing fillers & advertisements radio stations could use in their daily broadcasting.
  • Fans/Consumers: Ability to vote upcoming (uploaded by artist) songs and listen to uploaded songs including past RockinTheShed weekly 2hr show. Top voted songs would end up in the upcoming show. This encouraged artists to help spread our marketing banners (mentioned above) thus in turn getting their song played on RockinTheShed.
  • Facebook radio app: Allowed Facebook users to listen to the latest 2hr weekly show with similar voting capabilities as the RockinTheShed website without leaving their social network. This was a hit since Facebook was just growing.
RockinTheShed Homepage

Trivial background history: One evening when trying to work out a logo for the business we threw around ideas about what RockinTheShed meant to each of us. I started sketching these ideas and came up with a design (bottom left) which later was professionally crafted (bottom right) and become our logo and branding.

The birth of RockinTheShed logo

Quick facts

Life span: 2 years
Co-founders: 4 – Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host), Denis (a serial entrepreneur whom managed the band Viperose and is today the co-founder of, a Y Combinator 2010 Alumni) and me (The tech geek).
Profitable?: Nope. Zilch. We had a long-term monetization plan once we built enough leverage.
Why terminated: Chewing too much of our money and some of the co-founders had started looking at other opportunities.

Top 5 things I learnt from this venture

  • 4 co-founders is a crowd. We had issues agreeing to decisions and at times felt like we were all stepping on each other’s toes. Maybe this was due to too many powerful personalities all at the same table but 4 definitely felt crowded.
  • Never relay on a 3rd party’s infrastructure for your “core” business. I didn’t like the idea that without the radio stations we could be gone. We had some trouble with 1 which proved to be a nightmare to manage but we survived and it left a sour taste. I decided after this to never build a business which relied on someone else’s infrastructure for the “core” of my business. This is like outsourcing your “core” business to someone else and hoping you will stay afloat – good luck!
  • Turn pains into solutions. We had certain internal issues with stuff forgetting to be done and late delivery of tasks. This meant our quality suffered. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of this I asked myself what can I do to solve this. Then one day it hit me and I built a tool over the weekend solving this problem (while watching all 3 Bourne Identity movies).
  • To minimize loses, run an unprofitable business only when there is a profitable one under your belt. If it wasn’t for the profits from WebAnt this business would have cost me a fortune to sustain. Yes it was a fun business and extremely valuable to artists.
  • Outsource your weakest parts. Neither of us were good at website design (look & feel). The 1st few iterations of our site proved this lol. Instead of wasting further time trying to come up with a design that sticks we decided to outsource the design. We ended up going with a designer through Because we earlier also outsourced the final logo / branding we provided this designer with everything we had to create the new RockinTheShed website – and boy were we pleased.

I really enjoyed this business venture. It was fun. We got to go to many gigs, meet crazy and talented (sometimes both) bands & artists and it left us with wonderful memories. My band photography business ( span off from this venture, I learnt how to build Facebook applications and Musichouse was born to complement RockinTheShed.

It was fun!


WebAnt Analytics – climb inside your customers mind

WebAnt was a holistic web analytics and automation service servicing corporate clients on the Australian market. WebAnt proved to be a competitor (at the time) to Red Sheriff (now Nielsen NetRatings) when the Australian market was not overcrowded with analytic tools. Overthrowing Red Sheriff as the web analytics provider of choice for MBF – Australia’s largest health benefit fund.

Our service offerings

  1. Web Analytics tools and reports ranging from the standard client analytic type to website overlays, dynamic component tracking, email blast tracking, trend reports to footprints (heatmaps) et al.
  2. Automation tools and reports to allow WebAnt subscribers to generate “phantom customers”. Then sending them interacting through subscriber http / https site and report back on findings. This proved to be the hottest and most value adding service add-on since it identified problems before they escalated / affected the larger online user community.

Automation in more detail

Automation plugin called InSite

Quick facts

Life span: 3 years.
Founder: 1 (me) + multiple outsourced contractors on a need basis.
Profitable: From the start – 20% in expenses and rest profits.
Why terminated: Google Analytics entered the market – hard to compete with free.

Some product screen shots

Trivial background history: WebAnt began its life as BlueArrow (logo below) which was built as a complementary offering to a web design business I and a former AMP colleague ran. The web design business was my 1st true business out of University. Former AMP executive management invested in BlueArrow and WebAnt was born with branding capabilities to allow anyone to resell the product.

Precursor to WebAnt

Top 5 things I learnt from this venture

  • You need to spend money in order to make money. Sometimes more than you are used to / comfortable with. This was my biggest fear (initially) since the hardware cost us around USD 1,000 per month, yet it was only a fraction of what we were earning once we got it rolling.
  • Linux sh*ts all over Windows. We had both stacks (initially) and Linux always impressed me with its stability, up time, ease of maintenance without taking the site down and super performance. Need I say more lol.
  • Don’t get tied up in a “which language” debate. At the end of the day you are solving a business problem and whatever tools work at the time stick to them. BlueArrow was built-in classic ASP (remember this), then it was ported to PHP as WebAnt and later we introduced parts in C# & Java. It worked, we were profitable, it was fun to learn new languages and our clients were happy. Just make sure you monitor performance and stay on-top of the game (trends) and adjust as needed.
  • Results are everything and talk is just bullshit. Don’t get excited about a potential partnership / expansion unless you start seeing some results like customers signing up and/or your bank account dollars increasing. Everyone around you wants to make money off your idea and will talk it up like you will be a millionaire tomorrow. Just focus on your business and give them the tools to go away and bring those millions. Never lose focus of you goal.
  • Build a profitable business from the start. It’s alot more fun knowing that every sweat and late night you pull in is rewarded financially. The harder you work the more money you make (not always but you get the gist). Don’t hope that one day you will find a way to make money, do the hard-work now (at the start) and you will have more rewards. Take a read of 37signals/DHH style companies on being profitable and proud:

When I walked away from this venture I knew the ins and out of web analytics. I considered myself very well-informed. And to this day I still hold a very keen interest in data mining, analysis & analytics. Yes today I use Google Analytics for most projects which require tracking since it’s a lot simpler and easier than building your own home-grown solution + it’s a very powerful tool when used correctly.


Ramify – Unit Trust Rating and Information Services

Ramify was a company that was to provide tools and objective ratings of unit trust funds and Unit Trust Fund Management Companies using both quantitative and qualitative data. It was to be a valuable service to the Unit Trust Funds industry participants including retail and institutional investors, financial planners, agents, banks, Unit Trust Management Companies, regulators, etc.


We were a team of 3. We developed a working prototype & value proposition with plans to launch on the Asian market starting in Malaysia. The other 2 team members were industry veterans in the Unit Trust Funds industry in Australia and have spent time in Malaysia customizing the offering and business strategy, establishing strategic alliances, assessing the market potential, and conducting qualitative assessments of Unit Trust Fund Management Companies.

We flew to Malaysia with our Prototype to propose this Investment Opportunity to the board of RAM with the goal of:

  • Giving 50% equity to the investor (RAM),
  • in return asking for a purchase price RM2 million and
  • acquiring investor to provide RM2 million working capital.

We met many interesting and intellectually clever people. From the board of RAM (Malaysian largest rating agency) to investors from USA and CEO’s of various financial firms whom were interested in what we wanted to do on the Asian market. At that time no one was doing this and it seemed like this was going to be that multimillion dollar opportunity. In the end due to a number of reasons I cannot disclose here the deal fell apart. But it was fun while it latest and provided plenty of education.

Prototype screenshots

Here’s some screenshots of what the early (2006) prototype looked like.

Ramify - Homepage
Ramify - Fund Profile

Top 5 things I learnt

  • Don’t get too excited too soon. Deals come and go very quickly and even with the hope of smelling millions, it can fall apart very quickly and easily.
  • Surround yourself with smart people. You will be surprised how your thinking processes, behavior and views will change (for the better) once you spend time with very intellectually smart people. People that have been there, done that and can provide you with a wealth of knowledge & advise based on their experience.
  • Build a winning team. Everyone in the team should complement each other in some form or another. That way no one is spending time carrying the others on their backs. When you work, everyone works, on their parts. Then all parts come together like a transformer resulting in a giant unstoppable machine.
  • Business brings friends closer. Yes there is the old mantra not to run a business with your friends but my experience proved to be very fruitful here. It allowed us to get closer and build long lasting friendship. Boy did we all party in Malaysia… in style may I add. Memories that will never be forgotten.
  • It’s like there’s more of me working on this. We were a team of 3. This meant we got stuff done quicker and had access to greater brain power – the power of 3. We all supported each other during the down times and this kept the morale strong.

I walked away from this venture a new man. Now I know what it feels like to be at a pinnacle.


My entrepreneurial life in Australia

I love tinkering and bringing ideas into reality. Seeing that idea come to life is amazing. The energy, thrill, excitement and daily challenges faced in order to bring an idea into reality is simply amazing. It’s true what Don Williams, Jr once said “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”.

Below I share with you my entrepreneurial journey in Australia building start-ups and the lessons I have acquired by taking them. Without these I would not be the man I am today.

  • WebAnt Analytics – a quantitative service providing a holistic web analytics and customer metrics solutions that allows you to get inside the mind of your online audience. This also included the famous InSite module which could generate “phantom customers” for automation & monitoring. We used a lot of interesting models I learnt during the course of my MBA studies to provide a unique selling proposition and differentiate ourself from our only competitor on the Australian market (at the time), Red Sheriff. And then came free Google Analytics (Urchin) and the show was over. To read more click here.
  • Ramify – a company that provided tools and objective ratings of unit trust funds and Unit Trust Fund Management Companies using both quantitative and qualitative data. It was to be a valuable service to the Unit Trust Funds industry participants including retail and institutional investors, financial planners, agents, banks, Unit Trust Management Companies, regulators, etc. This one took me to Malaysia, presentations to board members of RAM (Rating Agency Malaysia Berhad) and dinners with CEOs of financial banks. To read more click here.
  • RockinTheShed – A weekly 2 hour Rock and Alternative radio station show delivering sounds from local and international artists blended with current news and happenings in the Rock and Alternative arena. The show played across 12 radio stations geographically in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. We got to meeting & interview many interesting & famous bands and expand our broadcasting range. My band photography business span off from this venture. To read more click here.
  • Musichouse – A music ecosystem compromising of an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for artists & producers with exclusive access to online & offline (radio) broadcasting channels via RockinTheShed. We developed a number of monetization models to appeal to our target market. RockinTheShed served as an initial hook to get leverage for Musichouse. We had a great team of smart entrepreneurs like Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host) and Denis who is today the co-founder of (Y Combinator 2010 Alumni). To read more click here.

What’s next?

You tell me…


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.

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

Startup School 2010


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

Andy Bechtolsheim
Founder Arista Networks; Founder, 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.

Paul Graham
Partner, Y Combinator; Founder, 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 Landscape

Andrew Mason
Founder, 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
Video part 2 of 2Andrew Mason – Founder of Groupon @ Startup School 2010


Tom Preston-Werner
Founder, GitHub

Tom Preston-Werner - Founder of GitHub

Greg McAdoo

Partner, 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.

Reid Hoffman
Partner, Greylock; Founder, 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:


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

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
Video part 2 of 2Ron Conway – Partner of SV Angel @ Startup School 2010

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

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:

Dalton Caldwell
Founder, Picplz; Founder, 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
Video part 2 of 2Dalton Caldwell – Founder of Picplz & Imeem @ Startup School 2010


Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, 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
Video part 2 of 2 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook @ Startup School 2010

Brian Chesky
Founder, 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 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
Video part 2 of 2 – Brian Chesky – Founder of Airbnb @ Startup School 2010

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

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!


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:

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 –

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:

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. 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:


Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) – why it matters

So Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) was held at Facebook HQ (Headquarters) on the 23rd of August 2010. 164  people attended that afternoon event. A very healthy turnout with alot of interesting people from all sorts of industries working on many exciting projects thirsty to find out how to integrate with Facebook.

What is OGP and what does it do for you?

Open Graph Protocol (OGP) is a light-weight version of Semantic Web and it is implemented using RDFa. The OGP enables you to integrate your Web pages into the social graph. It is currently designed for Web pages representing profiles of real-world things — things like movies, sports teams, celebrities, and restaurants. Once your pages become objects in the graph, users can establish connections to your pages as they do with Facebook Pages. Based on the structured data you provide via the Open Graph protocol, your pages show up richly across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.

Let’s OGP enable my website – step by step guide

To turn any web page into graph objects, we need to add basic metadata to a page.

Let’s take a look at my photography website ( and how I implemented the Facebook Like button with Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP).

1. I added the following 7 “must have” metadata properties into my page (bands.foto). If you want to know the detail on each metadata the see this site There are only 4 required properties (the 1st four) but the others are a must in my opinion in order to provide more detail to Facebook about your page.

<!-- Facebook Open Graph -->
<meta property="og:title" content="Band Photography" />
<meta property="og:type" content="website" />
<meta property="og:url" content="" />
<meta property="og:image" content="" />
<!-- recommended -->
<meta property="og:description" content="Band photographer based in San Francisco, Sydney & New York" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Ernest Semerda Photography" />
<!-- admin -->
<meta property="fb:admins" content="ernestsemerda" />

It’s important that fb:admin is added (last property) since without it you will not be able to administer your page’s Object Graph in Facebook.

2. Next generate the Facebook Like button using Facebook’s own tool located here:

3. Copy the iframe html code Facebook generates based on the properties you opted for and paste it into your web page where you want the Like button to appear.

General rules of the Like button:

  • Make it easy for users to Like things on your site. Place the Like button close to the object they are liking.
  • When publishing, use only the ‘voice’ of the object. For example, if users are liking an actor in a TV show, that actor should publish stories about themselves, not general information on the show, or the TV network.

4. Check your final work using Facebook’s URL Linter. Thanks Paul Tarjanto from Facebook for creating this cool tool. So enter the URL of the page you pasted the Like button and hit Lint (submit). Linter uses the same code that is used for the Like button and other Open Graph Protocol consumptions. Therefore, it gives you the closest possible match as to how your page will be treated when it’s crawled in production.

5. Congratulations, your done! Click on the Like button to test it out.

Why is this important?

Once your page is Liked, it will become an object in the Facebook graph where users can establish connections to the page as they do with Facebook Pages. Based on the structured data provided via the Open Graph protocol, the pages can show up richly across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed. For example, since I’m using og:type=website, clicking on Like will make my band photography page appear under your “Info” tab in the “Likes and interests” section. Give it a shot.

As the admin (me in this case) will have access to a Facebook Page like section for my web page hosting the Like button. As shown below. This provides insights (statistics) on Active Users, Likes, Views, Feedback and allows me to “market” my web page across Facebook. A double win!

Facebook Page like Insights (statistics) on Active Users, Likes, Views, Feedback etc.

Gold nugget from this meetup

Mike Messenger on posted a true gold nugget:

“Facebook may begin pulling RSS data from pages with like buttons in order to deliver updates about these pages automatically to those who have liked then. This is HUGE! – Facebook now accepts Non-Official OG:types and will consider making official any og:type which reaches critical velocity.”

Totally agree with Mike. It’s better to be ready then come to the party late. Which is why this blog and my personal development blog already carry Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol Like buttons. Here’s to Semantic Web, better search engine results & web exposure for marketers.

Slides from the presentation

The slides from this Facebook presentation are now available for download here:

If you want more information about Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) go here:

Are you OGP connected?

If you are already using (or just installed) Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) please share it here with the rest of the online community. Would love to see the various ways this great feature is being used. Happy Facebooking and here’s to Semantic Web!


Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most

I just finished reading a New York Times business best seller which geeked me out big time. It’s called Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. The book is based on 15 years of research at the Harvard Negotiation Project. The content walks the reader through a step-by-step approach with examples demonstrating how to have approach and handle these conversations with less stress and more success. Let’s face it, no matter how competent we are, we all have conversations that cause anxiety and frustrations. This book is the golden goose that helps us tackle these issues at home, on the job, or out in the world.

The core of difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values. They are not about what a contract states, they are about what a contract means. They are not about being hurt by an action or word they are about how that action or word was interpreted and the impact on our values, what it meant to me. These are not question of right or wrong, but questions of interpretation and judgement.

If your time poor then you can now stop reading because I just told you the holy grail of difficult conversations. If you want to learn more, keep on reading.

Don’t assume their intentions

It’s important to never assume the intentions of the person you are dealing with because your thinking how you feel about them will be affected by it and ultimately, how the conversation goes. So never assume we know the intentions of others when we don’t. The truth is, intentions are invisible. We assume them from other people’s behavior. In other words, we make them up, we invent them.

Because our view of others’ intentions (and their views of ours) are so important in difficult conversations, leaping to unfounded assumptions can be a disaster.

This shadows what I learnt back in May 2010 at Jeff Slayter’s seminar on the best kept secrets of modern day heroes and leaders. Jeff shared with us this same concept to never judge a person without first separating their “Behavior” from their “Intentions”. Separating these two allows you to delve open-minded and find that their intentions are not as bad as their behavior may be making us think. This is also the trait of a successful leader to be able to see past the behavior of their followers and understand their true intentions – only then is a leader capable of truly understanding their followers.

Best approach to take when communicating

If you need to deal with faults in your difficult conversation, instead of talking about those faults which automatically put people into defense & denial mode, figure out:

  1. 1. What kept them from seeing it coming and
  2. 2. How to prevent the problem from happening again.

What we are trying to do here is explore why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward since talking about blame distracts us from a resolution.

So, instead of trying to persuade and get your way, you want to understand what has happened from the other person’s point of view, explain your viewpoint of view, share and understand feelings, and work together to figure out a way to manage the problem going forward.

“Life is just one damn thing after another.” ~ Stone, Patton, and Heen

A difficult conversations checklist

Here is a checklist to follow when having a difficult discussion:

Source: Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Patton, and Heen; p 232-233

Step 1: Prepare by Walking Through the Three Conversations
1. Sort out What happened
  • Where does your story come from (information, past experiences, rules)? Theirs?
  • What impact has this situation had on you?
  • What might their intentions have been

2. Understand Emotions

  • Explore your emotional footprint, and the bundle of emotions you experience

3. Ground Your Identity

  • What’s at stake for you about you? What do you need to accept to be better grounded?
Step 2: Check your purposes and Decide Whether to Raise the Issue
Purposes: What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation? Shift your stance to support learning, sharing, and problem-solving.


  • Is this the best way to address the issue and achieve your purposes?
  • Is the issue really embedded in your Identity Conversation?
  • Can you affect the problem by changing your contributions?
  • If you don’t raise it, what can you do to help yourself let go?
Step 3: Start from the Third Story
  1. 1. Describe the problem as the difference between your stories.
    Include both viewpoints as a legitimate part of the discussion.
  2. 2. Share your purposes.
  3. 3. Invite them to join you as a partner in sorting out the situation together.
Step 4: Explore Their Story and Yours
  • Listen to understand their perspective on what happened.
    Ask questions.
    Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations.
    Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it.
    Try to unravel how the two of you got to this place.
  • Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, feelings.
  • Reframe, reframe, reframe to keep on track. [cf. page 204]
    From truth to perceptions
    From accusations to Intentions and impact
    From blame to contribution
    From Judgments, Characterizations to feelings
    From “What’s wrong with you” to “What’s going on for them”
Step 5: Problem-Solving
  • Invent options that meet each side’s most important concerns and interests.
  • Look to standards for what should happen.
    Keep in mind the standard of mutual care-taking; relationships that always go one way rarely last.
  • Talk about how to keep communication open as you go forward

Three Conversations

Use the following with the checklist above in Step 1: Prepare by Walking Through the Three Conversations.

Source: Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Patton, and Heen; p 18-19

Conversation A Battle of Messages A Learning Conversation
The “What Happened?” conversation.Challenge: The situation is more complex than either person can see Assumption: I know all I need to know to understand what happened

Goal: persuade them I’m right

Assumption: Each of us is bringing different information and perceptions to the table; there are likely to be important things that each of us doesn’t know

Goal: Explore each other’s stories: how we understand the situation and why.

Assumption: I know what they intended

Goal: Let them know what they did was wrong

Assumption: I know what I intended, and the impact their actions had on me. I don’t and can’t know what’s in their head.

Goal: Share the impact on me, and find out what they were thinking. Also find out what impact I’m having on them.

Assumption: It’s all their fault. (Or it’s all my fault.)

Goal: Get them to admit blame and take responsibility for making amends.

Assumption: We have probably both contributed to this mess.

Goal: Understand the contribution system; how our actions interact to produce this result.

The Feeling Conversation.Challenge: The situation is emotionally charged. Assumption: Feelings are irrelevant and wouldn’t be helpful to share. (Or, my feelings are their fault and they need to hear about them.)

Goal: Avoid talking about feelings. (Or let ’em have it!)

Assumption: Feelings are the heart of the situation. Feelings are usually complex. I may have to dig a bit to understand my feelings.

Goal: Address feelings (mine and theirs) without judgments or attributions. Acknowledge feelings before problem solving.

The Identity ConversationChallenge: The situation threatens our identity. Assumption: I’m competent or incompetent, good or bad, lovable or unlovable. There is no in-between.

Goal: Protect my all-or-nothing self-image.

Assumption: There may be a lot at stake psychologically for both of us. Each of us is complex, neither of us is perfect.

Goal: Understand the identity issues on the line for each of us. Build a more complex self-image to maintain my balance better.

It’s always best to assume that you will encounter difficult discussions, even when you have mastered the ins and our of discussing what matters most. The difference now is that having this knowledge on how to handle difficult discussions allows you to know that it’s okay to talk about them, so the misunderstandings may not be as emotionally draining and are less likely to threaten the relationship.

Here’s to discussing what matters most!
~ Ernest