Ryan Block

Founding something new

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 28, 2015

Discussion

Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
Hey, I’m Ryan, and I just started work on my next company (which I can’t really talk about just yet since it’s still so early). Back in the day I used to design and build stuff on the internet, then I wrote about technology for a while, then I got back to the business of building stuff on the internet. Most recently I co-founded Alpha, the consumer products lab at Aol (which acquired my last company). I also occasionally invest and advise in products and companies I’m super passionate about. You know what to do!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Ryan! Welcome. You recently announced your departure from Aol where you headed up the Alpha team (more in Ryan's blog post for everyone else). You knew this question was coming... Can you share any details on what you're working on and why you felt now was the right time to found another company?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@rrhoover not yet, sorry! I'm not being coy, I just think it's too early. When you're at the earliest stages of a startup, so much can change. It really doesn't benefit anyone for me to be talking about stuff that isn't firm yet. Why now? I'm a really big believer in focus. We do better work when we're focused, and I think we're happier when we have the privilege of being able to give more of our attention to fewer things. I had a really great time doing so many interesting, crazy projects at Aol, but it definitely was time for me to get back to putting all my attention on a single problem space that I'm really passionate about.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
You can't say what you're working on , but can you tell us the process for how you picked what's next, and what frameworks you'd recommend for others looking to build their next thing?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@eriktorenberg we're still mid process on everything, but I think far more important than the tools you use to build stuff is the people whom you're building it with. I'm incredibly stoked about my co-founder and founding team right now. Seriously honored to be working with them. (More there soon!) In terms of what we're actually using, our early stuff right now is being built on Node, with React + Express. We're really digging Dynamo, too.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
1) You've worked in a bunch of different environments - how do you look at the arc of your career looking backwards? 2) Also - What have you not accomplished yet that feels most pressing?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@eriktorenberg early on in my career, building for the web in the late 90s and early 2000s, it wasn't entirely clear how to turn that into a career, especially post-crash. Spending a few years deep in the world of writing about technology really honed my thinking about product experiences, partly because it's such a didactic profession (and as they say, the best way to learn is to teach). I've got a blog post to write about that at some point. The last few years of building gdgt and then leading all kinds of teams post-acquisition (from a next-gen CMS initiative, to design leadership, to co-founding a product lab) have been part of the most rapid, deep learning I've had in my career to date. I highly recommend it! Heh. I'm not thinking a ton about accomplishments, but I am very passionate about building something that people love and that actually helps them in some identifiable way. Ideally without ads.
Pavel@vulkanoff · Digital Marketer
How do you validate ideas before you start building? Do you use a particular process or each case is different?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@vulkanoff every case is definitely different! But gathering feedback is the high order bit. A few pointers: it's really important to make your idea real by whatever means you can, even if it's just sketches in a notebook. Do it not just for yourself to better understand the idea and problem, but to help illustrate it to others when gathering feedback. Try to identify people who aren't inclined to just shoot down early ideas (as it happens, most people are inclined to just dismiss things out of hand) and share your concept with them. Keep iterating and refining your idea, and showing it to as many smart people as who will listen. An idea is a raw material, like ore. It's fragile, and hard to identify as being something great, so it requires a ton of refinement. If you've found something you're passionate about, keep at it, keep socializing it, and get as much feedback as possible. I'll leave you with this tweet by Nolan Bushnell: https://twitter.com/NolanBushnel...
Mason English@masonenglish
Do you have a planned or ideal timeframe to announce this secret upcoming project?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@masonenglish nope, sorry!
Nick K@nickkalkounis · Product Manager
What mobile app do you use that helps you organize your life? Are there any other apps that you use on a daily basis and would find difficult living without?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@nickkalkounis I think the world would be a less wonderful place without Fantastical, Simplenote, Slack. But outside a handful, I haven't found too many life-organizing products that I think are great (or that I'd even describe as designed for humans). Maybe that'll be something I take a look at. Ahem.
Sebastian M@sebastian_ski · Founder, Feedsort.com
@ryan When should someone stop bootstrapping the business them self and seek outside investment? Also what is a good way to spread the word out about a business?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@sebastian_ski off the top of my head? I think the founder of an early stage company should probably only seek outside investment if they meet the following criteria: 1a You've got a product in market that your customers are telling you is amazing, or 1b You've got a killer idea that you've turned into a prototype. So you should be able to show something. 2. If 1b, I'd suggest seeking investment from professional investors (even if only angels), who are best qualified to help you validate your product idea; also if 1b, if you can realistically recruit a great team to help you build it. 3. You've got a co-founder. 4. Your product and company have a big opportunity, and a reasonable chance of success at making a dent at that opportunity.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey Ryan thanks for joining us today! What do you enjoy most out of the varied roles and hats that you wear; building products, writing about cool products, and leading awesome teams?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@ems_hodge building, leading, and contributing to a high functioning team is absolutely the most fulfilling aspect of building something. It's kind of indescribable. It's also utterly terrifying and lonesome (as is sometimes discussed in founders circles, but not nearly enough) since so much rides on your ability to guide that team to a good place.
Sebastian M@sebastian_ski · Founder, Feedsort.com
Do you have a designer on your team from the start or do you bring them in later once the core product is functional? Also do you use SCRUM with your teams? Lastly, is a co-founder mandatory why or why not?
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
You've already achieved so much and we're excited to hear what's happening next, but what has been the most memorable moment of your career to date? What has been the proudest moment of your career to date? And why? Thank! :)
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@ems_hodge thanks, but I only feel like I'm early on in my career! I really don't feel like I've gotten nearly as much done as I'd like. One thing I think helps in retro and reflection is not focusing too much on specific moments, but on longer arcs. How we respond to single, individual circumstances (especially in business) is usually far less important than how we persist over weeks or months or years. Related, having had an amazing pool of mentors to learn from is something I'm incredibly grateful for. The folks in my sphere have taught me so much, not just in how to operate a startup, but also how to conduct oneself in business and life. Find those people and hold onto them.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Welcome @ryan! You're one of my favorite guests on This Week in Startups and I enjoy your podcast, MVP. Do you have any podcasts you listen to regularly or recommend? Or perhaps tech newsletters or blogs that you highly recommend? Thanks!
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@alexcartaz I'm not huge on newsletters, since like most people I generally try not to spend any more time in email than is absolutely necessary. I love all the popular shows you probably already know (TAL, Serial, 99PI, Radiolab, Freakonomics), but a few other standouts are Invisibilia, Hardcore History, Song Exploder (which I wish the episodes were like 2x longer), The Memory Palace, and, of course, Reply All. (Something I just realized: Reply All is actually the only show about technology I listen to. Hm!) Can I just say that as someone who was podcasting (almost entirely with @peterrojas) since the very beginning of podcasting in 2004/2005, I am pretty stoked by how far this medium has come. The variety and quality of great shows out there these days is utterly astounding.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
@ryan thanks, I totally agree! =)
Safarali Ramazonov@safarnov · Founder,Univio
@ryan Good morning Ryan. You told you occasionally invest and advise in products and companies You are super passionate about. Do you invest in EdTech?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@safarnov I'm a huge believer in the need for a massive, soup to nuts overhaul of how we educate kids in the 21st century, but I'll admit that I'm not very deep in the space at all. What do I need to know?
Marty Mankins@martymankins · Post Prod, Penguin Bytes Productions
Was your leave from AOL a complete handoff or is there a after-support in place for the Alpha team that they can contact you with any details related to ongoing projects? And thanks for continuing the MVP podcast with Peter.
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@martymankins I left Alpha in the hands of our top product person, Drew, who is pretty fantastic. I can't wait to see our second batch of products land! P.S. This was pretty hilarious: https://twitter.com/kevinjonas/s... https://twitter.com/kevinjonas/s...
Drew Lesicko@drewtodd01 · Product Director, AOL Alpha
@ryan @martymankins I agree. That guy is pretty fantastic!
Adrian Thomas@adrianthomas · Product Manager, equinux AG
@ryan How long until Peter joins the new venture and you two sell it back to AOL? ;)
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@adrianthomas believe it or not, Peter and I are allowed to do separate things! Although I am hopeful he and Betaworks will invest in what we're doing. (No pressure, Peter!)
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@adrianthomas oh, and as an aside, you never know but I'm pretty sure Aol probably won't be interested in what I'm working on next.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
What's on your homescreen, @ryan?
Ryan Block@ryan · Cofounder of Begin
@rrhoover just two things: my prototype and Product Hunt, naturally!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@ryan haha <3. Can't wait to show you the new iOS app.