Platforms are systems on which applications are built. Applications are built on top of platforms. Applications are things end users interact with. Platforms are things applications interact with. Twilio is a platform for building telephony platforms. Airbnb uses Twilio to power their guest/host communication application.
Are we all cool?
One of the most frustrating things about winding down Ordr.in is never having been able to tell anyone to fuck off
— Felix Sheng (@felix)
Being sued by a patent troll felt surreal and scary. I hated the time suck and the money lost and the horrific sense of injustice. And I was afraid other trolls would decide we were wounded, vulnerable to a quick hit. Like many troll victims I kept my mouth shut, my head down and hoped the whole mess would go away.
Privately I raged against the USPTO for issuing such obvious, ambiguous dreck. And I railed against the people who patented (among many things) entering menu data into a form so the menu can be displayed on a device. I paid my lawyers and cried. Some nights I had to slide my hands under my pillow to keep my fingers from clenching in tight fists. The overwhelming feeling of injustice was ever-present. Some douchebag effectively claimed ownership of a massive swathe of the internet with lawsuits against Apple, Eventbrite, Hyatt, Micros, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Fandango, OpenTable, Expedia, GrubHub, Hotel Tonight, Starbucks, and many startups like Ordr.in. What patent, granted in 1998, could possibly be relevant to this range of companies? None of us, even direct competitors with their own patents, are suing each other.
Between the normal challenges of building a company and the added burdens of the lawsuit, we failed to thrive and shut down this month. I feel shitty in many ways but one I way I feel free and excited is the fight against B.S. patent trolling. Come and get me suckers! My company is gone, I’m broke, and I have a megaphone.
What do I care about most? Right now it is passing HR 9, The Innovation Act, working its’ way through the House. A companion bill is expected soon in the Senate. These bills focus on patent litigation abuse which is the hammer trolls use to pound their victims. Check out the App Alliance press release for perspective and join their Troll Fighter movement. You are especially important to this fight if you live in a State represented by Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee or are represented by members of the House Judiciary Committee (or live close to their districts). Send an email and let them know you are in favor of The Innovation Act.
And if you have been attacked by a troll your personal story has power to open minds, to counteract the through-the-looking glass logic of the anti-reform movement. I have seen opinions change in a simple conversation. Legislators and their staff only know what they are taught. We must teach them this is pro-innovator, pro-startup and pro-jobs. If you have a story about being trolled, please contact me or the App Alliance. You can truly make a difference, even confidentially. When I was first sued I did an anonymous video interview about the experience. It was #1 on Reddit for an afternoon. Think of how many people got the message! There are ways to communicate that don’t leave you feeling exposed.
Patent reform is a bi-partisan issue that has many supporters, often with differing reasons. That is what makes this a powerful moment. But it won’t happen without support from the community. This is what I am devoting myself to while I get my feet back under me. It is a worthy cause for us all.
I was sitting on the couch with tears in my eyes. I had just hit save on changes to my startup’s website, adding a nifty announcement bar across the top that said “2011-2015. Beloved startup of David, Felix and many wonderful colleagues. We are now closed. Thanks for all the fish.”
This is one of the things you do when your startup shuts down. You tell people. So I told, and I was definitely very sad. My wife asked how I was doing. She’s been my biggest fan and constant supporter. I looked at her and said “I’m okay.” And I was. How fucked up is that?
Founding a startup, for me, was a constant exercise in running along the cliff edge while trying to grow wings. The highs were super high, the lows super low. And there were so many massive swings, sometimes multiple times a day. The hardest part was not the surviving the lows but the constant shifting, the never knowing what the hour would bring. The EEG rhythms of normal life look like ripples on the pond compared to the seismographs of startup life. I have proof*:
Like hands on a jackhammer, my brain grew numb to the vibrations of founder life and the range I considered “normal” expanded steadily over time. Our first client, first term sheet, first term sheet not signed, landing a massive client, getting into TechStars, paying myself a salary, telling my wife I was skipping paychecks, and then more paychecks, having our credit card suspended…again, the perfect hire, being recognized on the subway, firing the team….After four years it took a lot to throw me.
Maybe it’s the Lexapro but the emotions of finally hitting publish on the going out of business announcement fell in the normal range. Tears be damned.
*Proof is completely fictional but it feels right.
Most life blogs talk about starring up at a cliff, giving advice about how to get to the top. Start climbing and don’t stop. Don’t look down. Climb as though your life depends on it. Visualize being at the top. Glory for the taking. Just do as I do.
This is not one of those blogs.
This is about being at the bottom of the cliff because you fell off and landed on your ass. Well, my ass. I fell on my ass. And it is also the voice I had privately as a founder. The thoughts and aggravations that I wanted to talk about but didn’t because it was off brand. Well, world. It is all on-brand now!