December 3, 2011
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“It’s no big deal, it’s just — we have to go away and … and dream it all up again.”
U2 at the Point Depot, Dublin, December 30, 1989
Today was my last day at Ning.
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I wrote on my weblog about looking for the next big thing
, after clevercactus, my previous startup, ran out of funding. I had spent all the money I had pursuing an idea, to the point that for a few days in early December 2004 I couldn’t buy food (I eventually got a contracting job that tied me over for a bit), but I didn’t regret it. More to the point: I was exhausted and more than a little burned out, and I couldn’t really see clearly what I wanted to do next…. except move back to the Valley, and to take on a new challenge.
The response was amazing — many people, most of whom I didn’t know, emailed me to offer advice, help, and some of them, opportunities.
One of those emails was from one Marc Andreessen. I met him, and Gina at their small office (at that time the company was still called 24hourlaundry, “meeting absolutely none of your laundry needs”) in Palo Alto. After five meetings (!) they made an offer and I accepted it “in principle” without even knowing exactly what the idea was –it was that much in stealth mode– and we agreed that if I didn’t like the idea, once they described it in detail, I could say no. Now, it may sound crazy to accept an offer sight-unseen, but I’ve always valued teams more than anything and we had had a great time talking about ideas, the state of the market, and what social could be if it was really pervasive (remember, this was late ’04/early ’05).
I had to go back to Dublin, so we arranged to do a web meeting to go over the idea.
We set up the call, and the first slide went up. No fancy graphics, no eye-catching copy. It just said:
A web platform for social applications
I got it, instantly.
I didn’t hesitate. Before Gina could start talking, I said “where do I sign?”
And that’s where Ning started for me.
I got working on it immediately, on the first piece of the system we needed to boot up the environment, the administrative interface. Funnily enough that interface is basically the one piece of code that still runs relatively unchanged to this day.
What followed was an incredible journey. I became Chief Architect, then VP of Engineering, then CTO, taking the job over from Marc. Throughout all this, we grew from 20 people or so in 2007 to over 120 in 2008, from 100K users in early ’07 to 1MM users in December that year, to 10MM users in December ’08, and beyond that.
We went through a couple of years of people telling us things like “a platform for social networks? Well, I can build that in PHP in a week, why would anyone want that
?” until it somehow became obvious that people would want just that
(and that no, you couldn’t build it in a week), and they would even (gasp!) pay for it. In 2009/2010, acting Chief Product Officer as well as CTO, we designed a new product offering and business model, and then I focused (with just a couple of brilliant engineers) on creating a new mobile product from scratch, Mogwee
Today, just like two years ago, Ning networks register millions of users a month, and have reached people everywhere, even if they don’t know it. A lot of them do know it, though — I’ve met a lot of people that have told me that Ning changed their life, and I can’t even begin to explain how it is that they have actually changed mine.
When Glam Media acquired Ning in September, I decided that it was a good time to start something new. Glam+Ning have great stuff coming up and I look forward to seeing it unveiled in the coming weeks and months, but the itch to go back to being a Pirate
was something I just couldn’t ignore
So, here I am.
I am deeply grateful to Marc and Gina for giving me the opportunity early on to be a part of something amazing, and to the many, many people that contributed to make Ning what it is today, including its Network Creators, who are the most committed user community I’ve had the privilege of working for.
I’ll be starting something new, and I’ll certainly be blogging more over the next few weeks. In theory, I will even be taking time off over the next week or two, but who knows how that’s going to pan out. (A friend said, “Yeah, I can see you taking one or two… days off.” Heh).
And that’s it for now. All I need is some time to… dream it all up again.