Episode 9: Writely (Google Docs)

Ben and David continue the cloud productivity saga with Google Docs. They examine the suite of acquisitions made by Google with a focus on Writely in 2006. They tackle:

  • The nuts and bolts of the Upstartle (company behind Writely) acquisition, founded by Sam Schillace, Steve Newman and Claudia Carpenter.
  • SaaS offerings in cloud productivity today.
  • Was this a good idea for Google?
  • Google's future bets.
  • A new section: The Carve Out!

 

Full Transcript below: (disclaimer: may contain unintentionally confusing, inaccurate and/or just-plain-hilarious transcription errors)

 

Ben:

Welcome back to episode 9 of Acquired. The show where we talk about technology acquisitions that actually went well.

I'm Ben Gilbert.

 

David:

I'm David Rosenthal.

 

Ben:

And we are your hosts. 

This week we are going to be covering an older acquisition but following a theme from our last episode in productivity software. We're going to be covering what became the eventual suite known as Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets and ... Is it Google Presentations? Google Slides.

 

David:

I think it started as Presentations.

 

Ben:

Yeah, and then it was Presentations, Spreadsheets and Docs.

 

David:

The product of many names.

 

Ben:

There were a whole ton of companies that actually contributed to this. David will go through the acquisition history and facts, but largely focus around Writely, which eventually became Google Docs. Yes.

A reminder that if you enjoyed the show, leave us a review on iTunes. We would love any feedback.

 

David:

Or you can hit us up on Twitter, @acquiredFM.

 

Ben:

Yeah. Now let's dive in the show. David, do you want to do acquisition history and facts?

 

David:

As always Ben.

Dear listeners, let's transport back in time to the mid-2000s, Web 2.0 is in full swing. Ajax, the browser technology that enabled live dynamic updating of websites just come out, and a group of technologist from Intuit had decided to start a little crew to dabble in what they could do with Ajax.

They founded a company that they called Upstartle. I love that name.

 

Ben:

So bubble.

 

David:

So Web 2.0. They ran through a couple of projects and landed on a product that they called Writely. It was collaborative document editing in the cloud. I don't know if they called it that “cloud” at the time.

 

Ben:

Yeah. Which now seems so table stakes.

 

David:

Absolutely. Founded by Sam Schillace, Claudia Carpenter and Steve Newman. They worked on it for a couple of years, it was in beta. They had a few thousand users. In March 2006, Google announces that they had acquired the company for an undisclosed amount, rumored in the $10 million range.

What's interesting, they only hired one person over those to years. It was the three founders and one other Intuit employee, former Intuit employee, Jennifer Mazzon. They all joined Google and became PMs in Google Docs.

What's interesting is that this was actually the second acquisition that Google had made in their online office productivity suite. The first was another company, a smaller company in New York called 2Web, 2Web Technologies that they'd actually acquired in 2005 that was working on Excel2Web.

 

Ben:

That was something that they brought into Google Labs, right? I think Google Labs created the first Google Spreadsheets before Google Docs even launched.

 

David:

Yes. This was all happening right around the same time. Google Spreadsheet launched in Labs in June 2006. Writely was acquired in March 2006. Shortly thereafter, in the beginning of 2007, Google Docs, based on Writely, was released publicly.

 

Ben:

Yeah. I think it was Docs and Spreadsheets were actually merged right around that time. You could go to docs.google.com. I remember the header actually said Google Docs and Spreadsheets, one big long thing. It looked like they just took the Spreadsheets view and just interjected some of your Docs in there and you could sort by date. That was pretty much all the integration they had.

 

David:

Yup. Shortly after that launched, Google acquired two more companies in 2007, Tonic Systems and Zenter, which was an early Y Combinator company. Both of which were working on presentation software for the browser.

 

Ben:

That's right. Tonic, largely the back end, and Zenter, largely the front end.

 

David:

It's pretty amazing how quickly Google turned these acquisitions around. September 2007 presentations was launched, and finally, there is now a full suite of Microsoft Office-esque productivity software in the Cloud.

 

Ben:

That's right. But don't ask Eric Schmidt that. When they announced Google Docs and Spreadsheets, he definitely told a gigantic audience full of people that they were not indeed competing with Microsoft and it was not a competitor to Office.

 

David:

I wonder if our last episode's guest, Kurt DelBene was listening at that time.

 

Ben:

Yeah.

 

David:

Some might say the rest is history. However, interesting side note of history: in 2007, the same year these final acquisitions happened and the full suite was released by Google, June of 2007, Dropbox has founded.

 

Ben:

Yeah. That's interesting. You look at the bet that Google is making here. This happened so fast. This all happens within a year and a half span. All of a sudden they have a full suite here. They definitely went through and made very strategic acquisitions here, but built a lot of an in-house.

I think what they acquired was super bare bones at each of these applications. All pretty inexpensive. These are all rumored approximately $10 million acquisitions.

Last episode, we were talking with Kurt DelBene and we were looking at what Microsoft paid for Acompli and Wunderlist and Sunrise. That totals somewhere around half a billion dollars. When Google is getting in to dabble in this game, which is really inventing the market for cloud productivity, super cheap, because people weren't flocking there yet. People didn't realize that, "Oh! I need collaboration tools in real time where I can look at the other person's cursor in my document." It was largely a toy at that point.

 

David:

Yup. These are all really interesting examples of the buy versus build that we were talking about with Kurt a little bit last week. What's interesting and one of the reasons I brought up Dropbox being founded around then. All these companies, these five or so companies that Google acquired that became the backbone of Google Docs, there were all these rumors. I don't know if you remembered then around the time for years about the mythical G Drive.

 

Ben:

Google Drive. Yeah. It's right.

 

David:

The G Drive. It was coming. It was coming.

 

Ben:

It was the Dropbox killer.

 

David:

It was the Dropbox killer, and it didn't launch until 2012. One could imagine, we mentioned Zenter, it was an early Y Combinator company as was Dropbox. How might history have been different if Google had decided that they would accelerate their drive efforts by acquiring Dropbox or Box at the same time.

 

Ben:

Yeah, it'd be interesting.

 

David:

Very interesting.

With that, should we move on to acquisition category?

 

Ben:

Yeah, let's do it, because I think there's a lot of ... This episode, I'm most interested in fast forwarding to today and looking at how does this impact Google's business as a whole. I think ... Yeah, happy to just blow right through acquisition history and facts now on to acquisition category.

To me, technology. I think all of these acquisitions, primarily Writely, were these experimental Ajax apps and everybody was seeing what they could do with Ajax at the time. Google Maps I remember, it was a very flashy demo example of that. I think there were a few different people later on, Etherpad, but a few different companies playing around with collaborative editing. I think content editable was the new hottest thing in browser technology that they took advantage of.

This is just acquiring the people that were doing that right. I think technology and people acquisition, knowing that there was a lot of technology to build in-house, to really turn it into a product that was marketable.

 

David:

Yup. It's interesting. I was going to go with business line for this category, but this is such a ... When we talked about doing this episode, we said it was going to be on Writely. As we were doing research, we realized there are these really five or so companies, all these ...

 

Ben:

None of them ... Too much further along

 

David:

Exactly. I think this really ... To me, crystallized this being a classic. Google decided they wanted to get into the business of productivity apps and they wanted to take typically Google bent on it and put them in the browser instead of being installed software on your PC. They decided to get into this business and made the judgment that buying was going to be a faster way to get there than building in-house.

 

Ben:

Yeah, it sure does feel like a case study in the buy versus build. I think that dropping, let's say, $50 million shortcutted their time to market dramatically and put all that brain power in-house right away.

 

David:

What's interesting is it's also ... I think in blending a little bit in the tech themes here, but ... I don't know what Google thought at the time in terms of their strategy, but as the battleground for productivity software has really evolved at that time, it was Word and Excel and PowerPoint installed on your computer. To now, this whole suite of not just those applications but also your e-mail. Also, your cloud services as an organization.

What do your ... Not only the third-party software you're running, which is your e-mail, which is your word processing, which is your spreadsheets, but also your internal company apps that you're running on. Whether that's AWS or Google Cloud Engine or Microsoft Azure, as that's really evolved in the last few years, it's almost been this mix within Google, that they bought the traditional productivity software. The e-mail piece with Gmail and the cloud piece which we can argue about how much success they've had there relative to Amazon, they built in-house. Interesting.

 

Ben:

Yeah. There is the question now of ... Before we get into what would have happened otherwise. David, do you think that Google should have gotten into productivity at all? Let's zoom out, look at Google as a business, it's an advertising business primarily driven by AdWords and you search and people click and Google gets a cut.

That has always been their cash cow. For the foreseeable future, it looks to be the largest source of their revenue. Working backwards from that, you either have to believe that that is, at some point, not going to become their largest revenue or that that's going to rely on some data or some asset provided by, it could be customers, by the productivity applications. Does it make sense for them to be in the productivity game at all?

 

David:

Yeah, it's a good question. My sense is that Google for a long time has been looking for that what's next.

 

Ben:

Yeah. In fact, their revenues now are reported, since they are Alphabet now, we should be saying Alphabet’s. Alphabet’s revenues now are reported as Google and other bets. They're so fascinated with this what's the next widget that they've restructured their entire company, their reporting scheme and their leadership structure around it.

 

David:

It's interesting, and Microsoft has this challenge too for a long time. They were the Windows company, the operating system company for a long time. I think perhaps longer than a lot of people would have expected, that has continued to be an incredible cash cow for them.

Now, we're in the throes, as we talked with Kurt last week about, "What is Microsoft today?" It's a mobile first cloud first company. It's not an operating system, an office company. For Google, they're the search company. They've been the search company now for nearly 20 years.

 

Ben:

Wow! I feel old.

 

David:

Yeah. Not quite 20 years, but 18 years. Google is going to college. Google graduating from high school this year and they're going to college.

 

Ben:

If we had a coy name for naming episodes, that's what we'd name this one.

 

David:

I think this is a big part of the question of what is Google want to be when it grows up? Actually, I think a relevant other acquisition clashing forward to today, Google recently acquired a company called Bebop which was founded by Diane Greene, who is the founder of VMware. Diane was on Google's board.

Bebop was nominal. They hadn't released their product. It was still in stealth, but nominally making productivity software for the enterprise. Now, I don't think it was Word and Excel type productivity software, but it was software about helping enterprises build their applications. Diane is now taking over the entire cloud business for Google. Which includes all of Google apps and Google for work.

 

Ben:

Yeah, it's interesting. Two directions I want to go with this. The first one is, okay, maybe clearly they've been obsessed with big bets the whole time. Google itself, the core project back rub, the whole academic research project into organizing the world's information and releasing the best search engine and the one that's the most sustainable on an ongoing basis. That was an enormous bet.

I think that now they're thinking totally crazy with these moonshot ideas. When they started with Google Docs in 2006, they weren't doing self-driving cars. They weren't doing balloons that deliver internet. They were doing a lot of these huge projects.

Maybe this felt like a possible big bet to them for the future of their company, looking at Microsoft and seeing that productivity of that era was such a cash cow and is just now dwarfed by how big they're thinking with all their current big bets. This was an early on possible big bet that we're seeing that's legacy. I'm not sure Google would go into this space starting today.

 

David:

Yup. I agree. It's interesting to go back to that time, and I wonder if Google ... Sitting here today in 2016, Microsoft, as much as they've had a resurgence in the last couple of years. They're not as relevant in terms of the most important strategic players into landscaping technology.

Going back to the mid-2000s with Google looking at Microsoft, and I wonder if they saw the Windows Office, two legs of the stool, the non-balancing stool and thought, "Gosh! Those two core businesses in an operating system and productivity." and they thought about themselves and said, "If we want to be like Microsoft, our analogy for operating systems is search. We're the operating system of the web. What is the productivity on the web?" When you think about when they started Google Docs, that was what it was and still is to a large extent to this day.

 

Ben:

Yeah, it makes total sense in that context. I think that if we're looking at this three to five years ago rather than looking at it today, I'd be sitting here preaching or, I guess, singing the praises of Google as this is one of the most classic examples ever of low-end disruption. You have the big thing that the enterprise people are buying with ... These companies that need every single last feature of office. Even though any given person only uses 5% of it. Most of them use the same 5%, but you need all those features because that's how you get the big enterprise contract.

 

David:

As you know well. Did you stuff all 100% of those features into office for iPad?

 

Ben:

No. It's fun, we got to rethink the lightweight productivity we called it. Which is super fun. In low-end disruption, you get this new person that comes along, Google in this case, with Google Docs. Everything is a total toy. If doesn't have any other features that the enterprise need. They're giving it away for free.

At the end of the day, there are so many people that look at that real time collaboration available on the web, cloud storage as like, "Wait. This is way more important to me than all those old things that colloquially everyone believed were necessary.

I think the difference of where we're sitting today from a few years ago is I don't think it fulfilled its low-end disruption promise of unseating the incumbent. I was all braced and ready for Office to become less relevant and Google Docs to be the future, and them to slowly add on the rich feature that people would call the new incumbent.

 

David:

Let me ask you, I'm curious. You guys started Pioneer Square Labs in 2015.

 

Ben:

Uh-huh.

 

David:

Do you have on either your computers or via Office 365 Word Excel and PowerPoint?

 

Ben:

We do because of BizSpark. BizSpark is the Microsoft program that makes a lot of their software available for free to startups.

 

David:

It's interesting. If you didn't have that, would you pay for those? Would you use just Google Docs?

 

Ben:

At least a couple of us would just because any of our legal documents are going to be changed in Word and that needs to have perfect rendering. There are definitely still industries that require high fidelity, perfect rendering of documents.

Anything that I open that ... When I'm writing a quick feature spec or a one pager on an idea or a welcome document that we're going to send out to new users of our application, or anything like that, it's all Google Docs. Really, I'd say anything that I start from scratch these days is Google Docs.

The other direction that I wanted to go with that is when we were talking with Kurt last week and something that's become completely obvious with Amazon's earnings, breaking out AWS, that Azure is very much the future for Microsoft. AWS is already as profitable as an independent business and their entire e-commerce business is in a much shorter time period.

 

David:

For Amazon.

 

Ben:

For Amazon. Sorry.

 

David:

Microsoft wishes that AWS were part of Microsoft.

 

Ben:

Yeah. Microsoft with Azure, Amazon with AWS. A lot of interesting news in the last couple of weeks with Google and Google Cloud Platform. I think there were some news that Apple was moving there. It should have been a tremendous amount of news in the last couple of weeks. Apple developing their own internal cloud, or their own cloud hardware. Apple developing their own hardware to put in their own data centers and run their own cloud infrastructure. Dropbox doing the same thing.

I guess where I'm going with this is in these cloud services you have these three layers. Infrastructure as a service platform, as a service, and then software as a service. Each of these three players, Microsoft, Amazon and Google have all the layers of he stack. They started in different places. Amazon with infrastructure. Microsoft all the way up with software. Google with originally Google app engine with platform as a service.

Do you think as all of these businesses are betting on that being the cash cow of the future, do all of them need all of the layers, or would Google be fine without productivity software and the software as a service layer?

 

David:

It's interesting. This gets a little bit into ... Maybe I'll just jump into it, my sort of tech theme. As we've been describing all of Google's strategic decisions around this business probably made perfect sense to them when they made them in the mid-2000s and even up until a few years ago.

The landscape has changed and the battleground has changed for what productivity is. That's why I brought up, and why you brought this up now and why I was mentioning earlier the cloud and the infrastructure layer. I think, Ben, the answer to your question is no. I think one need look no farther than AWS to see that.

AWS started as infrastructure. That's what they do. Of course, they've moved up the stack and added other things. They aren't offering e-mail. I think there is some Amazon e-mail, but nobody uses it.

 

Ben:

Not as serious. Yeah.

 

David:

Yet they're still at least in inning number, maybe we're in inning number two of the cloud now. They're pretty far and away the leader. It's interesting to think about what could Google have done rather than copying the Microsoft strategy in the mid-2000s of, "Okay. We've got the "operating system", now we're going to do productivity."

Why if they had instead fought Amazon more directly at that point on the infrastructure layer, or gone with another aspect entirely?

 

Ben:

Yeah, it's interesting. I think with Google App Engine, you were locking yourself into Google's proprietary data storage and you had to use Python. When you were looking at the cloud services in inning number one, or the top half, the choices, it wasn't apples to apples at all, because you're like, "Well, I'm going to either build for Google App Engine or I'm not. I don't really get choices around that." or "Amazon, it looks like gives me just one level of abstraction above running my own server, which I think is what I want."

It was interesting how those two companies made enormously different bets there, and Amazon now ...

 

David:

You look at the diversity of companies and enterprises and workloads that have adopted Amazon over the past few years. You mentioned Dropbox moving off of Amazon, but for the longest time, Dropbox ... Amazon won the first round of this fight across productivity because everybody used AWS. Dropbox paid the Amazon tax. There's a great Stratechery article which as our listeners know we are both big fans of Ben Thompson, but his article last week on the Amazon tax is just fantastic.

 

Ben:

Yeah. Before we move off this point, I want to revisit, when I say that the low-end disruption machine failed. Obviously, people use Google Docs all over the place. We even talked about how it's my go-to for the longest time.

 

David:

But it hasn't become a great business for you.

 

Ben:

No. That's the thing. There has been stagnation in Google ... The adoption of Google Apps and the enterprise in a way that if they were really displacing the incumbent, disrupting the incumbent, the world would have moved to whatever their new set of features and new market they were creating. The world would have needed those things. That's not necessarily true from a monetization perspective.

 

David:

To bring back to our last episode, what you've seen happened is this resurgence of Microsoft, of the original winner in this space with, granted, some expensive acquisitions that they've made. As we discussed last week, half a billion or so in total. Office 365 and now Outlook and Outlook mobile to Acompli are winning huge share.

 

Ben:

Yup. I got to find this real quick. There was an interesting point made ... Here we go. About a year and a half ago, Google Apps had doubled the market share of Microsoft's cloud offering according to a research report by Bitglass. The 16% versus 8%, then a whole bunch of people still using, on premise, productivity and e-mail software.

More recently, about six months ago, Office 365 had jumped ahead of Google Apps, 25% versus 23%. It's I think where Microsoft got their act together in office 365 and building the cloud productivity tools.

To be honest ... I worked on what was then Office Web or Word Web app before they were called Office Online. It's actually my internship at Microsoft. It was a joke compared to Google Docs.

I was writing specs and looking at Google Docs for, "How do they do it?" As a reference and then figuring out, "Can we do it better?" "Nope."

 

David:

Not a good place to be as a product team.

 

Ben:

No! No. We were totally trying to fast follow, but built on much older infrastructure and it was a nightmare. What's happened is really the native clients on old platforms at Microsoft had become excellent through building and buying. The cloud applications have held their own. You can do real time collaboration now with Microsoft's applications.

Even if the user experience, which in my opinion of their cloud applications is still below Google's. They're at least able to tell that story to the enterprise and Google hasn't won out.

 

David:

What's really interesting here is that I don't think anyone would argue that the cloud versions of Word and Excel and PowerPoint are greater beating, a resurgent or beating Google Docs, but it doesn't matter.

 

Ben:

Yeah. It's the wrong battleground.

 

David:

It's the wrong battleground. Microsoft is still capturing the majority of the value in productivity. Google is capturing almost zero right now in terms of the dollars being spent by enterprises and individuals on productivity. Amazon is just taking a tax on everybody else.

 

Ben:

Yup. God! This is such a good case study in incentives. I think if I'm ever struggling to understand a business, taking a step back and saying, "What is every party incentivized to do brings instant clarity." Microsoft is a productivity company, operating system productivity company and operating system broadly defined. That will become something much more cloud oriented.

Google is an advertising company. It's not like this low-end disruption was coming from the company that represents the future of productivity. It was coming from an advertising company looking for their next thing. When push comes to shove, Microsoft needs to defend their castle. They weren't defending it against a productivity upstart. They were defending it against an advertising company that was looking at it as an afterthought.

My opinion, the atrophy of Google Docs in fighting that war or in fighting whatever war they should be fighting where it's going is largely because they have problems to think about in the future of their advertising business. What it means as they transition from desktop to mobile? We haven’t even gotten into android yet at all, but I think we’ll stay away from there for now.

 

David:

Yeah, future episode.

 

Ben:

Yeah. They have advertising problems that they need to address there more serious.

 

David:

Yeah, it's a great point. Think about it this way. Your Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and Steve Ballmer and then Satya Nadella. How much is productivity on your mind? What percentage of your mind share does that occupy?

Jeff Bezos is probably zero. Larry Page, I don't know. 10%? Ballmer and then Nadella, 90%. Who's going to win? Maybe not who's going to win, but who's got their back against the wall and has the most at stake to make sure that they give it their best shot?

 

Ben:

It's true. It's true. What would have happened otherwise?

 

David:

It's hard to say. This actually is a really interesting one. Had these companies ... Let's take Writely for instance. Had that been an independent company, launched publicly and let's say they built Google Docs. What would that look like?

 

Ben:

Yeah. It's interesting. Thinking about the incentives, "Then, would we have had a true low-end disruption event where you have a true new productivity company going after an old dinosaur?" or were they still fighting an unimportant battle?

 

David:

Let's look at Box and Dropbox here because these are the closets comps we have.

 

Ben:

Right. Would Writely have gone into storage maybe? Is that interesting?

 

David:

Storage that Box and Dropbox obviously did. Today, who knows what will happen in the future? I think with both of those companies ...

 

Ben:

Apple should buy Dropbox.

 

David:

Well, there's history there.

 

Ben:

It's a different person making that decision now.

 

David:

Yes. We're referring to Steve Jobs' famously offered by Dropbox for a billion dollars I believe? Something around that. I don't know there was ever a firm offer on the table.

 

Ben:

First, he called it a feature, not a company. When he came back with this tail between his legs, then Drew Houston told them that ... Politely declined.

 

David:

Again, who knows what the future holds? Sitting here, March 2016, do we think Box or Dropbox could ever be a company at the scale of Microsoft of Google or Amazon? Personally, I think that's hard to see.

 

Ben:

Yeah. Oh man! If it does go that direction, it's Box going to Microsoft route and Dropbox pioneering some new ... They need consumers to pay, which is really a hard thing to do for utility, file store, thing like that.

 

David:

But if a mythical Writely or Upstartle still existed, would that be more of a contender than a storage focus companY?

 

Ben:

Perhaps what happens is Dropbox buys Upstartle and the you have a true ... The Microsoft equivalent of one drive and word online, and that is the productivity stack.

 

David:

Clearly, Dropbox had these thoughts as well. They bought Mailbox and they bought several other companies.

 

Ben:

God! That is a company that's not good at acquisitions.

 

David:

Future episode.

 

Ben:

All of Dropbox is bodies buried.

 

David:

Yeah.

All right. I already did my tech theme. What do you want to talk about Ben?

 

Ben:

I'd written down that I wanted to draw the analogy to classic low-end disruption. I think we've beat that one pretty good.

 

David:

All right. Should we do conclusion?

 

Ben:

Yeah. And then we've got one more section that we're adding on.

 

David:

Yes. We'll get to that in a minute. Stay tuned.

 

Ben:

Yeah. I gave YouTube a C. That's become a money pit for Google. I think it's a relatively break even business. God! Is that thing expensive to run.

This, not terribly expensive to run, not terribly expensive to buy. Probably expensive from a manpower perspective. It probably just takes a lot of engineers to keep this thing going and develop it.

 

David:

Google does make money on ...

 

Ben:

I think the business unit of Google apps for business is self-sustaining. I'm going to also give it a C, but more because I think it is a distraction for Google and less because I think it's not expensive in terms of dollars. I think it's expensive in terms of opportunity cost of attention.

 

David:

Yeah. Interesting. You're making an argument, not this specific argument, but a category argument that by acquiring these companies and taking a productivity focus strategy for several years, adopting that at Google. It was actually a major distraction from either their core strategy within search or finding another leg of the stool that would e a better fit with their core capabilities as a company. Versus trying to go down a path that they really weren't equipped to succeed in.

 

Ben:

Yeah. I think at the end of the day, Google was looking for a second huge business, much like for Microsoft add Windows and then they had Office. There are some argument that it contributes to their existing business. They were going after selling productivity tools. That just didn't become a huge business for them. It's a decent business. I think it's a self-sustaining business. It's a profitable business, but it's not a Google scale business.

 

David:

Yup. It's not a huge business.

 

Ben:

Right. I think for many years, that was where they were focusing energy. When really, there's a big potential problem with their current business as things go more mobile. Now, they're looking at all these other moonshot opportunities. I think for a long time, they thought productivity could be a second huge business for them.

 

David:

Yeah. I was going to give this acquisition a B for many of the reasons you initially started talking about. It wasn't a huge succeed, but they didn't spent a lot of money. It's not losing a lot of money for them or consuming a lot of capital like YouTube.

I think I'm convinced by your argument because for technology companies where you operate in this battlefield everyday where there this huge fog of war and it's very ... Uncertainty is a way of life. The one resource that you have that's most important for startups and big companies alike, even Apple and Google and Microsoft and Amazon is your focus.

This was a pretty major delusion of focus for Google for a long time. Obviously, they've been very, very successful in things like search and android and many others. That resource is very precious, and for both us working with startups, this is what we coach founders all the time, focus, focus, focus. This is the most important thing. It's all that you have as a startup.

I think I'm convinced Ben. I'm going to be B minus.

 

Ben:

Still more generous than me.

All right. We have a new section, and this is a section where we talk about things that a media, or a movie, or a TV show, or something we're reading, or a book, or a new publication or something where we find fascinating. In true lingo, we're calling this the carve out.

I will start with my carve out from this week. Actually, we'll call it, since the last episode. Bill Simmons launched The Ringer, and for those of you who are not subscribed to The Ringer, it's totally sports focused, but it's really the crown jewel of the Bill Simmons media empire.

After Grantland, after his ... For those of you who don't know. Bill Simmons partnered with ESPN to launch Grantland, which was incredible long form content about sports. It was the most incredibly well-written pros about sports you could ever read that would take you on this journey and make comparisons to pop culture, an event that happened 50 years ago and truly relatable.

Bill Simmons is a gift as a writer. We saw him launched a podcast. Finally, The Ringer, which is the thing that has ... It's starting as an e-mail newsletter in a website. It's a very small staff and it's a new media publication that Bill Simmons has launched after the tumultuous shutdown of Grantland by ESPN. It has probably made sense as a very expensive property.

I'm going to read a quote from the first e-mail that went out, Bill introducing The Ringer. He does this great little section where he talks about all the names that it could have been. This is just one of the reasons why he's a great writer to read.

He's talking about several of the names and the paragraph ends with upper echelon. It sounds like a hedge fund. Barnstorm, it sounds like a horse that would be favored to win the Kentucky Derby. Side 2, too insider. Grantworld, too Ludacris. F off ESPN, too easy.

I think just rarely do you ever get a startup talking about their ridiculous naming meeting. The first e-mail includes the classic photograph of the whiteboard with all the potential names crossed off. It's just like ... It's some of the most relatable writing, even if you're not a sports person. It's just incredibly entertaining.

 

David:

I love it. I love it. I should say too, part of the inspiration for the carve out was my wife Jennie introduced me to two of Slates podcast, the Political Gabfest and the Culture Gabfest. Both of which are excellent and they both do a segment like this. Shout out to Slate and thank you to them.

My carve out for the week is something that I think will ... It picks up on a lot of themes from our show going back to our very first episode. I just finally finished crossed off my reading list, Creativity, Inc. Which is the Pixar book by Ed Catmull.

It is fantastic. One of the best books I have read. Certainly, this year, but in the past few years, best non-fiction books. Ordinarily, I'm pretty tough on business books. They can often be trite and repetitive. This was none of those things.

I think listeners, if you enjoy our show, you will love this book. The one thing I would say from it, there is so many good stories from Steve Jobs stories, to all the Pixar history, and just general management lessons and startup lessons.

My favorite part of it is talking about the creative process and managing that creative process which obviously Pixar is so good at. One of the points that Ed makes in the book is that is it always a struggle. Even at Pixar, they've done this so many times. There's this temptation for them, even within the company, to make it easier, to make it rinse and repeat. Why do they have to struggle every time?

But if you don't have that struggle, you don't get something great. I think that is so applicable to startups. I see it with the companies that I work with. Everyday, there are good times and bad times. Even the companies that, to the outside world, look like it's all ... I'll use my least favorite phrase of “up into the right”, because it's always to the right. It looks like it's up as it goes to the right.

Inside, it's up and down every single day. There are periods of just huge existential challenges. The book talks about that, every Pixar film and every Disney film since the acquisition, it's just had ... If you don't have this crisis, it's very hard to make something great.

 

Ben:

Amen to that. Listeners, we'll leave you here. Thanks for tuning in this week. Visit us on iTunes. Write a review if you liked the show. Tell your friends. See you next time.