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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK
From Oxford to Silicon Valley, part four
By Kulveer Taggar
Chief executive, boso.com / Auctomatic

In my previous piece, I wrote about the virtues of San Francisco as a place to live.

Kulveer Taggar at eBay Live
Kulveer was keen to punch above his weight at eBay Live
It is, of course, typical that since then I've seen very little of it.

We've spent the last six weeks pretty much locked up in our apartment working.

June started off with us preparing for eBay Live in Boston, the online auction company's annual conference.

We paid $3,000 for a tiny 10ft by 10ft (3m by 3m) stand, and spent three days intensely talking to potential customers.

It was tiring, but immensely useful.

We met hundreds of powersellers (sellers who do more than $1,000 (500) of business a month), and learned first hand what it was that they wanted us to build.

Considering we had only a fraction of our competitors' manpower and had spent one-tenth of their budget, we were determined to punch above our weight and get ourselves a decent amount of attention.

The good news is that we were definitely noticed.

Noticed at eBay

We designed and printed off a few hundred t-shirts in San Francisco and had them shipped to our investor Paul Graham's house in Boston at the last minute.

Once they arrived on the morning of the conference, Patrick left to pick them up, only for no-one to be home when he turned up.

After waiting around for a few minutes and facing the prospect of losing hours of valuable time, Patrick saw the boxes lying in the hallway and used his initiative to simply walk in and bring them back, after finding the door unlocked.

Another problem we faced before the conference was the extreme time pressure of buying and setting up our servers.

Since our bank account is in the UK, it took too long for the money to transfer for payment and we were faced with the prospect of having no website to show people.

Step in Paul Buchheit at the last minute, one of our investors and the creator of Gmail, who kindly let us order a few thousand dollars worth of servers on his credit card!

That was a big relief.

'I like being on top'

Back in Boston, we created a bit of a stir with the t-shirts.

The tag line we chose to adopt was "I like being on top", with "of my auctions" as the punch-line on the back.

The Auctomatic stand at eBay Live
The Auctomatic stand had plenty of visitors
We were slightly hesitant about the possible response, but it was fine, they loved it.

We heard reports of sightings of our t-shirts at bars and across the city in Boston, which was cool.

Eventually, our competitors had to walk over and find out what all the fuss was about for themselves.

Other highlights included giving a demonstration to the President of Paypal, Rajiv Dutta, who loved our product, as well as when a powerseller was so moved by our demo that she felt compelled to hug Patrick.

As an aside, it was really interesting to see first-hand the cultural phenomenon that is eBay.

We met retired couples who had new-found independence, teenagers who were making a killing selling fashion-wear, professional resellers, and lots of people who were eager to start businesses all because of eBay.

We hear a lot generally about Americans being entrepreneurial, but this really drilled it home.

All of which makes us even more impatient to launch the tool to the general public.

Right now we are testing it to make sure everything works reliably.

We are conscious that since we are dealing with people's money, we have to be extra careful.

The hard bit that we have to work on is ensuring that the application interface is easy to use.

If we make things complex or clunky then people will be put off and so we are working closely with some powersellers to make sure it's all intuitive.

Indeed, it's fair to say that a measure of our success will be how easy it is to use.

On this point, I must add that our "locking ourselves away" approach may have been counter-productive.

After being hermit-like for six weeks, we ended up visiting one of our fellow Y Combinator entrepreneurs, Robby Walker, to pick up some stuff we had forgotten in Boston that he brought back for us.

Keep talking

We ended up talking for a while and pretty quickly learned a whole bunch of stuff that could have helped with our development and with the ongoing talks with investors.

Robby's company Zenter, which was funded at the same time as our's in January, has since been bought by Google, and as such, his advice was very valuable.

It then occurred to me that although we had moved to the other side of the world to benefit from "network effects", we had inadvertently been missing out because we'd stopped talking to our fellow entrepreneurs.

We quickly learned our lesson and now make sure we talk to those who have experience of what we are trying to do.

In other news, we also received a further bit of angel funding from Chris Sacca, Google's Head of Special Initiatives.

We've known Chris since he visited Oxford as part of the "Silicon Valley comes to Oxford" event last year and it was fantastic news that he wanted to invest.

This makes us comfortable in terms of capital right now, so our focus is primarily on launching our application and getting users.

It's an exciting, if slightly nerve-racking time.

From Oxford to Silicon Valley
12 Feb 07 |  Business

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