The Next Chapter

Dear family, friends, colleagues, blog subscribers, twitter followers, facebook friends, acquaintances, Jeff Bezos, and random internet stalkers,

Here’s the short version of this for people who don’t like to read a lot, and just want the facts:

  • I’m quitting Amazon.
  • April 17th is my last day
  • May 12th I will be moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • I’m starting a software company initially employing me, myself, and I
  • I plan to launch a web app at the first Twitter conference on May 26th
  • I estimate I have more than a year’s worth of personal runway to figure things out

I’d like to tell you all about the start of the next chapter in my life. But, before I do that, a condensed history. I don’t want to spend too much time on the past, so I’ll just say this… I was born, raised, and went to college in Michigan. Go Blue! I studied computer science, and one summer decided to learn web development. That led me to an internship and then a full time position at in Seattle, WA. The thing is though, I want to build my own software products. Basically, I was doing the type of work on wanted to do (namely web development) but not building the type of software that I wanted to see exist in the world.

Amazon is a great company. They are going to do just fine. I’m actually going to keep my stock, and maybe even buy more. Although, if I’m going to do serious investing in the stock market, I’ll have to look at the companies and pick ones I really believe in. Palm may actually be one of those. Their new Web OS on the Palm Pre looks pretty darn impressive.

Amazon is no longer a start up. Too much friction to get certain things done. My guess is that this problem is not unique at all to Amazon… any big company has issues like this to deal with. Once you have a lot of revenue, any change could have a big impact in the business. Since a startup, by definition, doesn’t make a lot of money, changes to the business or the software won’t have as big of impact in absolute terms. It’s all about risk verses reward. In a large company, you can spread risk across many different projects and people in the company. This is one reason why Amazon is able to do so many innovative things. They can take risks in certain areas like Kindle, AWS, AmazonFresh, etc, and even if those projects fail (which I actually doubt they will) Amazon itself will be fine as a company.

When I was an intern at Amazon, Jeff Bezos (the CEO) gave a short talk, and then left most of the time for Q&A. The question I asked was why he thinks Amazon was able to survive the dot com bust. The answer he gave was basically that the business metric graphs had very little relationship to the stock price. Even though the stock price tanked, Amazon as a business was still growing. Also, Amazon has very long term view of things. There is little to no change in strategy in tough times. It’s always lower prices, more selection, and relentless focus on the customer. I think that is as much true today as we go through this recession, as it was during the dot com bust.

I’ve wanted to do a startup for a long time, but didn’t want to spend the time looking for funding. I’d rather spend the time building the software instead. People have told me that it is generally a good idea to build it first, before you start looking for funding. I still would rather not have to spend the time seeking out funding for a startup. So, I’m going to start by bootstrapping instead. This means that I will have to have revenue very early on, ideally on day one. So, I’ll be doing some experiementing with that model over the next few months.

Why am I moving back to Michigan? Well… my family lives there. I have some friends there. There is a small, but growing tech community in Ann Arbor. It is much cheaper than Seattle.

I’ve just jumped off a cliff, and I’ll be building the airplane on the way down. I estimate that I have more than a year’s worth of falling before I hit the ground. Wish me luck!

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19 Responses to “The Next Chapter”

  1. Jake McCrary Says:

    Good luck Kyle. Can’t wait to see what comes out of this.

  2. Calvin Freitas Says:

    Great things cannot be accomplished without taking risks. You’ve got solid reasons behind your plan, and I respect what you’re trying to do.

    Good luck, Kyle!

  3. Kunal Jham Says:

    Good luck, dude. You’ll do great! It’s interesting how you’re coming back to AA and I’m leaving to join Amazon right about the same time.

  4. Scott Wolchok Says:

    I was going to ask why you weren’t concerned about Ann Arbor being a Tier 2 startup hub at best, but I guess if you’re bootstrapping, VC isn’t as important. From what I gather, you’ll have to get Valley connections to get big eventually…what do you think?

  5. Vikas Reddy Says:

    Congrats on the decision Kyle! Welcome to the roller coaster =).

  6. Molly Jo Bault Says:

    Have fun! Way to pursue your dream!

  7. Ian Gilman Says:

    Bravo! I look forward to seeing the airplane take shape!

  8. Dheeraj Sanka Says:

    Welcome back to ann arbor. We can always use more techies out here

  9. Dug Song Says:

    Welcome back, Kyle! Let me know when you get in and we’ll catch up. I’ll also have a desk ready for you at the Tech Brewery

    Scott, money follows innovation. There are many folks in Ann Arbor who have raised plenty of non-local VC money, with lots of connections in the Valley ( guys are out there RIGHT NOW following our introductions). Not that you necessarily need any of that, either – especially for an ultralight software startup.

    Twitter conference, huh? Incidentally, you’re going to just miss an a2geeks event I’m setting up here with the founder of the #6 Facebook app for May 5 here – there’s still time to apply for fbFund if you’re interested.

  10. Kyle Mulka Says:

    Thanks for the well wishes everyone!

    @Scott – To grow a big web company, you probably do need Silicon Valley connections. But, that’s not my initial goal. First plan of action is to bootstrap, hopefully making money on day one. I’m staying in Ann Arbor for at least a few months because it is cheap. I’m going to play it by ear after that.

    @Dug – Me working at Tech Brewery is very likely. I really like the web site you have created for it. Props!

    The Facebook platform was very interesting back when you could get apps to go viral through application invites and people viewing your app on other people’s profiles. Facebook has since then turned the knob way down on that sort of thing, so much so that I don’t think its worth building an app strictly for Facebook right now. Using Facebook Connect however, might be worth it depending on what the web app is.

  11. Justin Martenstein Says:

    Congrats! Good luck! You’ll be missed here in the Seattle tech community.

  12. Merrie Mulka Says:

    Wow! Once again you are not following the path, but creating your own and it is really quite exciting. You’ve come a long way from that ball that you use to hit across the screen on Grandma’s computer when you were 3 years old.(mom’s mushy pride)

    I hear Twitter may be taken over by soccer moms. Hey, maybe I can help develop your app………

  13. Anthony Stevens Says:

    Wow, big news for you – I am sure you’ll succeed beyond your wildest imagination! We will miss you here in Seattle for sure, but thanks to the series of tubes we can all still keep in touch.

    Make sure to spread the word if you need beta testers, input, etc. etc. – the startup community helps its own!

  14. Israel Vicars Says:

    Kyle, great news. Glad I stumbled on your blog via Twitter.

    I’m in Detroit this summer starting a company, and I’ve been working with some entrepreneurial groups in Ann Arbor including developers.

    I recommend reaching out to Jason Bornhorst who’s more active in the entrepreneurial web dev community than me; he and his team are starting an iPhone app dev company this summer.


  15. Moira Bryan Says:

    Well, I’m stoked you’re moving back. I hope that we’re now always friends, and not just sometimes friends.

    We’ll have to go out sometime now! Tally Hall, of course, but more than that…Dominicks, maybe?

  16. Edward Vielmetti Says:

    Looking forward to seeing you around town, Kyle.

  17. Change. Not the Kind That Goes ‘Clink’ in Your Pocket | An Bui, Spelled An With 1 N Says:

    […] gallivanting off to Boulder. To that end, Kyle Mulka (who’s off to Ann Arbor) and I are hosting a party at The Garage in Cap Hill tomorrow […]

  18. J Kuria Says:

    Good Luck! –J Kuria

  19. muebles baratos Says:

    Have fun! I look forward to seeing the airplane take shape!

    A greeting.

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