Feb. 4, 2008 SDF PBwiki

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On February 4, 2008 SDForum’s Startup SIG presented PBwiki founders David Weekly, Ramit Sethi and Nathan Schmidt, all from Stanford. They talked about the approach building a company and scaling for growth.

PBWiki was created overnight at a SuperHappyDevHouse event in May 2005. David Weekly created a simple hosted wiki service that was as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich. It was quickly adopted by hundreds of groups including the SDForum Startup SIG. Three years later PBWiki runs 300,000 wikis for millions users every month and supports 20,000 businesses, including AT&T and Wal-Mart

The challenge is to do all this with just a dozen fulltime employees and a few part-timers and contractors. They decided to make money first but it helps to have $2.5 million funding from Ron Conway, Seraph Group and Mohr Davidow.

Their success has to do with their attitudes toward managing growth. PBWiki not only flattens the organization, it pulverizes it. They want to keep doing what they love so they externalize what they don’t. It grew virally from individuals, to teachers, and ultimately corporations. At each point they had to decide what to farm out so they could focus on their primary mission.

They continuously release new versions of their software, updating everyone in a single instance. They don’t try to maintain older versions of their software. All their features are tagged and can therefore be easily identified and modified. Customers can talk directly to their developers in very transparent process with timestamps to show who saw what and when. A new customer might sign up for one year initially but after seeing the results will sign up for longer stretches the next. This premium subscription model seems at odds with the current advertising model, but it works for them.

The fact that such small organizations can support so many people turns the traditional model of corporate growth on its head. Maybe the next Google will not be a large organization but a small community supplying their individual talents.

Copyright 2008 DJ Cline All rights reserved.