I got to know Kevin Burton of Spinn3r fame back in my Feedster days and while I don’t know him tremendously well, I absolutely learned from him. Interestingly, unlike a lot of my Silicon Valley contacts where I learned from them at the time, the learnings from Kevin came later, much later.
The classic valley business model is what I’d describe as “up or out” i.e. you either get big fast become wildly successful or your flame out. Either way you either go up or you go out. But what if you are actually passionate about what you do? What if you don’t want to go out or even to get tremendously big? What if you want to do the kind of work you love and that you are great at? Well, while in Silicon Valley, this would generally be viewed with derision as a “lifestyle business”, there isn’t anything wrong with it. Hell, running a business successfully for years at a time, is a hell of an accomplishment.
Kevin is a search engine guy and he’s smart. He’s at the level of understanding that can be described as “Let’s write the search engine from scratch”. Now that is smart. And when I first got to know him back in 2005 / 2006, he was just getting started with Spinn3r and he’s still at it. He’s building a great product that solves a real problem. And he’s even become a part of academia in being cited in over 350 papers that are studying the rise of the social web.
So here’s what I learned from Kevin Burton:
Do what you love.
We all love the myth of the overnight success but real life isn’t like that. Succeeding at anything takes copious amounts of time and persistence. Doing what you love makes persistence easier and Kevin has taught that to me in spades.