From a Blow-Up Mattress to 50M Users: An Interview with Steve Corona
This interview is part of our Entrepreneur Interview series.
This college dropout thought he would be a $10 an hour worker for the rest of his life. Of course, that was before Twitpic's massive success. From sleeping on the floor and in front of a laptop to writing a book and millions of users, Steve is the poster child for persistence. And now? Well, he's doing it all over again at Life360. We had the chance to catch up with Steve to talk entrepreneurship, marketing and coding.
It Doesn't Happen Fast
1. Every entrepreneur needs a great origin story. Why did you start Twitpic and what’s it been like transitioning to Head of API at Life360?
I got kicked out of college when I was 19 after pulling a 0.33 GPA. I had a job that paid $10 an hour and thought it was the best I’d ever do. I couldn’t afford a bed, so when my blow-up mattress got a hole in it, I had to sleep on the floor.
I joined Twitpic as the CTO early on before we had many users, something like 30K, it hadn’t blown up yet. Over 4 years we grew to over 50 million users and had billions of pictures posted to the site. Twitpic was my baby, but after 4 years, I knew it was time for a new challenge.
I started at Life360 as the Head of Platform API soon after. It was a massive change — I’d never worked at such a fast-paced growth startup like Life360. We have 40+ employees, 70+ million users, and break internal records almost daily. I’m a really high-energy person so it ended up being a natural fit and I couldn’t be happier.
It's All About Resistance
2. In your experience, what’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?
Resistance. My favorite book, “The War of Art”, explains it best.
Learning Out of Necessity
3. You were responsible for scaling Twitpic to 30M users! How did you cope with such fast growth? What were your biggest “growing pains”?
I had no idea what I was doing when Twitpic first started growing. I slept in front of my laptop for months because the site would go down every night. But I learned, slowly, mostly out of necessity because I hated having to carry my laptop with me everywhere. I actually wrote a book, Scaling PHP Apps, about my hands on experience.
The Elusive Technical Co-Founder
4. As a technical co-founder, can you help put an end to the infamous debate? What is really the best way to find a technical co-founder? What did you look for in a non-technical co-founder?
I’ve co-founded more than one company with people I’ve never met in person. It’s like dating, it’s just a feeling you get. Find someone that seems like a good fit with a 48-month vesting period so if it doesn’t work out, you can cut ties easily.
For a non-technical co-founder, I look for two things — sales and the ability to connect. Everything else can be learned on the job. Seriously sales, though. Everyone, technical and non-technical, should learn how to sell and learn how to write. I don’t care if you’re the most badass CTO, you’re in trouble if you can’t charm business partners, potential clients, and employees.
Be the Architect of Your Own World
5. You literally wrote the book on scaling PHP. Is it important for kids, university students and startup marketers to know how to code? Why or why not?
Knowing how to code is like being an architect of your own world. It gives you the tools to build ANYTHING. It’s incredibly empowering to sit down and go from idea, to code, to working concept in a couple of hours. It’s magical. But also practical. A person who can code will iterate on ideas way faster than a person who can’t and has to outsource it. My girlfriend, a 100% first time-coder, just started OneMonthRails and is loving it. One of my favorite things to do is to come up with some ridiculous idea and code it out in an afternoon— like I made a full-featured site to give away all of my books when I moved to San Francisco and it only took like 20 hours.
Never Underestimate PR
6. In understanding what Onboardly does and what our readers are interested in (PR and content marketing), how have you used either strategies (or both) to grow Twitpic?
To be honest, we hit the jackpot with Twitpic. It grew with a mind of its own, largely because social sharing was so core to the fundamental product.
This wasn’t the case with my book, Scaling PHP Applications, though. When I started writing the book (which by itself was pretty intimidating), I had never done any marketing or user acquisition on my own. It was a steep learning curve — but the secret was writing. Lots of writing. I wrote emails, landing pages, blog posts.
There is a huge amount of power in valuable content and it’s underestimated. Like, what do most people do when they create really high value content (like a book)? They put it up for sale and use less interesting content for their landing page because they don’t want to “give away the secrets for free” or whatever. It doesn’t make sense. You should be giving away your best stuff for free.
Have a Beer, Buddy!
7. Any tips or tricks you have never shared before that have helped you launch or grow your company?
Sure. Kind of. I love studying really successful marketers. I’m signed up for practically every email list in existence for products I don’t care about just so I can see the ways that really successful content marketers are trying to sell to me. Whenever I read something that really resonates with me, I try to analyze it and figure out… why does it resonate? Usually it’s because the writing reads like it’s from a human, a buddy I’m having a beer with, instead of some corporate PR drone. I try to imitate this and forget everything I learned in AP English whenever I write anything — it’s easy to forget to write like a human.
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