Ninjas and Robots

by Nathan Kontny

CEO of Highrise. Also founder of two YC companies. Engineer for President Obama’s re-election campaign. Makes the awesome writing software Draft.

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I’ve always considered myself poor at design or anything requiring aesthetic talent.

As a kid, I remember a particularly hard homework assignment in grade school. It was 2am and I came to a problem where my teacher wanted us to draw: a baby in a womb. I decided I didn’t have the talent to do it myself. So I gave up and called in (woke up) the best help in the world. Mom.

The feeling continued into adulthood. When I started my first professional job after school, someone told me about Flash. This looks cool. So I built my first website using Flash. I showed it to some folks. They laughed because I didn’t know any better to use much smaller sized images. My website took forever to load. When it finally did load, they laughed some more, “That’s it?”

They weren’t intending to discourage me, but clearly from this exercise - I suck at design.

The Amazon Fire TV Is Kind Of A Mess


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Getting coffee at the cafe near my home is a pain in the ass. It’s crowded. It takes a long time. It’s expensive.

I love it.

My wife and I make it the occasional treat to go to Intelligentsia, a nationally famous company that makes a really great cup of coffee. But it’s hardly a convenient experience.

One day recently, my wife and I ordered our two mochas to go, and found seats to wait out the process. As I sat there watching the barista, I noticed something interesting.

The barista was preparing cappuccinos for a group in front of us. He finished one of them and started to push it on the counter closer to where the customer would eventually pick it up. A bit of coffee spilled over the top of the cup and into the saucer.

Without the customer even noticing - he was sitting at a table chatting with his friends - the barista immediately grabbed the cappuccino, poured it out in

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Draft’s Heartbleed Reponse

On April 7, 2014 information was released about a security vulnerability in OpenSSL, named Heartbleed. You can read more about it, here:

It’s a very serious vulnerability that breaks the SSL encryption we depend on to keep our information secret. It affected two thirds of the websites we visit every day, including sites like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Etsy, Tumblr, etc. Unfortunately, that includes Draft because it uses OpenSSL through its hosting providers Heroku+Amazon.

I have no evidence the vulnerability was used to attack Draft and our data, but I immediately took the recommended actions to protect the service. And for stronger confidence, you should change your Draft password here:

And because of how many sites use OpenSSL and were affected by this vulnerability, you should change your passwords across the internet

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Tell yourself better stories

I was pissed.

We were heading to a friend’s house for dinner on Friday at 6PM. It takes us 30 minutes to get there, so, naturally, we left at 5:30.

Idiot. Now, we’re stuck in traffic. It’s crawling. We’ll be at least 45 minutes late, if not more.

Who came up with this plan to have dinner during weekday rush hour, anyway? My wife? My friend? Why did they plan it this way? I’m pissed with myself for not thinking through this more. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, and know how traffic is. I should have never agreed to going to dinner at this time in the first place.

I’m just getting more pissed.

This dinner is going to suck. We’ll be late, and I’ll fume about these poor decisions we all made. We should turn around at the next exit and go back home and plan for a different day.

Oh, now I see the cause. An accident in the right lane. We’re all jammed up because everyone had to

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Draft Announcements: Offline access!

Hello. Draft has a few new things:

  • Offline access
  • Fast search
  • Remove collaborators
  • Presentation improvements
  • Speed

 Offline Access

This has been the most requested feature since I started Draft over a year ago, and I’ve needed it too. Every so often I find myself in a place where I want to write but I don’t have internet access, and so Draft hasn’t been there for me.

Now there’s a solution.

Just go to Settings → Labs and enable offline mode.

Please read through the bits there about using it. Offline Draft is an experimental and stripped down version of Draft.

It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but what it does do is pull down the 50 most recent documents you’ve been working on and let you work on them offline. You can also create new documents offline.

Sync is still a manual button click: if you have new documents or changes created offline, when you come

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There’s almost a joy in looking at your ignorance and realizing, ‘Wow, we’re going to learn about this and, by the time we’re done, we’re going to really understand and do something great.

Jony Ive

I hated public speaking, and it was humiliating trying to get better at it.

Late freshman year in high school, my dad encouraged me to join Speech Club. He thought it would be a good skill for me and valuable for a college application.

I was ignorant how this worked and way behind my peers in the club who joined much earlier, but I started showing up every week to practice for regular public speaking competitions.

My first competition was a Mock Senate. I was supposed to go up in front of the group and argue at least one time like a legislator to convince people to vote with me. I was too intimidated. I didn’t even get up once to speak that Saturday; just spent the day watching.

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Lost Momentum

I’ve launched a lot of projects, but many immediately lost their momentum.

I launched a project called Worthio years ago. It was Reddit for stock picking. You voted on stocks, and if they increased in value from the time of your up-vote, you got more karma.

Worthio had a ton of traffic, signups and great feedback on launch day from popular sites like Hacker News. But quickly, I stopped putting out improvements, I quit using it, and so did everyone else. What happened?

In a well cited Harvard Business School case study and in the book The Innovator’s Guide to Growth, you can read about Medtronic, a Fortune 500 company that makes medical devices and basically invented the pacemaker industry.

Being the market leader, Medtronic invested significant money in product development, but then newer, smaller, nimbler competitors would beat them at launching similar, slightly more advanced

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Draft Announcements: Write even better, Twitter Cards, and more…

Hello there. New things in Draft today:

  • Write even better with auto-simplification
  • Twitter/Facebook Cards
  • Folder links in sidebar
  • Collaborator refreshes
  • Republishing to Wordpress
  • Moving comments

 Write even better with auto-simplification

The Simplify button got more powerful. Now when you hit Simplify:

Not only will Draft try and recommend sentences to remove or manually simplify, but Draft will also check for things that complicate our writing:

 Passive voice

Passive voice makes the action of your sentence weaker and usually adds an extra word.

 Useless/weak words

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write 'very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Mark Twain

We are guilty of using empty words to get our point across. Words like very, really, many, and interestingly, elongate our sentences and alert our readers that

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Writing Lean

I know a lot of people who talk about starting a blog or writing a book, but week after week, it remains just talk. And even if they do make progress, it isn’t what they expected. It’s not unlike all the software projects or businesses I’ve worked on that failed.

When I started my software career out of college, we were taught the “waterfall” method of developing software - a lengthy process of phases gradually proceeding into the next and there isn’t any going back.

We’d gather requirements for months. Then we’d develop for many more months before showing something anyone could use. It might make sense in some capital intensive projects like building a Martian Rover, but in many situations it fails.

Even with these smart people working and planning, 75% of the software projects I worked on were late, cancelled, or they disappointed their business owners. The list of features took

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Draft Announcements: Comment out writing, auto-simplification, email documents to Draft

Hi there! Hot on the heels of the last Draft announcement here are a few really exciting features:

  • ‘Comment out’ your writing
  • Auto-simplification
  • Email your documents to Draft

 Comment out your writing

Draft’s origin came from pain I had trying to version control my own writing. Today, here’s a neat addition.

And credit where credit is due - this feature was inspired from conversations with Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, on what’s missing from version control for writing…

Often I’ll be working on a paragraph (or even a Tweet), and I’ll want to see what a new version of the paragraph looks like. So I’ll duplicate the paragraph inside my document to keep the old one around for reference.

But having duplicate sentences or blocks of text in my document makes reviewing the actual writing harder.

If you are a software developer you are very familiar with the idea of

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