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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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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Grow your Twitter audience with Nombre

Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language.

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

nombre is a Chrome extension that creates a new menu item in Twitter to “Reply with name”.

Which automatically adds the first name of the person you are replying to on Twitter to the Tweet.

Click here to install the nombre Chrome extension.


For years I struggled building an audience. But I’m very blessed today to have things clicking with my writing and my project Draft to help people write better. One helpful technique I figured out to grow my Twitter audience is simply getting better at interacting with people on Twitter.

I like using people’s first names in communication. People are blind to their Twitter handles. Who is “@natekontny”? I prefer Nate or Nathan. I think most people prefer their own

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Draft Announcements: Presentations; publishing to Basecamp, Svbtle and Ghost; and Minor revisions

Happy New Year! Here are a few new things in Draft I think you’ll find handy:

  • Presentations
  • Publish to Basecamp, Svbtle, and Ghost
  • Minor revisions

 Draft Presentations

I needed to create a presentation the other day, but found it was strange I was reaching for heavy feature-laden apps like Keynote or Powerpoint to simply display some big text on the screen. Why do I have to click so much to create new slides, when really I just have 12 bullet points I’d like to outline and be done with the presentation? Not to mention - it’s extremely difficult to version control and collaborate on a presentation.

So I added a way in Draft to create a super simple presentation.

Separate each slide in your Draft document with at least three hyphens (or asterisks).

When you view your document, it’s now a presentation. Use CMD or CTRL (on Windows) + R to toggle back and forth from edit to

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Many of us want to start our own businesses. Some are good cooks and want our own restaurants. Some are good bakers and want our own bakeries. Big dreams, but many of us never actually get anywhere.

A couple years ago, I met a chef named Abe at a dinner party he was hosting.

He’d been classically trained at the Culinary Institute of America and been cooking professionally for many years. If anyone might start their own restaurant, it would be Abe.

But he said he wasn’t ready. Instead, he started a company that created pop-up dinners and private parties.

Instead of worrying about all the details of opening an entire restaurant: financing, buying real-estate, industrial-sized appliances, inventory, point of sale/reservation systems; he used the tiny kitchens in friends’ homes and Paypal to collect money for tickets.

Instead, he worried about making awesome food.

My wife and

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Teach yourself out of business

Customer loyalty is hard.

I spent thousands of dollars on advertising to draw people to my previous business of online games - Cityposh. I’m also well versed in all the techniques and game mechanics to keep people coming back.

But no one who discovered Cityposh through those ads and game mechanics uses Draft today.

My home started falling apart last week.

First it was a broken furnace during Chicago’s record cold from the polar vortex.

I woke up and it was 65 in the apartment when it should have been 72. The furnace wasn’t blowing hot air.

I’m not incredibly handy, so I went online to learn what I could do on my own. I rebooted the furnace a couple times. The air filter was clean. But the furnace and its fan just wouldn’t stay on. Scared the inside temperature would plunge, I called a heating and air company to get help.

While waiting for a technician to come over, I took

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Not Wanted

Make something people want.

Paul Graham

I’ve made a lot of stuff no one wanted.

Trying to grow my first business, Inkling, I did what good Lean Startup followers would do. I turned some of our technology into a small “project management software” prototype and used Quora and LinkedIn to set up meetings with project managers.

One thing became clear fast. These project managers weren’t impressed. I was often told the prototype would need to do at least everything their current tools and processes already did, before they’d consider using it with their team. They were reluctant to switch.

There’s a great story in Esquire Magazine this month about the history of Irish whiskey. 130 years ago there were almost 30 Irish whiskey distilleries. Fast forward 100 years and there was just one: Irish Distillers Ltd (IDL). IDL was a hodgepodge of brands including Jameson and Tullamore Dew

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