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This article was published on April 3, 2008

Leah Culver and the magical unicorn: A Pownce story

Leah Culver and the magical unicorn: A Pownce story
Anne Helmond
Story by

Anne Helmond

Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne is also a freelance photographer for various Dutch organizations and media.

Leah Culver is a co-founder and lead developer of Pownce, a social messaging application that combines micro-blogging and social networking. She is notable for her laser-etched MacBook Pro with Web2.0 company logos. By selling advertisement space on top of her laptop she was able to afford to replace her ancient Mac with a shiny new MacBook. Unfortunately Leah did not bring her MacBook on stage as the Next Web uses its own set-up.

Leah Culver

Leah Culver planned to talk about OAth but a short survey in Amsterdam learned that it might not be a topic the Next Web audience is interested in. Instead, she talked about starting a startup in five steps. This general focus did not provide the audience with exciting news about Pownce or any well-preserved secrets for startup companies but Culver did give us an interesting view of the coming into existence of Pownce.

Step 1: Idea
Pownce has often been compared to Twitter but Pownce has different functionalities than Twitter. Aside from sending short messages Pownce focuses on file sharing. Pownce is a communication platform and file sharing system build on Adobe Air. Founders and friends Kevin Rose, Leah Culver, Daniel Burka, and Shawn Allen wanted to build a communication channel where they could easily send files because “e-mail is failing us and IM sucks.”

Pownce is centered around sending “stuff” meaning music, photos, messages, links, events, and more. In contrast to social networking sites that focus on users Pownce focuses on content. At this point Culver encourages the whole audience check out Pownce and sign up even if that means taking down the somewhat unstable wifi here at the conference.

Step 2: Build
Leah presents us with the tool that every startup wishes for, the magical unicorn that can just build things for you.

If you are short on magical unicorns you can build your idea yourself or get a friend to do it. An important step in translating your idea to an actual site is choosing a technology. Leah herself is a Python developer you should pick a technology that you either enjoy or are good at or your developer is interested in. Pownce is build on Django simply because it is an “awesome” technology.

Step 3: Community
Get your friends to use your service and provide them with free t-shirts to promote it.

Step 4: Feedback
Get feedback from your friends and testing community and respond to feedback. A part of the feedback Pownce received while developing is the request to support embedded content. Culver just spend a week adding for more sites to embed content. If Pownce does not support your platform, send Leah Culver a message and they may incorporate it.

Step 5: Make developer friends
Culver is friends with developers from Twitter and Jaiku. While the three companies are often considered to be competitors they are also friends who share code.
So where do you find developer friends? Barcamps are a great place to meet new people and the developer community.

Leah CulverQuestions:
Erick Schonfeld: Is the current application what you originally conceived, or is it different and why?
Leah Culver: Developing often feels like you are doing something that has already been done before. While working on friending feature of Pownce I wondered how many people have done this before? After launching Pownce the major changes were made into the embedding of photos and videos and releasing an API (which they actually forgot until people started asking for it.)

Erick Schonfeld: Why is Pownce better?
Leah Culver: Better than what? Compared to email?

Erick Schonfeld: There are a dozen ways to send files, what distinguishes Pownce from the rest?
Leah Culver: We encourage to have the conversations around files too. We built a better communication tool for sending stuff because we have plenty of sites where we dump our stuff but where do we share?

Patrick de Laive: Why should we move to San Franscisco as the Walhalla of startups?
Leah Culver: I mainly moved to San Fransisco for the weather but the early adapter sphere and barcamps add to a good networking sphere.

Gabe McIntyre: How the heck did you come up with Pownce?
Leah Culver: Kevin was in charge of naming and he came up with the name just two weeks before the launch. It was one of our four options that was still available as a domain name.

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