Sunday, January 19, 2014


Last year my friend Peter and I started a startup. It was initially called LeChat, but we later rebranded as Kato. It's a communication service for remote teams.

We were accepted to the Boulder Techstars program, at the end of which we secured a 1.76M round of funding led by Brad Feld at Foundry Group, a Boulder-based venture capital firm. (Note: this doesn't usually happen, we did a good job.)

You wouldn't believe it, but our office is on the first floor of our West Oakland house, next to the AirBnB studio. Most of the team (currently eight-strong) works remotely, for obvious reasons (we make Kato).

For lunch, we usually get sandwiches from 10th and Wood, a new restaurant at 10th and Wood streets. Turns out I met the owner 20 years ago, when he was a camp counselor at my summer camp.

You can learn more about Kato on our blog:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why online reputation needs to be portable

Last week I quit my job at Connect.Me, where we tried to build a social reputation network. There were many ideas about what could become of it, but the one that made the most sense to me was portable reputation: if I've got 4.95 stars as a SideCar driver, I would like to somehow apply those stars to my Airbnb profile.

Monday night we had a completely nightmarish Airbnb experience, which prompted me to write this post.

We Airbnb a studio on the first floor of our house to make the house give something back after taking so much, and we've been doing really well in terms of reviews and bookings. It also feels amazing to have a business, sort of. So Monday night I was driving home from Palo Alto when our guest called to inform me that their two laptops, an iPod, and an address book were gone.

As my readers know, we live in a pretty rough part of town (not really, anymore). Just a few years ago  in 2006, 2007, 2008  I expected to hear gunshots at night. I think I almost got used to it! Bam, bam, bam  whatever. Also, of course, plenty, plenty of muggings.

But burglaries? Unheard of.

There were no signs of forcible entry at the studio. Everything was neat, nothing ransacked. Expensive bikes and thousands of dollars worth of tools were left untouched. The way it happened, I think, is someone walked up to our gate, took out a key, opened it, walked to the studio, took out a key, opened it, collected the laptops, locked the studio, locked the gate, and went off to find a pawnshop.

The person who took the stuff knew exactly where to go.

Occam's razor suggests the following: a previous guest duplicated our key, waited for everyone to leave, then helped themselves to whatever they could find inside.

We started talking to the neighbors, did they see anyone? Our neighbor from across the fence  he restores antiques at home  says yeah, I saw a couple come to your place, they looked kind of suspicious, so I just watched. They were in and out in less than a minute, both carrying things.

We talked to him some more  the time matched. It was when everyone was gone. He said they whispered, stopped to take a look around, then went inside.

So we show him a picture  "yep, these were the peeps that were creeping into your place".

What the fuck?  we think.

What the fuck is this: we had to get reviews to build up our reputation and increase our price, so we were in no position to deny people reservations based on their lack of reputation. It's a chicken and egg problem.

Airbnb uses pretty faint signals for verifying members: phone number, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts. These things are basically irrelevant in the world of shared economy. What's not irrelevant is reputation from other shared economy businesses, like SideCar or TaskRabbit.

It's understandable that eBay or Amazon will never want to make their member reputation portable  they will lose business as a result.

But shared economy as a whole will benefit tremendously if businesses allow a "fourth party" to serve as a reputation service. This would also help alleviate one of the biggest headaches of launching a new service: building a reputation system. If I were able to import my SideCar driver reputation into Airbnb, we would not have started from zero and maybe we would have been able to be more picky with our guests from the beginning.

Are you looking for a startup idea? Make reputation portable for the shared economy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I would give up my seat for _____________.

I saw this on KQED's Facebook timeline, and it reminded me of this photo from a BART ride home in October 2009:


Basically, it's a very pregnant woman standing in front of an empty seat, but the floor around it is occupied by bags. Everyone sitting is pretending they don't see her.

I don't blame them. In America, we're not suppose to acknowledge another person's possible need for help. We only help people when they come crawling, all bloody and begging. That's how our health insurance works.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Good Samaritan

On Sunday, right after we went to sleep around one or so, the honking started.

It would go for a while, maybe a minute, stop, and then resume. A wimpy honk, annoying like a mosquito. Right in front of our house.

I was halfway asleep, and I was dreaming of smashing the honker's windshield with a giant pick I have leaning against the fence, next to the gate. I was envisioning a drone strike hitting the most deserving target ever: the honker right outside my window.

What sort of a sick, demented being blows a horn for a half hour straight in the middle of the night in a residential neighborhood? I was dreaming of applying the giant pick all over the demented being's car, piercing the radiator, prying the tires off the rims.

And then: Bam! Bam!

Two shots, really close, into the air.

Immediately, the honking stopped. The car was trying to leave, but it wouldn't start. I looked outside — it was a maroon Saturn, cranking like crazy. It finally started and took off. A quiet night followed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pallet Rack Storage in Moscow

Dear readers, allow me to spam you with some advertisement!  My friend runs a commercial shelving business in Moscow.  He is actually a violinist, but commercial shelving sells better.  Next time you need to buy or install some pallet rack storage in your warehouse in Russia, consider Slon (компания «Слон»):

(I'm hoping that a link from a highly respected internet resource, such as this blog, will get my friend's site into top 10 on Yandex for the search string "монтаж стеллажей".  It's currently at position 12, so fingers crossed!)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Man Resting

January 2012
Man Resting
BAMBOO pen tablet

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2011 -> 2012!

2011 turned out to be a pretty good year — despite all the natural and financial disasters in the world. The revolutions were pretty cool. Also Fidel Castro survived another year.

 * A year ago we were five months pregnant and camping in Hawaii with two kids (10 and 2). It was a lot of fun, in retrospect.

* At the SF Erlang Factory I convinced Joe Armstrong to try Rdio (

* Then we got about a third of the first floor of our house finished, in order to start a co-op preschool there.

* Then I fulfilled a major dream: installed an oval pot rack.

* Then Dmitri Gorchev died. (Correction: he died in 2010)

* Toured the new Bay Bridge with Manish.

* Then we had a baby! Daria:

 * We got most of the living room painted.

* Then I turned 30.

* With all the baby-having we forgot to change the oil in our Subaru Outback and the turbo went out of business.

* So we had a month of public transportation. We visited museums and chased the F on Embarcadero. With two strollers!

* I discovered Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

* Arkadii the Cat (16) went on to the next life.

* Then we got a turbo put in at Brannan Auto Experts.

* Redevelopment finally entered full swing on 7th street near West Oakland BART.

* We went to Yosemite in December. I'll never go to Yosemite during summer again.

* I quit my job of over three years at Rdio.

* Started a new job at Connect.Me.

* Our son Boris turned three.

* Macbook Pro -> Thinkpad X1 with Ubuntu 11.10.

* Started work on the remaining 2/3 of the downstairs.

* Harmony read 26 books this year.  This is important, since, apparently, not all children grow up reading.

I don't really read anymore. Somehow I finished these:
- Monday begins on Saturday by Strugatsky brothers (I read this book every year, in January)
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Жизнь без Карло Дмитрия Горчева (Correction: I read this last year)
- Matsushita Leadership by John Kotter
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy

* My wife presented me with a Kindle Fire for Christmas, so I'll be reading more. I already read a few of the free Sherlock Holmes stories (better in English, it turns out).

* 2012 will be the year of Connect.Me, which is super exciting.

* Happy 2012!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Summer 7th Street Won the Lottery

This summer 7th Street in West Oakland finally won the lottery and hired construction crews to fix its sidewalks. The crews dug them up, put up no parking signs ("no stopping any time until 9-2"), orange cones, wooden stakes and forms, and left. Things have looked like this for the past five weeks:

I'm not worried. It allows me to reminisce of my native USSR, where few construction projects were ever finished and the sidewalks, when they were eventually paved, they were paved with asphalt. USSR nostalgia is far from the only benefit of this crying administrative clusterfuck. Consider this:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sold Out