How times have changed in twenty years…

It was 20 years ago next month that we started JustBooks, creating a marketplace that connected buyers and sellers of used, rare, and out-of-print books. We initially launched in Germany before expanding into the UK and France, and then sold the company to our North American competitor AbeBooks in 2001.

My co-founder Hannes Blum and I joined the AbeBooks HQ and co-led the company for many years until we sold it to Amazon in 2008. It was an incredible entrepreneurial ride with many ups and downs (and ultimately, a very happy ending) and created a rich experience base that I still draw from today when working with our portfolio founders.

Looking back, it’s amazing to think about just how much has changed when it comes to building start-ups since my time with JustBooks/AbeBooks. For example, back then…

  • We spent a good third of our seed round of $750K on buying hardware to run our marketplace
  • All of our code was custom; there was not a single existing service we could use to speed up development and avoid having to build it ourselves
  • Our most efficient marketing channel was to buy a banner on top of the Yahoo Books homepage, but unfortunately less than 20% of the European population was online at the time!

It’s simply a great reminder as to how much progress has been made and how much more efficiently start-ups can be built these days. Today, there’s AWS and payment infrastructure like Stripe; you can easily reach the right customers with hyper-targeted, efficient online marketing channels like Google and Facebook. The way we built our start-up 20 years ago now feels like the stone age.

There is a huge parallel to what we are seeing with blockchain and decentralized computing today: costs are high, dev tools are missing and rudimentary, and there are still very few people that have engaged in crypto. But given how the speed of technical innovation has accelerated over the past few years (and continues to do so), this time around it will not take 20 years to make building start-ups much easier and cost-efficient.

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