EP 40: Paul Buchheit, the man who created Gmail on early Google, Gmail, YCombinator and 100b companies.


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Paul Buchheit is Silicon Valley royalty

For those of us of a particular age – this day 19 years ago – April 1st 2004 will always be a special date. It’s when we all heard a rumor of Google pulling an April Fool’s prank and launching an email service with a – then unthinkable – gigabyte of storage. What we didn’t know was that the storage would be the least interesting part of Gmail. When we got access to one of a few coveted invites (which Sriram gifted one to Aarthi to impress her…), the entire experience blew people’s minds. It was an internet experience unlike anything they had seen before (AJAX! XmlHttpRequest!) – and blew open the doors to what we would now think of as web 2.0.

Paul Buchheit was the man behind all of this at Google. After his stint at Google, he then went on to build FriendFeed, a company that was again ahead of it’s time in helping people consume social media. But his true impact might be the last decade or so he has spent as a partner at YCombinator, helping innumerable startups and founders along their journeys.

He is the real deal. And we were thrilled to get him to talk to his – on how Gmail got built, how he built FriendFeed and his advice for startups and founders. This is a fun one.

In this episode, we cover:

  1. Sriram’s first gift to Aarthi 

  2. How Paul built Gmail

  3. How Gmail beat out competitors

  4. When to ship your startup

  5. Launching Gmail: Google’s April Fools day prank? 

  6. Origin of FriendFeed

  7. Building at Facebook vs. Google

  8. How to build a $100 billion startup

  9. Startups through the decade, what changed?

  10. AI and GPT-4

  11. Will AI replace us?

  12. ‘I Am Nothing’

  13.  Going to the moon! 

Notable Quotes: 

  1. “Gmail was actually the second time I tried to make an email thing”

  2. “I just fell in love with the idea of code traveling over the network”

  3. “Back in 2001 at Google, Larry got frustrated that things weren’t moving fast enough at Google in 2001 and decided to get rid of all the managers, and that each engineer would have a project.”

  4. “If I work on something for a long time without shipping, I get bored. With Gmail, the very first version was shipped in a day.”

  5. “I don’t know if it could be built in a company like Google today because in a more established company, I think they probably would’ve given it to someone more capable. It was 2001. I was 24 or something like that.”

  6. “One of the VPs at the design reviews was like, “You know what? I just really like AOL Mail. You really should just clone AOL Mail.”

  7. “The obsession at Google was speed.”

  8. “Those first days of Gmail were mostly just trying to keep the thing from collapsing.”

  9. “DoorDash only exists because of the smartphone. No smartphone, no DoorDash. DoorDash is actually a product of mobile, and the same thing with Uber.”

  10. “Larry and Sergey tried to sell Google for a million dollars. No one would buy it.”

  11. “I do want to go to the moon, actually. I’m planning to go to the moon. Just for fun.”

References:

  1. Eudora email client, 1988

  2. Case Western Reserve University

  3. Mosaic, web browser

  4. Larry Page, Wayne Rosing 

  5. Yahoo mail, Hotmail, AOLmail

  6. Usenet, computer based discussion system

  7. Sanjeev Singh, co-founder at FriendFeed

  8. Bret Taylor, Jim Norris, creators of Google Maps

  9. Microsoft PopFly, Yahoo! Pipes

  10. DeLorean time machine

  11. How to not land a rocket, SpaceX

  12. I Am  Nothing, blog by Paul Buccheit