An interview with Leah Culver (Pownce, Convore, Grove) on YC, Group Chat and her experiences in the startup scene

Leah Culver on IRC: 'I agree with the fans that it's a good system that just works... ...Grove fills this niche by providing a simple web interface to get started with IRC right away'

Leah Culver

Leah Culver is currently CEO and co-founder of Convore Inc, which is currently developing Convore, a group chat application and Grove, hosted IRC for teams. Leah was formerly co-founder and lead developer of Pownce (aquired, and subsequently shut down by Six Apart in 2008), and she has co-authored both the OAuth and OEmbed open API specifications and promoting open source, APIs, and the Django web framework on her blog at leahculver.com. We asked her about what she’s working on now (namely group chat, and hosted IRC), her experiences at YC, and what changes she’s seen in the tech scene over the last few years. Her responses are published below in their entirely.

Do you think there is space for a similar service to Pownce now/is an element of Pownce in what you’re working on now?

I think there is always room for new social applications if the service is providing something that people really want. My experience with Pownce has greatly influenced many of the product decisions for my new company, Grove. Grove is hosted chat targeted at businesses but many of the social product ideas from Pownce are applicable to any communication product.

Leah Culver Pownce

What do you make of the group chat space as it is now (what about those who say it’s completely saturated already)?

I think Grove really fills a need for communication products in the corporate space. As companies become more global and more people start working remotely, it is vital to have good communication channels. Grove provides a place where your team can get together to work effectively in a virtual environment.

What were the best and worst experiences at YC?

The best experience is definitely the people and the network. YC founders are a tight community and are always willing to help each other out. This benefit also lasts long after the three-month incubation period.

The worst part of YC was having to drive from San Francisco to Mountain View several times a week! There are a lot of YC-related activities during those three-months and we didn’t want to miss any of them.

What do you say to those who feel Convore whilst technically impressive solved a problem that didn’t exist. Would it be reasonable to draw comparisons with Google Wave?

I think it’s easier to identify a need for software than to figure out the exact product that fills that need. In any given product space, such as chat, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to discover the target audience and what specific features they need. Grove is definitely a more specific product than Convore – it targets companies and specifically technical businesses that are interested in IRC.

What’s the future for IRC especially with regard to non-technical audiences?

I agree with IRC fans that it’s a good system that just works. It’s been difficult for non-technical people to get involved with the IRC community because the tools tend to be quite complicated. Grove fills this niche by providing a simple web interface to get started with IRC right away as well as the option to use any IRC client you want. We’re also working on upgrading some IRC features to work more like contemporary web applications. For example, Grove provides searchable archives for each channel and easy member registration and management.

Since founding Pownce in 2007, what are the biggest changes in the tech scene that you’ve seen?

I’m very pleased by the amount of new tools and resources available to developers. I think the open source movement has provided a way for developers to work together and produce better software. I love to tell stories of what the Django web framework was like back in 2007! It’s progressed so much since then.

What’s the one thing you’ve learnt and taken away from founding startups in the past?

I’ve learnt that founding startups is quite different from building a product. I love to build cool apps, but there’s so much more to running a business. In addition to making a great product, a successful startup also needs to hire the right people, develop good relationships with users and customers, and grow the business. With Grove I’m taking a lot more time to establish a solid foundation to grow a larger long term business.

What will be the big thing for 2012 in terms of tech startups/technology?

I’m very excited about the recent trend towards “real-time”, both on websites and in mobile applications. I’ve been seeing more and more apps built with some part of the data being updated in real-time. I’m curious to see how user experiences will change and what user interface elements will be developed to facilitate these real-time interactions.

Discuss below: Were you a user of Pownce, and do you think there is still space for something similar? What do you think of Convore and Grove… and the whole group chat space? 

Leah Culver is on Twitter at @leahculver and blogs on her website. She is currently working on Convore and Grove.