My key takeaways from Y Combinator’s Startup School 2012
This year’s Y Combinator Startup School at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium was high-energy, had about 2,000 attendees (my first Startup School) and a great lineup of speakers. My top 3 favorite speeches were those by Travis Kalanick of Uber, Ben Silbermann of Pinterest and Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz. Here are some of my livescribe notes from the event (the ones I found most interesting). Which were your main takeaways?
Mark Zuckerberg. Founder, Facebook
- You can’t just 80/20 everything. There have to be certain things you’re best at.
- I didn’t decide to drop out before I had one million users.
- What feature of Facebook made people to come back? That’s what make humans humans. We’re hardwired to see people, not chairs or room around, for example. Human is the only animal who dreams about social interactions.
- One natural definition of technology is that it extends human capacity. Glasses extend human ability to see. Computers extend your ability to think. Steve Jobs famously called computers bicycles for minds. Social networks, on the other hand, extend your social interactions.
- I see many companies working on small problems. However, the most interesting to me is to operate on phenomena of the world around you, operate on things which are fundamental.
Travis Kalanick. Founder, Uber
- When you’re successful, not everyone is happy. The older the industry you’re tackling, the more protected it is by government or by corruption or by both.
- When I have a bad day, I look at our monthly revenue chart.
- Some of the things our math department at Uber does to keep the pick-up time low, but utilization high are demand prediction, injection prediction, supply matching, smart dispatch algorithms and dynamic pricing.
Jessica Livingston. Partner, Y Combinator
- Be very careful when you decide who to start a startup with. Have you worked with them? Have you gone to the college together? Don’t just slap yourself with someone who is available and good enough. Most likely you will regret it.
- Fund-raising is hard and slow until it is easy.
- Investors have herd mentality. They will not like you before others do.
- Your focus should be three-fold: writing code, talking to users and exercising.
Patrick Collison. Founder, Stripe
- It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster.
Ben Silberman. Founder, Pinterest
- Commitment matters. Stop talking, make it happen.
- What investors say when they’re not interested: 1) call me in a few months; 2) who else is in? 3) no way this will happen
- The future is unwritten.
- Be great at one thing.
- Build something you believe in. Don’t give up.
Ben Horowitz. Partner, Andreessen Horowitz; Founder, Opsware
- Conventional wisdom: get an MBA, have a great idea, build an MVP. I haven’t done any of this.
- When you think of an idea, it can’t be a little bit better. It has to be 10 times better than something which already exists.
- During the post dot-com crash days, I slept like a baby: I woke up every 2 hours and cried.
- Nicholas Carr of Harvard Business Review: ‘IT doesn’t matter. It has become a commodity. Affordable and accessible to everyone, it no longer offers strategic values to anyone.’ How can someone from Harvard say something that stupid? And then I realized: ONLY someone from Harvard can say something that stupid.
- What do we, at Andreessen Horowitz, look for? 1) breakthrough idea; 2) a founder with courage and skill to build a great idea into a great company
- Breakthrough idea looks retarded at first. The difference between vision and hallucination is that vision is something everyone can see. Breakthrough idea looks like hallucination at first.
- Courage is something you develop. It’s something which lets you push forward when no one believes in you.
- We are at the conference with the world’s best top tech entrepreneurs where you could bring your kids. I brought two of my daughters. My 19-year old daughter told me, ‘This sucks. How will I be able to come to this event when I’m older?’ I tell her, ‘Nonsense. You will have to start your own company.’. ‘But, dad, I can’t start my own company. I’m only 19.’, she says. And Mark Zuckerberg sits next to me. Courage starts now.
Tom Preston-Werner. Founder, Github
- If you have customers willing to pay before you even have a billing system, that’s a good sign.
- So we have a problem. Then we bring an executive. Now we have two problems.
- Github’s founding team is a good mix. We have 4 vectors: I’m logical and pragmatic, Chris is a product visionary, PJ is great at business and operations, and Scott is doing culture and makes sure everyone is happy.
- What you leave out is just as important. Focus over features. Everything you do add makes the rest less important.
- People is the only thing that matters. They are behind any company.
- Product is the only thing that matters. Our mission is to make it easier to work together than to work alone.
- Philosophy is the only thing that matters. Five core values: 1) optimize for happiness; 2) best argument wins, it’s not about ego; 3) work from first principles; 4) create super fans; 5) be awesome and change the world.
Ron Conway. Partner, SV Angel
- My biggest misses: Salesforce (in ‘98 I thought 30 million is too high, now it’s worth 21 billion), Pandora (was influenced by Napster’s experience), Palantir (I didn’t understand the size of the market), Kickstarter (didn’t see the potential in crowd-funding)
- One of the best decisions I’ve made in 1994 is to only invest in internet software.
Hiroshi Mikitani. Founder, Rakuten
- Don’t worry about competition, just improve yourself.
Joel Spolsky. Founder, StackExchange, Fog Creek Software
- So many idiotic companies out there. ‘Instagram for squirrels’ and such.
- There are 2 models: ‘Get Big Fast’ and ‘Organic growth’.
- Get Big Fast is about land grab, new technology, network effects, lock-in. You need to be big to create real value. It’s things like posting ‘Move fast and break things’ posters around your offices (make lots of mistakes along the way). 1% chance of making 10 billion. A few hundred companies are ‘get big fast’ type. Examples: Amazon, StackExchange
- Organic growth is about competing with established competitors, break-even quickly, being valuable to one customer, being frugal and cheap. 90% chance of making 10 million. Million of companies. Examples: Ben & Jerry’s, Fog Creek
- Failure to decide is what kills you. You have to decide: either ‘get big fast’ or ‘organic growth’.
David Rusenko. Founder, Weebly
- You can’t succeed if you quit.
- Behind any overnight success - years and years of hard work.
P/S: all the photos were taken by me (Sony DSC-DX100V, iPhone 5).