This year I had the opportunity to attend Y Combinator’s Startup School in Cupertino, CA. The Startup School is a one day event that brings well-known entrepreneurs to stage to tell their story to an audience composed largely of college students and probably recent college graduates. This is a very helpful one day event as attendees get a chance to listen without interruptions to the founders that are invited to talk and tell their story. This is how Startup School is different, there is nothing else going on around it, just this one auditorium, founders such as Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, angel investors like Ron Conway and a relatively small audience when you compare it to other events.
This is an event where speakers tell their story freely and without a laid out format to share their insights and advise with all of us – the brave entrepreneurs trying to find that sweet spot to either get funding, get customers, be recognized as an industry leader or perhaps all of those things.
What’s interesting about this event is that it is free and invite-only, and perhaps this is the one reason the audience is filled with young ambitious bright people wanting to start something or to take their venture to the next level if they have already started it. I applaud Y Combinator and all of the founders that take one day from their weekend to share their story and experiences with us.
Below are some of my take aways and notes from this year’s Y Combinator Startup School
Phil Libin – Founder, Evernote, CoreStreet
- Avoid being innovative when forming a legal entity – it makes you unfundable
- Build it for yourself, something that you love not something to make money
Dan Siroker – Founder, Optimizely
- Get feedback and improve
- Continuos improvement
Ron Conway – Partner, SV Angel
- We invest in people first
- Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t care about the outside world but the product
- Focus on the investor who can offer the most value for your startup
Chris Dixon – Partner, Andreessen Horowitz, Founder, Hunch, SiteAdvisor
- Good ideas that look like bad ideas
- You need to know a secret
- Know the tools better than anyone else
- Know the problems better than anyone else
- Powerful people often dismiss them as toys
- They unbundle functions made by others (i.e. Newspaper got replaced by Huffington post for news, Craigslist for ads, twitter for distribution, etc…)
- Did it originate as a hobby?
- Does it challenge social norms?
- How I learned this secret? By both being a startup founder, an angel investor
- Develop ideas through direct experiences and through abstracting things, reports, trends, etc… best ideas come from direct experiences.
Diane Greene – Founder, VMWare
- Great story about how VMWare was born and all the struggle they went through.
- A board can be very useful if you choose the right people.
- Having a deadline works for anything, use it to have customers and partners sign up
- NOTE: She is doing another startup
Balaji Srinivasan – Founder Counsyl, Lecturer, Stanford University
- Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit: Is the USA the Microsoft of nations?
- Voice: change system from within
- Exit: creating a new system
- Voice vs exit in open source: respectively patch vs fork
- US is shaped by both voice and exit – so is Silicon Valley (Fun Fact: Non-competes are not enforceable in CA)
- exit amplifies voice
- voice gains more attention when people leave in droves
- exit is a meta concept about alternatives – the choice to peacefully “opt out”
- reduce the importance of decisions made in DC (without lobbying, etc)
- Silicon Valley vs The Paper Belt
- Silicon Valley is reinventing every industry and seriously threatening gov’t power
- US gov’t can’t ban things it wants to ban anymore
Chase Adam – Founder, Watsi
- Do something that you care about more than yourself
Jack Dorsey – Founder, Twitter and Square
- Recommends books:
- The Art Spirit: Robert Henri
- The Score Takes Care of Itself: Bill Walsh
- Create a daily Do’s and Don’ts Note system, use it daily.
- List of Do; and Don’t;
- Check your notes to make sure you did everything for that day and the things that you didn’t do.
- Example of Jack Dorsey Do’s: Stay Present, Be vulnerable, Drink only lemon water and red wine
- Example of Jack Dorsey’s Don’ts: Drink hard liquor or beer (on weekdays), avoid eye contact, be late, set expectations for someone and not able to meet it
- A simple list like this helps define patterns, and behavior, it is easy to do. It gets you focused.
- Angoisse – his favorite song
- You are the future, you are the only one that can do what you have in your mind, every time you execute on your idea you are making a bet with the world, make it so that it resonates with as many people as possible.
Mark Zuckerberg – Founder, Facebook
- Don’t avoid making mistakes, you are going to make mistakes not matter what.
- People want to learn about people, make people the core of your application
- Pick the one thing that actually matter – once you get traction is really easy to lost focus as there are lots of things that can distract you.
Nathan Blecharczyk – Founder, AirBnB
- Phase yourself to make sure you go pass those moments in the startup life when you want to quit.
Here are some photos:
Overall it was a great experience to be able to listen to these founders tell their story in a more personal way. The venue was large enough and very comfortable. Below are some of the notes and write ups from other people who attended the event: