Startup School 2014 Notes

Still haven’t been able to make it to a Startup School but I’m very thankful to YC for streaming them live online. So much great content provided by the amazing speakers.

Shana Fisher (@shanaglick)
High Line Venture Partners and Board Partner, Andreessen Horowitz

What is today’s problem that you’re actually going to solve?
Go to YC to grow.
You want to take as much time as possible to build a perfect product.
Great design is all the same.
If you have something really breakthrough don’t worry about how it looks.
It is time to push past what everybody is starting to look like (design wise).
Focus on the iceberg of the product versus the surface.
Most people starting startups don’t know how to manage people.
You’re going to find yourself overwhelmed.
Diversity is really important.
Bring women into the company.
Diversity is critical to building great companies.
You’re building a team.
You should make mistakes early…so it is not at a mission critical time.
A startup is a very intense environment.
You’re managing people not just a product.
There is no greater value in what you do than if somebody is willing to pay.
You control your destiny when you control the money.
The equinox is that time between when it is acceptable to not be making money and when it is.
Investors invest in potential.
You’re only going to achieve as big as you do dream.
Dream big.

Fred Wilson (@fredwilson)
Partner, Union Square Ventures

We have certain opinions about what is interesting to us.
Entrepreneurs are the ones that generally come up with great ideas.
Explain things crisply and succinctly.
Explain what you’re doing without buzzwords.
Seed investors are really good at connecting to the potential of the team and the potential of the big idea.
At its core doing a startup is building a business.
Step one is getting product and market fit.
Each step along the way is building a business.
There is a lot of demand…to put money into startups.
Too little money will kill you and too much money will kill you.
Seed investing is local.
Investors have more of a comfort factor investing in regions with high startup density.
You should do a startup in the place that is best for you. There are twelve places in the world with enough of a startup density. Pick one of those.
Enterprise SaaS type of business models seem to be thriving in New York right now.

Zach Sims (@zsims)
Founder, Codecademy

The Internet is the great equalizer.
Being young or not being in New York or San Francisco doesn’t matter on the Internet.
You don’t know until you try.
Their YC application originally had too many words and not enough information.
It isn’t productive when your desk is a coffee machine box.
There are only 100,000 employed programmers in the U.S.
You should be embarrassed when you launch for the first time.
It is much easier to build for yourself.
It pays to not stop–to not die.
By 2020 there are going to be a million programming jobs.
You shouldn’t make excuses to get started.
All you need is a web browser and a text editor.
You should optimize for learning.
Startups are a roller coaster.
You have to be passionate on what you’re doing. That will make all of the difference.
There are new challenges at every step along the way.

Kathryn Minshew (@kmin)
Founder, The Muse

It is much, much easier to talk about successful growth rather than what comes before which is often failure.
Most startups are a work in progress. They are an evolution from suck to suck less.
When you are creating a marketplace it is a lot easier to have one side of the marketplace on there first.
Just ask for word of mouth.
If you ask people to tweet but don’t tell them what to tweet they won’t.
Content can become your best friend.
Make it work come hell or high water.
It is never possible to say, “We’re here. Our troubles are over.”
Just launch already.
Honor your word and just not contracts.
The startup community is very small and informal.
It is incredibly important to be known as somebody who honors their word.
Done is better than perfect. You have to start somewhere.
Ideas need to be out in the world.
The path gets a little bit clearer the more you move down it.
Be insanely persistent.
(When approaching partners) it is often about figuring out what you have, even if you don’t have much, that the other party is excited about.
Find people who share your values otherwise it will ruin your life.
Create velocity.
Think about not only what you’re going to create…but who are the right users. That is the difference between being dead and not being dead.
Build an amazing team.
Building a company is really, really hard.
There are so many things that motivate people.
You can hire from the deadpool (startups that are failing).
You cannot believe the hype.
Don’t compare your day-to-day with everybody else’s highlight reel.
It is very, very satisfying to smile at all of the people that told you you couldn’t do it.

Apoorva Mehta (@apoorva_mehta)
Founder, Instacart

Don’t build a product for people you don’t know about. Don’t solve a problem you don’t know if they have.
The reason to start a company should never be to start a company. The reason to start a company should be to solve a problem you really, really care about.
“Nearly impossible” means that it is possible.
As a founder you have to be extremely resilient. You have to go from failure to failure without losing steam.
Raising a seed round is one of the hardest things a founder does.
There are going to be hundreds of failures and hopefully some successes.
If you persist for long enough you may just get lucky.

Salary Fairy (@salaryfairy)
Office Hours

You have to focus on one tight little thing and then you can expand from there. (Sam)
Try and really find a metric that allows you to focus on how many people you can make a big difference for. (Sam)
It is way more important to build something a small number of users really love than a large number of users find somewhat interesting. (Sam)
You want to get to where your users are telling you they would be so bummed if your product went away. (Sam)
You need to be ten times better than other sites. (Sam)
You need to build growth into the product. (Sam)
You don’t want to have growth be an afterthought. (Sam)

Pair Up (@letspareup)
Office Hours

By hyperfocused when you start. (Sam)
Product matters a lot. (Gary)
Make sure that everybody who uses it has a good experience. (Sam)

Office Hours

Hyperfocus is definitely good. (Sam)
You need to find some way to grow this down the line. (Sam)
Stay focused on why people have this problem. (Sam)
It is very important to be disciplined about why this (product) will work. (Sam)
Make things as simple as possible. (Sam)
Until you get your first thousand users you’re really shooting in the dark. In the meantime it is going to be a lot of guesswork. (Sam)
Your friends are generally obligated to use your product. (Sam)
High activity rates are a good sign for startups. (Sam)

David Lee (@davidlee)
Founder, SV Angel

There has never been a better or more exciting time to start a company.
There are many different areas to explore as a startup founder.
There has never been a better time as a startup founder to seek finance.
The ups and the downs are gut wrenching.
The price you have to pay to do what you love for a living is a pretty steep price.
SV Angel looks at founders first and ideas second.
What they look for may be different than what other investors look for.
Have a good elevator pitch. Keep it simple.
The single most important skill for a founder is to be able to express their vision to other people.
University Avenue is the Time Square of startups in Silicon Valley.
Be able to express vision in a very authentic way.
The very best founders are great listeners.
Get to the root cause of why someone is saying no.
It is okay to go back and pitch again if you’re going from a different vector.
The only thing you should think about is that every investor needs to add value.
Value add means different things to different people. It depends on the founder, the market, and the industry.
As the founder you should be self critical of you and your company.
What are the knowns unknowns?
To raise money you have more choices than ever.
Never forget your reputation is your biggest asset.
Lead by example.
Control what you can control.
Have a list of everybody you want to meet who can help your company.
It is a lot of hard work to follow and do what you love.

Chase Adam (@ChaseAdam17)
Founder, Watsi

A lot of people have found a way to do good and do well.
Nonprofits are incredibly important. There are certain problems that markets and the government do not solve.
At any startup you feel like you’re standing on a house of cards.
Nobody wants to be first (to say yes to investing).
People are too nice and they don’t want to say no to you so they end up streaming you along.
Focus on one metric. There is always a single thing that is most important.
It is so easy to think that all the other startups are perfect.
The only thing separating you from success is hard work and not giving up.
Founding the initial team is so important.
Efficiency is their core value. It forces you to focus on what is most important.
Only hire people who are a hell of a lot smarter and a hell of a lot better (than you).
Every employee of Watsi raised ten times the amount in donations that they took in salary.
With growth comes challenges.
You have to invest in the future.
In ten years everybody on the planet is going to be connected for the first time in human history.
We’re in the process of transitioning from countries to the world.
Every person in the world matters.