My YC Startup School Experience & Notes

This weekend I had the privilege of attending Startup School. Coming down to the valley was a truly unique, and at times, intimidating experience. It’s hard to keep your cool when you overhear things like:

  • “How was your time at Google?”
  • “I just interviewed at Uber.”
  • “I’m currently on the deal team at Andreessen Horowitz.”

It’s clear that this is where the best of the best hang, but it’s also home to some of the nicest, and most humble people. It’s a place where people with extraordinary wealth wear sneakers, jeans, and a t-shirt. I was blown away at how approachable and friendly the YC partners were.

The day was spent listening to a variety of speakers and networking during break and lunch. It was a buffet of insights and knowledge. Coincidentally enough, I ran into someone I met at Bitmaker last year. You can check out his project by clicking here.

I’ve broken down each presentation into a few key takeaways. I hope you find some value in these notes and consider applying and attending the event yourself!

Notes:

Ooshma Garg is the founder of Gobble, a food delivery startup offering 10-minute gourmet dinner kits. She spoke about the typical “startup curve” and how to make it through the “trough of despair”.

Key takeaways:

  • Do not get distracted by short-term profits, play the long game.
  • You’ll have to iterate multiple times before you reach product market fit.
  • Hiring people who believe in the company’s mission will ensure they don’t leave when times get rough.
  • Ambition is singular, mission is shared.
  • Do you not confuse the company’s function with the company’s mission.

Ali Rowghani sat down and conducted a fireside chat with Ben Silbermann, the founder and CEO of Pinterest. It was fascinating to hear about Ben’s background and journey.

Key takeaways:

  • You need to spend a lot of time observing people using your product. Ben would sit in coffee shops and ask people to try Pinterest. He would then record their behaviors and expectations of what the product should/could do.
  • Building side projects is the best way to learn new technologies.
  • Working at a company you admire is an extremely valuable use of your time (before founding Pinterest, Ben spent a few years at Google).
  • Diverse teams build better products.

Chad Rigetti is the founder of Riggetti Computing, a hard-tech startup working on quantum computing. Chad has spent the past 15 years of his life researching/working on quantum computers, and is extremely passionate about the subject. It was fascinating to hear someone speak about a technology that has the potential to literally change the world.

Key Takeaways:

  • Quantum computing has the power to help solve humanities largest problems (cancer, global warming).
  • Hard-tech companies are alive and well. Riggetti Computing is one of those companies.
  • Finding something you want to devote your life to is an incredibly rewarding and amazing experience.
  • Founders aren’t superheroes. Everyone has their doubts and insecurities.

Kalam Dennis and Reham Fagiri are the founders of AptDeco, the easiest way to buy and sell used furniture. AptDeco is relatively young, and the company is actually profitable. In a startup world where growth at all costs is ingrained in every founder’s brain, this is an impressive achievement.

Key Takeaways:

  • Build a real business.
  • Be default alive.
  • Be clear on where you want to go, but flexible on how you get there.
  • It’s easy to get distracted by business cycles, what the venture capital environment looks like, tech press, etc. Drown out the noise and focus on your business.

Qasar Younis and Kevin Hale conducted office hours with three companies from the crowd. The two partners were both incredibly insightful and at times, terrifying. They provided valuable glimpses into how they think about products and were brutally honest with their critiques.

Key Takeaways:

  • Make your call to actions clear and obvious to your users.
  • Don’t overcomplicate your product.
  • Know your metrics (ARR, CAC, active users, MoM growth, churn, etc.)
  • Be intellectually honest.

Sam Altman and Paul Buchheit conducted Pitch Practice. The exercise was a great example of how a proper pitch should be done. Two attendees pitched their ideas and were followed up with Sam’s version of the pitch.

Key Takeaways:

  • If the person your pitching isn’t knowledgeable about the space your company operates in, it’s important to first educate them on some key metrics/ideas.
  • What your company does should be presented in a clear and concise manner.
  • You need to explain why you’re the right person/team to get the job done.
  • You need to admit to the risks. Proclaiming there’s a 100% chance you’ll be successful means you’re either crazy or lying.
  • Always ask for a follow up (Do you mind if I send you an email next week?).

Qasar Younis conducted a fireside chat with Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and a16z. It was interesting to hear such a prominent VC give his insights and opinions on the current landscape.

Key Takeaways:

  • Silicon Valley tends to obsess with the future, but history is an excellent teacher (industrial revolution, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, etc.)
  • Books recommendations include: Making the World Work Better, Bill & Dave, The Wizard of Menlo Park, I Invented the Modern Age, The Lunar Men.
  • The greatest founders always feel like they’re too late, but are almost always too early. Timing is critical.
  • a16z meets with more than 2,000 startup pitches per year and invests in ~20. You’ll have truly stand out to get funded.
  • a16z only meets with founders through warm introductions. Getting that warm intro is a founder’s first test. If you can’t network your way to a VC, you’ll suck at recruitment and sales.
  • Find the most exciting company and work there for a few years.
  • Cryptography/cryptocurrencies, bio-tech, artificial intelligence and machine learn, are the areas Marc would consider studying if he was in College now.

Sam Altman conducted a fireside chat with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and partner at Greylock. Reid is extremely articulate and thoughtful, and it was truly a pleasure to hear him speak.

Key Takeaways:

  • We’ll create another cognitive species in the next 50–100 years.
  • Anyone building products should be able to articulate a robust theory of human nature.
  • The most successful companies are not first to market, but first to scale (Google was not the first search engine).
  • Familiarize yourself with startup Blitzscaling.
  • Build the best possible network around you.
  • References are the key to figuring out who you want to work with.

If you enjoyed this post please leave a clap and a share! 👏🏼🔥👏🏾🔥👏🏿🔥👏🏾

You can follow me on twitter @dalexandruignat 🔎🔎🔎🔎

(Note: This post is merely a reflection of what goes on in my weird little head)🤓