Li Shing Chan
Feb 24, 2016 · 5 min read

I was given the opportunity to attend this conference in a scholarship (thank you Patrick Maloney for the tickets!) One of the terms is to write something about it. To be very honest, I had a tinge that this may feel like an obligation.

The queue was, well, a long long queue.

As I stepped into the main hall of the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, that illusionary obligation turned into an internal motivation to share what was spoken in the conference.

I’d love to share it through conversations or notes taken, but I figured to capture the essence of the conference, I would use the best lines spoken. No message is more powerful than the exact words spoken.

On building startups :

“Life happens in parallel, not a series.” — Guy Kawasaki, Canva

Many thought that we should strategize in series — ie build A, acquire X amount of customers, invest Y amount in customer service, etc. In reality, Kawasaki says a real startup scenario would be one that require one to handle everything together — which leads to a chicken and egg question.

“Focus on one thing you need to get done.” Max Mullen, Instacart

The topic was on how Instacart handles the problem of building a community of shoppers by investing in customer service representatives, or to build a good system for great customer experience.

“To do scalable things, start with unscalable things.” — Nirav Tolia, Nextdoor

Ironically, the process of finding product market fit requires tactics that would not scale, ie mechanical turks. Tolia thinks that if a startup abandons all non-scalable processes, a lot of good ideas will be ignored or thrown away. He used an example from Nextdoor to validate the point: to build a community of neighborhood, Tolia and his team basically asked users to look at maps, choose the houses they want to invite, and mechanically deliver postcards to these places — with the purpose of building data points of interactions within the neighborhood. “It was basically growth-hacking with USPS,” he joked.

On deciding to pivot :

“It is like asking myself the question : is this woman I am dating going to be my wife? If you reach a point when it becomes obvious after systematic experiments, you know if you do not pivot, it will be a failure.” — Nirav Tolia, Nextdoor

On building a team :

“You need two women to overcome the stupidity of a white man.” — Guy Kawasaki, Canva

“Culture fit is a luxury. You need to find someone who falls in love with your idea. You need similarly passionate people.” — Marco Zappacosta, Thumbtack

On deciding whether entrepreneurship is for you :

“Half of them came from dysfunctional families-emotionally, physically. It seems like that may be the cruelest but most effective ground to be effective. It makes a person shut out everything except to focus on what is important.” — Steve Blank, Startup Owner’s Manual

I can somehow relate this to a personal experience. I know someone who is emotionally affected by how his family, and that influenced how he handles his own finances. He eventually started a business for the purpose of making ends meet, but it eventually gave a better return than he thought. Looking at his qualities, I could tell that he lives in a different world than the rest of us in school — his personality, priorities and perhaps, philosophies — are indeed aligned with what Silicon Valley describes as ‘an entrepreneur’.

Some may read this and be able to relate what Blank meant. Be proud of yourself.

“Working in a consulting firm is the world’s best job ever. Building a startup is the world’s best calling ever.” — Steve Blank, Startup Owner’s Manual

Blank told a story of a student from Berkeley who approached him for career advices. He added on “Believe me, building a startup is the worst kind of career one can have. It has to be a calling, not a career.”

“There was practically no manual for me to start a business” — Gurjeet Singh, Ayasdi

A Masters graduate from Stanford, Gurjeet admitted that he felt lost when he first started Ayasdi, which is now backed by prominent VCs like Citi Ventures.

“I am not surprised on how hard the journey is; I am surprised on how emotional the journey is.” Marco Zappacosta, Thumbtack

As a startup, the scale is small such that data points are too little compared to the dominating players. The performance of your startup can be very,very volatile. The challenge is not about facing those difficulties, but it is about facing your emotions which are very aligned with the results. Most importantly, you have to embrace the emotional journey with the team as well. The topic of Fireside chat with Zappacosta is ‘Thumbtack’s Obsession : 6 years and 42 rejections on the Road to Solving One Big Problem.’ He said, “I stopped counting after a while.”

On re-thinking the definition of personal achievements :

“The more credentials they (entrepreneurs) have, the more assumptions they make, the less critical they are on themselves, and the more likely they will fail.” — Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures

Now when you grind, do not forget to rest.

“The genesis of having a work life balance is managing your energy and taking time to reground, to operate optimally.” Dustin Moskovitz, Asana

ps : Blurry pictures were results of hasty note-takings and the possession of only a mobile phone.

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Li Shing Chan

Written by

Economics student in the day, book-lover and writer at night.

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