YC Startup School Mashup

How to build a great company using quotes from Y-Combinator Startup School 2013

James Faghmous
8 min readOct 29, 2013


I recently attended Y Combinator’s Startup School in Silicon Valley. All the talks are online, but frankly it might be hard to sit through all of them without the energy that was flowing through the auditorium.

There has been significant coverage of the event, and there isn’t anything I could say that you couldn’t simply get from watching the talks yourself. Instead, I decided to organize the speakers’ wisdom around the various phases a startup goes though: idea, vision, product, fundraising, and growth.

The speakers were: Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote; Dan Siroker CEO of Optimizely; Ron Conway angel investor and partner at SV Angel; Chase Adam founder of Watsi; Chris Dixon founder of Hunch and Site Advisor and partner at Andreessen Horowitz; Diane Greene founder of VMWare; Balaji Srinivasan founder of Councyl, Nate Blecharczyk co-founder of AirBnB, Jack Dorsey founder of Twitter and Square, and Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook


“’It is not enough to think great things before doing the work.’ Everybody has great ideas but what matters most is the hard work that you put into implementing these ideas.” — Jack Dorsey

“Most successful startups know a secret: something you believe that others don’t.”— Chris Dixon

“When you pick an idea for a startup, don’t think: what piece of crap can I sell to make some money? Instead, build something you love. Build something where the target customer is you.” — Phil Libin

“’We must paint only what is important to us. We must not respond to outside demands. They do not know what they want, or what we have to give.’” — Jack Dorsey quoting from “The Art Sprit” by Robert Henri


“Entrepreneurs like Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ben Silverman are successful because they didn’t care about the outside world. All they care about is: is the product the best it can be and are users loving it? They are riffle focused on their product.” — Ron Conway

“When we find something that resonates with other people. What’s the end product? It’s something that delights people. It’s something they can’t help but engage with. It’s something they can’t help but tap their feet to… that’s why we are all here: to create something that resonates with every single person on the planet.” — Jack Dorsey

“The most successful founders tend to obsessed with certain things. For example, Steve Jobs was obsessed with how perfect some edges of a polygon looked.” — Paul Graham

“What was amazing about Zuckerberg was his vision and confidence. Confidence, not arrogance, that FB’s initial growth was going to persist. After our first meeting, I asked him: ‘how many users to you think you’ll have in 2 years?’ and he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘300 million.’ It turns out he was only 700 million users short.” — Ron Conway

“When you identify a (startup) secret, it becomes very frustrating to communicate it to others who haven’t because you are trying to show them what’s obvious but they just can’t see it.” — Chris Dixon

“’The artist… disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those that are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it. He shows there are more pages possible.’” — Jack Dorsey quoting from “The Art Sprit” by Robert Henri

“There will always be someone who has more resources than you do. The reason why were more successful was because we cared more than anyone else.” — Mark Zuckerburg


“The most important thing you can do as an aspiring entrepreneur is to cultivate a group of brilliant friend as early in life as possible. In fact, you should only make friends with people you see yourself starting a company with.” — Phil Libin

“The worst thing you can do is have a co-founder that doesn’t work as hard as you do.” — Nate Blecharczyk

“The best founders recognize their deficiencies and build a strong team around them to address those deficiencies” — Ron Conway

“You can change your ideas and pivot your company, but you can’t change your co-founders without starting over.I see many people rushing into these relationships when you should give them a lot of thought.” — Nate Blecharczyk

“’Without motive, you will wobble about.’ This is one of the greatest lessons in building a team, an organization, a company: you cannot achieve anything without a shared and common sense of purpose.” — Jack Dorsey

“You must hire fast and fire fast. If you know that there are dead weights in the company, you can be certain that everybody else in the company does too.You can help morale by being decisive and letting go people that don’t work out — even if they’re a co-founder.” — Ron Conway

“Everyone wants to hire good people. No one wants to hire an OK person. My heuristic is to hire someone you would want to work for. If you look at my management team today, I would be honored to work for any of them.” — Mark Zuckerburg


“’We are not here to do what has already been done. Know what the old masters did. Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they’ve established.’”— Jack Dorsey quoting from “The Art Sprit” by Robert Henri

“When I think back, there are a lot of things that I have done: hobbies, projects, and favors. I might’ve lost interest in them or I wasn’t successful. Looking back, every one of those experiences have prepared me for AirBnB and I encourage you to think about your experiences that way.” — Nate Blecharczyk

“The first lines of code for Facebook started much earlier. I just built a lot of stuff just for myself: games I wanted to play, a music player that I wanted.” — Mark Zuckerberg

“One reason my first startup failed was that I had no feedback loop. I couldn’t talk to my customers so I never knew what they wanted.” — Dan Siroker

“’It’s better, initially, to make a small number of users really love you than a large number kind of like you.’” —Nate Blecharczyk quoting Paul Buchheit

“Every founder thinks their company is going to explode. Yet, the founders of companies that don’t explode but keep iterating until they do explode are unsung heroes… Ben Silverman is an example of a founder who was persistent and stayed close to his users. He would host focus groups in coffee shops and call these users the next day to make sure they were still using Pinterest. He kept getting user feedback and iterating until Pinterest took off.” — Ron Conway

“Paul Graham told us to fly out to NYC and meet our users. And we did, we met all our users… all 40 them. We built a rapport and shared our story with them. We made them root for us.” — Nate Blecharczyk

Dan Siroker’s code for continuous product improvement

“There is no better time to do the hard things than when things are going extremely well.” — Jack Dorsey

Fundraising from the investor’s perspective

“We invest in people first.” — Ron Conway

“One thing about Facebook, and a few years later Twitter, was that the monthly growth was a very steep upward slope (i.e. fast growth). You don’t argue with the metrics.” — Ron Conway

“Looking back at all the investments that I’ve made, and the dozens that I missed, the best predictor has been a founder who had some unique technical, domain, or customer pain expertise.” — Chris Dixon

“Investors don’t want M’s, they want B’s baby!” — Nate Blecharczyk

Fundraising from the founder’s perspective

“We chose our Angel investors very carefully and made sure they were technical people that appreciated what we were building. And because they understood what we were doing, all it took was a single phone call.”— Diane Greene

“The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is selecting investors based on valuation instead of value added. Valuation and dilution are second to bringing a top-tier investor who can add value to the space you are in.” — Ron Conway

“When we decided to raise a larger round, we looked for strategic partners to invest in us. So we looked for hardware companies that could benefit from our software. We picked DELL because the other big companies (IBM, HP) were already in software and it seemed impossible at the time that DELL would make any software.” — Diane Greene

“We once met with a famous angel investor. As we were pitching, he was nodding his head and drinking a smoothie. Halfway through the pitch, he just got up and left without saying a word. He didn’t even finish his smoothie.” — Nate Blecharczyk

“As soon as you get an agreement with an investor make sure you get a written commitment right away because people tend to ‘forget’. Just send an email that commits the investor to that agreement e.g. ‘I am delighted that you have committed to investing at a $100M valuation. My lawyer will call you tomorrow.’” — Ron Conway

“When fundraising, keep your options open. When people heard we were trying to raise money, many prestigious VCs approached us to invest. But as soon as the bubble burst, they wanted to half our valuation. Luckily, we kept our negotiations open with Michael Dell and signed a term sheet the next day.” — Diane Greene


“I would like to stand here and tell you it gets better, and it does to some extent, but it gets harder. You shouldn’t found a company if what you’re trying to optimize for is easy.” — Phil Libin

“If you are very successful, it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Think about competing in the Olympics for gold. What would it take? What kind of training would you go through? That’s how hard the startup journey is.” — Nate Blecharczyk

“Peter Thiel had this model for making decisions: as the complexity of the company grows, you will be faced with 100 things that you can do, but your job is to identify and work on only the one or two things that matter.” — Mark Zuckerberg

“One of the hardest transitions anyone has to make, is going from individual creation to leading a team.” — Jack Dorsey

“It is possible that (Facebook) clones, if they went faster and better, could’ve beat us. People tend to worry about strategic competitors but clones are a pain in the ass. You do want to pay attention to clones pretty early because they are very hard to dislodge once they gain a foothold.” — Mark Zuckerberg

“’If you succeed you will have to pay for it, as well as enjoy it… for the rest of your life.’” — Jack Dorsey quoting from “The Art Sprit” by Robert Henri

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James Faghmous

@nomadic_mind. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is the same as between = and ==. Living is in the details.