Key learnings from Startup School 2013

Michael (MJ) AllenMichael J. (MJ) Allen
Contact | Michael (MJ) Allen Linkedin Profile LinkedIn
Jun 05

Y Combinator put on a solid performance on October 13th where thousands of programmers, engineers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs joined a line up of amazing speakers at the Flin Center for Startup School 2013.

Having had my run at a few startup ventures, much of key takeaways from mentors hit close to home. These are the key takeaways.

Phil Libin, Found @ Evernote

  • His 3rd company before hitting it big with Evernote
  • ‘Let’s build something we LOVE!’
  • Cultivate a group of cofounders early
  • Don’t even make friends with people you wouldn’t start a company with!
  • Being your own boss (while consulting) sucks! You aren’t creating long-term value
  • Don’t be clear with structuring. Be innovative with your product
  • Not fun day to day, but fun month by month
  • No exit strategy. Build something you don’t want to sell
  • Make something for yourselves

Dan Siroker, Founder @ Optimizely

  • 2005: Time from start to first paying customers
  • 2010: We had our first paying customer before we wrote a line of code
  • Every candidate: Are they better than the mean?
  • Bottleneck: A/B testing requests a developer
  • Hard to prioritize 1, 2, 3, if you aren’t the market
  • Asking good questions > giving advice
  • Repeat tight feedback loops
  • Entrepreneurs write the algorithm (to success)

Ron Conway, Partner, SV Angel

  • Invest in people first
  • 40% of startups in SV Angel go out of business.
  • The founders who iterate until it works are the unsung heros
  • Never argue with the metrics
  • Find investors who add value
  • Social apps. change the way people communicate
  • If the product takes off, it’s a good product
  • Move quickly. One term sheet = forcing function
  • Follow up to get agreement on paper
  • Product focus = crucial
  • Be decisive
  • Hire fast. Fire fast. Even if its a cofounder
  • Recognize deficiencies
  • Recent change code < design

Chris Dixon, Partner @ A16Z

  • Good ideas that look bad, look for the sweet spot in the middle
  • You need to know a secret. Something you know that most people don’t.
  • Draw from your experiences
  • To us, it was as obvious as this bottle of water
  • Unbundle functions
  • Powerful people will dismiss it as a toy
  • People vote with their time. Did it start as a hobby?
  • Does it challenge social norms?
  • Best indicator: Domain expertise

Diane Green @ VMWare

  • We had a big vision
  • Don’t fix up the office
  • Find a small milestone that adds value
  • Keep your options open
  • With the right people, a board is invaluable
  • Having a deadline helps with almost everything
  • Make people’s lives easier!!!

Balaji Srinivasan, Founder @ Counsyl

  • Let’s talk about exits…
  • Voice / stay and make a difference VERSUS Exist / leave and try somewhere else
  • Exist gives VOICE its strength. People leaving makes voice an option.
  • Silicon Valley is reinventing every industry. The backlash is beginning.
  • Show people what a world run by Silicon Valley would be like, without disrupting.
  • Opt-out. Mobile makes EXITS less risky.

Chase Adams, Founder @ Watsi

  • Do good + Do well.
  • Do you think all the startups TC wires about are this secretly crappy
  • Earn trust
  • Worst part of being a non-profit: nobody says no.
  • Make the world smaller = make the world better
  • Find something to work on that you care about more than yourself.

Jack Dorsey, Founder @ Twitter, Square

  • Ware are not here to do what’s already been done. Don’t worry about rejection.
  • Don’t build someone else’s dream.
  • Praise > blame
  • Do the hard things when it’s going well.
  • Small details matter
  • Create a note called ‘Daily’. Check it daily. Add do’s and don’ts. It will help you focus.
  • You. You’re the future. You have the ideas. That’s your task. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But it’s up to you to make what you want to see the world.

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder @ Facebook

  • I built stuff I wanted
  • We didn’t realize we were going to be the ones.
  • We cared more. For everyone else, it was a hobby.
  • Be determined
  • I know nothing when I started
  • That mistake cost me billions…but it’s fine.
  • When hiring: Would I work for that person?
  • I never believed startups were glamorous
  • Throw yourself in. What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Pick the #1 thing that matters.
  • When a problem arises. Lockdown!!!

 Nathan Blecharzyk, Founder @ Airbnb

  • You’ll fail more than you succeed
  • Everyone experience should be addictive
  • Choosing partners: Most important.
  • Something positive happened (a sign)
  • Work through it.
  • After a couple of beers, I agreed…
  • Motto: 3 clicks to book it
  • Before you quite, give it 100%
  • Lifecycle of a startup…Shoot high, low, low, low, low, flat, low, blip, low, adoption and the skys the limit.
  • It looks really easy. Persevere.
  • Do thins that don’t scale.

The above is a repost summary from Gregory Koberger @

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