YC: 7 Weeks In



When Chris Sacca talks, people listen.

It’s 7 weeks into Y Combinator's winter funding cycle and we’re in the thick of things now.

Demo Day Looms Large
The founders are demons of productivity right now, because they are preparing to present to investors at Demo Day next month. Many founders look back on these three months and say it was the most productive time of their lives, but this period in the month before demo day tends to be the most productive of all. 

Over the past few weeks they’ve been iterating on their ideas. Some show up with their idea in great shape, but usually it changes a lot. Probably the most important thing we do at YC is help founders with the idea. Paul, Robert and Trevor have gotten really good at it. They help founders figure out both what to work on first, and how to expand their long-term plan into something bigger.

But of course no one can tell you what users want as well as users can. Paul Buchheit wrote recently about the importance of releasing early and often as a way of learning what users want. Fortunately there are now so many YC alumni that it’s possible to do alpha testing within the YC community.

Startups Launch
It’s also the season for launching. For better or worse, investor interest is highly correlated with traffic. Of the 21 startups in this batch, 6 have already launched: 8aWeek, Addher, Heroku, RescueTime, Tipjoy and WebMynd. I think it’s a big relief for the founders to launch and start getting user feedback. One trend we’ve noticed over the years is a correlation between launching late and failure. Paul suggested in his essay, “How Not to Die,” that startup founders should “put [themselves] in a position where failure will be public and humiliating.” Once you’ve launched you have more to motivate you.

Garrett Camp of StumbleUpon after his talk.

Guest Speakers
We’re so lucky to have such successful and busy people help the YC founders each week. Below are the most interesting or surprising takeaways I had from the recent speakers' talks. 

Evan Williams (Twitter, Blogger, Odeo):  Ev said something striking that I hadn’t really thought about….Twitter’s success was in part due to its limitations. It was like a stripped down blogging app.  I wonder what else could be “more” with less?

Paul Buchheit (FriendFeed, creator of GMail): “Keep moving, stop thinking and start doing.” Paul’s a big proponent of actually building something to see if it works rather than pondering if something should work. He did this with the first prototypes of AdSense and GMail.

Chris Sacca (angel investor, formerly Google): As always, Chris had a lot of fascinating stories to tell. One thing that struck me had to do with Larry and Sergey’s way of thinking. When something about the world is broken, they notice it’s broken, instead of thinking “that’s just how things are.” I suspect much Google’s success is a reflection of the personalities of the founders.
Garrett Camp (StumbleUpon): The founders of StumbleUpon worked “purely in isolation” in Calgary for about 3 ½ years. There wasn’t much of a startup community for them. Garrett’s main goal in starting StumbleUpon was just to make something he could work on after grad school.  He ended up doing a lot more than that.

Kevin Hale (Wufoo): I am always wowed by the Wufoos’ dedication to customer service.  Also, the founders have an amazing working relationship. He said, “the hardest thing about decision making is not taking things personally.” Seems obvious, but it’s a nice reminder for early stage startups, when so many decisions need to be made very quickly.


Tim O'Reilly literally "Watching the Alpha Geeks" (photo by Adam Kazwell)

Y Combinator and Stanford’s BASES recently announced this year’s Startup School.

When: April 19, 2008, 9:00 am
Where: Kresge Auditorium, Stanford University
Application Deadline: March 23

I’m biased of course, but I think this is the best event out there for anyone who wants to start a startup (or already has). You can’t learn everything in a day, but Startup School exposes you to advice from an amazing array of people who have either done it themselves or work daily in that world.

Startup School began as an experiment to “open source” Y Combinator. YC itself takes three months and we can only fund a limited number of startups. But we wanted to see how much we could give everyone for free in one concentrated day of talks. A lot of the experts who speak at Startup School are the same ones who speak at YC dinners.

But beyond the high quality speakers, there’s something magical about Startup School that is hard to understand if you haven’t been there: the audience is mostly programmers and there’s an atmosphere of intelligence combined with commitment that I’ve never felt anywhere else.

The event is free, because we know that the one thing most startup founders lack is money. It always seemed odd to me that so many conferences having to do with the web charged so much to attend. Many founders we knew (even ones with some funding) who were at ground zero of all the new things happening on the web, tended to be priced out of these events.

We run Startup School like a startup. We offer bagels and coffee in the morning and not much else. There’s none of the extra stuff usually associated with conferences-- no sponsors, no introductory remarks, no exhibitors, no bags full of schwag. Startup School is just about the content. And like a startup it has grown by word of mouth.

Ask someone who’s been.  They’ll tell you what I mean.

Me interviewing Flickr's Caterina Fake at SUS 2006. Fun! (photo by Patrick Tufts)


Bill Gates demoed Xobni (YC summer '06) at the Office Developers Conference today. Cool.