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.

2/27/2008 12:52:35 pm

Thanks for the WebMynd mention! YC sure lined up a rockstar group of speakers. You guys are awesome.

2/28/2008 12:28:16 am

Jessica's already got a great amount of material to write for her second book, but everyone looks up to the YC folks (because you're oddly our same age and living the dream)! Good luck everyone!

2/29/2008 04:07:55 am

Great post! YC has been a kick-ass inspiration for all entrepreneurs. We're introducing our baby (NewsCred) to the world next week, and the excited/fear/adrenaline/anticipation is an awesome feeling. Good luck to the everyone in the current YC batch.

3/1/2008 11:16:41 am

So I totally buy that entrepreneurs should listen to their users. The only question that remains though is how exactly does one listen to their users?

The percentage of users that actually give you feedback is only a small percentage of your total users right?

4/20/2008 10:08:12 am

Just came across your blog, Jessica. Great work you, Paul and others are doing at YC. UK has learnt fast and we now have our own YC in the form of Seedcamp thanks to Saul Klein (as you know).

I fully agree with the statement of Evan of Twitter. We at www.edocr.com also took the stand that its better to concentrate on a limited offer than catering for every need. So our focus is on documents (.docs and .pdfs and not on .ppts, etc). We believe that .ppts are better served by slideshare.net etc. Just wonder whether anyone thought of offering a service dedicated to spreadsheets. Here is an opportunity for another YC company.

I also agree with Paul's statement - its better to do it than just talk and strategise (I know it goes against the MBA culture).

I also met a bunch of guys from YC company, auctomatic today. Great story there. Keep up the good work.

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