Pay It Forward Labs Super Mentor, The Victorian in Santa Monica, July 2014
Plug and Play Tech Center Silicon Valley, VIP Judge, ~1,000 attending, March 2014
UCLA Anderson EDGE, Vivy and Terrence panel on funding for entrepreneurs, UCLA Anderson Business School, July 2014
UCLA Anderson EDGE, Vivy and Terrence panel on entrepreneurship at the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce, July 2014
I had many people ask me what was it like and instead of answering individually, I thought I would write up a short blog post. I was very lucky in meeting some of the presenters backstage and I would like to share some of what I learned. This blog is split into two, with part one focusing on Chamath Palihapitiya and part two focusing on Sam Altman and YC. I may write a part three on the hacks as there were some that were really creative and useful. Most of the hacks are viewable here.
Conversation between Jason Calacanis and Chamath Palihapitiya
Jason and Chamath set the stage for what would be a great weekend. In a fireside chat interview, Jason asked Chamath a series of questions. His answers were undoubtedly very energetic and full of swear words, which only added more enthusiasm from the audience. I met Chamath after his talk and spent some time asking a few questions myself. The notes below are a summary of the talk, the Q & A, and my personal conversation. Jason Calacanis hosted the talk, so most of the advice here is from Chamath.
Summary of the Conversation:
Great businesses are the result of two paradigms, that are hopefully connected
o Doing something you really want
o A market screaming for a solution
o Although this point is obvious to many, as it has been repeated a number of times, Chamath took it a step further to suggest a number of examples of companies he has invested in, and others such as Facebook and Uber which solve a great need the founders have been super interested in the solution
Sometimes failures, or doing things that are not working, makes you better
o Jason brought up Chamath’s examples of being successful while working at BMO (Bank of Montreal) and then going to AIM and joining projects that were failing such as AIM and ICQ. Chamath responded by saying he is almost fortunate to have witnessed those losses as he can understand what made them fail, rather than having the success he had at Facebook which could have been a result of multiple reasons
When things aren’t working, you start learning about why they fail. Where as if you things are working, you have no clue what made them work.
Do not go chasing a lifestyle or a person, but chase what you love.
o We are always asked what we want to do when we grow up, and what we want to be when we graduate. The answer, I think, is always an image of someone that we aspire to be. I don’t necessarily think that is wrong, but Chamaths point is to chase what you love. Don’t spend all your energy being that person you imagine, spend it on doing what you like. It is a huge point, and I don’t think it applies only to an audience of young hackers.
Skills the youth need to focus on today
o Learn to code. It is equivalent to English, in fact, if you can code you may not even need English. Chamath goes hard at this point, he even has investments in this space (Team Treehouse). There are enough people who agree with him so I won’t drive this point home.
o Find your inner voice. We get caught up in this world with things that look and sound cool. We should just focus on what our inner voice says.
Incubators and accelerators will never produce the best companies in the world
o Chamath loves to stir the pot, so he says this comment at a YC sponsored hackathon. He mentions Facebook and Uber will never be created at incubators, and shrugs the suggestion of Dropbox and Reddit. He defends his argument by saying the great companies were found by getting a great team together, finding a great idea, and understanding the market. I don’t think it’s a very strong argument and would love some feedback from the readers on this point.
The S&P will be 56% technology companies in the next few decades
o Technology companies are all the rage, and although now maybe 12% of S&P is technology related, that will change soon. He believes that if AliBaba can IPO here from China, what’s stopping the equivalent companies of India, Africa, Russia, from doing the same.
Bill Gurley is not necessarily right about burn rates and there may not be a technology bubble
o I asked him this question personally and he said Bill is being a little over dramatic. Burn rates are important but only as one metric of operating a startup. If the startup is losing millions monthly, with limited traction or success, it’s a huge problem, but the large portion are not.
Great health ideas exist in the Obama’s Affordable Care Act
o He is huge on healthcare and if you are looking for problems, just read the Obama Administrations Affordable Care Act for where capital is being allocated
He’s leaving nothing for his kids
o This is a bit exaggerated I bet, but seeing as Chamath grew up on welfare, it sounds like he wants his kids to face the same challenges. He talks about spending all the money he’s made on great ideas and how rich people have an obligation to give back. 100% in agreement with him here. I think what he is doing is very noble, or he’s a great marketer for his investment fund.
Chamath’s very opinionated on certain things and I think that is what makes his talk so interesting. He has a tonne of material on the Internet that is worth checking out. You can find him on Medium. I don’t think he is correct in everything, and he himself admits that he got really lucky. I hope I have captured the essence of his conversation and I apologize for any misinterpretations of his ideas. I tried to be unbiased in my notes and I hope it helped. Part two will be posted soon, covering a conversation with Sam Altman and a few YC Alum.
Republished from Medium
Eric Migicovsky (Pebble Watch)
Eric Diep (A Thinking Ape)
Wilkins Chung (A Thinking Ape)
Michael Litt (Vidyard)
Stephen Lake (Thalmic Labs)
Evan Stites-Clayton (Teespring) – not from Waterloo but jumped on
After the panel I ran into Sam Altman and had a brief conversation with him. I also spoke to Kat Manalac, a partner at YC and Eric and Wilkins of A Thinking Ape. Below are some of the lessons and takeaways. Click here for Lessons from the Hackathon Part 1.
Don’t do school and startup, focus on one
- The anxieties of startups can be read about here and here. It is a draining process and you give it 110% of your time and effort. Sam drove this point home by saying unless you are really compelled by your idea, don’t drop out of school. The Dean just smiled (more tuition money whooo)
Do the harder thing
- This was a statement said by Eric Diep when we had office hours with him. It sounds dirty in nature, but it refers to choosing which 4th year engineering project my intelligent friend wanted to pursue. By doing the harder thing/project, you learn more and it only benefits you in the long run. Ofcourse, doing the harder thing may hurt during the process. That’s what she said.
There are two ways outside of YC one can learn from what is happening at YC
- Sam talked about Startup School and a new set of classes you can sign up for here.
“Waterloo is the most impressive startup city”
- I bleed for Western and give my heart to Toronto, but I guess this is one man’s opinion. In all honesty, I have made more trips to Loo than I thought I would and I leave impressed every time. Someone has told these kids anything is possible, and they believed it. And they continue to believe it, and that’s what we need in Canada.
Everyone would have wanted to start early, but it will come with the right time
- There is always going to be something called the founders guilt, which is where one feels they should have started earlier. That is not the same as rushing into something. The YC panelists agreed that you should do something when you are compelled to, but never feel that you should because you are young. Granted it is easy, and it is probably the best time 5 years or less out of graduation, rushing because you see other 20 year olds succeed is not the right reason.
- I’d rephrase this as distinguishing between comparing yourself to others vs. yourself. When you compare to others, you rush into doing things. When you compare against yourself, you do feel guilty that you could have done it sooner, but satisfied that you did it and succeeded.
Find something you really want to do
- Said over and over and over and over and over again. Did you get it?
When YC companies pivot, they usually just pivot to what they wanted to do anyways
- This is an interesting point. There are always pivoting stories you hear about from Dropbox to Reddit. I think it takes time for the world to realize what you really want to create for it, and sometimes a pivot is changing up your value proposition but most times, its just fixing small things to get your point across better.
The idea matters
- Lots and lots people will say team matters the most. I don’t disagree, and I don’t think YC does as well. But you need a good idea. You need something compelling. It goes back to their motto – Make Something People Want
Team is so important to them, you are married to them
- Having done the YC app a number of times and spoken to friends who have achieved the interview stage, team comes up a lot. Many of the YC cofounders expressed this a number of times. Chamath even mentioned this in his talk.
If you don’t have a great idea, go to conferences and hackathons and make friends so when you do you can rely on them
- This basically answers the “how do I find a good cofounder?” Hopefully you know them.
Life’s ultimate goal is for you to do what you really want to do
- As engineers, there will be tonnes of jobs. You don’t have to start a company, but you should do what you want to do. It’s a really simple message and I love it when people make it sound so simple. Obviously you want to do a lot, but in the end, you should do what you really really want to do. Sam also touched on the idea of student debt and other issues he faced. It was a pain for him but he really liked what he was doing and it was all worth it.
Personal burn rate is far more important than corporate burn rate
- I was talking to Sam about this with one of my friends. My friend asked about working for a large company named after a healthy fruit after graduating versus doing a startup. Sam said the healthy fruit maybe great temporarily, but it tends to burn most people out after a while. This might be because of the corporate nature of work, or maybe the perks of being paid and fed fell (pun not intended).
- Sam also touched on Bill Gurley’s comments and said don’t worry about corporate burn rate so much. It’s really your drive that is important.
Rejections are common
- Every YC panelist attested to being rejected. Pebble was rejected all the time until their Kickstarter campaign. Giving up shouldn’t be a result of rejections.
When to give up
- There was no real answer to this, but it really came down to two things – you run out of money, or no one wants to buy your product. Those are not mutually exclusive. I think it’s really interesting to hear stories about rejections because you always assume people with money are smart. And if smart people don’t like what you have to offer, then no one will. That’s the greatest flaw in human thinking isn’t it?
Smart people and money don’t predict the future. They can slow it down or speed it up, but only once they see what is about to come. What is about to come is what you create, or don’t because you gave up.
Looking back at my notes, I realized that was a lot. Everyone I met from YC seemed really down to Earth and super humble. Eric Diep gave me great advice on my idea and Sam Altman was very inspiring. It’s funny coming from business school where you see many (not all) speakers come in being a little pretentious and arrogant. And then you see these entrepreneurs, and people who really made an impact, spend time answering your questions and really guiding you. I hope to do YC someday, if it’s a great path for me, and if I do I know I will learn much from these guys. Not only because they are smart, but they want to impart their knowledge.
In closing, great hackathon, and thank you to all the organizers, speakers and attendees. The only thing I wanted was a Teespring shirt, so Evan, if you read this and like it, tweet me @alijiwani1