As of August 21, 2018, we were officially accepted in the Y Combinator’s Startup School Advisor Track, which we consider to be another great achievement of ours. As a team that puts its best endeavors into every activity – whether that refers to product development, equity fundraising or team formation – we are glad that such an interesting learning opportunity has been provided to us.

During the duration of the course (10 weeks in total), we firmly intend to complete all the necessary tasks and be extremely engaged with the learning community in order to not only receive a certificate of completion and win a $10K in equity-free grand funding but also to stand out from the rest of the participants and build ourselves an extraordinary image of startup company founders.

For this purposes, we came up with the idea of writing a series of blog posts that organize and describe the topics that have been taught by the YC lecturers into 5 learning sessions.

Each learning session will summarize the study material (lectures, writings, interviews, forum posts, etc.) presented in every two consecutive weeks following an organized structure that aims to provide critical acclaim of our learning experience and level of satisfaction.

We encourage every entrepreneur, investor, YC stuff, and every reader who is interested in topics related to how to start a startup to engage by reaching us without further hesitation in case if any questions or comments occur.

So, without further ado, here is the first learning session overview describing the first two weeks of the course curriculum.

Learning Session #1: 

Week #1: Introduction to the course + The story of your startup + Startup Mechanics + A Conversation with Paul Graham:

Startups are so hard! They’re so very, very hard! This is almost certainly going to be the hardest, most difficult thing you’ll ever do in your professional career.”

 

– Geoff Ralston, Partner @ Y Combinator

I. Lecturers: Geoff Ralston, Adora Cheung, Sam Altman, Carolynn Levy, Jon Levy, Jason Kwon, Paul Graham.

II. What was discussed this week:

The class started with a brief outline of the Startup School history and how did it happen that it launched as a separate YC initiative presented by Geoff Ralston. In addition to the 2018’s class curriculum overview, some stats were also provided that illustrated this Startup School cohort via numbers, such as:

– 27,000 companies from over 100 countries and more than 8,000 cities applied;

– 15,000 startup taking the course, 12,000 from which are auditing;

– 100 Graduating Companies to receive $10,000 in non-equity grants.

The startups’ eligibility criteria for winning the $10K non-equity grant were then explained by Adora Cheung, also a partner at the YC. Startups that would like to officially complete the course and qualify for winning the grant need to do two things:

– Submit 9 out of 10 Weekly Updates: each startup must choose on a metric to follow throughout the duration of the course (revenue, active users, weeks til launch, etc.) and submit weekly reports on how well it’s doing in terms of successfully growing this metric.

– Participate 9 out of 10 Group Hours Sessions: a weekly group gathering of all the participants moderated by a YC alumni staff who was specially assigned to each group in the Advisory Truck.

Geoff concluded the first lecture about storytelling emphasizing on building a stable startup narrative. According to his experience, every startup founder should build a story about the future that resonates with parents, families, friends, co-founders, potential customers, partners, and investors in order to inspire and persuade them to support the startup adventure that has been embarked upon.

Sam Altman was next with his lecture on the topic of “How to Succeed With a Startup“. In our point of view, it was the shortest but the most memorable and inspiring lecture among the others. In a nutshell, he put a strong bet that founders who manage to build a product so good that their friends will simultaneously start talking about it have a greater chance of exponentially achieve success and growth than those who don’t.

Carolynn Levy’s startup mechanics lecture followed up next. Common mistakes and problems related to startup incorporation topics, such as vesting schedules and stock issuance during and after the incorporation of the company, were thoroughly discussed and explained by providing real-life examples.

Instead of a conclusion, Geoff Ralston had a short talk with Paul Graham about startups in general. Quite inspiring thoughts came out from one of the Y Combinator’s founders who although retired is still very active and thoughtful regarding startups and is more than willing to share his wisdom that he gathered throughout his career as a founder, mentor, investor, and speaker.0 comments awaiting moderation

All the video content for this week can be accessed freely here.

III. What were the key takeaways:

1. Launch sooner than you think you should!

2. A startup should tell a story about the future that it’s trying to create. The story must be believable, memorable, and sustainable!

3. A startup founder must have a confident and definite view of the future.

4. High potential is more important than experience.

5. Do not place too much importance on the founder that had the idea for the business because all of the hard work is in front of the team and all of the value is going to be created in the future.

6. At the very beginning of your startup, do things that don’t scale!

IV. What we liked and what we think could be improved:

Now is the time to mention that the course is extremely well organized. Our study group contains 26 startups in total who all share relatively close physical location and timezone. This helps us organize the Weekly Office Hours easier and more comfortably so that every startup could join in without a hustle. Speaking of which, the Weekly Office Hours meetings is the initiative that we personally like best because:

– It’s led and moderated by our Group mentor Martin Diz who is not only a knowledgeable professional but also a founder with an extended experience in the field of hardware development, crowdfunding, and fundraising. Moreover, Martin is a YC alumnus and he shares a lot of information regarding how to increase our chances when applying for the incoming YC programs;

– There’s a great network opportunity: we have a chance to introduce a problem of ours and collectively find an appropriate solution to it;

– We discuss our weekly progress and make the necessary tweaks so that we can take the most out of the course by not just watching video lectures but by actually doing some real work;

– The weekly meetings follow a very strict format which allows for speed and efficiency when a participant is presenting his startup weekly log: a) who are you and what’s your company doing in a sentence (one-liner); b) what’s the achieved progress this week regarding the metric you’ve chosen to measure at the beginning of the course; c) what’s your plan for the next week; d) had been there any issues encountered or are there any questions that should be asked.

V. Additional resources to this topic:

1. Y Combinator’s additional resources:

How and Why to Start a Startup by Sam Altman, Dustin Moskowitz;

– Legal and Accounting Basics for Startups by Carolynn Levy;

Startup Mechanics by Kirsty Nathoo;

Before the Startup by Paul Graham;

Do Things That Don’t Scale by Paul Graham;

Three Paths in the Tech Industry: Founder, Executive, or Employee by Michael Seibel;

YC’s Essential Startup Advice by Geoff Ralston and Michael Seibel;

How to Start a Startup by Michael Seibel;

Why Should I Start a Startup? by Michael Seibel.

2. What we believe could be of help:

How to Tell Your Company Story by Jeff Gardner;

The Pharma Guide to Startups by Marc Andreessen;

The Difference Between Startup Incorporation and Company Formation by Gil Silberman;

Startup Equity 101 by Alan McGee;

– “A Startup Takes Flight” Series by Crunchbase;

Legal Concepts for Founders by Clerky, edited by 22 leading startup attorneys;

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (the book) by Jessica Livingston;

Founder’s Guide by Founder’s Guide;

– The “Founder’s Guide” series by Justin Kan, Harj Taggar, Igor Lebovic, Immad Akhund, Ranidu Lankage, Alyson Friedensohn, Sam Altman;

Gust Launch Guide to Startup Incorporation by Gust.

VI. Evaluation of the week:

Throughout our professional careers, we had participated in numerous learning activities and educational initiatives. By far, although it’s too early to draw conclusions and recommendations, we believe we just started the most engaging and learnable journey ever. We’re excited to see if the pace and the quality of the study materials will be kept as high as expected during the second week as well.

Week #2: Building Product + Finding Product-Market Fit + A Conversation with Ooshma Garg:

A lot of people think of their product as a painting; as something that could be appreciated as a piece of art, as something that even if it’s appreciated by 1 person is special. That’s not what you’re making! Products are NOT paintings. They’re NOT art!”

 

– Michael Seibel, CEO and Partner @ Y Combinator              

I. Lecturers: Michael Seibel, David Rusenko, Ooshma Garg, Adora Cheung.

II. What was discussed this week:

This week’s opening lecture was presented by Michael Seibel, an experienced entrepreneur and currently the CEO of Y Combinator. Basically, his entire presentation was around the topic of how a startup should build its product properly. He outlined a 5-step framework that startups should use when building something people want:

– Step #1: What problem are you solving: you should always be able to state the problem clearly and narrowly. Remember that there might be a problem that is not solvable (due to technological developments) or simply not worth solving at all (due to a lack of demand).

– Step #2: Who is your customer: you should always know how intense is the problem that the customer experiences and whether he’s willing to pay enough in order to solve it.

– Step #3: How to set up metrics: you should always pick 5 to 10 important stats and focus on them. Use Google Analytics as a startup but then build upon it using more advanced tools like MixedPanel, for example.

– Step #4: Product development: you should always set KPI goals for the current product development cycle as well as write a product specification document for better alignment and prioritization of the features that need to be developed.

– Step #5: Pivot vs. Iterate: do you know the difference between the two? Well, you should! (Hint: scroll down and continue reading in case you don’t).

The lecture, as expected, was very thoughtful and at the same time provocative (how come a founder should never use a discount technique when launching the product to market [?!?]). Definitely, all that Michael spoke about was based on his professional experience and that’s why we consider him to be a reliable source of knowledge.

David Rusenko, the founder and current CEO of Weebly, was the second lecturer in a row who – as being part of the YC alumni network – provided a real study case of how he and his team managed to find a product-market fit for their product.

Four things caught our attention in David’s presentation:

– First, the development phases through which a startup goes throughout its existence were nicely presented in a sequel: idea, prototype, launch, traction, monetization, growth;

– Second, the definition of product-market fit that he provided: the initial product-market fit search (from idea to traction phases) and continued product-market fit refinement (monetization through growth phases);

– Third, early-stage startup top challenges overviewed: finding product-market fit, hiring and building a world-class team, making money, building an organization that scalably and repeatedly launches great products;

– Fourth, a framework of how to build a remarkable product explained: we won’t go into more depth here as we encourage you to check the lecture and find out for yourself.

Last but not least, the third lecture was actually a short interview talk with the Gobble’s founder Ooshma Garg. Ooshma’s experience is quite vast and interesting so it’s hard to capture everything she emphasized on during the 1-hour talk. Two things that must be remembered, though, are:

– Mission and determination play a huge part in every startup success;

– Real entrepreneurship comes from diverse perspectives and from innovating at that edge at different industries.

Wasn’t this quite a powerful ending of this week?!

Please note that since all the lectures and slides are freely accessible, we strongly advise entry-level entrepreneurs to browse them as they are a solid fundamental for answering basic questions regarding the startup field.

III. What were the key takeaways:

1. The fundamental things that allow a startup to survive are a strong technical founding team, low burn rate (low costs and expenditures during the early days or the re-launch of our startup), highly-tied ego to the startup’s product (if you fail your startup, you get an “F” on life)!

2. The community of sharp people and investors usually DON’T have the problem you’re solving. So, using investors as a trigger to “Am I solving the right problem” is WRONG. Ignore the investors and your smart friends as they will lead you 100% astray.

3. If you can’t state the problem that you’re trying to solve in 1 to 2 sentences max, then you don’t know the problem. You really don’t understand the problem you’re solving until you understand who you’re solving it for*.

*Pro-tip: EVERYONE is not your market nor is it your beachhead niche. 

4. Always ask the following questions: Who can we help first?; What need/want/problem can be addressed immediately?; How do we get the first indication this thing is working?

5. For almost all the products that are used by EVERYONE NOW, there was a time BACK THEN that NO ONE were using them.

6. Talking to customers is good but talking to the wrong customers is very, very bad. Try to identify bad customers and FIRE them as soon as possible!

7. Don’t discount your product! Many founders’ initial thought is “I need to give [my product] for free because that’s the only way I’m going to get users!” Their thought is completely WRONG. Always charge the user because you want to know whether or not he’s willing to pay.

8. You need to have a number that you track that reflects how good your company is doing. Almost always if you’re ever going to charge money for your customers, this number should be REVENUE. Almost always if you’re never going to charge your customers money (like Facebook), then maybe it should be a usage-based metric like how often do your customers come back every day (i.e. daily active users [DAU]). It’s almost always one of the two.

9. How much time is enough to help you figure something out? If you’re NOT thinking that the process of coming up with a solution for the problem you’re trying to solve is probably like a 2-year process, you’re doing it WRONG! It’s going to take time because you’re doing something hard. If it was really easy someone else would have done it already.

10. PIVOT vs ITERATE: pivot is changing either the customer or the problem (rare to happen) while iterate is changing the solution (more commonly spread).

11. A product-market fit is achieved when your startup is transitioning from LAUNCH phase to a TRACTION phase.

12. The best companies create a market! Don’t rely (entirely) on market research!

IV. What we liked and what we think could be improved:

At this point, we definitely have no recommendations for further improvement on the course, which is pretty interesting taking into consideration the fact that we’re really critical in general.

A thing that we hadn’t mentioned until now is the AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) occasional sessions scheduled every week. This is how this works: a) startup experts in certain fields create a forum thread around 24 hours before the actual start time so people can post and upvote their favorite questions; b) at the scheduled time, the expert comes in and answers the top-voted questions and then spend the rest of the time interacting with everyone.

This initiative along with the study case lectures by YC founders network that is streamed online on a per weekly basis (these are the “A conversation” interview videos) provide 100% practical advice by sharing the founders’ stories of success. This shared know-how is priceless!

V. Additional resources to this topic:

1. Y Combinator’s additional resources:

Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook – A Great Product by Sam Altman;

Building Product, Talking to Users, and Growing by Adora Cheung;

How to Find Product-Market Fit by Peter Reinhardt;

Peter Reinhardt on Finding Product-Market Fit at Segment;

The Real Product-Market Fit by Michael Seibel;

Ooshma Garg on How She’s Growing Gobble to $100M in Sales;

Toy Markets by Aaron Harris.

2. What we believe could be of help:

– Building a Growth Framework Towards $100 Million Product by Brian Balfour;

Scaling Your Business: 6 Stages You Need to Know by Meg Prater;

Launching a Successful Startup #3: The Beachhead Market by Bill Aulet;

The Visual Guide to Launching a Product or Service by Creately;

12 Things About Product-Market Fit by Tren Griffin;

Where to Go After Product-Market Fit: An Interview With Marc Andreessen;

What do Entrepreneurs Need to Succeed by Andy Rachleff;

“Need More Time” or Lack of Product-Market Fit? by Martin Casado;

Revenue Traction Doesn’t Mean Product-Market Fit by Fred Wilson;

Product/Market Fit by Marc Andreessen;

How to Bring a Product to Market / A Very Rare Interview With Sean Ellis;

How to Bring a Product to Market, Part 2 – After Product/Market Fit;

How to Measure Product/Market Fit – an interview with Hiten Shah;

Getting to Product-Market Fit by Sean Ellis;

Why You Should Make It Easy for Users to Quit Your Product by Andrew Chen;

How to Fire a Customer by Elizabeth Wellington;

4 Lessons From a Failed Startup – From and For a First Time Founders by Kent Mori;

Making things people want by Des Traynor;

How to Find Product-Market Fit by Andy Rachleff.

VI. Evaluation of the week:

We had an amazing and at the same time busy week at the Startup School. The Weekly Office Hours meetings are getting more and more interesting and engaging. We even got personally in touch with the YC crew (Michael, the very CEO of the whole accelerator) and Startup School organizers (Adora and Geoff, who are also YC partners). The experience is getting even more personalized as we had a chance to schedule a private conversation with our group moderator in order to present to him our product concept. The goal was to gather critical feedback and iterate and tweak our communication materials. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Learning Session #1 Conclusion + What Follows Next:

So far, our impression is that the course will provide all the necessary foundational ingredients so that every inexperienced entrepreneur can gain the necessary knowledge and motivation to start off the ground. We understand that this sounds too flattering but at the same time, we promise to be way more critical in future posts (if there is a reason for being so at all).

In the next session, we’ll circle around topics like product measurement, users onboarding, product design, prototyping techniques, design thinking, PR, and more. So, if you’re eager to read our thoughts on that one, click here to jump right over.

NOTE: Privacy is the most critical part of the Startup School. All content discussed or shared during the course, office hours, weekly progress, chat, forums, etc. is considered confidential unless otherwise stated. That’s why we’d like to inform that the entire “Startup School Diary” series is based on our experience and point of view that purposefully excludes data and information regarding other participants’ thoughts, views, and opinions.

2nd NOTE: We have no authorship nor we claim any copyrights and/or ownership on any of the additional resources that we recommend to be checked along with the Y Combinator ones. Our goal is to support the reader by providing her with reliable sources of knowledge we believe could be of help for her fast advancement on a particular topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *