Every good thing sooner or later comes to an end.
That being said, we’re entering the fifth and final learning session of the Startup School (SUS) program organized and managed by the Y Combinator.
Although final, a lot had happened during the ninth week of the course. Great discussions took place and a huge amount of turmoil occurred as well due to the interview invitations YC send out to some of the SUS participants. Nevertheless, we continued learning and developing ourselves in order to manage to achieve our final goal - raise a pre-seed round of investment and realize a product that people love.
Learning Session #5:
Week #9: The Path to $100B + After PMF: People, Customers, Sales + How to Win:
It seems like there is something fundamental when you’re thinking about having the potential of a really big business. If you don’t have some sort of vision, an idea of the future, it’s hard to believe you’re ever going to get there.”
- Geoff Ralston, Partner @ Y Combinator
II. What was discussed this week:
The ninth week had started in a little different manner than the previous 8 weeks. Geoff Ralston led a discussion panel with two notable persons.
The first one was Paul Buchheit, the inventor of Gmail and Google’s ex-motto “Don’t be evil”. Among many other things, Paul was also a founder of FriendFeed, the originator of the “like” button which turned out to be turned out crucial for Facebook later on. Because the entire interview is worth watching first-hand, we have no intentions to paraphrase Paul himself. That’s why we advise you to just visit the YC library and watch the video. Spoiler alert: be prepared to hear some really cool stories from the early days of companies like Google.
The second interview was very different and at the same time very interesting to us since Mathilde Collin, a French entrepreneur and the founder of Front, took the interviewee role. What’s one of the most important statements that she made during the 50+-minute talk was that there are two things that are incredibly important in the early life of starting a company: vision (knowing where are you going) and discipline (focus). If there is one thing to be remembered out of the entire talk, we think that this should do it.
Daniel Gross, an entrepreneur and a founder of Pioneer Tournament for startups was the third guest lecturer this week. Unlike the previous two, Daniel prepared a slide presentation explaining how to survive and thrive as startup founders. Daniel shared a 5-step framework which helps every startup founder stay healthy so that the probability of success increases as well:
- Sleep: this is the ultimate nootropic for every startup founder;
- Food: if you remove all the junk food out of the table, the environment is set for success;
- Exercise: physically active people are also mentally healthy;
- Mind: a founder should spend at least 1 day not working as hard as possible in order to recover;
- Leadership: 5 stages of adult development that applies to entrepreneurship and leadership. We strongly encourage you to watch Daniel’s presentation and see for yourself how this 5-step framework can be applied in a real environment.
Overall, the lessons that were provided by the three speakers this week were all incredible. We’re extremely excited to see what will happen in the next week of the course which will also be the last one.
III. What were the key takeaways:
1. All the company really needs is frugality, focus, obsession, and love.
2. No matter what you raise, you should think of the amplification you need. If you raised $5 million, that doesn’t mean you can create $150,000-worth of value and be happy. You have to create $50 million worth of value.
3. If the startup get a huge round of funding before they have product-market fit, this could kill the company.
4. In reality, sitting on top of a big exponential change is what makes a startup a great success.
5. A lot of startup mistakes steam from the theme that founders are working really hard but not smart.
6. Your time as being a founder is really precious and as your team grows, you’ll be increasing the choke point for getting things done.
IV. What we liked and what we think could be improved:
This was a great week in general. All the discussions that spurred out in the forum, all the group members interactions that took place, everything went pretty smoothly and actively at the same time.
V. Additional resources to this topic:
1. Y Combinator’s additional resources:
- YC Startup School Library => a thorough collection of resources on all the topics that are being taught in the program. The library is updated on a per annually basis.
2. What we believe could be of help: re-read all the blog posts from this series in which we shared plenty of resources that can be a good start to get your feet wet with entrepreneurship-related topics:
VI. Evaluation of the week:
Unfortunately, we didn’t receive an interview invitation from the YC team. After rethinking and analyzing the entire situation, we made some conclusions and took some takeaways and we believe that was for good. We’ll be better prepared the next time and hopefully, by then, we’ll be able to show some more traction regarding our product development and community building initiatives.
In addition to that, we remain endlessly grateful to the entire YC crew for putting up with organizing and providing the SUS program to us. On the behalf of Geoff Ralston’s request, we wrote a ClassCentral review of the MOOC which can be viewed here.
Week #10: Graduation and Final Critical Acclaim:
We have written a lot about YC SUS program lately. Definitely, this was a great learning experience for the entire team of Berger Neurorobotics.
Although we have said this before, we’d like to repeat ourselves once more: our team thinks in a very critical way. This is due to our belief that everything has to be put to doubt before its proven to be right or of a certain quality.
Having said that, we’d like to admit that we haven’t saved our criticism towards YC as well despite all the proper things we’ve witnessed in the past 10 weeks. We’ve written our official course review here and because this is our official position and opinion, we’d like to also officially publish it in our blog post.
Here’s the review:
In a nutshell, here’s what we think are the biggest pros of the YC Startup School (SUS) program:
1. Weekly activities that help participants to stay motivated and active throughout the entire course: being assigned to provide weekly updates on a pre-defined metric as well as being responsible for joining the weekly group office meetings were 2 of the many initiatives that were supported by the program.
2. An experienced leader who provides deep expertise in a specific domain and practical advice: our group was led by a great professional, who is not only a YC alum but also deserves a great credit and admiration for taking the quest of organizing the meetings and providing insightful tips on how to become better in what we do.
3. An access to a HUGE professional network of specialists on various topics: every week of the course there was a special “Ask-Me-Anything (AMA)” forum thread where a practitioner answered questions on matters like startup sales, marketing, formation, and incorporation, etc.
These activities helped us develop and gain a first-hand experience on what is it to work in a real startup in a real environment. Being pushed out of your comfort zone and becoming a proactive entrepreneur requires a lot of discipline, self-motivation, and drive and this is one of the most important things the YC SUS MOOC taught us.
However, we believe that - although the MOOC was organized in a semi-professional way - a few things could be improved in the next SUS batch:
1. More personalized approach: a small number of participants could have been accepted at the beginning since not every startup team is highly committed to participate but only to audit the course content. We believe the lower the number of participants, the higher the quality bar of the forum discussions, the outcomes, the weekly updates, the interaction among founders will be.
2. A better communication when an organizational change occurs.
3. Investor relations and opportunities for startup founders: SUS might be a proper option for participants to get connected with investors in order to introduce themselves and their project. YC may want to provide such kind of opportunity only to the most actively engaged startup founders.
Although all the course’s activities were pretty good, we believe that they can become even better. We don’t strive for perfection, needless to say, but we do see in details things that might be tweaked for a better outcome.
We strongly recommend every entry-level entrepreneur to take the course in order to immerse her/himself into a great startup juggernaut and learn how to increase the chances of a startup success.
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.