Y Combinator's Startup School 2016 hosted by Sam Altman

Y Combinator’s Startup School 2016 — the recap, highlights & lessons

Each year Y Combinator has something fresh to deliver at Startup School. This year was without exception. Apart from a stellar lineup of speakers (founders and investors) there was something new — a Founder-VC pitch role play (more on that below). I still remember my first Startup School in 2010 hearing Brian Chesky (AirBnB founder — pictured left) speak with so much energy and excitement on stage. Heck, I was so inspired that I went to the 10 man office in SF the following day to see them. Next day Office visits no longer happen but you can still get inspired by attending Startup School.

Ernest Semerda with Brian Chesky circa 2010 — Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF

Ernest Semerda with Brian Chesky circa 2010 — Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF

Each year Startup School reminds me about the fundamentals of starting and running a business;

(a) build something people need,

(b) execution is king and

(c) move fast.

Without further ado, here are my 2016 Startup School highlights.

2016 highlights

(1) Gobble — killer charts & “very crowded market”

These 2 pictures below should motivate you. This is what 6 years from an “overcrowded market” to killing it looks like. Well done Gobble for staying around and showing the disbelievers that you can do it.

“Gobble helps busy professionals easily cook dinner in just 10 minutes with 1 pan. The company designs gourmet dinner kits and completes all the sourcing and prepwork — washing, chopping, marinating, and sauce-making — so all one has to do is combine the ingredients together in one pan and be a dinner hero.”

Founders never forget. Note the “very crowded market” excuse.

Founders never forget. Note the “very crowded market” excuse.

Next time you are told this lame excuse of an “overcrowded market” or “no market” don’t be put down. Think AirBnB, Uber, Gobble et al.. and thank the investor for their time. Move on. And prove them wrong.

(2) — Rigetti and their Quantum Computer

Rigetti and Quantum Computing

Rigetti and Quantum Computing

I don’t remember last time I was this excited to hear about Quantum Computing.

This IS the next major evolution in computing. It’s that extra layer of precision that’ll open up new opportunities like seconds did for the clock to crystals for GPS and parallel for processing.

And maybe, just maybe we might be able to solve “Health” after all —from efficient drug discovery by mapping out all molecular combinations quickly to identify the ones that would most likely work to simulations. I’d love to see health go open source and have every software engineer contribute (as a way of giving back to society) to solving health related issues. Maybe this is where Mark & Priscilla Zuckerberg $3B effort to rid the world of major diseases be focused on — a contrarian approach to health efforts?.. maybe this is what we need since existing efforts are slow and buried in red tape.

Sam, congrats on convincing Rigetti to join YC. I want them to succeed!

(3) The Art of Pitching with Sam Altman and Paul Buchheit

This is the Founder-VC role play I mentioned above. I was super impressed with Sam being able to soak in the founder’s pitch and then within seconds craft a kickass (alternate) version. Brilliant way to educate everyone listening on the art of pitching.

Here are the videos — Note: Sam is role playing the founder role and Paul the VC role.

3 Takeaways:

  1. Articulate clearly what your business does, what market its addressing and why it matters,
  2. Explain the Fundamentals of what Drives your business and
  3. Don’t leave a meeting without some kind of a follow up (tip: don’t ask for a cheque).

(4) Marc Andreessen live and uncut!


Marc is always amazing to listen to. He commands so much power and energy in the room because his f**kin awesome! YouTube his name to hear many many recordings of his talks.

Marc stressed that to get yourself in front of the partners at a16z you need to pass “a bunch of tests”.

1st test — network your way into a venture firm. It tests your ability to hustle. It also paints a picture of your ability to hire. Someone that cannot hustle will find it a challenge to bring in top hires.

2nd test — formal presentation — “can you execute a formal speech” — this gets tested once you get yourself infront of the partners. Marc says this should be easier to do than infront of your customers since they are a lot tougher when it comes to selling by being a “default no”.

What I’d love to see in the future Startup School

  • Mobile focus — it’s no suprise the super computer in everyone’s pocket is changing how we interact and engage with “always on services”. I’m yet to see a startup that has truly revolutinalized a service on the mobile. For example; I’d love to see the spreadsheet evolved into mobile form where the shell looks nothing like a spreadsheet in a smaller mobile window. I don’t mean a dashboard of numbers but an actual pleasurable experience end-to-end that works as well offline as online and is supported by intelligence to automate the meh pieces of my workflow. This could really be applied to any industry. There are ample opportunities and those that experience the pain and understand the technology will be leading it.
  • And more from The Art of Pitching!

Have I missed anything?

How was your 2016 YC Startup School experience?

PS. This article also appeared at https://medium.com/the-road-to-silicon-valley/ycombinators-startup-school-2016-the-recap-highlights-lessons-7222ed84218a#.gn23gyc8z

~ Ernest

Ernest Semerda next to the classic design of a Isolation Tank

Altered States: The Art of Floatation as a Company Benefit

If you solve problems using code you understand the storm that is within. It’s Tron meets The Matrix. Everything in your head is fighting for resources, algorithms crunching numbers, pointers going astray in your stack and the garbage collector nowhere in sight to clean the mess up!

Monkey Brain

There are solutions to this madness. The process is called calming your monkey brain typically through Meditation. But Meditation isn’t for everyone. Many have tried and failed because let’s face it, the classic method of Meditation sucks. It is a pain in the back side to sit there for an extended period of time trying to cut out all the distractions of the growing pain in your back to the ~70db pollution hitting your auditory sensors. Why do we still encourage meditation the old school way when there are far easier and more effective methods to calm the monkey mind?

John C. Lilly

In 1950s we knew little about sensory isolation. Many great minds speculated that insanity would follow any attempts to turn off our core senses — visual, auditory and kinesthetic. All with the exception of 1 badass scientist, John C Lilly. He proposed that if one could isolate the mind from external stimuli one could experience heightened sensory perception. He devised the first isolation tank, a dark soundproof tank of warm salt water in which subjects could float for long periods in sensory isolation. He proved his hypothesis right. And the rest is history. Google John C. Lilly to learn more about his work.

John C. Lilly built a modern day version of a meditation tank.

The Architecture of an actual Isolation Tank aka Floatation Tank

The Architecture of an actual Isolation Tank aka Floatation Tank

Today, such isolation tanks (aka floatation tanks) are found all around the world. From spa centers using it to relax the body to sport centers to expedite recovery (eg. Australian Institute of Sports) and to private use to explore the mind like John C. Lilly and myself do. Yet very few people know about it. So let me tell you more.

Where it all began for me

I have been “floating” starting in Australia since 2008 and later in the US. I was inspired by the 1st episode of Fringe. Dr Bishop used an Isolation Tank (also known as sensory deprivation tank) to connect Olivia and Agent Scott’s mind to tap into the dead agent’s mind to retrieve information related to the case. Low level protocol stuff. Yeah pretty insane utility but what if. So I took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole.

You may hear the word “floating” being used. This reference is more rosey but means the same thing; isolation tank experience. You float inside the isolation tank like a cork on water due to the high concentrate of epsom salt. If you have been to the Dead Sea you will know what I mean. A secondary benefit of the salt is muscle relaxation. Epsom salt has been used for centuries for muscle aches.

The Apollo ELV Float Tank — #1 Floatation Tank

The Apollo ELV Float Tank — #1 Floatation Tank

As you can see from the pictures, the cause creates an effect ~20mins into the journey you will feel like a brain floating in space. Disconnected from your auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses. This heightens the mind’s processing ability so you can begin exploring your private sea, your mind, in a conscious state.

At the end of a 1 hour floatation session you will feel like your body and your mind got a massage.

The Theta State

The goal with both meditation and floatation is to reach the theta state. This is a state where you can consciously listen to your subconscious mind. Or let’s put it a different way, experience hallucinations without drugs, insanity or sleep. Monks train years to do this through meditation while staying consciously awake. Your body does this naturally every night but you consciously switch off aka fall asleep. Recall those auditory or visual flashes you get before your off switch kicks in and you fall asleep? That’s a glimpse into theta state. In an isolation tank you are consciously awake observing your subconscious mind. Most of the time. No years of training required. For me it turned out after 3 floatation sessions I was hallucinating baby!


Our subconscious mind is a powerful supercomputer (no surprises there) which constantly gathers, calculates, builds patterns & connections faster than we can consciously observe (process). I think this is a natural safe measure so we don’t go insane. Now imagine being able to tap into this wealth of stored info for a bit. You know when you sometimes get a gut feeling — I believe that is the output from all the processing bubbling their way to your conscious mind. I use the isolation tank to tap into this and get my answers faster then waiting for them to bubble to the top.

Why isn’t this a Company benefit yet?

Floating should be a company benefit. Heck, even more.. a company policy. If an employee is having a hard day for whatever reason (personal or business) just send them to an isolation tank for 1 hour.

That’s empathy right there;

  1. Identifying your employee is experiencing some distress and
  2. Do something about it that will have a far reaching impact on their emotional state than a 1:1 talk or sending them home.

We are human creatures with emotions. Fact. Ignoring this fact in my opinion is narcissism. If you have empathy do something constructive and help your colleague.

Finished a big project? Scrap the default lunch mode celebrations — take the team to a Zen center and have them all float. Afterwards you can all reflect on the achievement while sipping camellia tea. Better?

Run an experiment

There are float centers up and down the Bay Area and all around the world. Google it. Run an experiment with your team or yourself floating at least 5 times — 1 every week. That’s a tad over a month. Measure the experiment so you can quantify it and remove any cognitive bias. Then reflect on your calmness, clear head, relaxed nature and more empathy. Let me know what you find. There’s nothing more powerful than experiencing the power of this amazing mind and body hack for yourself.

Float already!

Few final snippets before I wrap this up.

Be vigilant about the tank

The Tank you choose needs a good ventilation system. High temperatures will race your heart just like a steam room does. It will become extremely unpleasant. I had it happen to me. Reached 144bpm and it was the worst experience ever. The Apollo ELV Float Tank is the best tank I have ever experienced. It is the Tesla of Tanks!

If its important, don’t sleep on it

Float. You will get more insights.


Float. The Epsom salt does wonders to your skin and muscles. Afterwards, you will feel super relaxed. And if you fall asleep from exhaustion inside the tank you will be fine floating like a cort. Should you tip over, the high concentrate of salt will burn a hole in your head *j/k*. It will sting tho.

At a minimum, start with 3 float sessions

It will take some time for you to learn how to fully let go and relax your body while suspended like a cork. Only then will the mind let go.

Installing a tank at your company?

If you were inspired by what you learnt here and decided to install a tank at your company then please invite me over for a float session. Or if you need help or have questions please reach out.

More juice on Isolation Tanks & Sensory Deprivation

Happy Floating!

PS. This article also appears on https://medium.com/the-road-to-silicon-valley/a-better-way-to-meditate-in-a-sensory-deprivation-tank-6b61d360f5d0#.1ppvk69af

~ Ernest


Progress === Happiness – Thank You Tony Robbins!

Tony Robbins is a legend. No I’m not a newbie to Tony Robbins. This is not my first time I’m hearing Tony talk. But few days ago I watched Tony Robbins — I Am Not Your Guru on Netflix and managed to shed few tears. The content was refreshing and it resonated with me. I think it will with you too. It’s too good to hold back. Watch it now before Netflix removes it from their catalog. You won’t regret it.

Who is Tony Robbins

Also known as Anthony Robbins, Tony is a life coach who inspires people to wake up and change their lives. Tony is also known for his self-help books Unlimited Power, Unleash the Power Within and Awaken the Giant Within and stage events that span 4 days of 12 hours each day where you get to walk on fire, hug with strangers and cry. A lot. Tony is truly amazing.

A Date With Destiny

The show “I Am Not Your Guru” is a — 1st time ever — recording of Tony’s annual event called “Date With Destiny” held on an exclusive island in the Caribbean wth a small group of people and Tony’s entourage. I heard of Date With Destiny back in 2008 during Tony’s UPW (Unleash the Power Within) beginners seminar but that was it.

UPW — Unleash the Power Within

So back in 2008 I was given a free ticket to attend the 4 day UPW. I must confess, if it wasn’t for the free ticket I would have never gone. UPW turned out to be my pivotal moment. It changed me — fast! Apart from walking on fire spectacle, Tony showed us how to free ourselves from the constraints of our mind and unleash the power within. This made a huge impact on my life resulting in my big move from Sydney (Australia) to Silicon Valley in 2009.

UPW, Tony Robbins telling a story we can all relate to — how we are sometimes 2mm away from a breakthrough

So here I am in Mountain View, CA, and thanks to Netflix democratizing how we experience entertainment have now experienced the power that only Tony Robbins is capable of igniting. I don’t intent to summarize the show, you should just watch it. But what I intend on sharing with the golden nugget that struck a cord with me. Something that Tony said that really resonated with me and I am certain will resonate with you. It very well may be a great starting point when one feels lost and seeks direction.

Progress is Happiness

“If you are growing in anything you will feel better. Financially, Emotionally, Spiritually, Relationship, your Body etc. Your going to feel better in your body. Thats what we are made for. We are meant to grow so we can have something to give. You can’t give something you don’t have.”


Life is Growth.

Tony Robbins then introduces what he coins as the “Primary Question”. This is a Question that’s unique to you. A question you need to ask yourself on what is driving your life at the moment. Tony explains..

Questions control what you focus on,

What you focus on is what you feel,

What you feel is your experience of life.

That moment when you realize something profound

That moment when you realize something profound

This was so profound for me that I felt like I finally started to understand my current situation. The pieces were making sense. My head was clearing. I found direction again.

The more I pondered about my Primary Question the more I could see this method apply to everyone. For example; this can apply to the way we experience the chaotic startup environment running or working for a startup, or how we deal with failure in any areas of our lives. We just need Progress to get out of the dark — finding progress is like that light in a dark tunnel. You should walk towards it to avoid being engulfed by the darkness.

Finally I will leave you with this quote from Tony..

“Stay in your head. Your dead.” ~ Tony Robbins

~ Ernest

Give $100 of value for $10 in return

So last week I was doing some streamlining with the number of stuff I carry on me. Call me picky but carrying a phone and a wallet 1.0 is a nuisance. It is one too many occupied memory registers that could be used for something better to worry about. So I decided out with the wallet and in with a ultra-slim self adhesive credit card wallet 2.0 for my iPhone. Garbage collection complete. Now whenever I get the urge to check if my credit cards are with me, I know by default that if my phone is with me my cards are too.

But what’s this got to do with giving $100 of value for $10 in return? Well it’s what I found during this cleanup process inside wallet 1.0 that I want to share with you. I found this note…


“How can I give $100 value to 1m people and ask for $10 in return? Give value!”

The backstory

Circa 2008, I still remember when I 1st wrote this note on that yellow postit. I was a young snotty kid in search for “the secret to business success”. Ploughing through books, videos and seminars including the actual The Secret movie, I found zilch. Zero. Nada. Until I ran into a successful business owner who said to me “Find a way to give $100 of value for $10.”. I heard a pin drop (metaphorically speaking of course). Something so simple yet profound. It left an impact on me and thus had to be noted on paper so I could recall it every so often.

This is not a revolutionary idea nor is it a new one. But it helps me focus on what matters when it comes to making money through a vehicle like business or startup or whatever the fancy word will be tomorrow. The more this note soaked in, the more I realized we all have seen this in some other forms in the last few years during the startup gold rush.

Make something people want – YCombinator

If you are familiar with the good work of YCombinator then you already know of their motto “Make something people want”. You may also remember the famous advice by PG (Paul Graham, YC Founder) to AirBnBs founders; PG told Brian Chesky to go and speak with their NYC customers to find out exactly what their needs were and then deliver it. i.e. “Make something people want”. It’s not revolutionary. But it serves as a reminder to us, to be laser focused on the customer, execute and create magic.

10:1 (value to investment) Ratio

What I love about the 100:1 or 10:1 (value to investment) ratio is it helps you build a cash cow business. Building a profitable business gives jobs, changes lives and usually has a social impact. If you can give a 10:1 ratio of value:investment to your customers then; (a) you won’t have to compete on margins with the “me too startups” and/or (b) get into price wars with other companies/startups. You may recall from school business 101; price wars end with the one with the deepest pockets. From a customer point of view, getting a 10x in value is an opportunity cost worth putting money on.

“Rule #1: Build Proprietary Technology That Is 10x Better” – Peter Thiel

This is #1 Rule from Peter Thiel’s famous book, Zero to One, around business philosophy on creating a successful company. It is a great way to think about how your business creates value. If your not shooting for the stars then what’s the point. Now notice how the 10:1 rule fits into Thiel’s 10x better thinking. Of course it’s not easy to achieve those sort of ratios but when you do you know you are onto something special.

Venture Capital

The Startup gold rush has given anyone with an idea a reason to start a business. Venture Capital is often used as a means to fuel rockets (performing startups). We all believe our ideas are rockets. However the only rockets are those that have a competitive advantage like; (a) unique distribution, (b) talent and/or (c) 10x/10:1 customer value ratio. VCs love these because a VC firm is for profit; check out how VC funds work for an overview of the Venture Capital world. What I’m saying is that if you start a business with the 10:1 ratio you will have market elasticity in your favor and metaphorically speaking VCs knocking down your doors.

“Fortuna audaces iuvat”

Fortuna audaces iuvat

Fortuna audaces iuvat

So let’s wrap this up…
It feels like if you put in the hard work and create a product that gives $100 of value for $10 (or somewhere abouts there) then..

  • Customers will love you,
  • Investors will love you,
  • Market will love you,
  • Employees will love you,
  • And the media + the startup community will love you.. and maybe dissect you (in a good way of course).

What’s not to love about solving a hard problem?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

~ Ernest

Term Sheet Economics and Control

Term Sheet Economics & Control: A Blueprint for your future relationship with your Investor

Before I was blind and now I can see. I finally got to read Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals and now understand the ins and outs of a Term Sheet. I wish I read it earlier. This book is loaded with important content every founder who ever wants to raise money or has raised money should know. Venture Deals helps you understand the VC Game better. Life is a game. You either level up or get lost in its artifacts. Raising money is one of those big games that will affect you for years to come.

The content below is a breakdown of stuff I learnt about Term Sheets from the Venture Deals book with some of my own sprinkle of stories among it. You may also want to read about “The Players” to understand investors and their drivers.

We often hear the word “Term Sheet” being thrown around when raising money. So what is it and what do you need to understand about it?

A Term Sheet is a Blueprint for your future relationship with your investor.

When raising money the VC you are dealing with should only care about:

  1. Economics: This is the return at a time of liquidity + the terms that directly impact the return
  2. Control: Mechanisms that allow VC to exercise control over business / veto decisions.

Anything else Brad says, “they are blowing smoke”.

Term Sheet Economics and Control

If you see something missing then this is assumed to be less relevant in the grand scheme.

1. The ECONOMICS of a Term Sheet


Price per share is the ultimate measure of what is being paid for the equity bought. This is sometimes called valuation and it comes in 2 forms:

  • Pre-money: value before investment and
  • Post-money: pre-money + investment.

Example: “I’ll invest $5m at $20m” – post money yields selling 25% of your company while pre-money is 20%.

Brad says, “Always clarify. I assume you mean $20m pre-money?”. The difference here is 5% of your company. That is nothing to sneeze at.


Fully diluted / employee pool / option pool

  • The size of the pool eats into the company’s valuation. This is Trap #2.
    • “I’ll invest $5m at $20m pre-money with 10% option pool” gives you a $18m pre-money valuation.
    • Have an option budget listing hires until next round. This minimizes VC risk of future dilutions.


This is the right to buy shares at a predefined price for X years. Warrants are commonly used during a bridge load to shame position until future investor comes in.

How VC’s value companies

It’s important to understand that valuing companies is hard. There is no exact science. A company is really worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. For example; VC (private investor) agrees to invest X at Y valuation or after an IPO the public investor wants to buy X shares in your company at value Y.

But how does a private investor (a VC) work out the value?

  • Early Stage (Seed): Experience of entrepreneurs amount of money being raised and perception of overall opportunities.
  • Mature (Series A+): Historical financial performance and future financial projections.

Supply vs DemandIf you want a great valuation think back to school when you learnt fundamental concepts of economics and tip the supply relationship in your favor.

  • Get several VCs interested in your financing (Demand vs Supply)
  • Experienced entrepreneurs == less risk == higher valuation. Also remember this when looking for a cofounder for your new venture.

Liquidation Preferences

This is a term used in venture capital contracts to specify which investors get paid first and how much they get paid in the event of a liquidation event such as the sale of the company. 2 parts to this:

  1. Actual preferences: money x times returned
  2. Participation
    • Full: Double dips. Means the investor will get their return outside everyone else (common) and then also participates in the options split (less common).
    • Capped: Cap when x times $ returned
    • No: No double dibs just return based on their company ownership.

IPO removes liquidity event since an IPO is a funding round and prefered stock counts to common stock.

In early stage of financing, its actually in the best interest of both the investor and the entrepreneur to have a simple liquidation preference and no participation.


Investors must participate in future financing (paying) in order to not have their preferred stock converted to common stock (playing) in the company.


Is the process by which an employee accrues non-forfeitable rights over employer-provided stock incentives or employer contributions made to the employee’s qualified retirement plan account or pension plan.

  • Typically stock and options will vest over 4 years with 1 year cliff (1 off 25% vesting at year 1).
  • Cliff encourages the individual to be with the company for at least 1 year to get their stock. After the 1 year stock then vests on a monthly basis.
  • Founders vest 1 year upfront at financial and then 36 month after. This 1 year upfront is to incentives them for their hard work pre-funding.

Employee Pool

Also known as option pool is a way of attracting talented employees to a startup company. It is reserved for future insurance to employees.


A provision used to protect investors in the event a company issues equity at a lower valuation than in previous financing rounds.

You may hear Weighted average and Ratchet-based anti-dilution They are common in financial and focus on mining their impact and build value in your company.

2. The CONTROL of a Term Sheet

Board of Directors

The board is your inner sanctum, your strategic planning department, and your judge, jury and executioner all at once. Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) has a series of podcasts about the Board which I highly recommend.

Protective Provisions

These are veto rights that investors have on certain actions by the company. eg. sell the company, change board size, pay dividend, borrow money etc. These don’t eliminate ability to do them, but simply require consent of the investors.

Sometimes, a Drag-along Agreement may be present which gives the rights to a subset of investors to drag the rest of investors and founders to a specific action eg. sale of a company (fire sale).


VCs (preferred shareholders) have the right at any time to convert their stake into common stock. Conversion is done if a sale deal is better for the investor. Once converted, they can’t go back.

TIP: Do not allow investors to negotiate different automatic conversion terms for different series of preferred stock. This can end up in IPO nightmare. Equalize the automatic conversion threshold among all series of stock at each financing.

And that concludes the Blueprint for your future relationship with your investors, the Term Sheet. So, when raising venture capital, make sure you are focused on:

  1. Economics: This is the return at a time of liquidity + the terms that directly impact the return
  2. Control: Mechanisms that allow VC to exercise control over business / veto decisions.

Anything else is just blowing smoke.

Feel free to leave comments below.

Credit goes to Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals which helped shed insight into the VC landscape. This should be on every founder’s book shelf and a prerequisite reading material for all entrepreneurs wanting to raise capital.

~ Ernest

Venture Deals - The Players - VCs

Raising Capital: The Players & How Funds Work

So you moved to Silicon Valley, ignited your awesome idea and are now looking to raise money. You heard that money grows on trees in Silicon Valley ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Money Tree

Before you jump in, learn the game. Learning the game will help you understand

a. Who the decision makers are and
b. What drives them

so that you can create good luck in your favor. And then maybe, maybe… it may feel like money grows on trees in Silicon Valley. The following is partially based on what I learned by reading Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals. A book I highly encourage every founder read.

Life is a game. You either level up or get lost in artifacts. Raising money is a big game.


A VC firm is made up of the following players. You ultimately want to get to the decision maker – the MD (Managing Director) or GP (General Partner).

Venture Deals - The Players - VCs

Some VC firms will also have Entrepreneur in Residence (EIRs). For example: Check out Social+Capital EIRs: http://www.socialcapital.com/team/ — these are experienced entrepreneurs parked at VC firm scouting a new opportunity for themselves via the VC firm’s portfolio companies. This is a smart means to move talent in the investment portfolio vs plucking people from the wider ecosystem.

VC Fund Structure

Let’s clear the air a bit first. VC firms are NOT a charity OR FREE MONEY. They are a for profit organization that must perform for their investors (known as the LP – Limited Partner). A poorly performing VC firm ceases to exist at year 10 (known as Zombie fund – see below).

The structure

VC Fund Structure

How venture capitalists make money

Since a VC firm is for profit it must make money for its investors. So from the diagram above you can see that there can be multiple funds. Each fund will charge:

Management Fees – 1.5-2.5% across each fund. eg. A $100m fund with 2% management fee yields $2m in management fees per year. This typically pays for company expenses and wages.

Venture Deals - The Players - Fees

Then after “commitment period” (roughly 5-year mark) the % (percentage) decreases. On average that may equate to 15% (15m) committed capital in fees for a $100m fund.

Management fees are independent of its investing success. This is why you may have heard that it takes 10 years to kill a VC firm.



Carry Interest – 20% and dwarfs management fees. This is the Profits a VC firm gets after returning the money back to the LPs. eg. $100m invested. 3 x return = $300m. 300m – 100m = $200m in profits. Therefore $200m x 0.8 = $160m goes to LPs and $40m to VCs. LPs will often ask the GP to invest into any fund they set up roughly 1-5% of their own capital. This is a demonstration of confidence.

Clawback: LPs can ask for any carry interest for a non-performing fund mid fund. So a VC has to find all the parties involved and recover the carry interest.

I hope you can see how money acts as leverage in this game. VCs cannot simply throw money around. Bad decisions can cost a VC future fundraising efforts. Therefore, as an entrepreneur show the VC how you will make them money!

How time impacts fund activity

There are 2 concepts that govern a VCs ability to invest:

1. Commitment period, also known as investment period.

    • New investments window in a new fund is 0-5 years. The fund might close earlier if all capital is deployed. After year 5, the fund might invest more only into existing investments from its Reserve (more on that below).
    • If a VC has only 1 fund after 5 years this is referred to as a Zombie VC. As an entrepreneur wanting to raise money always ask about fund age. If you identify a Zombie VC leave. Since they are no longer investing and are just fishing (wasting your time).

2. Investment term

    • This is the length of time that the fund can remain active. Average is 10 years.
    • Anything above 12 years, the LPs can vote to replace the GP managing the fund.
    • Poorly performing funds can be sold off to other VC firms to accelerate the fund returns. Sometimes a VC will push their portfolio companies for a liquidity event to return money to their LPs.

And you (the entrepreneur) thought you had pressure.

Reserves and cross-fund investing

This is the amount of capital that is allocated to each company that a VC invests in. For example; $1m Seed + reserve a theoretical future amount of the fund to invest in follow-on rounds. A Reserve creates 2-way dynamics: On one side it helps with follow on rounds and on the other the LPs wants their capital fully deployed.

Venture Deals - The Players - Reserve

A reserve helps avoid a cross-fund investing. Cross-fund investing allows the VC to use 2 different funds to invest in the 1 company. These type of deals are rare since they lead to pricing issues between the funds and how returns are treated.

If Reserve is underestimated, VC will pick favorite companies to move $$$ into.

This is why it’s pivotal to keep your investors updated through monthly investor updates on how their capital is being deployed. If you forget about them they will forget about you. Aim to BE THAT FAVORITE COMPANY! It will help you with future funding and establish you a solid reputation.

Monthly investor updates yield plenty of good karma

Value other people’s money. But since you gotten this far you must have some EQ. So try to automate the number gathering exercise vs spending hours counting the beans. Either way, investor updates should also be a part of your overall company communication strategy and not a burden. Here are a few templates to get your started:

THE PLAYERS: Angel Investors

These are high net worth folks who are mostly active in the 1st round of investing eg. pre/seed stage. They do not participate in future rounds. There are also Super angels, who are active investors often experienced entrepreneurs with a prior exit under their belt. Some may end up raising a smaller fund and be referred to as micro-VC.

An active angel (the lead) might also set up a syndicate. A syndicate is a collection of angel investors who want to participate in a funding of your company. AngelList is famous for not only housing a directory of startups but also allowing angels to create syndicates and thus service capital to startups where VCs might not. Check out AngelList: https://angel.co/syndicates

As of writing (Apr 2016), AngelList has:

  • $159M Invested in startups
  • 387 Startups funded
  • 178 Active syndicates and
  • 2,927 Active investors


A Lawyer is someone that every startup needs. A great lawyer can keep you from falling into traps. Some lawyers will work with startups for free, deferring their fees until capital is raised.

There are plenty of freely available startup documents online that can help with any legal matters and provide clarity around the service you are getting. From
https://www.ycombinator.com/documents/ to https://www.orrick.com/practices/emerging-companies/startup-forms/Pages/default.aspx and https://www.clerky.com/


Mentors have a no fee agreement and help because someone helped them before.

Every accelerator in the country has mentors. Take a look at these top 3 accelerators and their line up of mentors:

One of the secondary benefits of joining an accelerator is you get to work with these mentors.

Another way to get advice that a mentor provides is by “Mass Mentoring”. Soaking up all the publicly available content from Quora, Hacker News, Medium, Reddit or Private blogs. This will give you a base and a sense of understanding that 1:1 mentorship cannot.

So that’s it. Hope this has shed some clarity over the players in the investment space in Silicon Valley. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments space below.

Credit goes to Brad Feld‘s book Venture Deals which helped shed insight into the VC landscape. This should be on every founder’s book shelf and a prerequisite reading material.

~ Ernest


Secrets of a childhood Strider Balance Bike. A great reminder for us all Why Less is More.

When I was a toddler, my parents bought me a traditional bicycle with training wheels. A balance bike at the time was not invented yet. The training wheels were there so I would not tip over and hurt myself. The traditional childhood is like this when it comes to learning to ride a bike. We all remember that 1st bike. How it felt, the freedom to move faster and further. But to move you had to pedal while relying on the training wheels to keep us upright. It was tough at first.

Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland - birth town

Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland – my block on the right

The pedals kind of got in the way. Brakes were activated through the lever on the handlebars and sometimes moving the pedals backwards would also activate the brakes. Oh boy, that was a lot to take in. But we did right. I remember the early wobbles as I tried to learn to balance. Knowing the training wheels were there helped, but it still made the hair raise up on my back. Then once I got enough courage I would ram straight into a wall of the building where we lived, many times. Arms and knees were bleeding. What an experience.

Enter the Balance Bike

Fast forward to today; when I became a father, and my kid (Josh) was ready at a ripe age of 2 we did something different. We got him a balance bike. Have you heard of Balance Bikes? Yeah neither did I until Urszula kids occupational therapist from SensoryLifestyle.com mentioned it. Few Googles later I was up to speed.

“A balance bicycle, or run bike is a training bicycle that helps children learn balance and steering. It has no pedals and no drivetrain.”.

The bike has NO pedals. NO drivetrain i.e. chains or gears. And NO brakes! It’s as simple as it gets. A frame with wheels, a seat and handlebars. Even the wheels are basic. Heck, the WHOLE bike is basic. It’s like they started with a standard bicycle and said… let’s strip it down till we cannot anymore. Down to the core essentials.

Less is truly More!

Strider Balance Bike Standard Bike
Balance Bike Normal Bike

Unlike a traditional bicycle where you might have to push the child or support them, with a balance bike there is minimal supervision. Josh started sitting on the seat and walking the bike. Like the Flintstones. Then he progressed to pushing his feet off from the ground and balancing. Soon he was coasting around turns and speeding along pathways. All in about a month. A child learns to balance faster when they don’t have to pedal. Pedals also get in the way. I saw Josh fall over few times trying a normal bike with pedals, before ending up on the seat and looking at me to push him.

Check out this video I made of Josh riding a Strider Balance Bike in Shoreline Park, Mountain View

The Power of Simplification in Software Development

As a software engineer and a maker of many things, I am always intrigued by simplification. In software we often “refactor” code to make it smaller, better and faster. When working on technology products, we often say to blow away features to make a large application light. Less is More. Products users love often simple. Not complicated. And usually serve a single purpose.

When we discuss product design, we also talk about building habits (ref Hooked book). What is the simplest behavior which can lead to a reward. It’s hard building sticky products feature heavy. People get overwhelmed and lose interest fast. Many books, many blogs and many words are exchanged by makers in Silicon Valley about the power of simplification. Most products suck because this simple approach to simplifying the product is often ignored by the ego. If you want to learn more about features vs. benefits, please read my prior blog post on SPIN Selling.

Less is More

And right here in front of me stands the BEST reminder of the power of simplification. It may not be a technology product, but it sure carries the same weight. Less is More.

Necessity > Novelty. For a 2-year-old learning to balance is a fundamental motor skill development milestone. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend you read SensoryLifestyle.com or google this topic.

1. knowing the rules of the game and 2. using the right tools; is how we get results.

Technology Products

When we think of the two best technology companies in the world, no doubt Apple and Google fall into that spot.

  • Remember the beauty of Apple’s iPod? It was its simplicity.
  • When you visit Google.com, the page is simple. The only thing you can do is Search. Simple right?

Let’s also look at Cars. Who is the most innovative car manufacturer? I believe it is Tesla Motors. They haven’t done anything revolutionary. No, really they haven’t. They just simplified the car. If you know a bit about engines, you will know that a piston motor is complicated. It has many moving parts. And many things that can and do go wrong. Now, the electric motor is winning. It’s simple. A magnet, coil and apply electricity.

Benefits > Features

I’m going to finish on a final note. When we simplify, we remove features. Features do not sell. So don’t worry about stripping down your product. Instead, focus on the benefits. And sell on those. The stripped down bare bone balance bike Josh rides cost ~$130 while a regular bike with gears, pedals, balance wheels et al, cost ~$80. The price difference is nearly 50%, yet guess which one wins hearts?

~ Ernest


The secret art of SPIN Selling. Why traditional sales models don’t work for larger sales. Let’s retrain your brain to sell like a boss.

SPIN Selling, a book by Neil Rackham has been on my shelf for the last 3 years. Never touched. No, actually I did. I wiped the dust off it few times. And each time I looked at it I got a feeling deep down that I needed to read it. Well that day came. This month (February 2016) actually. Ever since I improved my reading speed from 300 to 480 wpm, I have been on a mission to read more books.

SPIN Selling teaches why traditional sales models don’t work for larger sales. With real-world examples, informative cases and clear lessons learnt, the book develops on what turns into a successful SPIN strategy. This book is a must for anyone. Even for software engineers who may have no intention to sell. You don’t have to be in sales to find value in this book. The books journey takes you to a better place where you learn that selling is simply problem solving for a prospect. Instead of spending time with a machine you spend time with a human.


In the early days of a startup, entrepreneurship can be summed up into 2 words: hustling & hacking. You need to be selling and building product that fits user expectations. Selling doesn’t require a product to be ready, as you will soon find out. Selling, or Hustling begins with problem solving. Especially large sales. You need to understand existing customer situation, problems, difficulties, dissatisfactions, points of dissatisfactions with existing solutions and/or general difficulty. This will lead you to uncover their true core needs so that you can offer a better, faster and cheaper solution.

Common selling mistake

Focusing on Features and Advantages instead of Benefits.

Focusing on Features creates Price concerns. Let me repeat this again..

Don’t f**kin focus on features!

Only exception is when you are seeing something of little value. And where the customer has a disassociation between the product and you. If you mess up and the customer gets into a price discussion you will end up dropping the price to meet them. Dropping price is a path to business disaster. You are in sales to make money not loose money. Plus a bad sale creates a liability on the company’s book. It would have been far easier & smarter to learn how to sell Benefits to avoid price concerns and objections.

The SPIN Selling Framework

SPIN Selling is a nice framework any hustler should follow to close most sales. Especially a large sale. Small sales are relatively easy to close.

SaaS (Software as a Service) world

In the world of SaaS (Software as a Service) what may at 1st appear to be a small price point (eg. $5 per month) is actually a large sale when you consider the LTV (Life Time Value) could be 1-2 years and thus the actual sale is $120 x the number of seats purchased. Therefore, having the tools to close such deals could be a business changing opportunity.

To visualize the SPIN Selling Framework, I created the following 1 page chart. Read it left to right. The process starts on the left with Situation questions and ends at the Need-Payoff (far right) side. I still recommend you read the SPIN Selling book to learn how the theory works in practice.

SPIN Selling Framework

SPIN Selling Framework – Click image to enlarge it

Before you call the prospect

So now you are educated in SPIN Selling and can’t wait to hit the road. Hold on a sec there soldier. There is 1 more step in your training.

To be prepared is half the victory.
~ Miguel de Cervantes

Before you make a sales call to a client, get prepared. This means: 

  1. Write down at least 3 potential problems which the client may have
  2. Write down some actual Problem Questions that you could ask to uncover each of the potential problems you’ve identified
  3. Write down what difficulties might arise for each problem. This means Implication Questions that might get the prospect to see the problem as large and urgent to solve and
  4. Write down 3 Need Questions for each implication

Now you are ready. Go and solve problems!

~ Ernest

Get the book

Stop reading with your mouth. Use your eyes. How I went from 300 words per minute to 480 in 10 Days. Your road to faster reading.

I started at 300 wpm (words per minute) with 80% comprehension and by the end of the book was up at 480 wpm with 80% comprehension. Outlined below is the road to faster reading and how you too can go from 300 words per minute to 480 in 10 days.

I never thought of myself as a fast reader. Yet I had no quantitative data to back my feelings. Feelings are subjective right. I think this feeling came from the fact that English was not my 1st language. Polish was. And as 2016 arrived I set a goal to be reading more books this year. Maybe like Bill Gates does, knocking over at least 1-2 books per week.


But to get there I needed to start with a small goal of at least 1 book per month and then go up from there.

So this is the way I see it:

More Books => Faster Reading == Better Comprehension => More Blogging

Then Casey Neistat reminded me of something Seneca said about time and how we use it:

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” ~ Seneca

I think I can do this!

BIG opportunity. Think back to what life was like only 100 years ago where only distinguished and affluent had access to knowledge. Now we all do. But today we are time poor. But there’s a way.

“The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.”

We all know foundational skills are important. A house without foundation is a sitting duck. What if what I learnt at school was wrong. Or out of date with modern times. Or not enough. It was time to go back to basics of reading and find out what I could do better when reading. So I picked up a book by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale called 10 Days to Faster Reading. Fitting title for what I wanted to achieve. The book starts crushing school fallacies. They include “you have to read every word”, “hear the sound out words in your head”, “don’t skim, that’s cheating”, “you need to completely understand everything you read”. Ok book, you have my attention.


The basic foundations

What does an average reader actually look like? They read at 200-300 words per minute. Take a look here.

100-200 Slow reader – move their lips and probably read to themselves
200-300 Average reader – whisper when they read
300-400 Good reader – may talk a little when they read but not as much as average reader
400-500 Above average reader
  • Humans talk at 100-150 words per minute.
  • Humans THINK upwards of 400 words per minute.

What happens to the delta between talking and thinking? Well, that’s your wondering brain as you read. Hence, why slow readers sometimes fall asleep while reading.

Good comprehension

Reading speed alone isn’t enough. Good comprehension is also required. Good comprehension falls between 70-90%. If your comprehension is below the 70% then you need to work on your vocabulary.

Your comprehension is better than you think. We underestimate our abilities. The brain works in mysterious ways. Thus, you should TRUST your brain more and believe that you are capable of better comprehension.

The 3 most common passive reading habits:

  • Mind wandering
  • regression and
  • subvocalization

It is impossible to eliminate them. But you can reduce them. First by becoming aware of their presence and then by learning to read fast while trusting your comprehension. 1 & 3 can be reduced by using techniques to read fast. Remember that you brain works at a faster pace. Don’t give it the delta to wander around (ie. day dreaming). And 2 trust your mind that it understood the context of the message. Contrary to what you were taught, you don’t need to read word by word.

Techniques to Faster Reading

What I found useful throughout the book is the end of chapter tests. Each chapter introduces you to a technique with wisdom followed by a reading test. You should do the reading test. It gives you quantitive data on you reading speed and comprehension using a lookup table in the appendix. This played a role in giving me confidence I could do this. Goodbye old school fallacies.

“Your brain is prewired to learn language. But not reading. Learning to read faster is like understanding how to decode words in a more efficient way.”

Technique 1: Pacers

Use your hand, a pen or a blank white card to increase your reading speed. These are called Pacers. Think of a pacer as a stick shift. Pacers force the eyes to move in a directed pattern down the page to help you get up to speed. Pacers function like a pace car in a race. You know, that 1st car which guides the rest around the track to a certain speed before moving out of the way.

The general rules for any pacer is:
Keep your pacer moving down the page not across and Do not stop or go back.

PS: a finger as a pacer is also ok.

Technique 2: Widen your Track

To read fast you need to see more words. Access your peripheral vision. You don’t need to be focused on 1 word at a time. Phase Flashing is a means of grouping words together into thoughts. The book has a technique there to teach you this called The Eye Span Pyramid. Give it a shot. Even if its just to see how wife your peripheral vision is.

Technique 3: Concentrate, Focus!

Focus. Find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Reading in bed won’t work. You sleep in bed. You will quickly drift away there. Anything lying down is going to put you to sleep. Cut off all distractions like background music. You also need to be sitting up to stay awake. Ever tried to meditate while laying in bed? Yeah you fall asleep pretty fast.

I found the library is a perfect place to concentrate. It is quiet and has a purpose for studying/reading. It has that energy around it that it’s what people do there and forces you to concentrate and read while sitting up. If you need a tool to help you focus on 1 thing at a time then take a peek at GSDfaster’s Pomodoro Technique. It uses a timer to help you focus on 1 thing for a period of time. Sitting down for hours often breaks your focus. This way you group your reading into periods of 30 minute intervals with breaks between. No burnouts.

Technique 4: Have a Purpose

This is more powerful than you might realize at first. Ask yourself:
“WHY am I reading this?” and
“WHAT might I need this information for?”

This is a powerful motivator. It helps you uncover your purpose and responsibility. It literally says: this is important. It must be done. It’s like a personal trainer. If something isn’t important then it can be done at any pace and at any time. The WHY and WHAT set a level of importance and urgency.

Technique 5: Reading Between the Lines

Speed up your reading and comprehension by stopping on the white space just above each line. Not on the line of print.
Example – see pic below; which is easier to read?


“Faster reading then becomes a tool to help you get the comprehension you want.”

There are other techniques in the book you might want to explore. The ones I mentioned above resonated with me.

Turbo Comprehension: Getting to the Gist

It’s no use reading fast if you cannot understand what you just read. The context. The score in the book states that anyone with <70% comprehension lacks vocabulary. Better comprehension is proportional to the breath of your English vocabulary.

Here are 2 useful techniques:

Use the 5Ws and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Pre-View or read looking for these to give you context. These clues will give you about 40% of the key information. The remaining 60% is filler, fluff or explanation.

Expand your Vocabulary. The more words you know the better. When you come across a word you don’t understand reach for the dictionary and learn it. A Dictionary is a great tool to learn new vocabulary. Especially if English is not your 1st language. The more words you know the easier it is to not only read faster but also with great comprehension. Comprehension takes 3 forms – Literally, Interpretively and Applied. Make sure your comprehension spans all 3. The book has great examples on these.

“It takes time to save time.”

End of Chapter: Time Trial

The book has time trials at the end of each chapter to test your words per minute (wpm) and comprehension. At first, I was resistant but soon I became a convert and found this section super useful. There is nothing like tracking and comparing progress. Especially if it improves and you start seeing the value in what you are learning. So how did I perform? Better than I imagined. I started at 300 words per minute (wpm) at 80% comprehension and finished up on 480 wpm.

My scorecard

Day Content WPM Comprehension
Day 1 Pg8. All About Reading 300 wpm (1:18s -> 1:20) 80%
Day 2 Pg26. Battling the Worry Bug 265 wpm (1:28s -> 1:30) 80%
Day 3 Pg50. A True Athlete 345 wpm (1:08s -> 1:10) 80%
Day 4 Pg69. The History of Speed Reading 369 wpm 80%
Day 5 Pg122. It’s All Relative 345 wpm (1:03s -> 1:10) 80%
Day 6 Pg131. The Ties That Bind 400 wpm (56s -> 1.00) 70%
Day 7 Pg159. Books Join the Electronic Wave 400 wpm (56s -> 1.00) 90%
Day 8 Pg177. A Few Words 480 wpm (47s -> 50) 80%
Day 9 Pg192. April Fool’s Day: A Real Kick in the Pants 480 wpm (49s -> 50) 80%

Now that I have quantitive data, I can make better decisions. This changes how I felt about my reading ability, speed, and comprehension. I feel more positive about myself than I did before. This is a huge win!

My top 3 takeaways

  1. Trust my brain that it will understand (comprehend) what I read.
  2. Use a pacer to keep my eyes and mind focused on content.
  3. It is ok to skim. Ref point #1.

Final note. Reading this book alone is not enough. You need to do the end of chapter exercises and then practice. The book is a wealth of knowledge breaking down old barriers and giving you tools you wish you had earlier in life. Now that you know, you need to program your brain through repetition of movement and activity. Apply these techniques and thought patterns daily to get faster!

Happy reading!

~ Ernest

Book mentioned in the blog post: 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale.

Google Self-Driving Car Project

A roundabout with a stop sign? Confused? So was this Cute Google Self-Driving Car. Enjoy this video!

Mountain View, California. The heart of Silicon Valley. Where in our local streets, you can actually find roundabouts. Yes the type you see everywhere in Australia and UK. Not the norm for US. But, something is difference. The Roundabouts here also have a Stop sign. Yes, the traditional stop sign you see at just about every street in the USA. Now we know a roundabout’s purpose is to keep traffic moving while a stop sign’s is to stop traffic. The 2 together are counter intuitive right? Even for a Google Self-Driving Car.

Now what would happen when you have a roundabout and you must give way to your left? Confused? Me too. Even for the new 100% automated robots cruising the local streets of Mountain View. Those cute bubble Google Self-Driving Cars. These cute self-driving cars have been around Mountain View for the past few months. They are the future of transportation. An awe of inspiration to see. A Borg like intelligence, developed by mankind up the road at Google HQ, is making autonomous decisions in transporting humans. This is the pinnacle of human innovation! They are still in closed Beta mode. Carry max 2 people. One day I hope to get an opportunity to order a lift from my smartphone.

So back to the roundabout and stop sign issue. We know the scene. We know the car. Now check out the video my wife recorded of this Google self driving car getting confused as it pulls up to such a roundabout with a stop sign. PS. I did some edits to the video to add character in good spirit. Enjoy!