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

Another amazing Startup School 2016! 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). Those who are planning events like Startup School should prepare everything ahead of time. You need to book a venue, setup an av installation with the help of companies like https://www.signalsolutions.com/audio-visual-san-francisco and look for available speakers for the event.

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

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.

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

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 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 in front of the partners. Marc says this should be easier to do than in front 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 surprise 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 revolutionalized 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

8 books to read to fuel your entrepreneurial itch

So you have the itch.. the entrepreneur’s itch. Being in Silicon Valley it’s hard not to have it when you get to rub shoulders with many founders and investors on a weekly basis at the many meetup events organized by like minded individuals. There you hear many inspiring stories and adventures in entrepreneurship and how you too can walk that path when you set your mind to it. Read Cortney Fletcher’s eCom babes course reviews to get you rolling on this journey. I also have my top 8 books listed below which are sure to fuel your entrepreneurial itch!

Keys to the Vault: Lessons From the Pros on Raising Money and Igniting Your Business

by Keith J. Cunningham, the Real Rich Dad from Robert Kiyosaki’s popular series Rich Dad Poor Dad. Keith is also a speaker at Anthony Robbins Mastery University.

I purchased this book after being inspired by Keith during a presentation on business entrepreneurs. Keys to the Vault is The Formula, the recipe, for raising money and creating a successful business. No fat in this book, just pure step by step here’s how the industry works and here’s how you can do it yourself – step by step! My favorite of the lot.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

by Jessica Livingston, founding partner of the valley’s famous seed stage venture firm Y Combinator.

I purchased this book after being inspired at Startup School, by YCombinator. Founders at Work is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. Some of the companies in question include Apple, Flickr, PayPal, Gmail, Twitter etc. You will learn that these founders had no special human powers but persevered during hard times and worked hard towards their vision.

Never Get a “Real” Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke

by Scott Gerber, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, media personality, public speaker and the most-syndicated young entrepreneurship columnist in the world.

I purchased this book after being inspired by a very successful Silicon Valley CEO – his company is mentioned inside this book. Never Get a “Real” Job is straight to the point, no bullshit, that having a JOB (Just Over Broke) suxs! Being an employee is not rewarding enough as being an entrepreneur. This book is a wake up call and tells you how to make dramatic changes from an employee to an entrepreneur without going broke.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

by Peter F Drucker, who was a writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.”.

Peter shares with us an excellent framework for innovation providing some general guidelines for identifying innovative opportunities. The key take away is that successful entrepreneurs do not wait until having a “bright idea”; they go to work. He was ahead of his time, a man of pure genius!


by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the very profitable and successful 37signals.

37signals business model of profits from the word go inspires me hence why I purchased this book. Rework is a collection of the best posts from Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, business, experience, simplicity, the web, culture, and more. The book can be read in 2 hours and it damn straight to the point. It will make you extremely uncomfortable. But that’s why it’s so good because it breaks through all the bullshit and tells you how it really is.

The Monk and the Riddle : The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur

by Randy Komisar, a new breed of executives who have been called “virtual CEO’s with a wealth of experience under his belt.

Randy takes the reader through a hypothetical Silicon Valley start-up and what it takes to get a business running, funded and profitable. This books reminds me of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny with a focus on Silicon Valley startup.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink, an American writer, speechwriter, and motivational speaker.

The holy grail of people management. Daniel shares with us the surprising truth. People want Autonomy (control over their work), Mastery (get better at what they do) and Purpose (to be part of something that is bigger than they are). It’s that simple. Yet many employers fail to see this and use old aged approaches. Here’s a fantastic 10 minute animated cap by RSA of what the book is about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant whom publishes fascinating insights on his Brain Rules website about what’s really going on inside our heads.

I am also a life hacker, and as such, this book had to sit in my book shelf. If workplaces had nap rooms, multitasking was frowned upon, and meetings were held during walks, we’d be vastly more productive. Brain Rules reveals – in plain English – 12 ways our brains truly work. Killer killer killer content – it will reshape how you do business and function on a daily basis.

ReadingList – what else am I reading?

If you like my suggestion of books I highly recommend you run my Facebook App called ReadingList where I share with my followers all the cool books I’m reading, my reviews and comments. Give it a shot, it’s a FREE app. Go there now: http://apps.facebook.com/readinglist

I love comments so don’t forget to say G’day to this Aussie in Silicon Valley.

~ Ernest