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

Aussie founders in Silicon Valley

There are over 17,000 Australians living in San Francisco and the Bay Area (Silicon Valley). And some of these Aussies are making their presence felt in the Valley’s high-tech scene.Back in March 2009, when I arrived in the Valley full-time, I had no clue about the extent of the Aussie footprint here. As time ticked on and I got familiar & orientated around the tech scene the area has to offer I got fired up and inspired. I started to see what fellow Aussies were up to, the impact they were/are leaving and great opportunities this area provides.

Below is a list of these Super Aussies and the companies they are running (have run & sold) in the high-tech scene of Silicon Valley.

Founder/s Company Notes
Mike Cannon-Brookes & Scott Farquhar Atlassian Known for Jira, Confluence etc. 26K customers from 144 countries use Atlassian tools. Operates in Oz & SF.
Andrew Lacy Tapulous Acquired by Disney.
Bardia Housman & Adam Broadway Business Catalyst Acquired by Adobe. Bardia is soon to launch and soon to launch StartupHouse.
Elias Bizannes StartupBus Also runs Silicon Beach OZ & The DataPortability Project, blog and soon to launch StartupHouse.
Ryan Junee, Simon Ratner & Julian Frumar Omnisio Acquired by Google.
Ryan Junee Inporia See Omnisio above + also a mentor at 500 Startups and StartMate.
Andrew Roberts Ephox Operates in Oz, Palo Alto & Europe.
Sam Chandler NitroPDF Operates in Oz & SF.
James Nicol Fundly
Ben Keighran Chomp
Mick Johnson GasBag & Whereoscope
Lars Rasmussen Google Maps & Google Wave Recently moved from Google (Sydney) to Facebook in Silicon Valley.
Gower Smith Zoom Sytems
Leigh Jasper Acconex
Upcoming startups from my aussie mates.
Denis Mars Player.ly Currently in stealth-mode. Y-combinator alumni.
Vincent Turner PlanWise Aims to empower consumers with tools for planning and forecasting your finances. Presented at Finovate NYC.
Last updated: Sept 2011

Advance.org – Global Australians. Global Networks.

Advance.org helps create opportunities for Australians living abroad. They organise events/forums in and around San Francisco / Bay Area to help Aussies to connect together, share ideas, spark mentorship & marketing programs. More here: advance.org

Aussie incubator for Australian start-ups – The Startup House

Bardia Housman (see above ref Adobe) has purchased a 36,000 sq foot building (at 880 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107),  in the heart of San Francisco, to transform it into an incubator for Australian start-ups. It’s currently being built up but will most definitely be a kick ass place for Aussies enterprunrs. More on this project with Elias Bizannes (see above ref StartupBus) in the video below. All the best guys! Looking forward to paying a visit.

Media coverage: Recently published in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)

Gold diggers: Aussies strike it rich in Silicon Valley
By Asher Moses, September 15, 2011

  • Tony George from Austrade in Los Angeles helps Australian start-ups get a foothold in the US.
  • Austrade provides grants, helps entrepreneurs with research, advice about market entry, referrals to service providers such as lawyers and accountants, and most importantly hooking them up directly with potential customers.
  • Pollenizer and Startmate are helping the Australian tech start-up scene grown. But the conventional wisdom is still that start-ups needed to go to the US to raise funds and be exposed to the movers and shakers in the tech industry.

If you know of other Aussies in Silicon Valley/SF that are steaming ahead with their product/s please let me know and I will add them to this list above. Thanks!

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

~ Ernest

Hiring Hacks for Founders

The last 2 weeks I attended courses on Attracting, Hiring and Retaining the Best People and Top 5 HR Mistakes & Compensation 101. It was organized by StartupDigest University, the insider’s guide to the startup world. This week was session 3, the last of the series and it was a ripper! (Aussie slang for excellent). The topic was Hiring Hacks for Founders.

“Right now there is a war on talent. The entire technology sector is hiring, virtually every startup (alive) is hiring, and VC’s are even creating newsletters to help their startups hire. Hiring is the most important function of a startup founder/CEO. With the talent war raging, it is clear that finding and hiring the best people is one of the most challenging aspects of an entrepreneur’s job. Developers are elusive and expensive, and it’s hard to find a business or marketing person among the noise.” ~ StartupDigest

This evening had 3 great speakers which filled the event with tactical knowledge and inspiration rather than just inspirational rhetoric. There was no bullshit. The folks in the room were A-players, smart and were thirsty for education which would serve as the arsenal of hiring tips and tricks.

Here’s what happened.

How Interns can be a game changer by Nathan Parcells, Founder at InternMatch

Nathan Parcells, Founder at InternMatch

Nathan covered how Interns can add value and be a game changer for your startup. He also spoke about how to recruit top interns and tips and tricks for intern management.

Full blog post is located here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/jobs/interns-startup-nathan-parcells-internmatch/

Hiring Hacks by Dan Arkind, CEO and Co-Founder at JobScore

Dan Arkind, CEO and Co-Founder at JobScore

Dan covered everything you need to know from hiring to retaining top talent and how to build culture around having and being the best in the industry. He also gave plenty of examples and techniques on how to properly utilize a corporate gifting platform. He sent a clear message to Hire for TALENT (ability to learn new things) vs Skills (stuff you already know) since skills get outdated fast while talent.

Full blog post is located here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/jobs/hire-hacks-dan-arkind-jobscore/

Closing like a Champion by Russell Fradin, Investor & CEO of Adify

Russell Fradin, Investor & CEO of Adify

Russell covered how to close like a Champion once you have found great talent including the process to follow and the post-offer. He sent a clear message to never forget that people work for people. They do not work for companies.

Full blog post is located here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/jobs/closing-champions-russell-fradin-adify/

Isn’t this educational and inspirational! Great content from great founders that know what it takes to hire the best people. So this was part 2 of 3 and I will be posting links to full videos of the event later in the week – so come back to check this blog for more updates.

Happy hiring!

~ Ernest

Linked mentioned in this post

Hiring & Closing like a Champion

This is the full post from StartupDigest: Hiring Hacks for Founders. Organized by StartupDigest University, the insider’s guide to the startup world.

Russell Fradin, Investor & CEO of Dynamic Signal

Russell Fradin, Investor & CEO of Dynamic Signal

About Russell:

  • Russ Fradin co-founded Adify with Larry Braitman and Rick Thompson.
  • Most recently, Fradin was the SVP of business development for Wine.com, the internet’s largest seller of wine, where he was responsible for creating new revenue channels for the business.
  • Before joining Wine.com, Fradin was the EVP of corporate development for comScore Networks. He began at comScore in 2000 before comScore signed its first customer and was responsible for starting many of the company’s businesses as well as structuring strategic alliances.
  • Fradin began his career at Flycast Communications and had a number of roles during his four-year tenure, finally serving as Flycast/Engage’s VP of business development.
  • He holds a BS from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The presentation notes:

  • Inability to recruit & retain talent is one of the main reasons startups fail.
  • Company changes due to better people, not you.
  • Working at a start-up:
    • It’s a lifestyle decision.
    • Don’t hire assholes – it gets harder to close good talent. Consider partnering with agence intérim marseille to streamline your recruitment process.
    • Exits are great but nothing beats March 9.
    • Be more intellectually fulfilled.

Best way to close talented people

  • Be organised, diligent and respectful on every touch point. Make sure that when you close that person they will want to work with you.
  • Design a labour hire process that encourages a “yes”.
  • Transparency on timing, compensation and equity.
  • Look for the right person (recall March 9) rather than filling head count.


  • Don’t over-promise (promotion, raise, valuation, responsibility etc)
  • Your selling a growth plan – use your examples of growth.
  • Make your jobs sound cool.
  • Remember hiring someone great BEGINS the process.
  • The more information you give people the better since both parties need to find the right fit. Therefore find out what “they” need and want in life. Find a match between your and their career growth.
  • Sell vision, team and culture.
  • Great employees are worth your company. That’s what these company acquisition are, talent acquisitions.


  • Remember, people work for people. They do not work for companies.
  • Networking helps by attending social events.
  • Hire 1st a couple of great people and look after them well. They will help you drive forward and get more like-minded people on board.
  • The hardest thing to do is get someone great with their own great idea to work on your great idea. Give them time and try again.

Happy hiring!

Other StartupDigest Seminars covered by Ernest Semerda:

~ Ernest

Linked mentioned in this post

Hire Hacks

This is the full post from StartupDigest: Hiring Hacks for Founders. Organized by StartupDigest University, the insider’s guide to the startup world.

Dan Arkind, CEO and Co-Founder at JobScore

Dan Arkind, CEO and Co-Founder at JobScore

About Dan:

  • Dan brings recruiting experience and vision to JobScore. Dan spent seven years with OTEC, the recruiting firm that spun off Hotjobs.com.
  • Dan co-founded OTEC’s Silicon Valley search practice, training a team of recruiters and placing personnel at early stage enterprise software, internet services, media and content companies.
  • Dan holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.
  • Dan runs a very informative and professional blog called “The Art and Science of Recruiting” located here: http://blog.jobscore.com/

The presentation notes:

  • Only hiring friends = FAIL.
  • A great startup hiring process is where the candidate doesn’t know you.
  • “We Start With the Customer and We Work Backward.” ~ Jeff Bezos on Amazon’s success.
  • Work backwards using 3 month milestones.
  • Change is the only constant in startups.
  • You will constantly iterate and rework plans.
  • Create a Plan to get from A to B. This means Goal setting – Today, 3 months to 6 months. As shown below in the picture.

    Hiring Plan

Getting it right

  1. Set clear goals and time-lines.
  2. Sequence and Prioritize.
  3. Assess existing talent skills & expertise inc. throughput.
  4. Build vs. Buy.
  5. Vet with experts such as Sterling Check.

Job Description – 90% effort spend is required on the first 2 and 10% effort on the last. However most spend on the last 2 (points 3 & 4). Make sure you cover:

  1. What we do (commonly forgotten)
  2. What you’ll do (commonly forgotten)
  3. Need to have (most time spent)
  4. Nice to have (most time spent)


  • Interviewing takes time.  Therefore write down all learnings and how-to’s so you can iterate and improve.
  • Establish “core values” and a plan how you will interview people to match those.
  • Drive, Personality & Talent TRUMPS over Skills.
  • To reduce stress on the candidate, explain to them the full interview process e.g. what’s going to happen, who will interview them, how to get to the firm etc. Remember that normally people are not stressed during their day job and so will always perform differently under stress.
  • Document feedback and meet immediately after with the interview team to evaluate the candidate against multiple criteria. Make this a habit early in the company so that everyone follows it.
  • Sample feedback form:

    Sample feedback form

  • Engineer your questions, then iterate on failure to spend more time on qualified candidates.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions upfront if you can close a candidate eg. wage, last time bonus, figure out what they want.
  • People should not flip out if rejected. If they do, hang up on them. Life is too short.
  • Only send written offer letter once the candidate has verbally accepted the offer. If they don’t verbally accept, talk to them until they do or stay in-touch until they accept and only then send the job offer.
  • Referrals are exceptions – Just Sell, do not assess.
  • Hiring requires focus – 10 at once, not 10 in 3 months. Choice is good!
  • Turn interviewees into advocates. Turn your company into a magnet so everyone talks about it. Pitch these.  Candidates should come to you.
  • How to pitch a job – mission (where you are going), status, team, pain (customer problem you are solving) and opportunity (goals – see above).
    • The people: prompt, prepared, fun, engaging and smart.
    • The office: cool, light filled, modern, comfortable and big monitors!
  • Sell you – what you can teach, your personality, your resume and your vision.

Hiring Hacks

  • Express a problem, not skills, to get to candidates. e.g. instead of asking for python developer ask for someone who developed high scalable open source cloud solutions.
  • Be specific when wanting to hire someone so that you can generate stronger referrals.
  • Ask for referrals (and you get advice), Ask for advice (and you get referrals).
  • Your company is your people. Get the right ones. Even if it means moving heaven and earth to hire proven commodities.
  • Hire like an investor. Equity is your currency. Get it. Spend it.
  • Be hyper aggressive in the 1st year.
  • Hire for TALENT vs Skills.
    • Talent is the ability to learn new things.
    • Skills is the stuff you already know how to do.
    • Skills get outdated fast in this fast changing landscape while talent is something which stays with you forever.
  • If you don’t believe your special. Quit. Since you need to believe you will change the world in order to compete with the likes of Facebook et al.
  • Job market doesn’t matter since it’s never of a recessive nature. There is always a market for smart people.
  • Make bets – cliffs and vesting are you friends.
  • “Fire Fast” – create a culture where that’s possible.

Happy hiring!

Other StartupDigest Seminars covered by Ernest Semerda:

~ Ernest

Linked mentioned in this post

How Interns can be a game changer

This is the full post from StartupDigest: Hiring Hacks for Founders. Organized by StartupDigest University, the insider’s guide to the startup world.

Nathan Parcells, Founder at InternMatch

Nathan Parcells, Founder at InternMatch

About Nathan:

  • Nathan graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania where he double-majored in Economics and International Relations.
  • Nathan gained experience in marketing while working at Arnold Worldwide and in the environmental community after completing internships at both the National Audubon Society and the National Parks Conservation Association.
  • Seeking adventure and the outdoors, Nathan spent his summer before graduation sailing the Labrador coast of NE Canada in a crew of six and with no prior sailing experience. This trip furthered Nathan’s interest in the environment, confronting challenges, and learning in new situations.
  • Currently Nathan enjoys working on InternMatch and meeting new people as the platform grows.

The presentation notes:

1. How interns add value

Interns can be experienced – especially in the current economy there is a lot of highly skilled individuals both young and senior. Some benefits of hiring an intern include:

  • It’s a back door of hiring top talent.
  • Get part-time help at a discount.
  • Fill in gaps on the founding team.
  • Gain early evangelists.
  • Hear an outside perspective.

2. How to Recruit top interns

Places to look:

  • Internship sites like InternMatch.com.
  • Direct from colleagues.
  • Craigslist – however you wont find the upper echelon there.


  • Pitch what you do well – sell the vision of the company.
  • Promote your investors, press coverage and the team talent to illustrate a great environment.
  • Let the intern know what they will learn especially the stuff that they cannot from a school.

3. Tips and tricks for intern management

  • Assign a dedicated manager to the intern.
  • Grab coffee with them once a week.
  • Explain the intern’s work in the context of the bigger company picture.
  • Give really clear deadlines on projects like at school eg. iterations with feedback.
  • Use Non-Monetary Rewards to motivate them. 99% of them are not there for the money. They are there for the culture, experience, networking and knowledge to set them apart in the marketplace.
Other StartupDigest Seminars covered by Ernest Semerda:

~ Ernest

Linked mentioned in this post