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). 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-andreessen

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

I’m going to Y Combinator’s Startup School 2010

Yippee!! I have been accepted into Y Combinator’s Startup School 2010!

Email with the good news - perfect b'day present!

I stretched in bed as my eyes opened up to be greeted by another beautiful Californian Saturday morning. I reached for my smart phone to check email to see what has happened in the last 5 hours that I was asleep. And there it was. An email from Y Combinator informing me that I have been accepted into Startup School 2010. It couldn’t have come at a better time, only 3 days after my birthday – what a great birthday present. 3 also being my lucky number.

Startup School is an annual event sponsored by both Standford BASES and Y Combinator. To put it simply, Startup School teaches technical people about startups. It is said that “the atmosphere of energy in the room at startup school is something you have to experience to believe” – now I get the opportunity to experience this first hand. I’m thrilled and excited! Thank you Y Combinator for this amazing opportunity.

Who is Y Combinator

Y Combinator is an American seed-stage startup funding firm, started in 2005 by Paul Graham, Robert Morris, Trevor Blackwell, and Jessica Livingston.

“Y Combinator is a new kind of venture firm specializing in funding early stage startups. We help startups through what is for many the hardest step, from idea to company.

We invest mostly in software and web services. And because we are ourselves technology people, we prefer groups with a lot of technical depth. We care more about how smart you are than how old you are, and more about the quality of your ideas than whether you have a formal business plan.” Source: http://ycombinator.com/about.html

Hacker News

Y Combinator is also responsible for the very popular Hacker News. Hacker News is a social news website about computer hacking and startup companies. It is my daily source nutritional intake of mind stimulating content and discussions. I highly recommend this site for anyone interested in startups – http://news.ycombinator.com/

Startup School lineup

The line up of speakers for this day is exhilarating. They include:

Andy Bechtolsheim
Founder Arista Networks; Founder, Sun Microsystems

Dalton Caldwell
Founder, Picplz; Founder, Imeem

Brian Chesky
Founder, Airbnb

Ron Conway
Partner, SV Angel

Adam D’Angelo
Founder, Quora

Paul Graham
Partner, Y Combinator; Founder, Viaweb

Reid Hoffman
Partner, Greylock; Founder, LinkedIn

Andrew Mason
Founder, Groupon

Greg McAdoo
Partner, Sequoia Capital

Tom Preston-Werner
Founder, GitHub

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook

WOW!! What a line up.
All this will take place @

Where: Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University.
When: 16 October 2010, 9:00 am.
More info: http://startupschool.org/

I’ll be Tweeting & Facebooking “live” from this event. If you haven’t already connected with me, please do. Just tell me who you are when you do so I know you’re a fellow hacker. If you are going to Startup School 2010 I would be delighted to meet you there and/or via the social links below. Come and say G’day to this Aussie.

Catch me online:

This is me being me:

Yap, I'm from down under
Yap, I'm from down under. Ernest Semerda doing a baby freeze.

About Ernest Semerda

Ernest Semerda is an experienced Engineering Leader formerly a hacker from Sydney (Australia) and now a Mountain View (CA, Silicon Valley) resident. Ernest holds 2 degrees; a Bachelor in Computer Science from University of Western Sydney and a Executive MBA from Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). Ernest has experience helping build & grown startup companies with a few years stint in the corporate world. Startups are his specialty and also his passion.

More about Ernest Semerda here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/about/

Ernest