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 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

Get your @$$ to Silicon Valley

Is moving to work in Silicon Valley on your goals list? Are you a software engineer or work with technology and always craved for more? Then get your @$$ to Silicon Valley and start making a difference disrupting an industry and learning a ton load of new things in the process. Oh and Happy New Year!

Sydney 2011 NYE Fireworks - nothing comes close
Sydney 2011 NYE fireworks - nothing comes close

Here’s why you need to be in Silicon Valley

It has already started!

Aussies are leaving Australia to start tech companies in the valley. Check out this SMH article & video on this movement.

Brain drain: why young entrepreneurs leave homesource: SMH, May 18, 2012

How to get to Silicon Valley

  • Make sure you are up to date with the latest tech. Australian corporate world (common work environment) is behind with technology so moving to Silicon Valley you may need to ramp up on the tech side. There is also plenty of free education online you can take advantage of.
  • Organize an E3 (faster & easier for Aussies) or H1B (the common) Visa. You can come to Silicon Valley on your Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for 90 days (3 months), find a job and then get the Visa sponsored by the company.
  • Find a place to live in the Bay Area (also known as Silicon Valley) / San Francisco areas. If you come on a Visa Waiver Program just rent out a bedroom via AirBnB anywhere you like. Super easy and convenient until you lock down a more long-term accommodation.
  • Find a job / startup to work at. Or just contact me and I can help you out – we are hiring! A friend came here on a Visa Waiver Program and scored plenty of interviews and locked in a great job in 2 weeks.
  • Understand employment & contracts in the bay area. There are plenty of perks for great software engineers including long-term financial gains via stock options. Unlike Australia where getting stock options is next to unheard of for software engineers. Check out glassdoor.com to get a feel for the salary range in Silicon Valley.
  • Before you leave Australia make sure you have attended to the going away checklist; changed to non-resident for tax purposes, notified your banks, given power of attorney to someone you trust etc…

Need help or still not sure?

Look. If you’re a good engineer with the right attitude and want more out of life you need to be in Silicon Valley. If you fear the change it’s ok. It means your human. Contact me and I will help you with your journey from Australia to Silicon Valley and connect you with startups in the bay area.

Don’t waste another day, start today and make a difference in your career and life.

~ Ernest