In 2005, I read a book called “eBoys” by Randy Stross. This was a few months after graduating Oxford, around the time I was starting at Deutsche Bank. I remember reading the book on my daily commute into London, and being totally enamored by the insider’s account of how venture capital, and specifically, how Benchmark Capital operated during the first tech boom. I thought the idea of having an embedded journalist was a great way to write the book. It would accurately capture those moments that were crucial in the story, and also, minimize things like the narrative fallacy occurring (which happens a lot more than you would think in the tech world).
I liked the idea so much that I had asked a journalist friend from Oxford if he’d be interested in doing something similar as Harj and I ventured on our startup’s journey (ah the naivety to think our story would be that interesting!).
Fast forward six years, and I receive an email from the author of the book, Randall Stross, announcing that he was to be embedded during our Y Combinator program in the summer for his next book. It was a little unreal, and immediately I emailed Randy to let him know how excited I was about it, and the impact “eBoys” had on me.
Well, that book is out now. I was so excited at receiving the package in the office that I struggled to open the envelope properly. I knew one of my least favourite parts of last summer’s program (the partner office hours) was to be covered, but straight away I was sucked into the book and ended up reading a few chapters.
Re-reading the conversations from last summer, when we started Tagstand, was surprising. I didn’t really remember much of what was said, and of course in startup world things change so quickly that now I’m mildly embarrassed about what we were discussing as a strategy. But that’s fine, with Randy’s approach there’s no glossy make-over of the truth, it’s a firsthand account of what happened. And that’s what’s great about it – if you’re interested in the inner workings of YC, you should read it.
I can understand the risk that comes from allowing someone such unprecedented access to the inner workings of your organisation, as there’s bound to be parts you’re unhappy with. However, I think it’s also really cool to share this with the wider world, and for this Paul Graham deserves a lot of credit. The book documents an interesting part of YC’s life, as it started growing to fund many more companies per batch. It shows how YC as an organisation is willing to take risks and experiment all the time.
There’s also some historical context. It was amusing to read about when Harj and I first applied back in 2006 (and why we got in despite living in another continent and being the dreaded “business guys”).
I learned a lot from “eBoys” back in London as a 22 year old entrepreneur with no real connection to the valley. I’m sure The Launch Pad will play that part for countless other founders around the world.
[Edit: For added coincidence, I'm meeting with Benchmark today].
Filed under: Paul Graham, Y Combinator |
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been asked what it was like to do YC for the second time. That’s probably a good cue to write this post.
It’s a lot better.
To recap, I did the winter program in 2007. We had 13 companies in our batch, which back then was YC’s largest group of companies. Our batch included companies like Weebly, Zenter and Octopart. This summer I did YC with 64 companies. Some people have even asked why I would do it again as surely I have the knowledge and contacts from the first time.
1) YC is lot more legit
I almost feel silly writing this but there was a time back then when YC’s ability to create huge, massively impactful companies was in doubt. I remember when coming from England I’d mention YC to a few friends in San Francisco and not many people knew what exactly it was. Nowadays, I can mention it in most bars in San Francisco and no explanation is necessary (yay – though maybe I should be going to different bars?).
YC has real clout. There’s some truth in the joke that everyone in the Valley works for Paul Graham. He’s the closest thing we have to Steve Jobs. I’ve experienced PG’s reality distortion field, and his no-nonsense style of communication. This makes founding a company through YC awesome.
2) There are more processes (and partners)
It may not be obvious to the outside world, but the YC partners work really hard. A lot harder than you think. There are a lot of processes going on in the background. Back then, to talk to PG involved nabbing his attention at dinner. PG hates meetings, but loves office hours (indeed pre-demo day I think he set a record by doing office hours with 30+ companies in a day). Now if I want to schedule time with Paul it’s only a click away.
Having said that, the expanded YC team means that I don’t need to talk to PG as often. During YC itself, Garry Tan was probably the most useful partner as he helped us with our store design, which in turn allowed us to start making revenue immediately.
Sam Altman is also great to talk to, especially as what we’re doing involves mobile and carriers. I needed an intro to Verizon last summer. Within a few days I was talking to their director of new product technologies. His investment advice has also been extremely useful. I had no idea of how to price apps for carriers. Now I do.
There is plenty of positive stuff to write about the partners, they all have things they are especially useful for. When I want to feel dumb, I talk to Paul Buchheit. There is no better a reality check on what you’re doing than office hours with PB. It also helps that now some partners are from your peer group (less intimidating).
Everything is more rigorous. Notes are taken by the partners after each meeting. YC is building the tools necessary to scale.
3) Other events/partner deals
In the fall we took part in YC’s first ever “Ad Innovation” Conference. It opened several doors for us, including getting our logo next to these guys in a media lab in New York.
YC has also held iOS development and SEO mini-conferences, with the likes of Joe Hewitt (who made Facebook’s iPhone app) and David Lieb of Bump sharing their knowledge.
Related to this, there’s also a bunch of partnership discounts for YC companies. Examples include discounts with the following services:
Knowing that I have discounted premium storage with Dropbox makes our decision to store files online very easy. Likewise, the mandatory installation of Excel becomes super easy with the deal from Microsoft.
4) The founder network
The YC network was already useful when I last did YC. You can now multiply that effect to eight hundred founders. Even with this growth, the desire to help each other out hasn’t diminished at all. If any of us is stuck with anything, a quick email to our founder list always results in helpful responses. There is also a more casual facebook group where we share our successes and arrange to hang out.
5) Start Fund
I cannot emphasise enough how much this extra $150k of funding changes things as a YC founder. Knowing that death isn’t a month away at the end of YC really helps to extend your horizon. A longer horizon results in more ambitious startups.
6) Demo Day
Demo Day was probably my least favourite part of YC this summer. To be specific, the first of the two demo days, and I think this was simply because of the heat. There were too many people in the room. But as PG says, YC is always partially broken due its rapid growth. My understanding is that this will be fixed for the next demo day.
The 2.5 minute pitches are also laser focused. I now struggle to think what we talked about for 7 minutes back in 2007.
7) Class size
It’s definitely different walking into a room that is triple the size of the old YC office and with 150+ founders for the Tuesday dinners. Obviously it’s less intimate. But, much like school, you find a bunch of friends and companies that you gravitate towards. And when Demo Day comes, all of a sudden you get to know almost everyone pretty well. I probably made most of my friendships in our batch during the last week of YC. The camaraderie increases as we realise that holy crap, we’re going to be pitching to the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
To sum up, I really enjoyed doing YC a second time, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
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I’m spending the next few days in Kuala Lumpur for “Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia”. It’s part of Startup Malaysia. I’ll be talking about being a ‘global startup’, and basically trying to share as much knowledge and experience as I can with the 800 entrepreneurs who were selected to attend from Malaysia.
Then, I head to Singapore, Shenzhen and Seoul to do some NFC research. We’ll be meeting with the folks in the Singaporean government responsible for implementing NFC and also seeing factories where RFID tags are manufactured. We were recently just funded and plan to be a lot more aggressive with our growth. Asia is where it’s at.
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When clouds of pain loom in the sky
When a shadow of sadness flickers by
When a tear finds its way to the eye
When fear keeps the loneliness alive
I try and console my heart
Why is it that you cry? I ask
This is only what life imparts
These deep silences within
Have been handed out to all by time
Everyone’s story has a little sorrow
Everyone’s share has a little sunshine
No need for water in your eyes
Every moment can be a new life
Why do you let them pass you by?
Oh heart, why is it that you cry?
Unfortunately not written by me, but by the peerless Javed Akhtar, in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
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BY THE SPRING of this year, News International’s papers had firmly switched their support from Labour to the Tories. An avalanche of unforgiving coverage culminated on April 8, one month before the general election, in a Sun story headlined “Brown’s a Clown.” Brown’s strategists assumed that Murdoch’s motives were not purely ideological. They drew up a campaign document conjuring Murdoch’s wish list should David Cameron become prime minister. Among the top items they identified was the weakening of the government-financed BBC, one of Murdoch’s biggest competitors and long a target of criticism from News International executives. On May 11, David Cameron officially assumed the position and elevated Coulson to the head of communications. Within the week, Rupert Murdoch arrived at 10 Downing Street for a private meeting with the new prime minister. Cameron’s administration criticized the BBC in July for “extraordinary and outrageous waste” during difficult financial times and proposed cutting its budget.
Also, +1 to The Guardian for pursuing this.
WHILE OCCASIONAL articles appeared about the various goings-on at News of the World, the scandal was somewhat of a nonscandal in the other tabloids. But The Guardian, a Labour-oriented paper with an undisguised disdain for Murdoch’s publications, aggressively pursued the hacking episode.
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I wasn’t nervous, til I saw the tank and the owner told me that it was natural or even good to feel nervous before entering. One thing’s for sure, these things aren’t designed by Apple.
The first surreal sensations I had were that I was moving around in the tank, floating right to left, left to right, until I realised I was completely stationary (the tank wasn’t big enough for me to move as much as I felt I was).
It was definitely weird there being no difference between having your eyes open and closed. In fact it was very disconcerting at first that you could see NOTHING, no matter how hard you tried, or in my case, in the expectation that my eyes would eventually adapt to the dark and I’d be able to see the inside of the tank.
If you ever have any doubts that the world we see, hear, feel and experience is a construct of the mind, then you should spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank (which is what flotation tanks are sometimes called, along with isolation tanks). There were periods when I would open my eyes and I felt like I was floating in a big room (my eyes constructed a ceiling about 8 feet above me, when I knew that I only had maybe 1.5 feet of space above my head). I think my brain found it very weird to be deprived of any sensory stimulation and was trying to make sense of what was happening (when was the last time you felt like you were nowhere?).
I was letting my mind wander freely, following my thoughts where they would take me. I had the feeling of having all the time in the world to think, which I don’t think many of us feel in day to day life (we’re always working to deadlines, and have places to be). It was refreshing. At the same time, at the end of the float, I didn’t feel like it dragged or that I had been in there for ages. It actually felt like it passed fairly quickly (it was an hour long).
There were periods where I could feel myself seeking stimulation of some sort. So I moved my arms and ‘accidentally’ touched the side of the tank just to have some sort of feeling. I think it’s very weird for our brains not to be continually stimulated.
I did feel myself relax during the float and eventually my breathing slowed and I felt content. I noticed that I became hyper-aware about my body. Any sensations I felt through my legs, arms, neck became much more heightened. I felt a slight ache in my lower spine for a few moments and it felt like that was my body telling me to fix my posture or to stop spending so much time sitting.
When I walked outside the center, I did notice that I looked at the world passing by in a slightly different way. Cars were streaming down Hyde Street and I could sense the rush everyone was in. After a while I think we forget that we are also a part of this continuous rush. It’d be beneficial to slow down once in a while, and just introspect, and notice the speed with which we otherwise operate.
We’re surrounded by things these days (especially smartphones) that are like attention leeches on our brain, continually sucking away our attention. I’ve felt like this for a long time and just spent 6 months without a smartphone. Continual stimulus is bad, and smartphones and social services in general are optimised to continually take your attention and make you addicted. A little bit of meditation (which is basically what a flotation tank helps you do) is a good way to fight back.
For more information there’s always wikipedia.
This is kinda what the tank looked like:
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