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Ask HN: Submit Questions for Office Hours with YC
28 points by craigcannon on Jan 6, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments
When we announced that we’d be restarting the podcast [https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12969562], many HN users requested Office Hours as a recurring segment. We’re kicking that off next week on YouTube.

Sam’s generously offered to go first. So, if you have a question, please post a few sentences of context and the question here. We’ll do our best to answer as many questions as possible.

You can subscribe to our channel https://www.youtube.com/ycombinator to get the video when it’s posted.

Looking forward to this!

Thanks to everyone that submitted questions. We'll keep track of what wasn't answered for future episodes.

Here's the video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45BvnJgwYjk

As a b2b company, how do you get sales outside of your network? What resources can you recommend to setup a process that will get you to your first 20ish customers?

Another way to pose this question might be: among the successful YC B2B companies, how did they acquire their first few customers? I am sure that personal networks play a role, but then what fraction of initial B2B sales did they acquire from outside of personal networks?

This is the hardest problem, I think. Some "out-of-network" routes to market I can think of are cold calling, cold emailing, cold snail mail (FedEx, USPS, etc), cold LinkedIn "inmailing," participating in conferences (getting speaker spots and/or setting up booth), blogging, "ShowHN" style posts on online forums, advertising on search engines, advertising in industry publications, getting referrals from your investors (if you have investors) ... am I missing any? For every one one of these "hacks," you can find people saying that it doesn't work, that it's waste of time/money, that you should spend resourcing on building product instead, etc. Have YC companies succeeded in the earliest stage through these kinds of efforts? Are some more effective than others, for particular markets?

If it really is all just about personal network in the earliest stages, then that's equally puzzling to me because the numbers seem so low - how many prospective buyers could anyone possibly have in their personal network? Isn't it supposed to be a numbers game ("dial and smile")? It would take just a day or two to contact everyone you know who might be a buyer, what do you do after that?

The investor referrals idea seems like a plausible source of B2B startup success (especially if you are selling to other startups), since investors tend to be highly connected. I've heard YC partners say they can be very helpful in sourcing of your early customers. But another philosophy is that the only way to get into YC is to not need YC ... In other words, this leads to a chicken & egg problem because typically you need to get sales off the ground before any investor (often including YC) will invest in your company. It's the same as saying that you should get sales leads through customer referrals - that might not be super useful advice if you're pounding pavement to find your first handful of customers.

Thank you for the post that was very helpful.

When founding a startup, is being a college student an advantage or a disadvantage. Does it matter at all?

From previous comments by PG and others I think the gist of it is that college is a great place to work on interesting projects and meet potential co-founders (other students).

Startups tend to be all consuming, so it's hard to say that another full-time commitment like school could be an advantage. Unless you have a business that is taking off like a rocket ship, I would wait til after graduation.

Hi Sam. Big fan of the yCombinator team, philosophy, and all the great work you all do!

I'm working in a B2B startup as the sole founder where I'm developing software to help agile software engineering companies capture and document their R&D work for government R&D Tax Credit purposes.

I've been iterating through various prototypes using the MEAN stack attempting to make the product that my B2B clients can't live without. I'm currently focusing on Canadian companies (who claim SR&ED) and am constantly juggling sales and engineering, which makes things go slower than ideal. I'm having a little trouble finding a technical cofounder because this startup is so niche and focused (for now) and the product is still in the experimental phase.

My question: I'm the sole founder and dream of having cofounders to help drive this forward with me. So, right now I'm not sure if my primary focus should be on building the cofounding team, or if I should remain completely focused on proving this out on a smaller-scale by building a scrappy prototype that proves this concept is viable before building the cofounding team?

What's your advise For a grad student at a top-level university who is working on a cool scientific project in a great lab while having a few great startup idea falling under your call for startup and he has a constant battle between either continuing his research or putting a stop on it and submit application for your next batch?

It might be helpful to know that I will submit application wither now or at the end of my phd but that would be three years from now. On one side if I wait I will have support of my supervisor and my committee members as advisors who are big in their fields and probably catch your eyes, on the other side a few years from now might be too late!

1-I am looking to apply to YC and the project fits 2 categories of among the "Request for StartUps" categories [AI and Mass Media], Is this ok if the product touches on these areas but is not defined by them specifically?

There is no exact category for product ( it detects forms of hate speech and allows users to "talk back" through various specific tools, using "ai"/ linguistics & intelligence,and elements of gaming and interactive storytelling on the interface.

2-Also, the "diversity" "Request for StartUps" category, does the YC mean the founder is "diverse" or the product is aimed at a "diverse" market? I am "diverse" but the product isn't particularly aimed at a "diverse" audience.

3-Also, (I think the answer is "no":) do you ever let founders take less money (say 60k for 3.5% instead of 120k for 7%)?

4-if the company/person does not have $$ and is not incorporated yet, how long does it take to get a minimum amount (just so you can deal with the expenses of getting there and being there initially) from YC once you arrive in SV?

5-Do you consider someone who is self-taught and built the prototype herself but does not have a "real" CS background or has ever worked as an "engineer", a "technical founder"?


Hi Sam,we are a platform for moms to connect,facilitate and empower themselves in their journey of motherhood.Unlike the software startups,we need a infrastructural platform first and thats the biggest issue we r facing while trying to generate the fund.Most people are appreciative of the idea ,but we are not aware how do we provide the churn rates or the data asked for in most incubators,we are in prelaunch stage and hav target customer support?

Also as PG always says if what you are making satisfies your target customers,to keep working in the project without much paying heed to other stuffs.We feel though we have the customer support we r lagging behind in networking and being new in the valley its a big task in itself.No mails r replied,people ask for money etc.How to be in touch with people who will be helpful to guide in my project?

How to you determine pricing SaaS products for private/enterprise when you are establishing the credibility of such a product in a particular area (research and development in biotechnology is my focus) and validating a market (in the public sector, my focus is on some academic research institutions) before setting up pricing point for private/enterprise prices? What's the best approach??

I know many enterprises being with a freemium model to test on a market, then figure out the pricing for private/enterprise. I am starting off with a few public academic research institutions, but have interest in private ones as well and private companies right now so wanted to hear from best practices and those who have tried, failed, or succeeded.

Second-time founder who's raised a lot of VC money in the past (many millions). I'm interested in building a new business that makes it to $5M-$10M ARR and exits at $10M-$40M, not $100M/year or $1B.

$20M is a slam dunk for me personally but a loss in VC terms. Should I still think about taking this to Y Combinator?

Hi Sam, How did you initially get your first batch of customers at Loopt and what did you do to increase retention?

Sam, How do you see the future of the "Sign Up with Email and Password" field across the World Wide Web? Do you think that this method is associated with inconvenience and seems outdated at all?

In short -- By your vision, what is the future of "Sign Up" in the digital world?

Thank you very much for the response!

What are your thoughts on having a closed group of people/friends supporting each other, helping each other succeed, investing in each-others ideas, using warm referrals and sharing early product adopters as the best marketing strategy?

In other words - is networking more important than innovation nowadays?

I recently read a blog post from Paul Graham titled, "Change Your Name." He suggests that "if you have a US startup called X and you don't have x.com, you should probably change your name." Taking this in to consideration, I decided to change the name of my side project. However, I soon discovered that its nearly impossible to acquire a good ".com" due to domain squatting by companies like Uniregistry Corp. It seems like domain squatting / speculating is the driving force behind goofy startup names, and maybe its time to just start using other TLDs. Anyway: What do you think about domain squatting and startup names Sam?

Given the rapid evolution of human-computer interaction in the past decades, what factors in the shifting tech landscape do you think will be decisive in accelerating the process of current tech titans losing their market dominance to new entrants?

When a founder have passion to be expertise in specific industry but with no business background and work experiences.

Should a founder need to get work experiences first or execute the way he compel for his idea and learn from mistakes along startup journey?

This was a frequently asked question, answered by Adora Cheung in a Q&A with all partners of YC. According to her, domain expertise is not something that should hold you back. You should, however, become an expert within 1-2 years.

But I have to wonder, if she had proper domain knowledge of the cleaning industry, maybe she would've known that her idea will not work at all. Same would be applicable to all the founders jumping into the food industry. If they were aware of the terrifying economics, maybe they'd be able to avoid burning VC dollars on poor ideas.

Sam - How can a student with no technical background go start a startup ? For e.g. - Evan Spiegel from Snap didn't have a programming background neither did Brian Chesky from AirBnB.

Sam - In your experience, how much time does it take for founders to get rid of a co-founder who isn't performing up to par?

Is it a decision by consensus? Or does the CEO take the call?

How do they evaluate each other when everyone is an expert in his/her own domain?

I would love to know how successful startups have dealt with these situations, and if you can share any experiences, that would be very helpful, since fights between co-founders are a major reason startups fail.

Hi Sam.

1. As a student, how do you find good early employees in fields that you are not familiar with? Say marketing, sales, HR, ..

2. Given that the majority of people spends their time on their phone on very few apps. Do you think there it is still potential for social consumer apps to reach wide acceptance?

3. Concerning our YC application. How much are you interested in the strategy say the next 1-3 years, rather than keeping the application brief and easy to read?

As a founder of company in the early stages, how should you identify a target customer base and how do you recommend developing a plan to market and sell to them?

What legal risks am I taking? If any. Solo founder on H1B. Working on a side project from couple of years. Recently incorporated, B2C platform pre revenue.

Hi Sam,

I'm the CEO of an on-demand app that is getting a lot of traction and partnerships with brick and motor stores.

1) Right now we are doing a simple 60-40 split of profits between us and our delivery drivers. Do you see any downside to this?

2) Should we enlist the help of an MBA grad to help scale for when shit hits the fan since we're growing so quickly?

3) How can we stand out when applying for YC or any other VC? I don't want to be seen as just another Uber for X.

Why do you think crowdfunding for startups hasn't kicked off as well as hoped? What sort pitfalls have startups in the space encountered that you know about?


Hello Sam, you mentionned in one of your blog that non tech founders should learn technical skills. As a founder of a mobile app using cutting edge technology (mostly AI) and working with PHDs in Com.Science , how much time should I really invest in learning basic coding? In other words, what is the best resource you can point to to help me learn the necessary basics? Thanks!

Sam, if you were an important (but non founder) employee at a startup and you were to be acquired, how would you approach the process of integrating and insuring success between the companies? and how would you evaluate the acquiring company and decide if its worth staying at for the long-haul, just until some stay-period is over, or even staying at all?

Structural engineering. I have a startup in the field and I have spoken with a European team in the same field that got an interview to YC as well. However, YC and others seem to have an aversion to this field as it can be slow moving to adopt new technologies. Is this true? Most of us in the field feel that it is ripe for the picking.

Hi Sam. Do you think it is better to build a full-proof product and then look at investment to fuel expansion (takes longer) or should one first get the money and use it to build a full-proof product (faster but riskier)?

If you're making a marketplace app, what are the most common methods for overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem in the very beginning? For example, I think Airbnb did door-to-door in the early days.

Hi Sam, I need to take my startup to next level and that requires me to work with established companies. However now everything I have is a not so fancy looking site and user traction is low. Should I start engaging potential partners and pitch my idea first or focus on getting user traction up before anything else? Thanks!

What do you think is the best way to create impact/maximise potential impact on the world for a high school student developer? Elon Musk named a few things he thinks would be world changing in 10-20 years from now? What do you think high school students should be working on right now?

AI and Machine learning, while important technologies, are at a high risk of becoming a buzzword (if they haven't already). To what extent do you agree with the fact that the end output or experience matters more than the tools (like AI, etc) used to create them?

How would you suggest regional office leaders can foster entrepreneurship in developing countries? Context: I want to start an incubator/accelerator in Ecuador for local founders with global scope.

Hi Sam, I am currently working on a online b2b database software with the manufacturing industry. Do you have any tips on working with firms that lack technical knowledge? How should I go about approaching them? I am currently cold calling them.



What path should I be taking to become a successful startup CEO?

Right now I'm deciding between doing software engineering at a top company vs front end development at an ad tech Unicorn.

I want to get some industry experience after I graduate next year.

Hello Sam,

With VR/AR on the rise in the last couple of years, how do you think it is going to impact the startup community and in your opinion, what industry is going to get impacted the most in the next 10-20 years?


Sam, for the software engineers out there that want to become entrepreneurs. How important is it for them to learn about the business aspects to make connections and learn about business problems?

Thank you!

How should I choose between for-profit and non-profit? Most people think non-profit companies don't ever work. Why does YC disagree?

I applied for Upcoming YC batch as a startup from India. I've been into startup ecosystem since last 2 years and typically a hardware based. My startup application was unfortunately not selected and we totally acknowledge your team's decision. But we have a query here, I have already gone through the FAQs section and i totally understand "Why don't you invite groups for the personal Interview". But this one is slightly different and is more of a general question. I thoroughly walked your FAQ sections and somewhere in between the FAQs, i found a section that said "Request For startups/Hardware". Now though i'm running a hardware based startup in India, i read the section and i found a line that said, "We help hardware companies quickly create prototypes, test with potential customers, iterate their product, launch in a way that maximizes the likelihood of success, and scale production in response to demand." I even walked through the alumini section and found that most of the startups are directly/indirectly related to mobile applications/web based/IT based. Even though the startups are categorized as Hardware startups, more or less i can see a mobile application/any other web based stuff involvement in them. Moreover, when a user browse through your webpage, the homepage clearly shows couple of startups (whom YC funded and supported) and 90% (or more) are the ones who are developing Mobile applications or are into web based applications (Ex - Payment services, Cloud services, Foodtech, etc). It's a clear thing that a user like me perceives this as the very first thing when i open up your webpage. Being a hardware guy, i need to exclusively search for options in order to find out some Hardware startups to whom i could relate myself. And the very first thing that motivated me to apply for YC are the following points: Versatility Pool of talented people Clear support for a startup like mine (Hardware based) and most importantly, the statement, "We help hardware companies quickly create prototypes, test with potential customers, iterate their product, launch in a way that maximizes the likelihood of success, and scale production in response to demand." This actually excited me about the fact that we already have a MVP ready with us and YC can help us reach greater heights with the help of their pool of talented people.

Friendly advice, it would help to work on communicating more clearly and succinctly. I've read your comment twice and am still having trouble discerning a question.

All the best.

Hi, Sam

Is 4 days a week for 11hr or, 5 days a week for 9hr Which timings are productive especially if you're work is more likely be a freelancer ?

Is consciousness research on your radar?

What would make you say, "Wow, that's some consciousness research I want to fund!"?

How do you know if you're technical enough to build great products?

What would you focus on if you were among the initial Mars colony?

My company has paying customers, good unit economics, a mature technology platform and customer retention is good. The reality is that we have not found a way to gain net new customers in a scalable way so we are doomed to grow at a very slow pace in the current market. We are obviously working on gaining customers faster but the channels that convert well have no scalability. Suffice for the sake of the question that we will not find a reasonable growth channel the coming year.

We believe that pursuing an M&A transaction with other players that can offer our product to their existing customer base is the best way to realize its full potential.

We also believe that additional fundraising is useless as the value of the company will not increase significantly for a potential acquirer.

Luckily, We are in a space that's acquisition-heavy and we have MANY potential acquirers. Overall there are 5 types of acquirers that could find strategic value in buying us.

I have digged up what I could find online about preparing for M&A and selling a company. However, the advice is pretty generic with statements like "companies are bought not sold". This is obviously the best case and will probably be the most lucrative type of acquisition as well. The reality is that we want to run a competitive auction in a relative short (6m) time-window before we have to pursue additional funding.

Given this opportunity, it would be amazing to clarify the following questions:

1/ How direct should we be about wanting to sell the business when talking to potential acquirers.

2/ Have you seen companies successfully soliciting M&A and running a competitive deal process? If yes, what tactics have you seen that worked and what tactics killed deals?

3/ What drivers do you see most often for corporates to close the deal? For example, from our experience raising VC it is pretty clear that for VC's the main drivers to close are fear of missing out or greed and absent those the "deal" keeps getting delayed forever.

4/ When corporates buy startups, what's the typical timeline they need to see ROI on their investment.

5/ I understand that founders are often locked-in for some period of time and the money is escrowed until certain milestones are reached. What are common milestones corporates set?

6/ How do VC's perceive companies that want to sell? Assuming our VC will be supportive, what can we expect a VC to help with? Obviously they will introduce us to firms they have relationships with but can we also ask them to spread the word to PE firms that own potential acquirers or build a connection to potential acquirers board. How much engagement can we realistically expect here?

7/ Any terms we should be watchful of to avoid getting screwed post-acquisition?

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