If you are contemplating a startup or you're already doing a startup I would say it's worth attending. Outside of the interesting talks (which will most likely find their way online anyways), it's a great opportunity to talk to other like-minded people and hear about what sort of stuff they're working on.
What's the general atmosphere of the event?
It's intense (lots of content), and no-nonsense. Every speaker had something valuable to say, and they didn't talk down to the audience at all.
I found the day motivating, especially DHH's talk and just chatting with my peers. With the exception of one person, everyone I met was a hacker and was working on something.
Is it similar to other conferences you've attended?
Not really, one big difference: the overall quality of the attendees. I'm a shy person, but there were so many people talking about writing code (vs. big idea people) that I felt like I fit right in.
Is it simply a day-long sales pitch for YC?
The only real pitch-man the year I attended was Jeff Bezos, his talk was a pitch for AWS. However, he was so impressive during the Q&A that I can forgive him.
It is well worth a few hundred bucks to attend... and ridiculous in that it is free.
So yeah, apply. It's worth it.
Startup School is my favorite tech conference-alike-thingy (not really sure I'd call it a conference), by far. I'd be going this year if it wasn't in the middle of my trip to Nepal.
No idea how many applied, of course. Given the HN audience, it could have been thousands.
West coast 4 life ;)
Is this explicitly geared towards startups looking to raise funding and look for a big exit?
This event is a good time to hear about when it would make sense to raise money, and how you might go about doing it.
If I remember correctly, last year the list wasn't final until right around the time that acceptances were sent out.
I'd personally prefer having talks downloadable in a standard format (say, mpeg) rather than only via justin.tv, but they're still much better than nothing. (Or maybe they have a download feature I haven't been able to find?)
ls -ltr /var/folders/jH/jH90qqJaGnOB1gJOwGbGKE+++TI/TemporaryItems/
on my Mac
BUT, happy they're stream-able period! I will sadly not be in the area, but look forward to seeing it online.
Now he did :-)
Later on, I wondered about startup school and did the same thing: I checked the web site, and nothing new... So my brain recognized a pattern: you guys must be too busy this year to do those conferences. So I was convinced that startup school was not happening. Therefore I didn't even think of asking you. Until I met you and asked you why you were not doing it anymore, which proves how convinced I was that my brain was smart :-)
[apologies for the long and boring explanation, but now you know - next time, I suggest putting a small link saying it's coming again in 2010, and my brain won't make the wrong inferrence]
That's one of the main reasons why I'm dropping everything and moving to San Francisco in about a week to work on my startup. As much as I like Chicago, the connections and resources just aren't there yet.
For those of you actually interested in events in the Midwest, I can tell you that we're doing some interesting things in Cleveland that I can scrounge up more information about. Nothing conference-level that I'm aware of, but events with founders and incubators are becoming more and more frequent.
Edit: Cleveland Startup Weekend is in November and there's some sort of kickoff party in a few days. http://cleveland.startupweekend.org/
The Midwest won't have a successful Startup School clone (at least not with speakers of this caliber) because it's not dense enough with startup people. Maybe there are enough people to make the event worthwhile in all of the Midwest, but it's such a huge area that a lot of people would still be facing very long drives or flying.
When people say "I want an event like this in <my region>", they really mean "I want an event like this within a 2 hour drive of my house, preferably closer." They don't mean "I live in Ohio and would happily travel to Kansas for this event." If someone were to announce an event like this in, say, Minneapolis, a lot of people form Indiana and Ohio would realize that that's not what they had in mind when they asked for a Startup School clone in the Midwest.
And now PG's invested in a flight comparison startup, so just as people sometimes link to http://www.justfuckinggoogleit.com/, he can link to Hipmunk to say "just fucking fly here."
Even if the answer is as simple "YC's plate is totally full just keeping up with the SV scene" or "pg hates the cold", that would be more compelling than just a brush off and link to some plane tickets.
If you want a different opinion, read 37signals' blog and books. They're right there in Chicago.
"Why does Silicon Valley ignore the Midwest" strikes me as missing the point entirely. Regions don't become entrepreneurial by the careful attention of people from other, more entrepreneurial regions. They do it themselves. That is the point of entrepreneurship!