There was a question about the financial risk of launching early - PG's answer was really good, but it seemed pretty clear to me: Launching early costs less time and money. So you should launch something that works, as soon as possible with the minimum number of people required to build something useful (probably 2-4 people). Beyond that, you make your "vision" meet reality, where you can do magical things like learn from users/customers, which is basically priceless.
Look at Apple. Most of how they got where they are is by Jobs, Ive et al. making what they wanted to see, and nitpicking at everything until they were satisfied.
Also: "people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
Of course you have to address customers' frustrations, but relying on just "data" and marketing feedback all the time often results in an sterile, rigid product that will always be at risk of disruption by someone with more soul (unless you buy them out with the money you made by playing it safer :)
It's demonstrably not true that you must be a user of a product to build a good product. To pick a random example: I doubt all pacemaker firmware developers have heart conditions that require pacemakers. I can conjure plenty of similar examples--some from my own work history.
That's not to say you shouldn't empathize with your users. You should. And, that's not to say it's not sometimes an advantage to also be a user of a product or service. I suspect it can be an advantage in many circumstances. But, I don't think it's a necessary condition to make something really good.
> You have to be a user of your own product to really make it good.
That doesn't say anything about product or market. It's a very general statement that I happen to find rather dangerous in terms of hiring/employment practices. I tossed out pacemakers as a very obvious counter-example. I could come up with plenty of others--some from my own work experience.
I did try to couch the comment a bit. I do think there's value in being a user of your own product. I do not think it's a necessary precondition though. And treating it as such unnecessarily constrains the candidate pool. That's the point I was trying to make.
For example, a lot of people want their salmon cooked extremely well done, when you as the chef, think this is wrong, but this is what the customer wants, so you do it anyway, but you no longer care about it.
Haven’t you ever had moments, while using something, where you encountered some stupid behavior that made you go, “Do the people who make this thing ever use it themselves??”
This is related to the concept of qualia , and sentiments like “Be the change you want to see in the world.” or “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Yes: someone without a heart condition will not be able to fully appreciate all the nuances of a pacemaker.
Of course that’s not to say they can’t contribute to the development and production of pacemakers. That’d be absurd.
But unless the thing you make is actually used by you, you will only [need to] perform within the specifications of your job, get paid and get out.
You won’t be able to identify any deficiencies that aren’t immediately obvious, and unless user feedback impacts your profits, you may see no reason to improve something. It’ll be /r/NotMyJob.
But if you’re an active user of your own product, you’ll have a much higher chance of noticing annoyances and shortcommings and fix them before waiting for user feedback to bubble up through the corporate chain to influence a change in the product.
Sometimes people at work give me crap for this. But they know my engineering contributions are among the best in the company, so what can they say?
It’s foolish to disqualify people for this. Imagine saying men cannot ever work for a team that delivers feminine hygiene products, or a woman can never work for a product team that makes male health products.
That's not all businesses - for things like medical devices, avionics, high-performance computing infrastructure, self-driving cars, etc. it's very clear what the product needs to do, and not all that clear how to do it. But those businesses usually require deep industry knowledge and advanced technical education (in a field other than software), and you're slotting into an existing market structure rather than creating a new one. That means the potential market sizes are smaller, the risks are better judged by people with advanced technical degrees, and the effectiveness of capital is less. All those make them a poor fit for YC.
I really want to believe that your statement is true, but it appears to be eliding 4 dimensions into 2.
All businesses, regardless of size or type or industry, will run the risk of going out of business. Let's call this market risk . Market risk is to businesses as dying is to humans, with the small difference being that businesses can postpone dying by pivoting to a different market. (Humans have not yet figured out how to postpone death and it is unlikely we ever will.)
What makes startups particularly exciting to discuss on HN is that they come with an additional challenge: technical risk.
Both risk types suffer from the what/how dilemma you pointed out: what to sell & how sell it (market risk); and what to build & how to build it (technical risk).
To mitigate technical risk is why YC strongly advises batches to camp out of SV for the first few months of the life of the company due to the agglomeration benefits -- the unusally high concentration of technical talent, relative to anywhere else in the world. This increases the odds they'd meet the kinds of technical people necessary to solve the "how to build it" part once the "what to build" part has been identified. If "how to build it" is impossible due to the laws of physics, or not yet possible due to the underlying economics, a startup can fail fast and focus on what is technically possible within the ambits of their meagre resources. With technical risks out of the way, a startup is no different from any other business.
Running a physical bookstore has nearly zero technical risk but suffers from lots of market risk due to competitive pressures from a better stocked bookstore opening next door, or from half a dozen new bookstores hoping to mop up the economic surplus rumored to be present in book selling in a highly affluent neighborhood. Or from an out-of-state competitor like an online retailer.
"What to sell" & "how to sell it" are existential questions that will always hang over the head of any business as long as there is competition.
I'd say that the primary risk of any business is understanding what to sell and how to sell it. Just ask any mom&pop bookstore that closed due to Amazon. Or Jawbone, even though they surmounted their technical risks with a ~$1bn war chest.
The same would be true of any activity the start-up could do to gather intelligence on a market opportunity, whether it is incubating a prototype and obsessing over user feedback, consuming market research, getting feedback from potential investors, etc. etc.
If doing X could reliably lead to growing the product revenue underpinning the startup, then there is an arbitrage opportunity for any better capitalized actor to swoop in and do X first/better.
I also think your claim is implicitly very narrow in imagining a certain type of startup.
For example, my sister opened a popup restaurant that participates in a weekly farmer’s market in a large public park near where she lives. She absolutely spent money on marketing reports and restaurant consulting to understand if her ideas for menus and how to operationalize cooking the food quickly, on-site had any likelihood of being profitable.
The idea of just piloting the menu and kitchen strategy, then hoping to pivot based on feedback, makes no sense for a startup business like that, where you need hard research data on the market before even prototyping a product.
A popup restaurant is not a startup in the sense that is normally discussed on this site - namely a scalable business that focuses on owning an asset that you can sell access to lots of different customers, over and over again. When you own a popup restaurant (or any other small service business), your customer base is limited to the number of people you can physically serve. If, however, you own a software app that is the go-to place that people go for meals on demand, you can sell access to those customers to many small popup restaurants, and charge them a good fraction of the additional profits generated by customers you bring in the door.
That has a big effect on the market dynamics. There's room for many popup restaurants, because each is limited to a small number of customers. There's only room for one or two Yelps, or DoorDashes, and they all tend to get in each other's business, because there's no limit to the number of customers they can serve. If there's going to be thousands of companies in your space anyway because each of you is limited by your work ethic, there's no harm in buying information from a commodity information provider (who, BTW, is going to be making a lot of money). If there's only going to be one winner in your space, you better be it, and the existence of a market research firm who's aware of your market is a good indication that you're already too late.
Chances are you are not really building a product that is reinventing a market and creating new solutions for previously non existing problems, like the iPhone. Then you fall into the hole of thinking you can imagine how people want to solve a well known problem and end up finding out later that, well, you were wrong.
I’d urge people to stop thinking they can pull off a Steve Jobs.
“”Market research”” won’t tell you what’s missing, only existing trends. “Vision” on the other hand is identifying a need for something that doesn’t exist yet.
You don’t need to be Steve Jobs to do that, but if you aren’t charismatic (or rich) enough to convince a bunch of other people to work on your vision with/for you, you may only be make what you can make on your own.
Which is why I stick to my personal hobby projects. :)
I have a problem when I hear things like that. The problems are always there, the needs are always there. They're just satisfied better by the new technology. But the latent needs were there to begin with.
> "So why wouldn’t all founders start by engaging with users individually? Because it’s hard and demoralizing. Sales gives you a kind of harsh feedback that “marketing” doesn’t. You try to convince someone to use what you’ve built, and they won’t. These conversations are painful, but necessary. I suspect from my experience that founders who want to remain in denial about the inadequacy of their product and/or the difficulty of starting a startup subconsciously prefer the broad and shallow “marketing” approach precisely because they can’t face the work and unpleasant truths they’ll find if they talk to users."
And posted here w/out the paywall: https://genius.com/Jessica-livingston-why-startups-need-to-f...
I don't see this essay on https://www.startupschool.org/library and it probably should be at the top.
But sales stuffs, cold calling give me chills. How do I overcome it?
B2B products cold calling is generally a must.
Consider that in mind. I can do sales ok, mostly by faking it, but I will never be as good as extroverts who love that interaction. Its just a brain drain to me many times.
Delegate when possible, SOPs, etc.
Going to conventions and doing face to face talks is easier than straight cold calling. People are less likely to outright reject you in front of your face
I deal with telespammers all the time. The amount of bullshit I hear everyday is amazing. We use a fake alias at work to filter out potential B2B spam as a honeypot, and dump that honeypot data in data broker centers. If it was important I would go looking for their services.
The amount of people I hear saying "oh I just spoke with fake_alias yesterday" is a lot. Sometimes people would physically show up saying they had a meeting arranged with "fake_alias". 95% on calls for "fake_alias"has been a waste of time, but 5% there are some nice useful calls and some clients that used data aggregation to find us. I always just ask what their company does, who they are, etc. If they dont answer 100% waste of time.
Then google business phonecall spam, asking for verification. I updated googlebusiness listings myself, and I still get these calls.
You need to understand how big and small businesses operate, and what your target market is. The approach to B2B sales is very different here.
The cold calls that really worked out did their homework and "pretended to be a customer". E.g. hey im a client looking for xyz goods and services do you have this? Oh you dont? My company sells them.
Underhanded though but I like the creativity.
Most cold calls are done in several stages though. Do hot/cold reads (kind of like a gypsy/psychic) through the receptionist. Youll get alot of information about who makes decisions , what things company is struggling with etc. Receptionists see everything. Press 0 on most telephone systems to reach them. Ask if they are okay with you asking a few questions abot their comlany and how they feel etc. This is for B2B situations where there's only X number of clients out there.
Knowledge is power when it comes to doing B2B cold calls. Know the companies weaknesses and play on that
Or maybe English and American standards are different? :)
I mean, I get it, you have to make customers happy in order to have a business. But this seems like something different. It seems like saying your goal should be to make money a priori and that defining vision based on feedback is a good way to do that.
But what if that’s not your goal? What if your goal is to create a company that embodies a specific mission, like say related to environmentalism or furthering cryonics or actually paying all the taxes you should pay as a civic virtue instead of offshoring to skirt your duty to help others that form the foundation of society that enables your business to exist in the first place.
Doing things like this often requires telling customers “no” or declining business all together, in order to impose the vision because you believe the vision is more valuable than short term pivots to satisfy short term client feedback.
Another thread of this that I don’t like is that client feedback is often wildly inconsistent and incoherent, not based on realistic understanding of what’s possible.
It sounds glib to say listen to feedback, but what does that mean? Which feedback is good? When is it actually going to payoff according to your true goal?
Yes that's exactly why I've become jaded about business in general. It was excessively clear that, except in extremely rare cases and almost only with Apple, being successful means that you're letting other people ("customers") dictate your product to you. From what I can tell it absolutely is the correct path to financial/commercial success.
If "do whatever people want" is what it takes to be successful then that's the exact opposite of what I got into this for.
What if your goal is to create a company that embodies a specific mission
From what I can tell, then you're a non-profit or a B-Corp or something else. A for profit company C-Corp that looks like a "startup" has generating profit for the business as it's core mission. Not just revenue, profit. And ideally super high-margin profit. Maybe that looks like an acquisition, or maybe it looks like a dividend or liquid stock eventually. In one form or another, your core mission is to turn money and work into more money. Anything else is a side project or goal.
As far as making money vs. mission, I think the issue is just that truly solving an important problem for lots of people is so absurdly hard that very very few entrepreneurs can manage to achieve it without devoting close to 100% of their focus to this challenge.
People might love that your company is financially transparent and socially responsible, but that won’t get them to use your product. So thinking much about these things before you start seeing product-market fit feels like putting the cart before the horse.
But many businesses don’t try to make products for lots of people, just for very small, focused sets of customers.
> “People might love that your company is financially transparent and socially responsible, but that won’t get them to use your product. So thinking much about these things before you start seeing product-market fit feels like putting the cart before the horse.”
But what if your goal is not to find product-market fit unless it also satisfies other constraints like sustainability or financially ethical behavior? What if, in the absence of those, your preference is to go out of business and shut down?
I don't think this is proportionally less difficult. The advice that YC partners and other experienced founders will give you if you tell them you want to conquer the world is to start with a small, focused set of customers. It's a lot harder to get from 0 to this point than it is to go from a small enthusiastic user-base to a much larger user-base.
So even if you're content with a smaller market or a smaller share of a market than the typical VC-backed startup, it's still crazy hard to get any significant traction at all, and it still requires just about all your creativity and focus to get there.
> "But what if your goal is not to find product-market fit unless it also satisfies other constraints like sustainability or financially ethical behavior? What if, in the absence of those, your preference is to go out of business and shut down?"
The vast majority of founders do impose their own versions of those constraints on themselves. Everyone's ethics are different (as is everyone's definition of sustainability), but just about everyone has lines they won't cross and deals they won't make.
I think the point isn't that you should pursue profit above all else and forget higher values, just that regardless of the type of company you want to build, your first and most important challenge is building something a significant number of people want enough that they'll pay you money for it. Since this is so hard, all the early-stage advice is relentlessly focused on how to do it. And what's the best proxy for how well you're doing it? Revenue. Thus the outsize focus on getting it and growing it quickly early on.
And we got him an earring. There are photographs on the Internet of Robert Morris with an earring.
I could not find such photographs ...
You have now idea how bad, inelegant and even technologically behind the Window's was back then. They exploited their monopoly power to the max.
Microsoft hated and did not care about the internet protocols. They pushed NetBEUI instead. Early Windows socket API was crap and unreliable compared to BSD sockets. and Netscape and web apps provided major service for abstracted that shit away. I think Intel engineers had basically rewrite the TCP/IP stack for MS at some point.
Today people see X Window System as outdated, but at the time it was simpler, better and more robust than Windows. We actually bought number of gigantic but old dummy graycolor X window terminals and connected it to old 386 Linux server we used as a development machine and it was a great experience compared to anything Windows.
I was working in a small company that did mostly stuff for Unix (and linux) but unlike PG and Viaweb we decided to develop complex IDE to Windows and it had to work everywhere in the world. It was just horrible programming experience.
How do you install software across a fleet of dozens of Windows machines? There are solutions, but they are embarrassingly poor in comparison to what's available on other systems. Salt, Ansible, et al have added half-hearted Windows support over the years, but it's pretty shallow. SCCM is a massive can of worms and very easy to FUBAR.
MS's mental model of "update systems by performing clicks 1, 2, 3, and 4" is just fundamentally limited, as compared to the text-based *nix model. Even MS has been forced to come to terms with it, which is why they're finally adding real pty support, etc.
Read the Unix Programming Environment to see the exact opposite mindset for OS design.
.NET did not appear until much later.
- C++ ABIs that changed on every compiler update but still had to work.
-Support for C and Assembly which had no OO support at all.
-Liteweight enough to run on a computer with 8MB of RAM total.
Given these constraints it's unlikely you would do any better.
Creating a "solution" (who came up with that word?) is absolutely horrible compared to just opening a file in vi/emacs.
There does not appear to be a command line debugger -- while the debugger is good, graphical debuggers are a pain to use.
- He mentions that people who have worked in some companies for 20 years could not be good founders because good founders wouldn’t be able to stand these companies for 20 years.
- pg has often said founders must be nice people but then the host says he doesn’t think young Steve Jobs would get funded today at YC because YC specifically filters out such founders.
See the joke about determination and trump (somewhere in the video)
So yes, if the moderator just had a list of open questions, it would probably have worked better.
How do you accept payment without a website / app / etc ?
Maybe there could be a fixed priced online, which you could contribute towards. I won't pay for movies/tv now, but I'd sure pay for subtitles! Divided between many people, it wouldn't cost much. Not sure how to ensure high quality subs.
(I contributed to doing subs on viki years ago, which seemed like a good thing, but it disappeared, taking all the subtitles with it.)
"Why combinator has the people who wrote a mail and email?"
from that and
"Y Combinator has the people who wrote Yahoo Mail and Gmail"
from the YouTube transcript for example.
Thanks for the offer. I have free time today so if you are dying for this synopsis I will do it for free just because I find it so funny that someone wants this
But I would still like one.
Mostly because I've been trying to stick all of my knowledge into draw.io diagrams. And the first step of doing that is getting a textual version of the information.
People doing an hour of work online for a few bucks are likely interested in buying something locally rather than spending $100US on something online.
A YouTube annotation overlay might be appreciated by the other founders.
As an uncomfortable public speaker myself, when I've been in that situation of being introduced at the beginning of a Q&A session, my mind is mostly occupied with mildly anxious thoughts about how I'm going to get through the talk without freezing up or saying something stupid. I'm not paying close attention to what the host is saying.
It's worth considering that one of the reasons PG stepped away from being president of YC seemed to be that he got sick of having the minutiae of his words and actions scrutinised and presumed to be motivated by malice. There's a reason his preferred method of public communication is long-form essays.
As the parent to your comment pointed out, he's been at pains to credit his co-founders in the past, and shows no signs of having an ego-driven need to be known as the sole founder of YC.
Maybe give the guy a break?
Boy, did that suck. Every little thing that happened, I couldn't help but think through all the mistakes and omissions being made. I can't imagine doing the same thing at the scale of YC.
I'll probably do it again. I love writing and expressing myself. But I can see where PG did the right thing to get out of the light a bit. I remember on HN the guy would say something like "It's raining outside" and 14 people would respond with misunderstandings, clarifications, arguments, nit-picking. At some audience level all in the same room, it becomes impossible to communicate back-and-forth. The long-form essay is probably best.
That said, other than that I disagree with you. If someone wants to have their opinions taken seriously they have take other people's opinions seriously as well and can't get angry as soon as people disagree.
Personally I think many of his essays aren't very good, but there just isn't any practical way to discuss them. And frankly I don't think people are really that interested in doing that either.
Jump to 6:20 and tell me with a straight face that PG is concerned about interjection. He literally could have just chuckled and helpfully offered, "well... co-founder!"
Here's the thing: I'm a PG fan and I'm not trying to be pedantic. Jessica has frequently written about how her role is misunderstood and unfortunately minimized, even though it's clear to anyone with life experience that she is the heart and soul of the operation.
Nobody likes to think of themselves as being pedantic.
But people can choose to make an effort to avoid being pedantic.
Instead you’ve chosen to use emotive words like “historical revisionism”, “fascinating”, “sad” and “oblivion” to create drama over something that, as I said in another comment, for all we know, PG may not have even properly heard.
If you’re a PG fan, perhaps have a re-read of the “Life is Short” essay and take a moment to think about whether PG (and Jessica and the other YC founders) would think this discussion is the kind of thing life is or isn’t too short for.
Thanks for the comment; I appreciate your perspective.
He doesn't sound sorry =p
But if he really did "choose" the other guys, then maybe calling him the founder isn't so wrong.
I don't think PG would disagree with my suggestion, and he certainly doesn't need people to defend him.
I think it’s a powerful data point to see Paul quietly accept the the title of Founder. It is evidence he’s not in the habit of correcting people who don’t see him as a co-founder with a woman.
It speaks to his mindset. And perhaps this thread speaks to yours as well. It’s not about some kind of gotcha game. We are legitimately interested in how deeply both of you are engaged with this subject.
Personally, I don’t mind if you and Paul don’t think it’s a serious issue. I don’t think you do. You are under no obligation to care. But I think we should be free to discuss the possibility that you don’t. And to notice evidence that you don’t.
This is the kind of thinking that makes me realize YC isn’t a good fit for me. I think it benefits both me and YC for YC’s approach to these issues to be discussed. You don’t want people like me to apply, it would be bad for the health of the program.
At any rate, I don't for a moment believe that PG would ever introduce himself as "the founder" and I hope that didn't come across.
Whenever you try something this spontaneaous there will always be a lot of hesitations, a lot of ums and ahs, and some arguments as to which direction the conversation should go in. But you still get something more interesting and original.
Most of the smooth talkers you see on tv and youtube have basically learned what they are going to say. They sound slicker, but eventually what they do say is less interesting because it has been pre-learned and thus pre-filtered.
This is a general problem with Television and popular culture nowadays. If you look at old tv talk shows you can see real spontaneity, but this is mostly absent from modern tv. Of course, the other side of the coin is that on modern TV interviewers and interviewees are much smoother and more self assured, as they already know what they are going to say.
I really hope that people do not get spoiled by this pre-learned smoothness of presentation as to fail to appreciate actual spontaneous interviews and conversations.
Plenty of people can talk off the cuff without saying "umm" this often.
It seems kind of functional - it usually follows something cheeky / provocative - its basically a pause for laughter.
Step 1) collect seven pounds of weapons grade plutonium
Step 1 of a great startup is an amazing idea. Unless you have step one I think the advice is pretty non applicable. Sure, I get the whole camp “ideas are a dime a dozen”, but, a bad idea can fall apart with millions of VC ran by MIT grads and an amazing idea can come to life with a few hundred bucks with a high school kid.
> a bad idea can fall apart with millions of VC ran by MIT grads and an amazing idea can come to life with a few hundred bucks with a high school kid.
This is a actually really wonderful thing!
Unless you’re an MIT grad with no ideas about how to help customers hoping you could cash in by riding solely on your credentials I guess.