Fortune 500's biggest company is a single-founder company. Most Fortune 500 companies were founded by a single person. Don't let detractors tell you single-founder companies don't work.
and Wikipedia. I went through most of the list. It's right to me.
Having worked both solo and with partners, I will never again run a business solo for an extended period of time. If the business is already profitable, I'll hire a competent GM-level person to help run it. If it isn't profitable enough to do that, then I'm going to spend a majority of my time recruiting someone for whom the company will be greater than the sum of its parts.
Having someone to talk to is huge. If they pick out a single one of your blindspots or bad points, that could make the business 20% more successful. Really, there's a long list of things that can go wrong in business. Tweaking and refining at any stage could easily give a 1%, 2%, 5% edge. Those stack up really fast.
Solo isn't so good. Partners are good. If profitable, you can hire some talented to take that role. If not profitable, I'd strongly encourage you to get over your... well, I was about to call it delusions of grandeur, but that isn't fair to say. For me, in the past I've fallen in love with my ideas, thought they were worth more than they were, and thought the execution would come fairly easily. I was delusional. Maybe you're not, but if you don't have money coming in and an obvious winner on your hands, you might rethink what the business is worth and go recruit someone. Have some sort of vesting or buyout provisions if it doesn't work and go get a cofounder.
I was the biggest pro-solo guy in the world previously, but I was mistaken. You got a high fever? Tough shit, it's just you running the business, make it work anyways. You ripped the cartilage in your knee and can't walk? Tough shit, hobble over the taxi stand, get a taxi to the bank, and limp/drag yourself in to do your business.
Having a team is good. If profitable, hire a GM-type, that'd work. If not strongly think about recruiting a cofounder.
How could I appear other than stubborn?
If they had said, OK I think we understand your idea but your market doesn't seem big enough (or something to that effect), maybe things would have turned out differently than 11 minutes of what seemed to me like "we don't get it," when they probably did and didn't believe in it.
Well, in any case, I got some good feedback and I still appreciate the opportunity to discuss my company with them.
Hindsight may be 20-20, but I still have to fend off the regret for not redirecting the conversation.
As a word of advice to future single founders, they are going to aggressively push you the entire time. Be prepared to concede to them at some point even if they don't "get it." Otherwise, you will appear stubborn.
> As a word of advice to future single founders, they are going to aggressively push you the entire time. Be prepared to concede to them at some point even if they don't "get it." Otherwise, you will appear stubborn.
People need that. And y'know, you might be wrong. Or not. If you have a great reply, then maybe say, "You know, that's a fantastic point, I spend a lot of time thinking about that myself. Can I show you the numbers I ran on that?" Then show them, and say, "I still think about it. Do you think these numbers look good to go, or would it be worth considering more? What would you do about that concern, in my shoes?"
I'm going to keep the details vague here, but I remember one time I was selling something. The client wanted something else, that was stupider than my idea. But I was swallowed my pride and did it their way. Y'know why? Because I wanted their money more than they want my expertise. Oh, it was still a good deal for everyone. But they demanded it a certain way, and okay, you've got the money, you win, let's do it your way.
You wanted someone's money. Okay, they win, let's do it your way. Well, not that wishy-washy. But "I'll strongly consider that" (and then do! maybe even follow up on that point later with a few page brief/plan/strategy or something) is good. If you've already got the answers, stress how you think the other side is brilliant to bring that up, and you think about it and worry about constantly. Nobody wants to give money to someone that makes them feel stupid.
I don't know. Maybe this doesn't apply to YCombinator, they seem like the top 1% of intelligent and savvy people. But the other 99% of the world, definitely.
Edit: Once you've got a proven track record for doing massively amazing things, you can maybe just tell people how it's going to be and insist you're right. But that comes much later. If you seem like a commodity at all, you pretty much have to do it the way the people who have the money want it. When they bring up a concern, they really don't want it dismissed by some kid as not a big deal. Even if you're right (which you might not be).
> I was under the impression, from reading his essays, that Paul was against single founders because they might give up too easily, so a founder who sticks to his idea would be desirable.
My understanding of Paul's argument has been that most initial ideas are bad and that a successful startup requires changing course until your idea matches a marketable need. This suggests an important distinction between stubbornness - refusing to change direction - and persistence - refusing to give up.
Caveat: I don't know the author and have no idea whether he is stubborn, persistent, or anything else.
The best guy I know at this is a mentor of mine who runs one of the most profitable architectural/construction firms in the Middle East. He looks for people who can get things done on their own without too much guidance, always pays over-market rates for pay but makes the bulk of compensation based on net profit, and he primarily recruits people from bars where expats hang out. First thing he does when he reaches a new city is go to an English or Irish pub where the expats hang out, and gets lots of info there. He does lots of recruiting at bars, asking around for who knows who that'd be good at something. I'll ask him more next time I see him, and shoot you an email if I get something interesting and write it up.
Most of the people I've worked with I met and got to know beforehand... if possible, if you're a consumer-facing business, it would help to start building out a community around your business before looking to hire. Someone like 37Signals get much more enthusiastic and higher quality candidates than some random shop.
Beyond that, unfortunately, I haven't been in that position too often! Or rather, I was too stubborn to let go of the reigns when I was. If you have specific questions though, email me about your scenario and what you're doing. Maybe I can share some insights or introduce you to someone who could help.
Hmm. Maybe I do need a co-founder. :)
This applies equally for being talked out of good ideas.
And if your idea is good to start with, then there would be no point in changing it until you've pursued it long enough to see where it leads.
The thing to remember about YC is that it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, let's say that Cal State Chico (not a top school) somehow convinced all the top students to attend next year. Pretty soon, it would start to be known as a top school. And let's say Stanford only got applications from the bottom 5%... you see where this is going.
Paul Graham's evangelizing means that, regardless of the utility of Y Combinator, if he convinces the top start-up prospects to join the program, it will make the program look good. They are looking for people who would be successful even without them.
Y Combinator could be minorly helpful and they would go on to success; it could be a wash, and they could go on to success; it could be a slight negative, and the strongest candidates would mostly still go onto success.
People could also FEEL that it's an incredible experience, even if this isn't objectively the case. Many people join various kinds of self-help or self-empowerment groups and enjoy the events and believe in them strongly, even if there is demonstrable practical harm.
Y Combinator could also have a net negative effect on the startup landscape, because NOT getting in can be so disappointing that it can lead people to give up (I wrote that before your post, but the link expired; I reloaded, and made this a reply instead of top-level comment); in other cases, they've found people who applied and got in, who considered getting in to be the accomplishment. Paul's viewpoints have been increasingly dominating the national conversation on startups the last few years, so the hypothetical indictments are meant to address its success as propaganda. Obviously if it really WERE the best approach, criticizing it for being too successful in its results would be disingenuous.
There's also a huge emphasis on getting funded being an accomplishment, which is a big distraction from the real priority for a business, which is making something that makes a profit. (A nice big funding round also means now you need an even BIGGER exit. This can actually reduce your chances for personal success. Xobni couldn't sell to Microsoft for $20 million because it wouldn't have been a big enough ROI for its investors. Perhaps they really thought they could be a billion dollar company and didn't want to sell anyway, but you see the point.)
Paul's talk about angels and super-angels and valuations focused on the main point being "the percent chance that the start-up is Google," if I recall correctly.
To me it looks like Y Combinator has the wrong model for that. The resources and timeframe favor much smaller ideas. According to the unofficial YClist.com, the top exit was 280 North at $20 million, which means not only have they not had another Google, they haven't yet had another ViaWeb.
It would be interesting to find a list of angels and their investments for the last 5 years and see which ones had bigger deals than that. I'm guessing a lot. So, that covers instincts and judgment, at least so far.
As for changing your idea, there are market segments that have been goldmines which I have yet to see a single YC company delve into. Thus, I'm not so sure on the advice portion.
There is a pretty big generation gap with the hot web properties and I don't know if any of the YC principals really grok it.
If PG reads this I expect to be told I'm wrong on every point except perhaps for a token concession for decorum. It's hard to talk people out of bad ideas when they're stubborn ;)
Bravo for being contrarian, btw. It's quite refreshing to see some criticism for the YC model, good as I think it is.
Also, a counter point: it's pretty clear that regardless of startup quality, YC does provide tangible benefits to any and all startups that get accepted into its program. Demo day provides instant access to a bunch of high-profile investors, pg has the benefit of 10 years+ of startup pattern recognition, and YC companies get instant attention/Techcrunch coverage.
Plus, while it's difficult to quantify the amount of help YC gives startups vs startups being good outside of the program - we have to remember that YC isn't a school. And so the metric for quality of an investor is really their ability to see which startups are good, and which are not - which YC does, admirably.
1) YC has one company with very high potential of a billion dollar exit in Dropbox. An IPO in a few years isn't out of the question either. They also have at least a half dozen that are likely to be as big or bigger than Viaweb:
2) Google took seed funding early and then raised VC. That is the model YC uses.
Even though computing resources are cheaper now, the bar is much higher, so if your project needs a cluster or significant bandwidth it's still expensive in relative terms.
1) A lot of things have the "potential" to work out, but you can only count the ones that actually do.
Besides, even a billion-dollar exit isn't "The Next Google". By Paul's own binary metric, that's still a failure. Let's say they owned 6% but that got diluted to 1/4th from follow-on rounds; their cut would be 15 million before taxes. They (Y Combinator) took $2 million in 2009 and then $8.25 million in 2010 from investors including Sequoia, so it's either going to be divvied up a dozen ways or has to pay back the $10.25 million first or whatever the terms are. Or maybe that's only for 2009 and 2010 startups, so it only has to be split between the 4 partners they had at the time (of funding Dropbox).
It's a win for the founder, but there are other wins that this model can miss.
David Heinemeier Hansson at Startup School 08:
How is this possible? I'm not trolling -- I genuinely don't understand this.
You're no different now than you were before you were rejected. The things that made you want to succeed are still there. Your skills are still there and your drive is still there.
Half of the YC startups will probably fail. You have users who love your service, so you're already WAY ahead of the game.
You know what? I'm not really that upset. They made a good decision from their point of view. But we have 200+ beta users, lots of positive feedback, and have a good product.
We don't need YC to tell us that. So just keep on truckin. Get users, iterate, and make YC regret rejecting you :-)
If I was them, I probably would've made the same decision. But we're still kicking ass :-)
EDIT: to clarify, YC was never about the money for us.
Like I said, it had very little to do with Heroku and the money. We have a product with users and we wanted some help and to contribute.
Also: it looks like you live in a part of the world that is particularly nice and beautiful in its own way. You ought to do something to encourage visiting hackers to stop by so as to have some people to chat with once in a while.
Greece is fantastic, it's just amazingly beautiful. Maybe we can organise sprints on the beach, that would be quite nice...
Discussion of determination vs flexibility:
EDIT: I realise that's not the point you were making, I am just commenting with my thoughts on the matter.
When he puts it like that, I'm not sure I'm an entrepreneur.
Being invited is a strong sign that you/your idea have merit. But instead of having to deal with funding/investors/other crap, you get to work on your idea, in a "remote area of Greece", be your own boss and grow the company how you want. I can very easily see this idea being modestly successful and giving you a lot of freedom to work on other ideas.
I'm a single founder and whilst I've never reached a point with stratospheric income, the businesses that I have built in the 15 years I've been an entrepreneur have been great. I've enjoyed life. For me, being a single founder has always meant quick decisions and I employ people to compliment me. I'm not a 'finisher' - I'm an ideas person - and so I needed to employ people who would keep me on track and help me finish. There is no right or wrong way in terms of the number of founders, my opinion, and indeed I have both seen and experienced that having more than one founder can lead to disagreements. Good luck with Historious. I really like it
Also: I'd love to meet up.
> They did seem to be a bit dismissive about the product (as in “why would I use this, I already have bookmarks in my browser”), but I’m sure that’s just standard procedure in this sort of interviews.
i'm curious what others' experiences are on this front?
i started hacking on a similar idea (a chrome extension that monitors every url I visit and logs them with a web service that performs snapshots and full text searches), but then realized chrome's history already performs full text searching.
Are there other blog posts by other people that have been through this experience?
However, different people will need different things. I just think there's a market there for both approaches.
From a user point of view of your application, my main concern would be privacy, how do you address this?
If you have links to posts/blogs/etc about the interview experience, please forward the links to me. thanks.