I don't really see a problem with PG driving, I see a problem with not being ready to clearly and concisely differentiate. How is it different from Evernote and how is it different from Wikipedia should be completely anticipated ready-to-handle followups with great one-sentence answers that focus on the customers.
I really don't like the alternate suggested approach because I'm not willing to grant the premise. Does work get done using team based tools? Work gets done to a shocking degree with email, excel, individual text editors, powerpoint... none of which are really 'team based'. My first thought is to go with something like "We help individuals collaborate by [whatever it is this thing does]" simply because that gets me a frame of reference faster and gets to talking about the interesting part sooner. But I'm still not sure what the interesting part is... so far this sounds more like Google Wave than anything else, and that alone might be enough to pass on backing the idea, under the "will fail because it's too hard to convince people they need this" category.
This is a bit off-topic but I was reading some time ago about Dan/Dani Bunten (of MULE fame, among other things), who had gender reassignment surgery. More info here: http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/Warning.html#Dani but this is what I was reminded of:
"Despite following the rules and being as honest as I could with the medical folks at each stage, nobody stopped me and said "Are you honest to God absolutely sure this is the ONLY path for you?!" To the contrary, the voices were all cheerfully supportive of my decision."
No one really challenged Dan at the time - possibly for fear of being labelled as a bigot or hater or whatever - and Dani later regretted the decision.
Again, somewhat off-topic, but finding people to really challenge you (in a supporting way) is hard to do.
We live in a very lonely world, and most people would rather shut their mouth and damn the consequences that have a healthy argument. It's cold comfort knowing you're right when no one wants to listen.
We are born into a cruelly honest world. Children, before life beats them down, are cruelly honest. Somewhere around that first full time job and the first pregnancy scare, all of the piss is taken out of us. We don't want to be judged, so we don't judge others.
It's a very sugar-coated world to live in.
And most people would rather not listen to criticism and prefer sugar-coating so it doesn't hurt their feelings, aspirations, dreams, etc.
Me, I would love the edges. But that's for everyone to decide for themselves.
This says it all. Being critical, challenging ideas and evaluating possibilities isn't about being right and letting people know it. The whole point of being critical, challenging ideas and constructive criticism in general is to do it for their benefit. To help the person see things they may have missed. It's not about ego tripping for your benefit by proving that you're a visionary who noticed all the negative things they didn't want to see.
I'm not a baby, people. Tell me what you hate about it so I can make it better! You can't fix bugs if no one reports them.
Unfortunately, this mentality gets me into a lot of trouble with my girlfriend, who is a Graphic Designer. She'll show me something she's working on, and I tell her what I would want to hear: "That face looks funny", or "I don't like that colour". What she takes from it is, "I hate everything about what you just showed me."
are you and your gf (and the people you ask for advice) from different cultures at all? (could be america/canadia, new york/midwest, or just that you're a normal geek and she isn't.)
It has caused some friction in our relationship, but I just try to remember to preface my "I don't like this part" comment with a "That looks great, but..."
I think one can assume that at the level of this type of irreversible decision, said decision maker has thought long and hard about whether to "reassign their gender" and come to the conclusion most suitable for their own lives. At this point, it's only appropriate for close friends and family to perform a last questioning of sorts before the decision is sought through. I mean, there is a point at which you must make the switch from being skeptical of a situation to being accepting of the situation, or you must exit the situation (burn the bridge, etc). The point of acceptance after healthy skepticism is due to the fact that everyone's life is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. The real trick is figuring out when and how to make that switch.
It is always the responsibility of a doctor/nurse to ensure that a procedure is best for the recipient. That's the essence of the Hippocratic Oath.
Also, the Hippocratic Oath says nothing of elective surgery. For a normal surgery, sure, the onus is on the physician to decide whether it's best. For elective surgery, the physician's duty is to decide whether it's medically OK. Otherwise, we'd have physicians picking and choosing who gets what elective surgery for reasons unknown.
And note, I'm personally against elective surgery, but it exists and it's legal. Someone who wants it should be able to get it without being told NO by a physician who performs such surgeries because they don't think it's a good idea for that particular patient (unless, as I said, it's a medical concern). Leave the psychology to the psychologists.
Both the AMA and APA consider it medically indicated in certain cases. In these cases, the patient has the choice of whether or not to pursue these options as part of their treatment, but it is not considered an elective surgery for giggles, but rather a treatment option for medical reasons.
For liability reasons, most doctors do not perform the surgery on a walk in and have it happen basis. There's a set of guidelines that have been promulgated that are used by internationally by most doctors in their professional practice. These guidelines aren't binding on anyone, but have become accepted enough that most medical professionals working with people in this situation view them as standard practice for this procedure and follow them.
> Also, the Hippocratic Oath says nothing of elective surgery
There is no distinction as far as the Hippocratic Oath is concerned. Elective or not, a surgery is a doctor performing services as a doctor and I would find it odd to assume their oaths suddenly wouldn't apply.
> Leave the psychology to the psychologists.
Current practice mostly does, in that doctors generally only do these procedures after they've been recommended by a set of psychologists or psychiatrists after evaluation. (Usually two are required, at least one must be a doctoral level practitioner.) Almost every doctor also does their own brief check and conversation just to make sure they come to a similar conclusion and add their own confirmation.
Wisdom teeth removal isn't always considered elective either. Wisdom teeth removal is considered a medically necessary procedure by my insurance company and is covered.
> Any links to information on how the decision, of whether it is considered elective or not for any given situation, is made?
In the US system, generally each insurance company has their own policies on how they judge things and what they cover. Often depending on how your plan is written, slightly different sets of policies will kick in.
Insurance coverage in the US doesn't always directly correlate with what medical professionals in that field would declare as elective or not.
It is, of course, also extremely common for insurance companies to declare that genital reassignment surgery is elective, despite AMA and APA resolutions which declare otherwise.
If you are the voice of uncomfortable truth for someone you have the possibility of a big win (e.g. say out loud that the emperor's butt naked) but are probably viewed as a big meanie and may burn bridges in most typical cases.
If you are the voice of sugar coating and go with the crowd, or whatever you think the other person wants, you are unlikely to have a big win, but at least you are considered "nice" most of the time.
In practice, no one is all one or all the other. It also depends on who is risking what. In the Dan/Dani case, the surgeons and doctors didn't have to deal with the consequences of a mistaken decision, but they did have to deal with the possibility that someone might label them anti-trans bigots. When nothing is really at stake for you, personally, why not be blandly, gently "nice" to someone and avoid hurting their feelings?
On the other hand, if $1M of my own money is on the table (e.g. investing it in a startup), even though I want to maintain good working relations I will ask the hard questions, because there's big downside risk for me if I don't.
Onto the second paragraph though....
>I don't really see a problem with PG driving, I see a problem with not being ready to clearly and concisely differentiate. How is it different from Evernote and how is it different from Wikipedia should be completely anticipated ready-to-handle followups with great one-sentence answers that focus on the customers.
The basic fact is, the more you can be the one driving the more you have the opportunity to ensure everything gets framed in the way you want it to be framed.
In a recent discussion, Pg here emphasized the need to seem formidable. I would be surprised if people who seem formidable are not in control of the conversation.
Look: You are going there to make a pitch. There's nothing wrong with answering questions, turning aside concerns, and the like. But you need to pitch your business, not be reactive.
What this means is that the original author is right on one critical thing. he didn't know what story he wanted to tell. He didn't have a solidified, crystallized core he wanted to communicate.
I keep coming back to listening to the oral arguments of the health care case and how Paul Clement addressed the concerns of justices. He'd listen to the question and come back with an answer that more or less let him pick up exactly where he left off and go where he wanted to go. Agree or disagree with him on the issues, he seemed formidable..... And he was totally in control of his message.
What PG zeroed in on is the primary problem here - you are in a crowded category and you need to show a lot more awareness of competitive positioning.
I pity startups doing pitches in this space any more. There are simply too many of them doing the same things so it must be murder to speak to what you are doing and claim your are, in fact, "different". Most of the obvious and doable apps have been flogged past the dead horse stage at this point. Silicon valley kind of needs a new rule, until you come up with an innovative and original idea maybe you shouldn't do a startup.
Doing a hundred permutations on the same ideas and hoping that either superior execution, a competitor buyout to get rid of you or a lucky streak of virility leads you to the promised land doesn't seem like the greatest strategy any more.
I guess its still OK for the VC's like Y Combinator, as long as they have the patience to sift through them all, because the more pitches there are the more chances there are to find the ones that are unique, interesting or promise exceptional execution.
The problem with web and smart phone apps is the barrier to entry is too low so everyone is doing them.
We're actively trying to give people a frame of reference that isn't based in "waves", but rather "notes" and "notebooks". The hope is that through a simple, widely understood analogy, a concept like Wave can gain traction.
Then, if they are interested, you can launch into your 5-min pitch where you explain how you're not just like that well-known service, but different and much better.
I used to hate having my startup compared to another service (and I'm still not crazy about it), but I now find such an analogy to be a useful stepping stone in a conversation.
I say this because Google Wave definitely evokes an image in my head, one that is high-tech, interactive, collaborative, and ultimately failed (which is not a bad thing; that's just what my head spits out). A note and notebook evokes an offline pad and paper notebook... or Evernote, for some reason.
Whatever analogy you choose, hopefully you choose one that evokes the right kind of image and sentiment you want from your listener. Good luck!
Exactly, except the surprising part - it's logical enough, because people have an incentive to tell you what they think you want to hear.
The thing that jumped out at me when reading the article was that I would have given them that feedback for a tenth of what they paid to visit Paul Graham.
I wonder if there's a potential market for that service?
Don't say that, or I'll keep being this way. :(
It's not surprising at all. Rarely do people really want to be corrected. Indeed, the more they need to be corrected, the less they want to hear about it.
This advice is disastrously wrong. That's not how YC interviews work. They're interviews, not presentations. We want random access to your thoughts, not to listen to a single path through them, prepared in advance.
When people walk into the room with a predetermined pitch that they're determined to stick to, things usually end badly.
True for sales (as I see someone else below also points out).
I'm reminded of a time in the past where I was purchasing a high end typesetter. 6 figure purchase in today's dollars. The salesman kept hitting on the point of the large font collection that the company had over and over again. I kept saying "what's really important to me is your service program". I couldn't have been any clearer than that. (He didn't have to dig for the hot buttons - I delivered them to him on a silver platter).
"Walk into the room with a predetermined pitch that they're determined to stick to, things usually end badly."
In my experience, you need to be nimble. But I also think you need to start the conversation somewhere.
One thing I am thinking about is the idea of a long sales pitch prepared (generally) and the actual sales pitch being essentially random access to it.
OK, obviously this is a continuum, and not a binary thing. But why "random?" Wouldn't you think there is some value in giving the startup founders the chance to present things in the way that makes sense to them, before starting with the grilling? Or is the case that you actually do that ( that point wasn't entirely clear from TFA)?
On the other hand if you are using external storage, with indirect lookups in order to find the information, that might not be so great.
At the same time, networked responses are great. There isn't a problem with having a different node respond to the request, since this approach uses a sort of strange architecture and session state is shared between all nodes.
I guess that if pg and crew believe that they learn something by intentionally knocking people out of their planned routine, then that's one argument for it. That is, if the idea is "we want to evaluate your ability to think on our feet, react to unplanned questions, etc." then OK.
We don't try intentionally to knock people about to see how they respond. We don't have the time or the energy for such games. We just have a lot of questions and not much time to get them answered, and empirically the questions we have almost never turn out to be the ones answered in prefabricated pitches.
Before I read the discussion I kind of shared the op's point. But seeing it from the other perspective, it almost seems like the basic "fault" (if you might call it that) the op made was preparing for a test he already passed.
That's good to know. I think some people have somehow gotten the perception that you guys do just that.
We just have a lot of questions and not much time to get them answered, and empirically the questions we have almost never turn out to be the ones answered in prefabricated pitches.
Is there truth to this?
Ignoring the pre-packaged pitch you have spent months preparing and asking you some unexpected questions would seem to be a great strategy to quickly figure out what they really want to know - which may or may not have any relation to what you want to tell them.
"OK, you obviously thought this idea was a good one. Why? Where's the magic I'm missing?"
Having a well-considered answer to that question that shows you've thought it through thoroughly gives them a good idea how good a thinker you are.
Not having a well-considered answer also lets them you on the thinking scale, but probably not where you want them to put you.
If you were sitting down in the coffee shop and talking to a friend or someone you met who had an idea you wouldn't allow them to make a presentation. They would give you a sentence or two about the idea and then you might ask a question. They would answer the question and if they knew of something that was related to what you were asking they would offer it. Every now and then they might blurt out a point which hadn't been covered.
(Edit - corrected "you" and "they" which I mixed up..)
Speaking strictly for myself I don't have any patience to hear presentations. I like to poke around and ask questions and engage in conversations. Conversations aren't presentations and aren't one sided. They are back and forth.
Another thing to keep in mind is this. If you are making a presentation it's possible that the person who is listening will be mind stuck at a point you made in the third sentence and tune out something important you said that comes later. So you can be at a disadvantage depending on who you are presenting to and what they know.
Let's say you say "we are using node.js" and the gatekeeper doesn't process that as a chunk of understandable info. He will stop at that point and miss what you say after that until he recovers.
Maybe I'm just more patient than most people, but I feel like I'd give them more than a sentence or two, if it was clear that they had more than a sentence or two of things to say... I generally try to avoid interrupting other people when they're talking because A. it's rude, B. it's presumptuous, and C. I don't believe it's an effective way to communicate most of the time. Now if they use a term I'm not familiar with, or whatever, and there's no choice but to ask a question or get lost, then sure, asking for clarification makes total sense.
Now if they were rambling without pause for 10 straight minutes, then yeah, sure, at some point you have to interrupt, especially if there are time constraints (which, to be fair, there are in a YC interview). But if I interrupted with a question, I'd expect to get an answer to that question, and then possibly have them pick their initial narrative back up where they left off.
Anyway, it's all very subjective, and I'm sure Paul has figured out a lot about how to do this over the years. I just find myself wondering to what extent the YC interview gives the startup team a chance to get their initial burst of "stuff" out before starting to take them off on tangents.
I believe Paul answered this in a comment on the thread.
I don't see the need for the start up to present anything in what is an interview, not a presentation. As Paul is conducting a ten minute interview based on the application, why would he have to give any time for the start-up team's prepared presentation? Its only ten minutes, and its him asking questions of the start-up to see how well they can answer the questions that arose from their application.
You can have both.
Without having true insight into exactly what information you hope to take away in 10 minutes, I would think that a cohesiveness to the order of the information, the pain felt by the potential customer, and a picture of that customer - are all valuable inputs.
My suggestion is that startups put that information in order themselves.
“So what is Rocketr?” he opened.
That's a very open-ended question. If you had taken things in a good direction from there, I bet he would have just let you talk.
“So people can all write to the same place. So it’s like a wiki?” he asked.
This question isn't really driving either. He's just reflecting his understanding back and giving you more of a chance to explain clearly.
The missteps continued when he asked, “Who needs what you’re making?”
Here's where pg started driving. And he was doing you a favor. You only get 10 minutes to convince him that you're making something people want, and you've wasted minutes already. If you're someone who's bad at interviewing but is good at understanding customers, this question might sift the gold nugget from the sludge. Unfortunately, your answer was just more sludge.
I'm zeroing in here on what you did wrong, but overall I'm encouraged and impressed that you not only owned your mistake, but made a public blog post about it. And now I'm watching to see what you do with the feedback you're getting.
>“Not really, no. A wiki is more like a google doc – it has one true version at any given time. Sure, there’s a revision history, but nobody lives in the revision history. Rocketr is about having one author for a given note, and a threaded conversation around it.”
The answer to that question is yes it is like a wiki - with these key differences. With only ten minutes to pitch, anchoring your concept to something that is well understood by your audience is critical.
If you really don't think it is like a wiki at all (which would be hard to believe), then anchor it to something else that will be easy to understand, e.g. "it's like email, but the conversations get stored and revisited and edited at will by any of the participants." Anything you can use to make your concept clear in an instant is extra time to sell them on your team and your vision for why this idea can take over the world.
It helps to start by framing your problem space and audience. That's where a story and empathy can come in. But there are people who will "get it" right away and jump right into your product, without ever asking about anything else.
Then there are those who will be laser-focused on your business model and spend the entire time talking about that.
And I've spoken to some who know my market well and just want to hear about our competitors and how we are different.
It all comes down to understanding your audience, speaking to your audience, and addressing the topics they care about. At least, in terms of an interview with an incubator (or potential investor).
And most importantly, be prepared for anything.
Really? They're calling you in for an interview and they don't have your application in front of them and haven't refreshed their memory? YC gets results, so I guess if it works it works, but I find it surprising that the assumption is they're going to be unprepared like that?
I think whether or not they 'remember' the nitty gritty details of the app during the interview is irrelevant.
You need to sell them on your vision and team during the interview. You should be able to do this within 5 minutes whether or not they have the foggiest idea of what you are doing.
But I think there is a form of driving that is important in conversations generally.
If you ask me "what is it?" That's an invitation for me to drive you around a bit within certain limits. How I choose to answer that is a form of driving. If you ask me who needs it, I get to give you a brief tour of the market, the problems and what we are solving.
In essence there is a difference to reacting to questions and seeing the questions as an invitation to act. I guess what I am getting at is that if the focus is on impressing the other individual that leads to reacting. If the focus is on showing you something cool, that leads to the action I am talking about.
The YC interview is fast becoming a business testing benchmark for entrepreneurs, I'm seeing more and more entrpreneurs use it to test their pitches.
What you should be sure of is the underlying, abstract thing you are describing. You should know the story is "Snow White", even though this time the audience might not care about dwarves and might not be laughing at the funny squirrel bits, but is really interested in glass coffin construction. If you know your idea inside and out, it is easier to find the part of it that this audience right here is interested in, and you know what the important parts are that make the rest of it make sense. Ideally, you shouldn't have to plan answers ahead of time, because the answers are obvious.
The less superficially you know your idea, the less work presentations are to put together.
I see the YCombinator interview as a minimal test - if you can pass that barrier, then you have a chance at possibly getting your customers to understand what you have and its value. But if you can't, then it's going to be tough.
Disclaimer: I've never been through a YC interview.
I don't think that's an apt comparison. Pg and the YC crew, as smart, insightful and interesting as they are, are still a very small group of people, compared to the world of customers out there. It's entirely possible that you could fail a YC interview for whatever mysterious reason (maybe pg was having a bad day, maybe something to do with pre-existing (and unconscious) biases, maybe you were having a bad day) and still do fine at getting customers to understand what you do and it's value.
In some ways, the YC interview may even be a higher bar: It's automatically an extra stressful situation, and you're dealing with some "type A" personality types who feel some need to control the interview, and you go in knowing you're limited to 10 minutes or whatever. When you're out talking to customers, you may well find yourself in a lower stress situation, with people who aren't necessarily trying to challenge you, etc.
And I think this is borne out by the fact that there are groups who failed to get into YC, who went on to be successful.
This does bring up the idea then that a YC pitch is a whole animal unto itself. I wouldn't have enough experience to know what the main differences are between a YC and a customer pitch, but as you mention here, in the one case you are presenting your story and value proposition to customers who would be personally interested in the solution and directly feel the pain and in the other case to someone who is managing a portfolio of startup companies and evaluating for "fit" and "merit". Those words are in quotes because I don't know what those measures are specifically for YC, and there are likely many other considerations.
I've commented about how the VC process is likewise totally screwed up with investors who neither feel the pain nor totally understand the markets and wield far too much power in the form of the checkbook. AND they underperform the markets in any case.
Yes and no depending on where you place the emphasis. Predetermined pitches are not a bad thing... know what you do, your strengths, think it through and plan it ahead of time. Nothing wrong with that.
The key part is "...that they're determined to stick to...". You have to know your material well enough to be willing and able to go off "course" wherever the client leads you to. That is where a successful presentation lies, in being able to adapt to the needs presented, not just spell them out as you see them.
I did like the design though. Would've liked to have seen product screenshots to see how that carried through to the interface.
- Too much "fluff"; his response sounds like a marketer not a builder
- In the opening two answers he basically contradicts his description; "co-authored notebooks" vs. "one author for a given note, and a threaded conversation around it". It's confusing.
- The alternative opening is even worse; I still have no idea what problem your solving. You just gave me a marketing pitch..
- The alternate answer for "Who needs what you’re making?" is better - but immediately begs the question "how are my labels necessarily effective for both myself, and the YC alumni" and "How do you know the YC alumni don't have their own tag system which they apply as they read emails" or even "sounds handy, but how are you overcoming the convenience factor associated with email"
- Any sensible listener will realise that a) and b) are not the only choices (this is a variation on my last bullet point) and be concerned that you are limiting yourself to only those outcomes.
- It also seems risky to pitch such a personal use case on a supposition. The "problem" might already have been effectively resolved for YC's communications.
All in all it reads a lot like a business person pitching to an engineer. One that is attuned to the problems of "gloss", and is looking for disruption and good engineering rather than a glossy pitch. I get that all the time and it is off putting. It strikes me that the key problem is you possibly don't speak the same language as pg.
As with other commentators; even with the revised answers, I'm still not sure what Rocketr is beyond a note taking app with social features.
- What does a builder sound like? Aren't we all just trying to speak to customers? Are builders naturally better at that?
- "Co-authored notebooks" and "one author per note" are not contradictions at all. They speak to entirely different units (notes and notebooks).
- While you are correct that you and the startup may have different systems for categorizing, that's exactly the problem we're trying to point to. The siloed nature of how we capture and categorize information.
In closing, I am trying to speak to customers... not engineers.
Thank you for the feedback. I know it took time to write.
"When I write in emacs, it's inconvenient to share that with my team. When I write in the Wiki... well, I don't write in the wiki because it's annoying. I have been more productive doing X, and I think you will too."
That's marketing speak for "I don't know who my customer is". You are pitching to a customer who is an engineer, so you should be speaking to engineers.
That's what we do here... this sounds hollow.
In other words, don't tell me you have a "delicious, round edible item with just the right amount of firmness and sweetness to be pleasant to eat." Just tell me you have an apple, and I'll figure out the rest.
a) It's a tablet
b) It's an iPad, or
c) It's for consuming content in a relaxed and portable way?
Honest question. I'm curious what your approach would have been.
Indirect grammar is comparatively weak. It isn't "for consuming", it "consumes".
No one "consumes content". They read, listen, watch, and play.
A good writer conveys by action, not by description. If you say that a joke is funny, it is not funny.
He wouldn't need to say this while holding the device in his hand. And he further conveyed this by describing the product's battery life.
So to conclude, Jobs would have said (and may have, I don't remember):
d) Here's a book (thumb, thumb), and here's a movie (play). Isn't that great?
Try saying that for your product.
The iPod, at least, was "1000 songs in your pocket", i.e., none of the above.
e.g., iPad is the simple and easy way to enjoy the things that matter to you.
In a YC interview? If you considered YC a customer then you definitely went about it the wrong way.
The sales pitch is fine for a certain style of customer. It's not in this context.
The point I am trying to make is that you should be speaking in pg's language; not the language of a corporate salesman.
For your business, you should absolutely speak to customers. For an interview with YC, you should absolutely speak to the interviewers (PG, et al), who, in this case, happen to think like engineers. The language you use should change according to your audience.
Having read this "what we should have said" article, I'm suspicious that if they had done everything differently like they suggested, that they would have still come out to the same result.
Why? Because the idea of an article with a revision tree and multiple current versions is naturally confusing to users. No matter how nice the formalism is. Until you can start to think about and present things in terms that the users can "get", you're going to have a serious UI problem that limits adoption.
And even once you have that version, you still need to be able to compare and contrast it to things that people are familiar with so you can talk to people who don't "get" it yet.
All this handwringing over a post-mortem with PG, and I rarely see the same with regards to customers. Customers are walking from your site, failing to respond to your marketing, failing to convert, choosing competitive solutions, etc., and where's the post-mortem?
This is a valuable lesson. Not about what to say or not to PG, but rather, how much a poorly crafted value proposition or explanation of your product can instantly and quickly turn off your customers.
Make your products easy to understand, easy to purchase, and easy to get value from, and you will win. Make it complex on any of those fronts, you will lose.
Well said. Pg is an awesome dude, but I definitely wouldn't take his word as being final, vis-a-vis the possibility of my startup succeeding or not. I'd certainly appreciate his feedback and insights - as I think any one of us would. But, in a hypothetical world where our team did a YC interview and got rejected - we'd still take the attitude that we were the ones who'd been out on the streets talking to customers, that we had the deeper domain knowledge of our domain, and the deeper insights into what our business is going to be. So Paul's advice would be valued, but a "nay" from him would almost certainly not be sufficient reason for us to go "oh, sure, let's quit."
I mostly agree with that, but note that some complex products still sell and make a lot of money... and they're complex because of the nature of the problem(s) they're addressing. SAP's ERP suite, for example, is very complex... but SAP make a ton of money from it. I'd say the goal is to be "as complex as need be, but no more."
Aside: this may also be an argument that SAP's business stands to be disrupted by someone who can do what they do, but with less complexity. Doing so is left as an exercise for the reader.
Interesting. If you're willing to talk about what you're doing at all, drop me an email. I'm working on an enterprise focused startup as well, maybe there's some synergy to explore or what-have-you. If we're not pursuing the same space (and we aren't doing anything ERP related, per-se) then - at worst - we could bat some ideas around and maybe help each other out in some fashion.
One of the things that I think he's listening for is your ability to hear what someone is saying and respond on the fly. Even if you have a bad idea, if you have the ability to listen, incorporate information, think about it, and respond coherently, then your idea is likely to get fixed. If you have a great idea but don't have the ability to accept spontaneous feedback, you're likely to fail anyways.
So he doesn't need to hear how great the idea is. He needs to decide whether you're likely to find a way to succeed.
But "PG as the test of their company's viability" is because PG is a gatekeeper.
"but rather, how much a poorly crafted value proposition or explanation of your product can instantly and quickly turn off your customers."
People have to be able to understand what you are saying. You can't confuse them or give them big words or concepts.
Ironically PG isn't really a good filter for this because he is so high level. If you are selling to a pizza shop owner most likely they didn't go to Harvard and their brain isn't wired the way PG's is. OTOH a concept that the pizza owner understands can be understood by PG as well.
One of the things I always suggest (for researching business ideas) is to run stuff by "normals". Whether it be people at the train platform, Starbucks, or Walmart to use as additional intel and data points.
As smart, talented, experienced, and helpful as PG is, for many (tho not all) of the problems that entrepeneurs claim to solve, he doesn't live that pain or understand it.
While PG may be able to understand at a conceptual level the pain points of a pizza shop owner, he probably hasn't felt the pain to know what pizza shop owners really struggle with. What is truly necessary versus a "nice to have".
Isn't the whole concept of the Lean Startup and the Customer Development methodology to test your idea with "normals" and not proxies, no matter how influential or gatekeeper they might be?
If YCombinator and PG didn't exist, how would you do it? Let's order some pizza!
The filters that gatekeepers and valuators use are very hackable.
Is it easier to hack a gatekeeper's filter, or to make an awesome product? I suppose it depends on your skill-set.
One can reasonably estimate that some double digit percentage of funded startups are where they are because they were designed to appeal to investors and receive high valuations.
I'm not saying that's the case, knowing nothing about the batch that made it in ahead of you or the rocketr team, but the startup scene right now is like a track meet.
Making the YC interview is like making nationals - you're the fastest sprinter across several states, and you were born to do it. But at the nationals, so is everyone else there. You can do better than your best and still lose. That doesn't mean you're not faster than 99% percent of the population, it just means you're not the fastest, and YC is looking for the fastest.
The analogy breaks down in a few places - running is purely objective, choosing who to fund is much more subjective. YC will always make mistakes, and timing ideas is important, but I think the core takeaway is that just because you didn't make it doesn't mean you're not fundable.
Well, it's not like they have not picked lots of lame ducks too...
> So what is Rocketr?
> “Rocketr is a bottom-up approach to knowledge management. We connect people through their notepads. Basically, people take notes and decide how to share them. The primary mechanism by which they share them is through co-authored notebooks.”
> Rocketr is a bottom-up approach to knowledge management.
That reads like pure marketing fluff. That's your opening statement, and the first thing I hear is dead air. Rocketr is, from here, a methodology. It's an idea. Nothing more.
> We connect people through their notepads.
Okay, this is what it wants to accomplish. My notepad is on paper. How is this methodology going to help me share my notepad and connect me with people? Which people, btw? Why do they want to see my notepad?.
Up until this point, we still don't know what Rocketr is. What is the actual product? Hell, I'm not even sure what the problem is. A notepad is, for me, a place to jot notes down in. It's not a formal document. It contains phrases and doodles. So, I'm not even sure I'm in the right frame of mind.
> Basically, people take notes and decide how to share them.
Again, is note sharing a big issue? I can see content management being something, but note sharing?
And the "decide how to share them" has me confused. I thought that was the problem you were solving, how to share them. Maybe you just mean permissions, which is really something I would assume anyways. It's not a feature.
> The primary mechanism by which they share them is through co-authored notebooks.
So... what? This is going to be an iPad app? I'm assuming here, as it could be something like one of those pens that you take a note with and records the sound (I forget the name), and it has the ability to share the actual notes. That would be interesting. But I'm assuming that's not what you are doing, and so you are going with an actual iPad?
Maybe real time notes, for a meeting? Seems that could get confusing fast.
Regardless, I'm still not sure what it is, or where it sits, or what problem it's solving for me.
You need an elevator pitch. Something that describe what the product is, who the customer is, and what problem does it solve for the customer, and how it solves it.
From there, you can expand, but something simple, something straight forward. Something that is filled with nouns and verbs. Because, I honestly believe if you can't define your product like that, you don't completely understand it as well.
I think you're referring to a Livescribe Smartpen (http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/). I have one and even extra notebooks but I never ended up using it. Very cool device, at least at first.
But I do have to say the best part of this whole blog post is the part when he talks about the problem he imagines YC to have. He paints a compelling picture of the pain point.
I still have no clue how he plans to solve it, but at least that paragraph told me what he envisions as the problem he's after.
I wonder if I got that right.
Anyway, great blogpost!
It's taking serious effort to try to work out what pain this solves that isn't catered for by the above options.
(wow this was painful to find)
That style of fun product demonstration would be perfect for this type of app.
Also google docs now work offline really well and across multiple devices, which is incredibly useful.
But what I've found with Google Docs is that if someone is making a trivial change (like correcting a typo), they'll just go ahead and make the edit in the doc. If they're suggesting a substantial change, they'll add the suggestion as a comment and let the author decide whether to incorporate it.
I grew my last business to an awesome success. And one of my regrets, looking back, is that I didn't blog more about the process of getting it there. About all the hurdles we had and the missteps we took.
I look back fondly on the few blog posts where I did talk openly about what we were going through, in part because I am so proud of how far we came from those darker moments, and in part because I can remember what I was feeling then and re-absorb the lesson.
I think this is great. You should never hold back when you have something to share with a wider audience, but more importantly, to share with your future self.
He'll have plenty more chances to get on Hacker News in the future. This isn't a one-time opportunity. :) So blog, blog, blog!
You have the opportunity to get exposure to thousands of hackers, entrepreneurs, and investors, right here on Hacker News. And yet, you haven't yet provided a compelling story that anyone can actually understand.
What does your product do? What problems does it solve? How is it better or suited to a different niche than many other tools (wikis, bugtrackers, Google Docs, email) that people already use?
But what is "it"? It does sound like a wiki, or an article with comments.
Tell me a story. Get me to empathize. :)
In designing another system recently, I wrote down my entire thought process as it developed in the form of questions and answers to myself. When I read it back now I can see how I had this mixed up set of ideas and was actually quite confused. Then, as you read down, things start to become clearer and ideas become more developed. I guess it still has quite a long way to go as well because things certainly aren’t as clear as I would like them to be.
So the point I’m making is that definition and clarity can take as long, and sometimes--although I think this is infrequent--longer, than the software development.
As for the question of whether you should blog about it. I think it’s a difficult call. In a way you could say this story has wasted everyone’s time because I still have no idea what the app drupeek’s developing is about. But on the other hand we wouldn’t be having this conversation now were it not for it.
This entire thing drips of the kind of marketing speak that he says he ripped out because YC demands it. Did he think that YC demands it just to be arbitrary and capricious? This style of presentation turns me (and likely many others) off immediately.
The real problem is that he's trying to sell a product that solves a problem that most people don't have. People have tons of ways to write down, organize, and sort ideas. They can stick it in a wiki, in a Google doc, in email, in a bugtracker. All of these have ways of sorting and labeling content. I have seen nothing, in either you original or "what you should have said" version, that answers the question of how what you are doing is better than all of these things that people already have access to.
What problem are you trying to solve? What does your tool do that other tools don't? If you can't answer these questions in 10 minutes, nor at your leisure afterwards when writing a blog post about what you should have said, nor in all the time you spent setting up a slick website with a "sign up to try us out" form, I have to ask whether you actually have a product or are just a bunch of empty marketing.
Forget PG for a moment. What about your customers? If THEY don't get it in a short amount of time and you have to carefully control ("drive" as you put it) the conversation just so they understand it (nevermind actually buying what you're selling), then you really are in a tough spot.
I think PG called this right - your product has to be intuitive to the point that someone understands what you have and how you compare to the rest of the universe without verbal jousting. Now, whether or not they agree or buy into the value proposition is another matter. But you got hung up on the "what are you doing and how does it relate to what I know" part.
"2. I stripped out so much of the marketing jargon (a YC rule)"
No, you didn't. I couldn't understand what you were talking about. "Knowledge management" is jargon."Connecting people" is jargon.
"Rocketr is about having one author for a given note, and a threaded conversation around it."
I thought Rocketr was about "co-authored notebooks"(your words). So we co-author notebooks but not notes?
"Rocketr bridges two worlds that could not be further apart right now how we capture information (using personal tools), and how we get work done (using team-based tools). We’re betting that these worlds will converge, because if they don’t, it will get harder and harder for teams if they can’t collaborate at the speed that information is changing around them. Oh and the medium we use to facilitate all this, is note-taking something we all know how to do."
That still doesn't tell me what Rocketr does.
"Organizations need this to drive innovation" = Marketing speak that says nothing.
I still have no clue what Rocketr does or how it works after reading your blog post. Keep it short and simple.
It sounds like Google Wave. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it sounds like you are having the same problem they had: explaining what the hell it does.
When I tried to explain Wave to people I said it was a combination of the ideas of Wiki, email, chat and a forum, designed to make accomplishing shared work easier. It's still not great, but I don't think it's an easy thing to communicate.
I see a lot of statements that apparently should be prefixed with "our vision is" or "we want to" - statements of intent. I don't get the impression that the team actually knows how to build this thing.
Just out of curiosity: are product demos allowed at these meetings? If so, was it done in this case? I think sometimes all it takes is one minute of actual UI presentation to determine whether there is anything of substance behind the idea or not.
How does rocketr differ from the news.yc interface we're all using to comment? We're collaborating right now, are we not?
They are, in fact, very similar in that regard.
I still have no idea what your product does.
I'm trying to figure out if I could have driven -- perhaps I'm just not a good enough pitchman -- or if this is just the YC interview style and rather than perfecting a story you'd be better off steeling yourself for the inevitable barrage of tough questions.
"Driving" is horrible advice, too -- even in sales. The best introduction to sales is SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham; in short, "consultative" vs. "slimy used salesman", where you work with the prospect to develop needs and then show how your product addresses them.
In the 10 minute YC format, I wouldn't put more than 30 seconds into developing needs (i.e. getting buy-in that a certain problem exists and is worth solving), since I'd assume the YC people are both informed and generally biased towards accepting that problems exist. If they don't believe a problem exists, having a few great datapoints to justify your position is worthwhile ("medical transcription is a $10b/yr industry, and 0.1% of people are killed by iatrogenic errors traceable to mis-transcription every year. We want to make billions of dollars and save 50k lives per year with our direct neural interface for doctors, and we're the team to do it because we've each earned MDs and started 3 fortune 500 companies in the past 5 years...)
PG: What is twilio? Twilio is an API for developers to build apps that use SMS and Voice.
PG: What is Google? Google is a search engine.
PG: What is twitter? Twitter is a social platform were users can send small messages and others can suscribe to them, so they can read those messages.
I personally don't like it when someone I don't know uses my name unnecessarily. It strikes me as odd and makes me think they're trying some psych 101 tactic on me. It's completely counterproductive because it makes meh mind jump off topic.
It's fine to show that you know someone's name (like at the end of a call), but if you wouldn't throw a friend's name into a sentence, don't inject a stranger's.
Having said that, I've tried the trick myself on others and they seem to respond very differently from the way that I do.
So I guess the point is to be very careful of this approach. It might help a little with some people, but it might be a gigantic turnoff to others.
It's like a shared notebook, right?
I've been using the OneNote WebApp lately for collaborative work (mainly sharing ideas/notes) and while it's not perfect, it's better than Google docs IMO.
Does Rocketr do something like this?
...mission statement exercise that I stole from famed marketer/author Marty Neumeier...
o WHAT: (productname) is the ONLY_________
o HOW: that _________________
o WHO: for _______________________
o WHERE: in ________________________
o WHY: who ___________________________
o WHEN: in an era of __________________.
I hope there's more to your app than "I see them type on my screen, and they see me type on their screen".
For a note to be useful to me, it has to be quick to make. For a note to be useful to another person, it has to contain enough context for them to be able to decipher it.
For example, the notebook on my desk reads "core 495 0.20%" which I know is the number and fraction of users in the core group - and I have enough context to know what those all mean. If I had to write down that context in a way other people could understand, it would no longer be quick to write, so it would no longer be a note.
Is your idea of what note-taking is different to mine?
It's like when you type out a quick email to your team linking to a competitor and giving a little context. That's essentially what a shared note looks like. The reason we believe it should live outside the inbox, is because the inbox is designed around time-sensitive content - not content that needs time to gestate or be talked about.
First, take all the main words you use to describe rocketr, and toss them out. Note, collaborate, share, etc.
Second, describe your product entirely through a use case. You talk about telling the story, so tell the story of a user using your app. The parts where Rocketr swoops in and saves the day, where no other tool exists to do so, is where your sweet spot is.
Lastly, distill that story down to a 10 second story. Again, avoid using the words you're trapped in now.
I've developed 3 different pitches for our product depending on who we're talking to. Investors, customers, and the general public (least sophisticated). The one that resonates best with all three is the one for the general public.
Best of luck, keep fighting.
I think what you need is a diagram like that with Google Docs, Wikis, Evernote, Piratepad, E-mail and your product. You know, something that answers every "so how's it different from" at the same time.
We had someone plan a wedding with it during the pilot.
I actually started with a more complicated sentence [Real-time collaborative editing made simple] but then I saw Helen's comment below your blog post and think she has a more concise description.
I suggest you follow this up with a way (such as a story) of how a customer uses your product. This is where you can use the phrases: notetaking, realtime, and capturing ideas.
I understand why you're trying to steer people towards "notes" and "notebooks". You might not like the fact that people are going to assume your competition is [strike]Google[/strike] Apache Wave or Wikipedia (ok - I mean wiki software) or Evernote, but you need to come up with good answers to those questions and this is where you can focus on important features that you have. It doesn't matter who you think your competition is - it matters what your customers think your competition is. Keep in mind that people are familiar with Wikipedia, and understand the idea of editing a wiki. Use this to your advantage. You need to paint the picture of how this affects them by making it real to them i.e. zero in on their pain point - they may not even know that they have it.
Hope this helps
Edit: While I stand by the above correction, my tone is obnoxious. It's a good essay and I enjoyed it and learned from it.
1. Your blockquote color is basically unreadable if you're not young and/or have perfect vision.
2. If you want to excise marketing jargon from your life, you can start by dropping "action" as a verb.
You don't trust him to ask the right questions for HIS understanding. Judging from your blog post, you don't seem to trust his judgement in rejecting you - the only reason you came up with (in your blog) is that your pitch/answers were badly delivered. Maybe they were fine, but you have been rejected for other reasons (e.g. UVP not strong enough, market crowded with strong competition, customer segment too small, ...).
I guess the real value of getting into YC is to get great, personalized advice. (You can get great, non-personalized advice from books or blogs). For that, you need to let your advisers drive. If the need your input at a turn, they will ask you - otherwise let them go wherever they want to. You need to understand why they are driving the way they do. In the end, you can and probably will take a few different turns than them (because you [should] have more domain knowledge). But by understanding where they would want to drive, you learn a lot from them.
You may ask yourself, why PG was driving the interview the way he was. Maybe because he questions your UNIQUE VP (So what is Rocketr?), thinks there is strong competition solving this problem already (So it’s like a wiki?), or that your customer segment is too small (Who needs what you’re making?). Maybe because of completely different reasons.
Comparing your two answers for "Who needs what you’re making?", it is the same content, but wrapped differently. While there is definitively value in making your message as clear as it can be, I think a good adviser will be able to get to the content. And then give you the same advice, no matter how the content was wrapped.
Think about it: Would you really want to take advice from someone who would reject you with the first answer, but not with the second answer? I wouldn't.
Anyway, good write-up nevertheless. I still think it is worthwhile to try to make a message as clear and easy to understand as possible.
Our original intention was to start a discussion around honing your pitch, telling your story - and to demonstrate how costly it can be when you don't do that well. By no means do we feel that we are "there" yet, but at the time of the post, we felt there was some progress from when we had interviewed.
Interestingly, this thread has now provided us with a tremendous amount of additional value (for much less of a cost) which we intend on putting to use in the coming weeks.
Thanks to all those who took the time to read the post, sit with it for a moment, and then carefully and compassionately construct their feedback in an honest and direct way.
We genuinely appreciate it.
This is also an entry that is trying to sound nice to the listener. Use wording that doesn't try to look nice, only give facts straight. it will sound more pro (because shows you only care and focus on facts) also you will get a more candid discussion. (because your entry was candid in the first place, without adding an artificial tone)
One of the VCs that I talked to had the harshest comments about my presentation but his tone was so candid, it felt like he is the one that cared the most, gives the best advice, and I also thought he was a really cool person to know.
There's several ways to do it, but the "classical" one is to first talk about WHO your users are, and WHAT problems or needs they are currently facing without a reliable solution. Then, you bring your product, and you need to explain HOW it will modify their condition and solve their problem. Then, explain what your users will feel, what actual or perceived benefit they will get through it.
It's the basis of Marketing: Framing, framing, framing.
The ability of a note-taking app to drive innovation is highly overrated.
What you describe sounds like a big hairy problem and you haven't even begun to address how your product/offering/team are going to tackle the problem.
I've been using Asana for a 16 person team and enjoying the experience.
His point is about pitching, breaking through the noise, and controlling the frame while you have ten minutes with an type-A personality. We all need to learn how to deal with this, and Andrew's making a valuable contribution. A lot of Andrew's advice reminds me of a book called Pitch Anything - I highly recommend you read it.
The book is mostly about two things: using stories to capture and excite the most basic parts of the basic human brain, and controlling the frame of a conversation in order to make sure your story is heard by an audience which is naturally hostile. I believe anyone who's pitching deals should take a look.
In conclusion, please stop patronizing Andrew, and contribute something meaningful to the conversation.
It's pretty clear from the responses here that nothing in the post communicates clearly what his product does, despite being about finding a better way to do just that.
That's a shame, and there's a rapidly vanishing opportunity here to correct that.
So the feedback he's getting here is the most valuable he's likely to ever get.
I'm getting valuable feedback to be sure, but in now way do I agree with this premise.
This is not to say that everyone should rush out and jump into the PUA scene, just noting the (seemingly obscure) connection between that world and some of the areas that we all find interesting. It turns out that understanding influence, constructing narratives, frame control, etc. are important skills in many areas of our lives.