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Why I Love Startup School (foundersatwork.posthaven.com)
121 points by katm on Oct 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

I was lucky enough to attend Saturday's Startup School Silicon Valley event (my first time), and I'm happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I've previously blogged about what I think makes a "great" startup event[1], and Startup School does seem to fulfill most of the criteria - Great speakers, a focused theme, a focused audience, and best of all it's free and highly accessible.

Despite all that, in the spirit of iteration and helping the event improve in the future, here are my 2 nitpicks/suggestions:

#1 - More transparency around how attendees are selected

YC already does a great job of explaining what they look for and how they choose teams that apply to their accelerator program[2], and it would be great if they could explain, even briefly, what selection criteria they use for Startup School. It's already free and open to anyone (to apply to), and I think being transparent with the selection criteria would be the cherry on top.

#2 - Expand the Office Hours segment

The speakers and their talks were excellent, but I think Startup School could be even better with more of an interactive, hands-on element as well.

The Office Hours segment, in which two YC partners simulated YC office hours with 3 teams selected from the audience (10 minutes each), is arguably the most interesting part of the event, and something that truly differentiates Startup School from other "fireside chat with [successful founder]" events. It gives the audience a good idea of how YC partners help founders ask the tough questions about their own startups that can hopefully point them in the right direction.

However, the Office Hours segment left me wanting more, and I started imagining how cool it would be if this was turned into a 1-hour breakout session, where 10~20 YC founders in different verticals would hold open office hours for anyone who wants to have their own startup or project critiqued.

Again, I think Startup School is a great resource for the community, and I'm excited to think about how it could be made even better.

[1] https://medium.com/@petershin45/what-makes-a-good-startup-ev...

[2] https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/

This was my first time, too, and it was a fantastic event. Visiting the YC offices for the BBQ on Friday evening (really their extension offices/meeting building, I think the HQ is down the street) is a religious experience. And, yes, I admit that walking into that orange glory I was as giddy as a high-school groupie (wasn't the only one!). The food was FANTASTIC (both days) and everything was well-planned. And it was all free. Amazing.

No event (esp. one this big) is perfect enough to not warrant and suggestions for making it better, though, so to extend this thread, here are a few of my own:

1. +1 for more Office Hours. I would suggest to pepper these in between talks, after a few back to back talks the audience got a bit of an information fatigue, I think. I saw a lot of people on their phones after 4pm. The informational value of the session on Saturdays were huge. IDEABOLT: How about having a web cast of these, I would pay to watch it and I heard other people saying so, too.

2. More interaction with YC'ers and speakers. Maybe this was an absurd expectation with 1,700 people in attendance but I was looking forward to saying hi to pg, Jessica, sama, and the gang during the breaks at SC and at the BBQ but couldn't see them mingling with the crowd (could be that I was too preoccupied with the great food and drinks). Having the speakers available outside to ask questions would be great, too.

3. Better nametags. I think there should be a customizable area on the printed nametags, e.g. I would like to see people's HN nicks (for those who want to put it there, of course). I know/follow quite a few people here but don't know their names, this would have been helpful in saying hi to these folks. Also I saw a lot of people adding information by pen to their nametags about their startup, it would be nice to be able to do this at the signup web page, too. Now that I think about why not even include a NFC tag with more personal information, company website, etc. This would solve the problem of not remembering the names of the many people you chat with during the event.

4. Startup story booths. Picture booths are now popular at parties. Why not set up one which, when you enter your registration code, will tape you for 30secs. You can use this time to pitch your idea/company. These can then be posted online, voted on, etc.

All in all it was a great event to attend!

Startup story booths.

Great idea, +1 to that...

I went to the last event in London and the thing I felt was missing most was social interaction between attendees who wouldn't otherwise meet and hearing stories of other startups not (yet) in YC. This was mostly down to the attendees, which if you didn't know anyone else could be a bit intimidating.

It'd be nice to see a few more social elements to encourage mingling - for example an open mic area to talk about your startup and solicit advice, discussion groups (or office hours) for different startup categories (travel etc) in smaller rooms so that people with similar interests could gather, or perhaps some kind of mini hackathons lasting 15 minutes on different subjects. Anything that lets people interact in a non-forced way.

People mingled at the drinks at the end to some extent, however that was pretty random I felt more group interaction earlier on would have helped break the ice a little more rather than simply leaving that to drinks etc. and my only regret about the event was that I didn't speak to more people.

I would suggest to pepper these in between talks, after a few back to back talks the audience got a bit of an information fatigue, I think

Definitely - the talks were all in contiguous blocks, which meant by the end it was difficult to take it all in, though in London I loved Paul Buchheit near the end - he started to guffaws from some kids in front of me because of his gnomic delivery and by the end had them rapt. They do at least have the ones from the event online. More office hours between talks would be great - perhaps each speaker could give an office hours open to the floor?

Smaller talks to smaller groups (perhaps in parallel) would also work wonderfully, as having such a large audience makes the dynamic very different when it comes to questions and even for the speakers themselves. There are of course issues with that in terms of money and it's already a free event.

More interaction with YC'ers and speakers.

I don't think this is really possible, given the number of people in attendance. At the event in London speakers were mingling but were mobbed by hopefuls standing in rings around them and it all became a little odd and celebrity-focused, which I don't think was the intention. Perhaps some people find this useful, but I wasn't sure it added much given the ratio of speakers to attendees.

Great events though and cheers to YC for putting them on.

There was also a BBQ held Friday night at YC offices that some attendees were invited to and others not. This ended up being confusing because not all of us knew if we should go, do something else or what. More transparency would have helped.

They said in their email not to invite other people. So I think it was clear that it was invite-only.

I am on visit to US for the first time and luckily I was selected for both BBQ and main event. It was really a great experience going to both events (specially the BBQ one) because I had been HN reader for few years and had been applying to YC (and drooling over YC offices on streetview, crazy I know). Meeting YC partners was a great experience sadly couldn't find pg. But it was a great experience. Nobody should miss these events ever!

I love how this year's event illustrated that you don't have to be an asshole or a sociopath to be successful. All the speakers sounded like genuinely nice and wonderful people.

Some of entrepreneurship's biggest successful outliers seem to have exhibited those traits and thus they became part of silicon valley lore. I think it's important for people getting into startups to understand that you don't have to turn yourself into a stone cold shark. Some business decisions will be tough, but that doesn't mean you have to be an ass about them. Your ambition can be to be successful, but that doesn't mean you have to "crush your competitors" or disregard other people entirely.

An article I once read cited a study showing that on average, people are more financially successful AND happy, if they are considered by their friends to be good people. I tried to find it just now but couldn't. Has anybody heard of similar results?

Edit: What are some examples of extremely successful entrepreneurs that were known to be extremely kind?

>examples of extremely successful entrepreneurs that were known to be extremely kind?

It's kind of hard to say how kind people are without knowing them but the good Arthur of Market Basket seems an interesting recent example

( http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/25/market-basket-f... ).

Also Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines perhaps. I don't know if you'd consider Warren Buffett an entrepreneur but he's done well and has a good reputation.

"cheap, no-frills, and amazing content and people. And, of course, little to no introductory remarks."

Love that. Seeing EU events headed in the opposite direction... increasing fees, more showmanship, speakers all trying to literally sell you something, not very genuine or down to earth.

Yeah, whereas Startup School Europe was really excellent and I came away completely enthused about the startup scene. Talking to Kirsty and Qasar definitely convinced me to apply for YC at least!

Hope they carry on with EU events, even if they aren't in London. We certainly do need more of that attitude around here.

I agree, the focus on being effective is what really wins me over.

I got the chance to attend this year and what struck me as most interesting about the weekend was not the day of speakers but the people I met. I meet lots of people who talk about startups but almost everyone I met was deeply serious and wicked smart. Every person I met, every conversation I had I came away thinking that they would be successful...and I am usually quite pessimistic in that scenario. Ground zero is a great term, I feel I met so many great people and heard so many great ideas that there was almost certainly a unicorn company in that room.

Caveat: I was not there at all.

To clarify, was this time exceptional amongst other events like this that you have gone to? I am skeptical, as many people at events like these that I have attended are there to sell you themselves and idea, hence it would be by design that you walk away thinking they all are 'going to make it.'

I have been to other startup focused events, though normally on a smaller scale and not in SV.

I never felt like any of the people I met were trying to sell me their idea - it was far more collaborative among the people I spoke with. We shared, offered advice etc. I mostly spent time with people from out of town as we all were in town Friday night and used facebook to coordinate getting together for drinks since we were all there early.

Wow, nice to hear! Is there a mailing list anywhere that you are apart of that advertises such events?

My then girlfriend (now wife) and I flew to New York from Atlanta and took the overnight bus to Boston to save on flight fare to attend the first startup school.

That chain of events ultimately led to YC W12.

I missed my first startup school in all these years last Friday, but it was to talk to customers so I don't feel that bad. I hope to be back next year!

I'd just like to thank YC for putting the event on. I went last year. I came to SF for it and never left. I'm here a year later with a relatively successful business doing what I had been meaning to do for a long time.

Startup school is the reason I have an awesome cofounder (now working together 4-yrs) – thanks Jessica!

We had the chance to go to Startup School in NYC a few months back. It certainly spurred some thinking for us, namely:

i) Embed persistence and resilience into your startup’s culture because you are probably going to face a lot of rejection and resistance throughout your journey

ii) Should applying to Y Combinator be a first resort instead of a last resort?

We wrote more about this here: http://blog.planitwide.com/2-hugely-important-thought-starte...

One of the things I like about Startup School is the quality of people attending. I tried to organize a quick "Speed Networking" session during lunch hour - bunch of people joined in and it was fun. I remember PG saying a lot of founders apply as single founders - I think if the organizers setup a "networking area" with a simple "speed networking" type rules it may even help people find their next co-founder. And the team behind the next big thing could say - hey "we met at startup school"

Thanks for the great Work Jessica. An amazing experience, great people and speakers. I fly from NY and found a bunch of people from around the world also traveling to California for the experience.

Jessica thanks for your Italian language skill! :)

Thanks for organizing! Event was extremely well organized and lucky to be part of it:-)

Can you upload videos to youtube, please?

They'll be going up later today. We'll make sure the link to the videos gets posted to HN.

Thanks. I'm eagerly waiting for them. I'd missed a few talks in the morning.


Seen the videos, talks are amazing.

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