of the new YC batch starting tomorrow, here is some of the best startup advice I’ve
heard or given (mostly heard):
A great team
and a great market are both critically important—you have to have both. The debate about which is more important is
talk to users, and build the company (hire the best people you can find, get
the culture right, fundraise, close sales, etc.) Most other things that founders do are a
waste of time.
Set a clear,
easy-to-understand vision for your company, and make it be a mission people
and don’t try to do too many things at once.
Care about execution quality.
You have to
have an almost crazy level of dedication to your company to succeed.
don’t start a startup you’re not willing to work on for ten years.
Be relentlessly resourceful.
In the current pivot-happy world, good ideas are
underweight. It’s worth the time to
think through a good one.
Growth solves (nearly)
is critical and you should focus on it, occasionally consider where you’re
going—you need both growth and to be growing towards something valuable.
the quality of the product.
with your team. For some reason most
founders are really bad at this one.
Transparency is your friend.
fast. Speed is one of your main
advantages over large companies.
fire fast. Hiring is the most important
thing you do; spend at least a third of your time on it.
think about why the 20th person will join your company.
Hire smart and
effective people that are committed to what you’re doing. The last five words there are important.
Hire friends and friends of friends. Go after these people like crazy to get them
to join. Some other candidate sources
are ok, but I always got bad results from technical recruiters.
value aptitude over experience.
that you could describe as animals.
You’ll often hear conflicting advice about everything but “build a
great product”. This means you can go
either way on much of the rest of it and it doesn’t really matter. Just make a decision and get back to
work. Product/market fit is what
matters. You can—and will—make a lot of
You make what
very hard no matter what you do; you may as well go after a big opportunity.
critical. Don’t lose it.
low and equity high.
organization as flat as you can.
on a deal—raising money, trying to get a partnership, etc.—it’s important to
create a competitive situation.
to make money.
Journalists like hearing directly from
founders. If you hire PR people, resist
their desire to control all the contact.
It’s standard for founders to keep board control
in the first round.
everyone. Then make your own decision.
you are more likely to die because you execute badly than get crushed by a
Have a direct
relationship with your customers.
formidable—do not be easy to push around.
Don’t let your
company be run by a sales guy. But do learn how to sell your product.
Have a culture
that rewards output.
professional managers too early.
good. Be suspicious of complexity.
Get on planes
in marginal situations. In-person is
still better than tele-anything.
are not as risky as they seem.
Be suspect of
anyone who says the word process too often.
Raise a bit
more money than you think you need.
fact that “the press loves [you]”.
You can create value with breakthrough
innovation, incremental refinement, or complex coordination. Great companies often do two of these. The very best companies do all three.
The role of the board is advice and
consent. If the CEO does not lay out a
clear strategy and tries to get the board to set one, it will usually end in
Board observers are usually a headache.
If you pivot, do it fully and with
conviction. The worst thing is to try to
do a bit of the old and the new—it’s hard to kill your babies.
It’s better to make a decision and be wrong than
Set goals for the company and motivate people to
Always praise good work.
Celebrate your wins as a company. Get t-shirts for big milestones.
Have a good operational cadence where projects
are short and you’re releasing something new on a regular basis.
You can win with the best product, the best
price, or the best experience.
Meetups and conferences are generally a waste of
If the founders of your company seem to care more about being founders than they care about your specific company, go join another company.
It’s easier to sell painkillers than vitamins.
Be suspicious of any work that is not building
product or getting customers. It’s easy
to get sucked into an infrastructure rewrite death spiral.
It’s better to have a few users love your
product than for a lot of users to sort of like it.
Learn how to
stay extermally optimistic when your world is melting down.
should require as few miracles as possible, but at least one.
You have to
have great execution—far more people have good ideas than are willing to roll
up their sleeves and get shit done.
Don’t have a
diverse culture in the early days.
Keep a to-do list every day. At the top of it, put the one or two big
things you want to work on.
Being the CEO
is miserable more often than it’s good.
But when it’s good, it’s really good.
On the really
bad days, remember that tomorrow will be better—it’s hard to see it being much
Success in a
startup is usually pass/fail. Worry more
about making sure you pass than an extra point of dilution.
Good investors are worth a reasonable premium.
Give your investors something to do.
Go for a few highly involved investors over a
lot of lightly engaged ones.
Raise money on promise. Raise money on clean terms.
Do reference checks on your potential
investors. Ask other founders how they
are when everything goes wrong.
companies other investors love.
A lot of the
best ideas seem silly or bad initially—you want an idea at the intersection of
“seems like bad idea” and “is good idea”. (It’s important to note you need to
be contrarian and right, not simply contrarian.)
Sometimes you can succeed through sheer force of
are fucked in at least one major way.
Keep an eye on
cash in the bank and don’t run out of it.
Pay a lot of
attention to the relationship between cofounders, especially if both/all of you
want to be CEO.
Stay small and
Have a staff
meeting at least once a week.
Find a mentor that will teach you how to manage.
Keep burn low until you’re sure everything is
Be suspect about buying users.
Lead by example.
Have the right kind of office. The proper office for a very small company is
an apartment or house.
Share results (financial and key metrics) with
the company every month.
Have a table
in your offer letters that shows how much the stock you’re granting a new hire
could be worth in various scenarios.
startups are defined by exceptions; all of these rules are probably breakable,
but probably not all at the same time.