Startup School 2008

Startup School ’08 was a blast. I had been out a little late the night before at the Y Combinator party in Mountain View and hadn’t slept properly due to flying in, so I missed the first few speakers. I arrived just in time to catch Greg McAdoo. His speech was fairly interesting, and familiar if you’ve seen him speak at Y C events before. He sure does love surfing analogies, but they are apt, and it was great to get Sequoia’s perspective on what makes a big success. I was taken aback by their statistics. He said they’ve funded 700+ companies over the years with 150+ acquisitions and 150+ IPOs. That’s a hell of a success rate, and surprised me coming from even them.

One of his slides mentioned things Sequoia likes to invest in, and browntech was on the list. None of us knew what that was. I suggested maybe it meant tech in India. Either way, it became the running joke of the day. I even asked Mike Arrington what it was, and he didn’t seem to know. If he doesn’t, who would? (My actual guess was water purification, and some people said oil/chemical cleanup. A cursory Google didn’t answer it, so maybe I’ll email McAdoo and find out.)

David Heinemeier Hansson‘s speech might have been the best, and was certainly the most fun. He took a few jabs at the entire Silicon Valley mindset. Also, he sounded like Kermit the Frog. During the Q&A I wanted to ask him to sing It’s Not Easy Being Green. “Hi Mr. Hanson. Loved your talk. Do you think it could be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold?”

Also I wanted to ask him in which universe 500 x $40 = $125,000 (as one of his slides said, and he repeated aloud) because I want to move there. Apparently all startup revenues are multiplied by 6.

Jeff Bezos’s speech was the one I had anticipated the most, but was probably the least interesting. The buzz has been disappointment all around. It was basically a commercial for AWS, which everyone in attendance either used or knew about and had decided not to use due to whatever limitation. It reminded me of back when I was a kid and we’d order WrestleMania on pay per view an hour before it started, and the whole time before it began all they played was one commercial after another for WrestleMania. You’ve already sold us, give us something more.

It was also humorous how many handlers the guy had. There must have been 10 of them. I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton was less well-guarded when I saw him speak. I wonder if all of those people have some important function, or if it’s just a very nerdy version of Entourage. I guess the guy who had to answer the AWS questions Bezos couldn’t must be his Turtle.

He did have one analogy I appreciated very much though. He pointed out that a century or two ago, if you wanted to run a factory on electricity you had to generate it yourself. Nowadays making your own electricity would be ludicrous. He likened cloud computing to that, which I felt was pretty apropos. Developers don’t want to be sysadmins. They want to make websites and let someone else worry about generating the “electricity”. That’s the best non-technical way I’ve ever heard to explain what cloud computing is and why it is so obviously the future.

Mike Arrington’s presentation was better than I expected. He basically talked about the startup industry from the media’s perspective, and gave a few tips on how to interact with them. I actually found that helpful. Now I just have to figure out how to spin a story such that DeadSpin would care about it.

Marc Andreesen’s segment definitely had some gems in it too. He gave one piece of advice from one of my favorite recent reads, Born Standing Up, which is to focus on being so good that people can’t ignore you. Accomplish that and all else will fall in line. Words to live by.

He also spoke about a lot of the things that make his blog so enjoyable. How people are so often fooled by randomness, especially in financial endeavors like startups or investing. Or how economic forecasters basically don’t know anything. Marc clearly understands probability and seems genuinely humble about his success because of that. I suppose it would be hard to be anything but when you truly understand the way those things work.

Between the Y Combinator event the night before and the after-party at Paul Graham’s house in the hills, I met lots of Hacker News guys and a lot of people who read this here blog occasionally. And it was nice to run into so many alumni again too. The list is now around 200, so it’s getting harder and harder to keep them all straight. I’m anxious to see how much the list grows by this summer as well.

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9 Responses to “Startup School 2008”

  1. “He did have one analogy I appreciated very much though. He pointed out that a century or two ago, if you wanted to run a factory on electricity you had to generate it yourself. Nowadays making your own electricity would be ludicrous. He likened cloud computing to that, which I felt was pretty apropos.”

    That's straight out of Nick Carr's book “The Big Switch”.

  2. Hehe. Kermit the Frog is exactly right!

  3. Good luck with figuring out how to spin a story so Deadspin will be interested. I think you can come up with something given the nature of your product.

    I'm not hugely into fantasy sports, but I noticed something about how groups of users develop, that is different than most web sites. Leagues are often built around loose associations of friends. This happens because tight groups of friends aren't necessarily interested in the same sports, or aren't big enough to populate an interesting league, and because participating with people you don't know is less fun (and it risks being overrun by annoying people).

    Every league I've ever played in has been put together through my fraternity alumni mailing list. I suspect most leagues are populated by similar loose associations, and if my suspicion is correct, that would say something about marketing opportunities that draftmix has that other web startups don't. Not sure exactly what it says, but it says something. Anyway, good luck with everything. Nice assessment of Startup School.

  4. mattmaroon Says:

    Very astute observation on the social dynamics there. We are trying very hard to tap into that viral nature. We're working on some stuff to get guys like whoever starts the league for your alumni list to do so on our site, because as you pointed out, the way it is clustered, if you get one commissioner he brings in 12 friends, maybe some of whom will play commissioner for a different group of their friends.

  5. mattmaroon Says:

    Ha, hilarious.

  6. Good writeup. I hadn't noticed the DHH math mistake – wonder how that made it in?

  7. bwitkowski Says:

    The video analogy was referencing $40/month/user so I think his math was ok

  8. mattmaroon Says:

    I'm referring to the analogy about 23 mins in where he is talking about scaling, not the first one. It says on the slide (and he said aloud) $40 x 500 = $125,000. If that math is ok, I should repeat high school.

  9. Browntech, according to NYTimes, is advancements in fossil fuel technologies.

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