How to talk to investors? (YC Startup Course)

1/4:   30 second pitch 

  • Three sentences:
    • What does your company do?
    • How big is the market?
    • How much traction do you have?

2/4:   2 minute pitch

  1. The three sentences of 30 second pitch.
  2. What’s unique insight?
  3. How you make money?
  4. Team
    • If your team has done something particularly impressive – you need to call that out. “We were the founders of PayPal.” Probably want to say that. So if you guys have done something that is made investors money. You want to say that.
    • How many founders, how many of them are technical, how long have you guys known each other.
  5. The Big Ask($$$)
    • You have to figure out whether this is a conversation involves fundraising or not.
    • You have to know how much money you’re raising.
    • You have to know what the minimum check size is.

3/4:    When to Fundraise 

  • When you are strong and the investors are weak.
    • If investors are asking to give you money, you’re strong.
    • If you can show an investor that you haven’t launched yet but you’ve done eight months of work in one month or two months and you’ve got a great team that have all quit their jobs and they’re totally committed, then you get some advantage back. You don’t get all of the advantage unless you have launched and are growing.

Above: Lecture by YC Partners

Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution. (YC Startup Course)

Why to start a startup?

  • You should only start a startup if you feel compelled by a particular problem and that you think starting a company is the best way to solve it.
    • The specific passion should come first, and the startup second. You’re so passionate about it that you have to do it and you’re going to do it anyways.
    • The world needs you to do it. You’re actually well suited for this problem in some way. If this isn’t true, it may be a sign that your time is better spent somewhere else.

4 key areas: Ideas, Products, Teams and Execution.

1. Idea

  • Idea is important, so is execution.
    • I myself used to believe ideas didn’t matter that much, but I’m very sure that’s wrong now. The idea should come first and the startup should come second. Wait to start a startup until you come up with an idea you feel compelled to explore.
    • Great execution is at least ten times as important and a hundred times harder than a great idea.
  • Definition
    • The definition of the idea, as we talk about it, is very broad. It includes the size and the growth of the market, the growth strategy for the company, the defensibility strategy, and so on. When you’re evaluating an idea, you need to think through all these things, not just the product.
  • Properties
    • Paul Graham:“The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. It’s best if you’re building something that you yourself need.
    • Good startup ideas is that they’re almost always very easy to explain and very easy to understand. If it takes more than a sentence to explain what you’re doing, that’s almost always a sign that it’s too complicated.
    • It’s also not dangerous to tell people your idea. The truly good ideas don’t sound like they’re worth stealing. Someday you need to build a business that is difficult to replicate. This is an important part of a good idea. (Unduplicated)
    • The best ideas are usually very different from existing companies. Derivative companies, companies that copy an existing idea with very few new insights, don’t excite people and they don’t compel the teams to work hard enough to be successful.  (Original)
  • How
    • You want an idea that turns into a monopoly. But you can’t get a monopoly right away. You have to find a small market in which you can get a monopoly and then quickly expand.
      • Think about the growth of the market.  You need a market that’s going to be big in 10 years.  (But:“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing the car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.” — Aaron Levie, CEO of Box)
      • I prefer to invest in a company that’s going after a small, but rapidly growing market, than a big, but slow-growing market.
    • Surfing someone else’s wave, stepping into an up elevator, or being part of a movement.
  • Other
    • Best companies are almost always mission oriented.
    • It takes years and years, usually a decade, to build a great startup. If you don’t love and believe in what you’re building, you’re likely to give up at some point along the way. Good startups usually take ten years.
    • When it comes to starting a startup, it’s easier to found a hard startup than an easy startup. This is one of those counter-intuitive things that takes people a long time to understand.
    • Long-term thinking is so rare anywhere, but especially in startups. There is a huge advantage if you do it.
    • Most people think first of what they want to express or make, then find the audience for their idea.

You must work the opposite angle, thinking first of the public.You need to keep your focus on their changing needs, the trends that are washing through them. Beginning with their demand, you create the appropriate supply.  —-50 Cent

2. Product

  • Definition
    • It includes customer support, the copy you write explaining the product, anything involved in your customer’s interaction in what you built for them.
  • You first have to turn a great idea into a great product.
    • One of the most important tasks for a founder is to make sure that the company builds a great product. Sitting in front of the computer working on their product, or talking to their customers.
    • Step one is to build something that users love. So these are the two jobs: 1. Understand what users really want or need; 2. Then build it.
  • Build something that a small number of users love.
    • When people really love something, they’ll tell their friends about it, and you’ll see organic growth.
    • If you try to build a growth machine before you have a product that some people really love, you’re almost certainly going to waste your time.
  • Very few startups die from competition.
    • Most die because they themselves fail to make something users love, they spend their time on other things.
  • Start with something simple.
  • Feedback Cycle
    • You need some users to help with the feedback cycle, but the way you should get those users is manually—you should go recruit them by hand. You don’t need very many, you just need ones that will give you feedback every day, and eventually love your product.
  • Great founders don’t put anyone between themselves and their users.
    • Ask them what the like and don’t like, and watch them use it. Ask them what they’d pay for. Ask them if they’d be really bummed if your company went away. Ask them what would make them recommend the product to their friends, and ask them if they’d recommended it to any yet.
  • Ignore things like total registrations, look at growth and active users, activity levels, cohort retention, revenue, net promoter scores, these things that matter.
  • And then be brutally honest if they’re not going in the right direction. Startups live on growth, its the indicator of a great product.

3. Team

  1. Cofounders: What to look for?
    • Two or three cofounders seems to be about perfect. One, obviously not great, five, really bad. Four works sometimes, but two or three I think is the target.
    • A good way to meet a cofounder is to meet in college. If you’re not in college and you don’t know a cofounder, the next best thing I think is to go work at an interesting company.
    • Relentlessly resourceful
    • So, you’re looking for cofounders that need to be unflappable, tough, calm, they know what to do in every situation. They act quickly, they’re decisive, they’re creative, they’re ready for anything.
    • If you aren’t technical, and even if most of the people in this room feel like they are, you want a technical cofounder.
  2. Try not to hire
    • It sucks to have a lot of employees, and you should be proud of how few employees you have.
    • At the beginning, you should only hire when you desperately need to. The cost of getting an early hire wrong is high.
    • You need people that believe in it almost as much as you do.
      • The formula to hire the world’s best talent. Just three things:
        1. An incredibly large opportunity exists.
        2. Your company is in the absolute best position to fulfill it.
        3. Your company will succeed with or without them.
      • A hire who believes in those three things will stay with you till the end. Notice there’s nothing about compensation.
  3. Get the best people
    • To get the very best people, they have a lot of great options and so it can easily take a year to recruit someone.
    • You have to convince them that your mission is the most important of anything that they’re looking at.
    • By the way, that’s my number one piece of advice if you’re going to join a startup, is pick a rocketship. Pick a company that’s already working and that not everyone yet realizes that, but you know because you’re paying attention, that it’s going to be huge. And again, you can usually identify these. But good people know this, and so good people will wait, to see that you’re on this trajectory before they join.
    • One question that people asked online this morning was how much time you should be spending on hiring. The answer is zero or twenty-five percent.
    • If you compromise and hire someone mediocre you will always regret it.
    • The best source for hiring by far is people that you already know and people that other employees in the company already know. (Most great companies in text have been built by personal referrals for the first hundred employees and often many more. Most founders feel awkward but calling anyone good that they’ve ever met and asking their employees to do the same. But she’ll notice if you go to work at Facebook or Google one of the things they do in your first few weeks is an HR person sits you down and beat out of you every smart person you’ve ever met to be able to recruit them.//If you’re looking to join the next Facebook, keep up to date with your friends in the industry.)
    • Experience matters for some roles and not for others. When you’re hiring someone that is going to run a large part of your organization experience probably matters a lot.
    • There are three things I look for in a hire. Are they smart? Do they get things done? Do I want to spend a lot of time around them?
    • Work with someone on a project for a day or two before hiring them. Work on a project together instead of an interview.
    • For early employees you want someone that has somewhat of a risk-taking attitude.
    • Animal test: The idea here is that you should be able to describe any employee as an animal at what they do.
  4. Keep them around
    • He’d be comfortable reporting to if the roles were reversed.  You don’t have to be friends with everybody, but you should at least enjoy working with them.
    • As for employee equity, I think as a rough estimate, you should aim to give about ten percent of the company to the first ten employees. They have to earn it over four years anyway. (25% per year//And the clock doesn’t start until one year in. So if you leave after one year, you keep twenty-five percent of the equity, and if you leave after two years, fifty, and on and on like that.)
    • When should co-founders decide on the equity split? In any case, you should try to have the ink dry on this before the company gets too far along. Like, certainly in the first number of weeks.
    • You have to make sure your employees are happy and feel valued.
    • You shouldn’t tell your employees they’re fucking up every day unless you want them all to leave because they will.
    • Look in the mirror (at themselves) when things go wrong and look through the window (give credit to others/team) when things go right!! (You have to let your team take credit for all the good stuff that happens, and you take responsibility for the bad stuff.)
    • To be aware that you will be a very bad manager and try to overcompensate for that.
    • Three things that motivate people to do great work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
  5. Fire fast
    • Firing people is one of the worst parts of running a company.
    • To fire fast when it’s not working.
    • You also wanna fire people who are:
      • creating office politics
      • who are persistently negative.
    • If someone is getting every decision wrong, that’s when you need to act.
    • What about cofounders that aren’t working in the same location? The answer is, don’t do it. Maybe more than 30 would be more encouraging. I don’t know if Wufoo founders worked in different locations, but they managed to build a company with remote workers Also, the founders of One Kings Lane, who met on a “blind date” (at 19:44). They also “outsourced everything.”

4. Execution

  • The way to have a company that executes well is you have to execute well yourself.
  • The CEO has five jobs:
    1. Set the vision
    2. Raise money
    3. Evangelize
    4. Hire and manage the team.
    5. Make sure the entire company execut
  • Execution gets divided into two key questions.
    1. Figure out what to do
    2. Get it done.
  • Focus
    • You need to figure out what the one or two most important things are, and then just do those.
    • And you can only have two or three things every day, because everything else will just come at you. (Founders get excited about starting new things.)
    • The trick to great execution is to say no a lot.
    • Each day it’s really important to have goals. Most good founders I know have a set of small overarching goals for the company that everybody in the company knows.
    • You can’t be focused without good communication even if you have only four or five people at a company.
  • Intensity
    • The secret to start up success is extreme focus and extreme dedication.
    • A small amount of extra work on the right thing makes a huge difference.
    • Facebook has this famous poster that says move fast and break things.  It’s easy to move fast or be obsessed with quality, but the trick is to do both at a startup. You need to have a culture where the company has really high standards for everything everyone does, but you still move quickly.
  • Always keep momentum.
  • Always keep growing.
  • Sales fixes everything.
    • A board member of mine used to say that sales fix everything in a startup. And that is really true.
  • Don’t worry about a competitor at all.
  • A good way to keep momentum is to establish an operating rhythm at the company early.
    • Shipping product
    • Launching new features
    • Reviewing /Reporting metrics and milestones
  • Don’t spend more money than you have.

Above: Lecture by Sam Altman, Dustin Moskovitz