Notes from YC W21 to W24, with Love

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with a YC grad about post-batch life and lessons learned.

On Startup Advice

I will start by saying you should take all advice with a grain of salt. There is more than one way to succeed and a lot of it will depend on context and timing.

That said, there are a few ground truths that vastly increase your chances of building a successful company. Most of this is covered in the first week curriculum at YC.

Talk to your customers. Focus on Product Market Fit. Make something that people want.

During our batch, Michael Seibel told us that regardless of what he or the other partners would say, every batch, founders would still ignore the advice.

I remember this clearly because I listened and thought we were doing these things. We launched an open source note taking tool (Dendron). We had thousands of active users and we "talked" with them daily over Discord and Github. It wasn't until we tried (and failed) to introduce paid team plans two years later that we realized we didn't understand our users.

It was only then that we started scheduling 30m user interviews every day over the course of several months. Through this process, we learned our users had no desire to use Dendron with their teams. It was a power tool for power users. Our GTM completely ignored what our customers actually wanted.

On Product Market Fit

Your only real job as an early stage founder is finding product market fit (PMF). PMF is not just your only job but it is the job that only you can do. Qualitatively, it is the feeling of chasing a boulder vs pushing a boulder up a hill. Quantitatively, (for B2B at least) it is when you have built a repeatable sales channel that you can scale by throwing more money at it.

Your investors can help introduce you to relevant people, successful founders can tell you how they found PMF, but ultimately, you are the only person that can determine PMF for your company.

A big part of PMF is timing and luck - factors that are for most parts, out of your control. This is why even other founders that have found PMF are of limited help.

What you can control is the market you're in, your team, and the unique insight that you bring as the founder. Your job as a founder is to leverage these strengths to get to PMF. Anything that is not in service of this does not matter in an early stage startup.

At Dendron, we had limited product fit but no market fit. To make the venture model work, we needed to sell to teams but our product was focused on individuals.

On Binary Outcomes

Many things in startup land feel binary. Raising money. Closing a sale. "Succeeding" as a company. Adopting this view adds tons of pressure and lead to despondency and burnout when things don't work out.

Instead, think of the process itself as the outcome and find ways of getting "wins" that is independent of the outcome.

When raising money for Dendron, I began each meeting by asking investors to explain what made them interested in us. This not only helped me frame my pitch but also helped me iterate on our value proposition for future meetings, a "win" that I could take with me regardless of the current investment decision.

On Burnout

Startups are a grind. Burnout is real. Most founders, even the successful ones, will struggle with burnout at some point(s). More on the topic here.

As hard as it might be to do, take a break. Have one day of the week reserved for non-startup related things. Exercise. Sleep. You'll fall behind far more from burn out then the time you invest in mitigating it.

During my second pivot, I ended up taking a month sabbatical due to burnout.

On the YC Community

As YC alumni, you are now part of the most connected and well respected startup community in the world. From your fellow batch mates to the group partners, almost everyone you meet is exceptional in some way.

Lean into this, even/especially after the batch.

A shortlist of things that I have relied on during and after the batch: - office hours - founder whats app groups - local meetups - early customers - customer research - YC deals - hiring - future co-founders - drinking buddies - bookface forums

The last thing I'll add before signing of - enjoy the journey. Building a startup is hard. The road is long. Celebrate milestones with the people that got you there. Make something that people want!


Created 2024-04-11T18:14:45.135000, updated 2024-04-11T18:15:19.481000 · History · Edit